It was the summer before fifth grade, so I was nine. My father had moved out, for reasons that no one would explain for a quarter century, so money was a bit tight.
We ended up with a boarder. I was nine, so what do I know, but he seemed fairly old to me. I’ll guess now that he was in his late forties or his fifties. Friendly guy named Howard. From my mother’s perspective, he was a godsend. He took care of us.
He took the whole family out to breakfast on Sundays. I’d eat the pancakes, then go into the bathroom and throw them up. It turned out that I’m sensitive to milk and needed to spend a year avoiding the stuff, but I now eat cheese and ice cream and drink mochas. I don’t eat pancakes. I don’t let myself throw up either.
He babysat too, when my mother needed an evening out. He would pull out magazines to show my younger brothers, ask them how they felt about what they were seeing. He wanted me to look and talk and show too, but as long as there were younger and more compliant children around, I could refuse. Not get away, because that would have meant being alone and more vulnerable, but not have to participate. I still learned far more than I needed to know at nine, none of it useful for doing anything more than separating me further from the other kids my age.
It stopped after a friend stayed the night and told her mother. Mine wanted to know why we hadn’t told her. I don’t know that we had any answers, but having been raised to do nothing in bad situations, I’m not surprised.
He went away. I don’t think he was charged, because I don’t remember having to talk with anyone about what happened. There are plenty of things I don’t remember from that age, though.
Lessons learned: (1) Protecting yourself often means failing others who need protection too. (2) Someone will always question how you handle it.
I’m writing this now for the one person who deserves to know. I’m posting it because there are a few others who might get something out of it. I’ve never talked to anyone about it, not for any of (what I assume are) the standard reasons, but because I don’t want to spend any more time or energy on it. There are things that did me far more damage. In all the stuff I carry around with me, this one is a minor scar.
It might not be minor to you, which I understand. I still don’t want to talk about it. Or hear about it. If you feel you need to write something, Sheril’s got some suggestions about where your note can do some good for people who need it, badly. If that’s not enough for you, she has some other suggestions about things you can do to help those people. Not all of them involve your money. Do those.