A few months ago I wrote a commentary for the Philadelphia Inquirer in reaction to the news that some Boy Scout leaders have been abusing children. The news hit close to home, because my own scout leader and seventh grade teacher had sexually abused me all those years ago. In writing the commentary, I hoped that my experience would help others feel less alone.
In the commentary I described the abuse and mentioned that, when the abuse was exposed several years later, he killed his wife, three children, and himself.
48 hours after my commentary was published, I received an email from the abuser’s nephew. In the message, he said that he was just a couple of years older than me when he and his dad (my teacher’s brother) got the awful news of his uncle’s crime. They immediately came to the location – Atlantic City – and tried to figure out what had transpired and what needed to be done. The nephew also went into detail about what happened to him and the family as a result of his uncle’s behavior.
Within hours I wrote replied to his message with a very compassionate letter about his suffering and with mine. But by then something was occurring inside of me. I felt the need, on a cellular level, to touch this man and perhaps to hug him. If he lived nearby I certainly would have, but he lives in California. Nevertheless, I still felt an ache to make physical contact with someone or something from 60 years ago.
At my request, a friend drove me to the neighborhood where my abuser molested me. It was important that I spent time there by myself, but I didn’t know why. I went from house to house trying to figure out where the house was or even if it was still there. It wasn’t. But with each house I looked at, another memory came back; the way the furniture was arranged in the living room, what his bedroom looked like and where he kept the paddles with which he threatened me. The longer I stayed there, I remembered more details and felt more pain.
I sat on one corner and wept, wondering why I was doing this in the first place. And I then pictured myself in his bed lying next to him. Suddenly I knew why I was there. What I needed was to make contact with that little 12-year-old boy lying in bed alone, confused and scared. I knew I came back to take that little boy home with me and love him and keep him safe. I have felt better ever since.