|Nowhere to Run by T.A. de Bie|
From my earliest memories I recall wanting to be at church, to sing, to seek God and a walk with Him. I grew up in a pristine part of the country on 400 acres of paradise. All of life was before me and my three sisters. My sisters and I attended a little one-room schoolhouse and the biggest excitement in the community was the occasional get-together at the Grange Hall. I was very shy but trusting. What was there in the world not to trust? Life was perfect… but that would all change.
When I was about nine years old my parents split. My mother took us with her as she pursued a career in music and, just like that, paradise was lost. We did buy a small farm so that we could have our horses and, for a time, a southern type of paradise returned but it was not the same. For some reason, “Southern Hospitality” was not taught to the children that I associated with. I was unhappy. I was the skinny kid that always had trouble at school. In my young mind I thought if I could only attend a Christian school then my life would be better. So that is what I set my mind to do. By the time I was blowing out 13 candles on my cake, I thought I knew quite a bit. Of course, in reality, I was naïve and inexperienced. How could I have been anything else? One thing that I did know was that I was drawn to Christ and I wanted to go to a Christian school where I would be surrounded by people that believed like I did and where I could learn about and read the Bible freely… and where I would feel safe.
Through a series of events, which led to the hospitalization of my mother, my dream of attending a Christian school would come to life! My mother was treated by a Christian doctor. During her care he learned that she had a son that wanted to attend a Christian school. The hospital where she was treated shared a campus with a Christian high school. The good doctor offered to pay for my initial entrance fee and help me get started. There was one problem though; this was not a boarding school and I would need a place to live, as the school was over 50 miles from my present home. The doctor asked around and found that there was a couple that worked at the hospital that had taken in boys before. Their children were grown and they had plenty of room. The husband (Elder G) was the head elder at the local church and comptroller of the hospital. His wife (Mrs. G) was one of the dietitians at the hospital. They were well liked and respected in the community. The most gracious part of what they offered is that they would let me live with them at no charge!
Ultimately, the decision was mine… or was it? I knew that I wanted to go to a Christian school. Public school was a nightmare for me. I felt isolated and misunderstood. I also knew that my mother was going out on the road playing music and, honestly, I did not feel like I had a home to go back to. I felt trapped, but my desire to go to a Christian school was so strong that I thought living with strangers—especially Christian strangers—could not be that bad. My idea of a true Christian was someone who loved Christ, who read and tried to follow the Bible, and who cared about those in need and looked out for those that were weak and struggling.
So it was decided! I would live with Elder and Mrs. G and attend the school! I moved in with the family and started attending the little Christian school. I was nervous with all of the newness. This was such a change for me. I was understandably a little scared. The first nights with the family were difficult for me. The food was strange and, having spent most of my life on a farm, living in a suburban environment was foreign. School was also difficult, as I did not make friends easily. In fact I am very shy. Also, the public school education that I had had in no way prepared me academically for my sophomore year at the school.
Elder and Mrs. G supplied all of my physical needs. I had a bed to sleep in and food. I remember Mrs. G making me chocolate chip cookies on the first night. It all started out innocently enough. Elder G tried to gain my trust. I was shy and (to be honest) a defensive 13-year-old boy. Their house was on a lake and they enjoyed boating. Elder G also liked cars. He had luxury cars as well as sports cars. They had two boats, one that was very fast and the other for a young kid to putter around in. He would take me out in the boat and let me drive. Then he would let me take out the small one-man boat by myself. Looking back, I can see that he was trying to gain my trust. In the relationship Elder G was fostering, it was anything but good.
Later in that school year the G’s decided to move closer to the hospital, which also made it more convenient for me to get to school. The house was close enough that I could ride my bike or walk to school.
I had my own room in this new house but things started to change. Remember, I am a very private boy. I locked the door when I went to the bathroom. I locked the bedroom door at night. I became very uncomfortable when they told me that I could not lock my bedroom door at night. It did not make sense to me. I do not know why, but I did not feel safe with my bedroom door unlocked. They told me it was an issue of safety… in case of a fire or some other emergency. That did not make sense to me because I could easily open the door from the inside or leave the house by the window if there was some emergency. It was not my home and, for some reason, I felt like I had to comply. After all, what could be the harm? I was living in a home with two Christians … and the head elder of the local church!
It was soon after this that Elder G began his physical advances. I had just turned 14. Now, with the door unlocked, he would come into my bedroom each morning and wake me up. He would usually come in wearing a t-shirt and his underwear and sit on the edge of the bed and rub my back. I was afraid. I would lie face down in the bed with my head buried in my pillow. My body was rigid and I just wanted him to go away. I hated it. I dreaded every morning. During this time Elder G would always talk to me in what I call “baby talk” which made me sick to my stomach. So, why didn’t I just leave? I had nowhere to go. I had no home to go to and he knew it. Such is the behavior of a predator. They look for opportunities, something that gives them an upper hand.
For months the morning wake-up routine was the only inappropriate contact. I felt like I had to endure it so that I could stay in school. Looking back, whom could I have told? I was embarrassed. Who would have listened? Maybe nobody would have thought that it was a big deal. Wasn’t he just a fatherly figure trying to be fatherly to a young man? Now who would listen to a boy of 14 over a well-esteemed church leader? This was a time when kids weren’t encouraged to tell, abuse was a private matter in society, abuse was easy to get away with, especially under the cover of religion.
It did not stop with the morning backrubs. When Mrs. G was not around he would take opportunities to have private conversations. He would frequently bring up discussions of a sexual nature. He would ask me questions about my “being a man” … and “proving I was a man”… He would combine things that most boys are interested in—fast cars, boats, guns, etc.—which would inevitably lead to some discussion of a sexual nature. He always wanted to touch me or to lure me into some such discussion. I was constantly on guard against his advances. I always felt that I had to protect myself from him.
All of this conduct was confusing to me. I could not make sense of the difference in my knowledge of how I believed Christian people should conduct themselves compared with the pressure I was under. How can a person say grace at the dinner table or have the pastoral prayer at church and then conduct himself in this manner? I could not make the two worlds match. I often asked myself, “What could I do, who could I tell?” I should have felt comfortable to tell someone else… but I didn’t. Eventually, when I was around 16 I confided in my two best friends. I let them know what was going on but that I felt I could handle the situation. If it got physical, I felt like I could defend myself even, though I was only about 100 lbs. Eventually, I would be forced to put that theory to the test.
Unfortunately, I felt as though I had to endure the advances. As I look back, I know it was not true. I was so embarrassed… in fact so mortified of the situation that I only told my best friends. Telling someone did make me feel less isolated; unfortunately, it did not make it stop. Predators see the big picture. They can ascertain when a young person is in a vulnerable position. They take advantage of the situation. It is what they do.
One time Elder G showed me a magazine or calendar with naked girls that he claimed to have “confiscated” from one of the employees of the hospital. He kept it in a safe in his house and would try to use it as a bribe. He wanted me to look at it. I suppose he wanted to see if it would evoke some physical effect on me. He would also tell me that I needed to “prove” that I was a man and give him a sperm sample. He put so much pressure on me that, eventually, I gave in to that demand. He said that he was going to take it to the lab to have a sperm count done. I lived with constant vigilance.
Then there was a time where it became a real physical struggle. One time when Mrs. G was away he challenged me that I could not keep him from unzipping my pants and “spitting on my peepee”. We literally had a knockdown, drag-out fight in the den. It was a bitter physical struggle and I ended up with rug burns and bruises. I was young but I was scrappy! Even after that, I ended up living there for nearly two more years. Though I felt like I could stand up to his advances, it was a very stressful time. Elder G tried to bribe me with driving his corvette or his Z car. He would take me to stock car races and make me sleep in the same bed with him. It makes me nauseous to think about it. I was just trying to survive. I know that he tried to keep his actions hidden from Mrs. G. One time when he was being particularly aggressive, I ended up hitting him with my belt. The blow made a bruise on the inside of his leg that he could not hide from Mrs. G. She scolded me about hitting Elder G. I don’t think she had any idea. After that incident there was a period of time when I was able to sleep outside of the house in a camper. It was cold and cramped but sleeping there was such a relief. I finally felt safer because I could lock the door!
One time, after I got my driver’s license, he tried to bribe me. He said that I could take a girl that I liked out for a drive in the Corvette if I would let him touch me. I refused. The pressure was constant. During this time, he put pressure on me to allow him to “touch me” and bring me to a sexual climax. I actually secretly recorded him trying to bribe me. I did this to protect myself in case I needed evidence. It was at this time that I told my two friends what was going on. They were supportive and ready to help if I needed it. I do wish that I could have confided in an adult; but who could I tell? Who would believe me—a little kid vs. the head elder of the church? That is what I thought. Was I right? I will never know because I only told my two best friends. I endured and eventually graduated from high school and was free at last.
Unfortunately, these experiences created wounds.
Through all of this I never questioned my own sexuality. I am strong willed enough that it did not make me feel inferior. It did keep me on a constant alert. It made me keenly aware of the actions of others. I did not know it at the time but, at some point, they did resurface. They showed up in my lack of trust of others, lack of trust in the church and the leaders of the church. I have rarely talked about the experience over the past 30 years. I did not share any of this with my wife. We have been divorced for nearly 20 years. If I could have better understood how this all affected me, and could have shared that with her, then she could have understood me better. Though I suffered no physical scars, the spiritual and emotional scars remain. How are Christians supposed to act? What happens when “I love you” comes out of their mouths but you feel the blood trickling down your back as you walk away? I will struggle with the spiritual and emotional issues for the rest of my life.
If there is any positive outcome from me telling my story it is this… if you find yourself in a situation with a pastor or other person in a position of physical or spiritual power over you, please, do not be afraid to talk with someone about it. You must find a person that you can confide in. If you can, find an adult that you can trust so that you can tell what is going on. I know there are enough truly godly people in the church who will listen and take steps to help you. You must know that you don’t have to stay in the relationship; you don’t have to live in fear. You can, and must, get out. Boys, young men, grown men; we all have natural boundaries. When we feel those boundaries being violated do not be afraid to step back and question. If you are young and vulnerable, please, find a trustworthy man to confide in. No man (or woman, for that matter) has the right to touch you, or threaten to touch you, sexually. If you find yourself in that situation, get into a public area where you are not alone with him (or her). Get some help from a trustworthy adult.
Young men, my advice is the same. Protect yourself from immoral advances. Grown men, if you are a predator, get help because you know that you are walking on the devil’s ground. This is not just a physical fight; it is spiritual warfare! Trustworthy men of God, keep your eyes open for opportunities to be a mentor, to be a safe haven if one is needed. Pray for opportunities to be used by God. If a young man ever approaches you do not be afraid to listen to him. Commit yourself to being a tool for God and that, no matter the name or position of the person being accused of abuse, you will stand firm for the right.
[END OF STORY]
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