What’s A Best Friend Look Like? Don’t Mind That Monster Behind The Curtain
*Trigger warning: non-explicit mention of grooming and childhood sexual abuse.
Losing My Dad
My father spent the last month and a half of his life in the hospital before he died in the late 1970s. I was a six-year-old boy at the time. I wasn’t sure why he was sick in the hospital but later in my life, I would find out he was detoxing from years of alcohol abuse. He made it through the detox but his liver and organs gave out shortly thereafter. The damage was done and my father ran out of time. He lost his power of choice.
Dad was a functional alcoholic. He was a good man to many including his little boy but he wrestled with demons inside. I will write about him later. I miss my dad but this post is about football cards, best friends, and one horrible fucking monster!
I start with my dad’s story because that is how I “won” my monster’s affection and attention. My father slowly died in a hospital bed and my mother was distracted picking up the pieces of her broken dreams. My protection was compromised, and a monster smelled opportunity. I wasn’t special. I was available.
My Monster and Football Cards
I am a football fan and when I was six, this fandom really began to blossom. Like many kids my age, I collected football cards. Every time I could get my hands on twenty-five cents, I would run to the corner candy store and buy a pack of Topps Football Cards.
About five or six feet outside the store, I would open the wax paper, bite into the petrified stick of bubble gum and go through the cards…got it, got it, got it, need it, got it, need it, need it, got it, need it, got it. This happened almost every day.
My buddies and I would trade our doubles and triples, trying to acquire that elusive missing card that completed a team, all the while amassing multiples of our favorite players. I own dozens of used Joe Montana cards. We collected them but we didn’t give a damn about keeping them in mint condition.
I played with my cards almost every day. I would organize the cards by teams with the team leaders and checklist on top. Each team was rubber banded separately for easy reference. I would flip cards with my friends and the owner of the card closet to the wall would win all the cards tossed in that round. I would memorize the player stats on the rear of the cards.
I attribute my love for math today to those card stats. Sometimes when I was bored, I would dump an entire year of cards on my floor and reorganize the cards numerically by the series card numbers on the rear.
Football cards served as an oasis from a world that was falling apart at the seams. That’s where I would go to get away and unplug when my head was on overload.
He could sense that. So, that’s why he used them to build my trust.
A Friendship Is Born
When I look back, it was my interest in these cards that he used to win my attention and begin to build my trust. He was a close family relative who lived in the neighborhood. He would check in on us daily to say hello and see if we needed anything.
My grandmother, who helped care for my little brother and me while my mother was at work, looked forward to his visits. They served as a pleasant break in her daily grind. I’m sure it was difficult being thrown into duty to care for two little boys.
He would knock on the door unannounced, and my grandmother would perk right up and welcome him in. She would offer him a cup of tea and a pastry. He would always accept. Sometimes he would bring fresh produce from the huckster or rolls from the neighborhood bakery.
While waiting for the water to boil, he would walk over to me and ask what I was doing. Often, I was engrossed in my football cards. He wanted to know about them. He asked who I liked most, and which teams were my favorites. He asked if he could go through the cards with me. Of course, I was happy for him to join me.
He was one of the few adults who had any interest in my football cards. The other adults were wrapped up in grown-up things. Not him. He always appreciated my cards and our time together. I loved talking to him about them. It was nice.
At some point, the tea kettle would boil and the tea would be ready. He would go into the kitchen and sit with my grandmother and while sipping the tea and eating pastries, they would solve the world’s problems. This is how he built her trust, too. This process repeated itself daily.
His visits weren’t long, maybe a half-hour or so, but they were impactful. Impactful for both me and my grandmother. Once in a while, he would even bring a pack of football cards for me and he was always super interested to learn which of the new cards I needed, and which were my favorites.
This is how he won the affection of a six-year-old boy who needed a strong and loving man in his life.
My “Special” Friend
For about two years, I had a special friendship with a man I trusted. Each step of the way he was charming, loving, and extremely manipulative. When my father died, this friend was where I went to cry and find answers to my many questions. He taught me that death was a part of life and that it was okay to be angry at God and the world. He told me I could express myself freely with him without judgment.
With his compassion came hugs. The hugs grew longer and tighter over time. Soon after he introduced gentle touching and petting. Touching moved to caresses. Caresses progressed to light fondling and stroking…etc. Short periods of time passed before each of his escalating actions.
He was very patient and allowed my trust to grow. He was my best friend and I loved him. Unfortunately, I would be reminded that life can be cruel and unfair in the not-too-distant future.
A Monster Begins to Appear
About two years into our special friendship, doubt started to creep into my mind. I started to question his intentions and motivation. My spidey senses started to kick in. Of course, he was as cunning as ever and did his best to extend his time in his Monster’s Playground.
A Monster’s Playground appeared when our physical connection was equaled by an emotional connection. His control was at its pinnacle and he manipulated me so carefully that I actually cared deeply for him. It was the perfect blend of what he desired, and he was in complete control. If monsters have a heaven, a Monster’s Playground is where you will find it.
There are several other phases I went through during my seven years of molestation. I will peel back the layers in future posts.
Not Your Typical Monster, Or Is He?
I was raised to fear “stranger danger.” Avoid strange men offering candy and never get in a white-paneled van if invited. My monster didn’t fit that mold. He was a trusted family member who always had a smile on his face. He was the life of the party and would regularly make the other adults in the room have a belly laugh.
He was an honored war veteran and a community leader. He was even celebrated as a great man at his funeral. I know because I was there disguised as a grieving family member. He was preapproved as safe by the adults in my life and that’s what made him so fucking dangerous.
My Dark Passenger
As I approached my teenage years, I grew stronger. I broke out of his shackles in an attempt to pursue a normal life. Unfortunately, my mental battle was far from over. I would often find a dark passenger by my side as I struggled with shame, low self-confidence, negative self-talk, and self-hatred.
I suffered years of post-traumatic stress on my own. The good man inside of me would fight for the life I truly deserve but I’d always find a path to self-destruction. I needed an oasis from the deep-rooted pain I felt inside. Alcohol and drugs would provide it. I was a good man with a beautiful family, but I was fighting demons in my head, just like my father.
A large part of my healing process has been the realization of how manipulative and cunning child molesters are as they build their hunting grounds. Most don’t show up in our lives as monsters. They prey on opportunity, build trust, exploit vulnerability, and reassure us along the way.
For years, I struggled to forgive myself for my actions. All I wanted was to bury it and run in the other direction. But there is a reason we follow these people into our personal hell.
Our abusers earned our friendship and had the respect of those in our lives whose job it was to protect us. It is the monster who violated the pact they made with an adoring child.
As a father, now I can appreciate this more than ever. The trust my children have in me is unparalleled. It is a responsibility of the greatest magnitude in my world. Fortunately, for my children, I have good intentions.
Monsters have evil intentions. Unfortunately, their path to trust is often the same. That’s why all of us good adults in the world need to keep our eyes wide open.
Take The Pledge
Pledge to protect the children. There are kids out there who need our help. Let’s do our part to expose the monsters of the world. There is an abundance of free resources online. For example, here is a two-minute video on warning signs that a child may be a victim of sexual abuse.
Use the hashtag #EyesWideOpen to let the world know you pledge to #ProtectOurKids.
I will not rest until every monster in this world is exposed or too fucking scared to act or their impulses. I hope you’ll join me.
I look forward to our collective sharing and growth together as thrivers!