I had therapy last night.
And as I got closer to the time to leave for my therapy, and then on the train and even on the sidewalk, it was like, I couldn't get there fast enough.
My chest felt like it was going to collapse.
And I got there and sat down in a chair, and I spent the next 45 minutes sobbing and connecting to all the parts of me, the stuff that happened that made me vulnerable to the abuser, the 16-year-old who went through that that year and everything since then.
I went to an all-boys private Catholic school on Long Island called Chaminade.
It was the TV club and the radio club.
Between junior and senior year, they brought this guy in to be the moderator.
He evidently started grooming me, playing favoritism, taking my side with the other kids, showing me attention.
I'm a year younger than most people in my grade.
That's probably what made me a target or susceptible.
And at one point, pretty early in my senior year (I was 16), he presented me with a dare kind of a situation.
And I took it.
And he kind of manipulated it into his touching me inappropriately.
And that's all it was.
I just froze.
I didn't know what to do.
And he stopped quickly.
And I thought that was it.
But then he started doing what he would do for the entire year, which is take something I was already ashamed of and use it to emotionally blackmail me into doing the next thing and the next thing.
He threatened to expose it to students and family and shame me and shame them.
He took polaroid pictures at one point.
I didn't know what else to do.
I was 16.
My strategy was basically to just make it through.
If I did what he said, and I didn't tell anybody, and he didn’t tell anybody, I'd graduate.
I'd get out of here.
I would never have to think about it again.
It would be like it never happened.
I did graduate.
But that's a pivotal year, senior year.
My life really just kind of fell apart.
And it was a struggle for the next 20 years.
I tried lots of stuff.
I joined the Air Force.
I went AWOL 3 times.
I ended up getting kicked out after 9 months.
I couldn't hold a job.
I dropped out of school in the first few months.
I never went to college besides that.
I don't remember thinking of the abuse at that time.
And my strategy at that point was, "What's wrong with me? What's the next thing I'm going to do that's going to fix me?”
Substance abuse, compulsive spending and debting.
They were exit strategies, distractions.
And the undercurrent of it all was, "I'm bad. There's something wrong with me."
After about 20 years, I had been married for 13.
I had a 5-year-old daughter that we had adopted.
We owned a home in Levittown.
I found a career.
So everything on the outside looked pretty good.
But I had all kinds of secret acting-out behaviors and secret debt, credit cards that were billed to work.
It was a nightmare. It was a real nightmare.
I found 12 step recovery.
I found a program with people like myself.
I was relating to their stories.
I was relating to how they were feeling.
What I wasn't relating to was their childhoods.
There was nothing wrong with my childhood.
I grew up in a suburban Long Island home.
We always had enough, everything was fine.
Why do I have all the same symptoms and all the same problems that these people have who were abused or this or that?
I can go right now to the moment that something somebody said triggered.
That year in high school just came across my mind.
And the thought was, "Holy shit, that happened. That actually happened, and I haven't thought about it in how long? But it really happened."
My divorce came about six months later.
I started therapy, and I found other meetings I needed to go to.
More and more as I got healthier, I got sober in many different areas.
I got solvent, I paid back the IRS, all those kinds of things.
And my life became more solid.
I guess I had less of a need for the distraction and the escape and was able to, little by little, deal with it more and more in my therapy.
There was a point at which this idea of confronting my abuser started to become tangible.
I stopped at the school, and I figured, “Let me just look at it.”
I hadn't been there in 45 years.
I walked around it, I walked in it.
I went to my old locker.
I went to the different places that I had memories from.
There was a crawl space underneath the building—dirt floor, lightbulbs hanging down—that he used to take me to.
You could only access it if you had the key to this closet that was underneath a stairwell at the end of the building. And then once you're inside this janitor's closet, there's a trap door in the floor. And you would open the trap door and go down one of those metal ladders, and then you were under the building.
And probably for the second half of the school year, that's where he took me.
I stood in front of that door.
And it became a lot more real.
I connected on some level with that 16-year-old.
I got some guidance on writing a letter to the school.
It was just a letter that was going to say everything I remembered, very factual, as much detail as I could remember, and then what I believed had happened to affect me the rest of my life.
An attorney that I had become friends with suggested that I send it to the president of the school, the principal of the school, the head of the order that ran the school, the bishop in Rockville Center, and the Nassau and Suffolk County District Attorneys.
I hadn't been able to contact him, but I did have the last known address.
So before I sent the letter, my wife and I drove out to that house.
I actually got out of my car and walked up to the front door.
Nobody knew anything about him.
So I sent the letter.
Within a couple of days, I got a letter back from the school saying, "We got your letter. We forwarded it to the district attorney's office.”
That was it. Never heard another word from them.
Never heard from the diocese. Never heard from the order.
I did hear from the district attorney.
They asked me if I wanted to come in and talk about it.
They explained the statute of limitations had been long gone.
But they did try to track him down, because sometimes they find out there's something going on more recently.
He had died in 1991, the same year I got into recovery.
I wrote two more letters to the school.
But I didn't hear anything.
What I didn't expect was the release that I got from it and the energy that came.
I sent it FedEx so I would get a receipt when they received it.
I remember getting the notification and thinking, "My story is sitting on the principle's desk."
That 16-year-old boy who had no voice and couldn't go to anyone…now at least his story will be heard.
I got caught up in following the news in other cases.
I got involved with SNAP, and we started a meeting in Long Island City.
I met some people who were involved in activism, and they invited me along.
And I have been nothing but active with that, going up to Albany, doing demonstrations and press conferences.
I just gave testimony in the committee hearing that happened a few weeks ago.
I've been writing letters to the editor.
I started a blog.
I started a website.
All this stuff has come with a sense of purpose.
This bill that we're trying to get passed, it has this window which would allow older, expired cases to be brought to trial or brought to court, which would expose people that are still out on the street abusing. So it was also for the future.
And now that I have a grandson, my idea of the future has gotten much more real.
There's someone I know that's going to be alive a lot longer than me that will benefit or suffer as this thing goes forward.
But I've really gotten to the point where I think the best relationship with God is the one that you have without an intermediary.
I don't hold anything against any religion or religious beliefs, but I do have strong feelings about organized religion's hierarchy. And that comes directly from seeing what they've been doing to block this bill, to cover up these scandals, to make their own survival more important than the people that they actually exist to serve.
I could sum up my religion by saying, “If I could get quiet enough and go down deep enough in me, I would find you.”
I see that in the basic teachings of all the religions, and then they sort of get nailed down to a time and a place and a culture and they lose sight of it.
That's the shame of it.
One thing I'm always saying to people is, "As long as you don't stop doing the work, there's still hope."
For so long all I wanted was to feel ok, and I don't think I even knew what that meant.
Abuse is a developmental barrier.
You just kind of freeze in an emotional state and you just don't get past that certain thing. You're trying to get that need met.
It takes as long as it takes.
I'm so grateful that I got as far as I did.
I found help at the right time.
A lot of people don't.
Most people don’t.