It took me until three weeks after the sex assault on the Nathan Hale ES playground before I told my parents. Those three weeks are a blur, but not the blur that the incident with the light-skinned teenager and his three friends would become until three weeks before my forty-fifth birthday
At the beginning of August ’76, my Mom and my dad Jimme were having another one of their vicious arguments. It was that Saturday afternoon when I finally learned that my Mom had filed for a divorce the month before. Anyway, I somehow managed to get myself in the middle of that argument. I complained that Darren’s bigger butt had been the final straw for my Big Wheel. It had broken in half after he tried to ride it earlier that week.
“I told him, it says ‘90-lb limit’,” I said to my Mom (which I pronounced as “ninety lebs”) while pointing at the inscribed warning label on my now broken Big Wheel, crying.
“You broke that shit weeks ago!,” my Mom yelled.
“I didn’t break it. A bunch of kids did,” I said.
“And you didn’t try to stop ‘em?,” Mom asked.
“I did try to stop ‘em. But they took it and one of them stuck a pee-pee in my mouth,” I explained.
“I done told you not to leave the house when I’m not here! That’s what you get for not listenin’!,” my Mom screamed.
I was so shocked by how angry she was. I was mad, too. I didn’t think. I just ran out the house and out into the middle of the street. I saw a tan Chevy Malibu coming down the street and I just stood there.
The older, salt-and-pepper bearded and balding Black man didn’t slow down until he realized I wasn’t planning to move. He slammed on the brakes and came to a stop about three feet in front of me. The man put his car in park and got out. He then slammed his driver’s side door really hard, and yelled, “Boy, what’s wrong with you? Are you tryin’ to get yourself killed? Where’s your mama?”
He grabbed me by the back of my chocolate-brown t-shirt and made me show him where I lived. We marched upstairs to the second-floor, where he proceeded to explain my suicidal actions. My Mom then took the older man’s belt and beat me with it in front of him, with Darren and Jimme watching. Afterwards, she said “Thank you” to the older man, and then sent me to bed without dinner. “Don’t you EVER do that again!,” she screamed.
Nine months after that bicentennial summer, we moved across town to 616 East Lincoln, a three-in-one, five-story Tudor-style apartment complex. After a summer camp at Darren’s Clear View School in Dobbs Ferry, we went outside on 616’s grounds for the first time, in August ’77. The kids at 616 and 630 East Lincoln chased us around the vast two-building complex while throwing rocks at us. Scared, we hid behind the big, wooden, dark-brown front door and huddled, hoping that the kids wouldn’t find us.
Instead, a couple of young Black Turks saw us and took us upstairs to my Mom and my eventual stepfather Maurice. The two young men said that they saw us doing “the dukey.” I had no idea what they were talking about. All I knew was that my Mom and stepfather proceeded to whip us as if we’d gone to the grocery store and stolen $100 worth of candy and soda. Both “dukey” and “faggot” were part of my vocabulary — again.
The mind of a child is a strange place. Mine was no different. For years afterward, I’d managed to forget these most painful memories. I managed to bury them without burying all of my other memories, so many memories that I have for the last forty-one out of my forty-five years. I somehow didn’t remember the connections between my Big Wheel, the light-skinned teenager and standing in the middle of South Sixth, waiting to be run over. I didn’t remember my Mom’s response to finding out that her six-year-old son had been sexually assaulted.
It’s ironic. Ironic because I’ve already written my coming-of-age memoir in Boy @ The Window. I spent the better part of a decade researching, writing and revising it before self-publishing it in 2013. I included excruciating details about my family, my Mom, my father Jimme. I included as many relevant and embarrassing events as I could about how I became the person I always wanted to be. And with all that work, I never remembered the moment a teenager forced his penis tip into my mouth.
I only remembered during the holidays in 2014. One night in early December, I had a really bad trying-to-escape dream — again. This time, though, I remembered the taste of a penis in my mouth, and then I saw the light-skinned teenager. Even in my dream, I said, “That’s him. That’s it.”
After I woke up, a flood of images erupted in my brain. The Chevy Malibu and me standing in the street. Seeing the light-skinned kid who assaulted me on the playground at 616 on the same day the other kids chased Darren and me around the building while pelting us with pebbles and rocks. The wall of fear that my Mom had on her face when the neighbors told her that they thought Darren and me were “faggots” because we were standing so close to each other that we looked like we were “doing the dukey.”
The now-remembered incident explained so much. My Mom’s constant fear that I’d turn out gay. My father Jimme constantly calling me a “faggat” (as he pronounced it when he was drunk) whenever I stepped out of line or looked at people the wrong way. My Mom giving my one-time idiot stepfather Maurice carte blanche to “turn” me and Darren “into men” through Isshin-ryu karate and draconian physical abuse. Me being terrified at times when around Black guys on the basketball courts or in other social setting. My looking at young women from afar, attainable and yet all but unattainable for me. The sheer desire to save the people in my life from violence and destruction, especially my Mom and Darren, but the inability to do either.
My family’s fear of the mere possibility that I or my brother Darren could be gay drove many of their measures of physical, verbal and emotional abuse. So much so that they ignored all the signs of my actual abuse. Like standing in middle of the street to get run over by a car, were just considered “defiant” or “weird.” Or with me constantly chewing my fingernails right down to nail bed. Or me constantly stuffing sandwiches and other food down into the recesses of my winter coats, having already ripped out the pockets, and leaving the food there. Or the day I stood on Nathan Hale’s playground during recess in May ’77, when I took some string from my red and blue-striped t-shirt, gradually unraveled it, and swallowed nearly a third of it. My Mom figured she could beat the “something’s wrong with you, fool” out of me. My father calling me a “faggat” from the time I turned fourteen was just tough love, not a form of abuse piled on top of abuse.
Now that I remember everything about the physical and the sexual abuse, what do I do next? It’s been forty years since I found out how horrible life could be. It’s not as if I’ll be able to track down and then beat up the light-skinned teenager, who’s now in his early fifties, assuming he’s still alive.
I could start by revising Boy @ The Window. I wasn’t just weird because I wore a kufi, spoke too slowly, or grew up with weird people. I wasn’t just a child of poverty, abuse, and divorce. I was also a sexual abuse victim, all but completely unacknowledged, and yet such a major part of the story.
Forgiving my abuser could be at the top of the list. It would be difficult to be angry at someone whom I’d forgotten about for nearly four decades. But you know what? If I could just punch him in the throat and then knee him in the balls until one fell out and rolled down the street, that would give me some satisfaction.
Mostly, I’m just satisfied that I know my past in full. I already paid the bill. Now that I know what I paid for, I can move forward. I can look at my past, present, and future with more sanity than I thought possible.