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A Thread Called Grace
Image: Dan Bigelow

"Hush, Dorothy," whispered the Tiger, "you'll ruin my reputation if you are not more discreet. It isn't what we are, but what folks think we are, that counts in this world." ~ Frank Baum, The Road to Oz

Have you ever had something in your life that you were afraid to say aloud to someone else? A struggle that you held beneath the surface and didn't want anyone to know? A secret that you packed in a box and swore never to open? I've carried mine since childhood. And when I woke on July 26, 2012, I had no idea it would be exposed, not just to my family and friends, but posted online for the world to see.

As best I can remember, my secret began early when I was around the age of 7. That was how old I was when Michael, a much older boy who lived in a brick house near the front of our neighborhood, began to sexually abuse me.

Michael's family and mine had been friends for years. We were drawn together by his father's terminal cancer. My parents would look after him and his sister in the afternoons so his dad could rest after chemotherapy. We'd pick them up for church on the weekends so they wouldn't miss Sunday school. The bond between our families was tight and only grew tighter the day lung cancer finally stole Michael's father's life.

He'd still come by to play with me and my brothers in the months after the funeral, but his countenance was different—frustrated and pensive. He always seemed to be pondering something but never voiced what vexed him. One evening when Michael was spending the night in my room, he told me that boys could have secret kinds of fun without parents noticing. As he spoke, he put his hands in places I'd never been touched except by undergarments, and my body froze in fear and confusion.

Later, I grew anxious about what happened.

"Can a boy get AIDS just from touching a private part?" I asked my parents.

They told me no, but when they asked me why I was inquiring, I changed the subject. I was too scared to tell them what happened—indeed, too paralyzed by fear to tell anyone. I should just forget about it and move on, I supposed. But, I couldn't move on for it would happen again. This time while I was playing a video game in Michael's bedroom. And then again, after he checked to make sure no one was around and pushed me into an upstairs linen closet.

I can't tell you how many times something like this occurred. I remember those three vividly, and when I let my mind wander, I can still see the events in my mind like I'm watching an old 8mm film. I guess it doesn't matter how many times it happened, only that it did. And it singed a part of my soul in a way I can't explain. Now it only hurts when I press down on the injury, but at the time, I lived with a dull throb and occasional shooting pains.

With my parents and brothers, school counselors and friends—I never let on that anything was wrong. But it was. For something inside of me had been bruised. Or broken. The best way to let it heal, I determined, was to deal with it myself.

No one can help me.
No one can protect me.
No one can fix what hurts.

I. Am. On. My. Own.

With that thought, I crammed all the pain and emotions and memories into a box. I tossed the box into a bag and wrapped the bag in duct tape and rolled the whole wad with a steel chain. On this chain, I clamped a lock whose key had been thrown away. And I buried it in my memory.

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A Thread Called Grace