How Do You Forget?

According to this story by Jennifer Delgado in the Chicago Tribune, a man says he was sexually molested in 1977 or 1978 but that he forgot about until 2011. He alleged this happened at St. Rita of Cascia High School in Chicago. He says: “Even now… I am still haunted by the torture I endured as a teen.”

How did he forget?

I’d like to know.

What I experience in the way of physical abuse, from my father and at Glenwood School for Boys was something I didn’t forget. And the sexual abuse that happened at Glenwood was never forgotten. Yes, details get lost, but not the main event.

I can’t forget when my father’s fists hit me, or how he abused my bother. Nor can I forget the substitute houseparent who would put his hands down my pajama’s before bedtime and feel me. He would have me sit in his lap while he did this. He told other boys that it was against the rules to wear underwear under their pajamas and that he had to “make sure” they weren’t breaking the rules. Most of them he had pull the waistband away from their body so he could look down.

I won’t forget the man who was put in charge of the ROTC program—which encouraged physical abuse and institutionalized it. He was a fat younger man that the boys ridiculed by calling him “Pooh Bear” because of his rotund nature. He had come to Glenwood fresh from some sort of scandal with a Boy Scout troop.

He created the rank of “Quatermaster” in each house and assigned it to his favorite boy. I was assigned this role though I did not want it. In reality it had no meaning, it was just an excuse for him to spend time with you. I was called to his apartment on campus one day. Apparently I got there after some of his former Scouts showed up. I inadvertently interrupted something. I knocked on the door and heard the flurry of people moving about quickly. He came to the door a bit flustered and opened it.

I looked in and saw three of four boys standing around nervously. The room smelled of sweat and I could see some of the boys were sexually aroused in their pants. The boys looked worried and I was sent away very quickly but I knew what was going on. I heard about these sorts of things on campus. I knew it was common especially for the much older boys to sexually use the younger ones. It was always a major joke at the tables.

I can’t forget the time Pooh Bear called me to the ROTC office and came up with some excuse as to why I was to be punished. He bent me over his desk as if I were to receive “swats” and pulled down my pants. He didn’t hit me, but I was crying as if he did. He moved behind me and started rubbing up against me. He didn’t penetrate me, he pushed between my butt cheeks and my legs until he orgasmed and then told me to pull up my pants and to stop crying. He did that once.

The fondling from the substitute houseparent happened numerous times. He was good friends with one of the teachers who tried to get me to spend Christmas vacation with him. I said no. I wanted to go home and be with my brothers and my mother, even though he promised to take me to a beach in Mexico. He never did anything but I’m sure he would have had I gone with him.

The swim coach was also very much into the boys. He wouldn’t allow us to wear swimsuits in the pool. He leered at us constantly. When swimming was over he would stand in the doorway of the shower room watching every boy insisting that we had to soap up—mostly for his enjoyment. I don’t know if he touched anyone. I think he was someone who just watched. As least he never touched me.

But those who did, Pooh Bear, and this substitute houseparent, were never forgotten. I can’t tell you how many times the houseparent fondled me, not for sure. It was several. He had me sit in his lap and I could feel him pressing up against my butt from below. He wasn’t aggressive the way Pooh Bear was, he was more gentle and I was unsure of the whole thing. It felt like love to me and I needed love, but I know what it was now.

I can’t remember the year that Pooh Bear arrived. I may have been thirteen or fourteen. He didn’t stay long. I suspect he was caught in some scandal and removed from his post quietly, sent off somewhere else. I doubt the police were called, that just wasn’t done. And Glenwood certainly wouldn’t want the scandal. But the school was riff with physical abuse and sexual abuse.

If I don’t count the boys who were molesting younger boys, and only consider the staff, there were at least four or five men who had sexual interests in the boys. There could have been others I was unaware of. There were at least three of the men who I think of as sadist, in the way they liked to inflict pain on the boys. To my knowledge none of them were sexually involved with the boys, but they seemed always to be on the lookout to give boys “swats,” which were extremely painful—often leaving bruising. They tended to do this until they brought the boy to tears.

The other men were gentler, for the most part. They preferred to win the boy over to get what they wanted, where the three sadists enjoyed boys fearing them.

Sure there are details I’ve forgotten. But, I can’t forget the other. I’ve tried. I’ve played games in my head to excuse it. I’ve tried to convince myself I wanted it, or that I deserved it, or that it was just nothing. But the one thing I’ve never done is forget it.

PS: I have little doubt that young children, who do not experience abuse throughout their childhood can forget. But I do question someone who was in high school who says they forgot. I don’t know why the two brothers, just under me in ago, remember. They might remember the physical abuse from our father. I don’t know for sure what happened to them at Glenwood, where both of them were also students. I am sure they got some of the physical abuse, I don’t know about sexual abuse. I’ve never talked to them about it. I have been out of touch for decades as I explained in an earlier post. I was afraid to ask them at the time. I know my third brother was much too young to remember our father and he never went to Glenwood.

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The Regrets of a Big Brother Who Failed

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Decades have gone by and we don’t speak. You don’t know why I withdrew and the thing is, I don’t think I can every tell you. I doubt you will ever find this site, or read these things. And much of what I write about you were too, too young to remember.

I was your big brother—now I’m not sure what I am. Big brothers defend their little brothers. They protect them. I couldn’t do that. I failed.

When father died I was 11. The oldest of the three of you was just 9, then 6 and the youngest, not yet one year old.

One of you once told me that I was the lucky one because I knew our father. He was the lucky one that didn’t. I know he doesn’t remember. The two of you who are older, I don’t think you remember much.

I stood in the hallway screaming at the top of my lungs demanding that Dad stop beating our mother. His response was to hit me. He was a big man—who is this just my memory tricking me? He had been a Marine, did you know that? He was a fire fighter by day, wife beater, child beater by night. Harsh? True, it is, but it also what I most remember. Those memories were beaten into me. Our father did it to me.

R., you are the second oldest. I don’t know what you remember. You slept on the bunk bed that we shared. I can’t remember if you had the bottom bed or the top. It was the corner of the room. I can’t remember what you did when the drinking and fighting began. I know I tried to cover my ears. I know I tried to hide under the bed. I know you were there, I just can’t remember how you responded. When it got bad I’d go to the hallway. I was going to stand there and do what big brothers had to do. I was going to protect you. I got bruises and welts for trying.

P, you were only six when died. Most of this is likely to be things you don’t remember. You must have heard it as a  child, but I don’t know how you remember it. And, G, you never remembered any of it. How blessed you are because of that.

R., when you and I were sent to Glenwood, to make life easier for our mother, it was my job to protect you. I made them promise we would be together. I was your brother and loved you and wanted to protect you. I figured the nightmare was over and life could be good—as long as we were together.

They forced us apart. You lived on the other side of campus. At mealtime they had you at one table across the room from me. We couldn’t sit together, we couldn’t even go to say hello to one another. We had shared a room together almost from time you were born. Now, Glenwood made sure we hardly spent minutes per day together.

We could go home on weekends but mother rarely came for us. I don’t know what she wanted from us, from him, or from her own life. I don’t know whether to despise her or feel sorry for her.

Today I stumbled across a marriage record for our father, and his first wife. I saw the date and her full time. I know about their son, Robert. I suspect none of you knew that you have another older, half-brother. I thought about him. He was at the funeral you know, but then what of that do you remember?

I felt sorry for Eunice, Dad’s first wife, and Robert. My first thought was that they lost Dad. But I think they were blessed because of it. I suspect Eunice must have known what he was like. I doubt it started when he married our Mom. Perhaps the reason they broke up was because of his abuse. 

But, Robert was only a few years old when his father married another woman, our Mom. Dad was in the Marines, he saw combat you know. I also learned something new today, that I never knew. One week after he met Mom he married her. She couldn’t have known much about the man she married. Did she know he had an ex-wife and son already? Did she know he was a drunk? Did she know he was violent? I would think not. Whatever possessed her to marry a man she only knew a few days? I’m sure she spent a lifetime regretting it. And, I have to think, she regretted us. She regretted having children she couldn’t or wouldn’t protect. And, I suspect she felt stuck in the marriage because of us. That might explain so much about her distance. I suspect I got the worst of it because I was the original ball and chain that tied her down to this man who was so cruel.

I was born only four years after Dad’s first marriage. And with him in the war, I doubt his divorce from Eunice was early in the marriage. He must have married Mom not long after the divorce with Eunice.

It was Mother’s Day when he died. G., you were just over 10 months old at the time. Aunt L had been camping that weekend when she returned home a neighbor girl ran out to tell her that our father had died. He and his father had the same name. She thought it was grandpa. When she learned it was Dad, not Grandpa, she drove and got us. I remember her putting us in the car and taking her to the home she shared with Grandma, her mother. She, of course, was our mother’s sister.

This, for me, was a good day. It was the day I thought the abuse would stop. 

I was afraid of Glenwood, but knowing that you, R, would be there made it easier. And then they took you away to other side of campus. One year later P was sent to Glenwood to join us. Once again it was to make Mom’s life easier—getting rid of us was so easy. We didn’t want it. But I don’t remember any remorse on her part. I think she saw us as obligations, not children. 

First, the bullying and violence at Glenwood was something I only thought was happening in the older “cottages,”—that is among the older boys. But I learned it was endemic on the entire campus. The whole Glenwood system was built in way to foster abuse—mostly physical, but also sexual.

Once I realized that the things that were happening to me, were campus wide experiences I knew they were happening to you. Or, at least I assume they were. 

I had failed as an older brother—twice. I couldn’t protect you from Dad and I couldn’t protect you from Glenwood.

Do you remember when a staff member, that the boys called Pooh Bear, came along? I do. He had been a former scout leader who I believe left under suspicious circumstance. He continued to have sexual relations with some of the boys from his former troop, even after he started living on campus. There was one building where numerous staff lived. He stayed there. One day I knocked on his door, thought I can’t remember why. There were muffled sounds and yells for me to wait. When the door opened he was flustered and standing there were three boys, not Glenwood boys, but scouts. They looked flustered as well. I immediately sensed what had been going on. He got rid of me very quickly.

Pooh Bear, whose real name I have either forgotten, or blocked out, took over the ROTC program. That was mandatory for all of us. He created a rank previously not used at the school, that of quartermaster. In each house, or unit, he would appoint one boy as quartermaster. If he fancied you, you were in, and if he didn’t you were out. He made me quartermaster, but not just me, R, you were put in that position as well. I think P was also. 

Given how he treated me I could only assume that he did the same to the two of you. I have not yet talked about what he did, and I will leave that now. I simply am not ready to go into detail.

But after my experiences with him—one of which left me in tears—I had to assume that all his quartermasters had received the same treatment. I had failed you both a second again. I couldn’t protect you from our father. I couldn’t protect you from the bullying and hitting that went on at Glenwood. And I couldn’t protect you from Pooh Bear. I know Pooh Bear was not alone among the staff there, I know of the others. We were their type: blond haired and blue eyed. There were at least four such male staff members well know to all the boys on campus—how could the school have been ignorant?

I once went to the chaplain to try and talk about this sort of thing. I brought up one incident, which was relatively minor. It was to see if I could talk to him. But he brushed it off and basically made it clear that no one liked “tattle tales” and that I grow up. I never told him the rest. He wasn’t interested. I don’t know if he realized how bad things were, but his lack of interest allowed them to continue. That was the only time I talked about it during those years.

Mom got sick. She wouldn’t tell us much. I think it was lung cancer. She thought she was going to die. So she married again. I don’t think it was for love—did she ever marry for love? Al was a race car driver at some time, previously married and I think he had seven kids of his own—all of them had names starting with the initial K: there was Kandy, Kevin, Kary, and more I can’t remember. I think Mom’s idea was to marry someone in case she died.

She didn’t die, at least not then. And not long after she was released from the hospital Al disappeared from her life. I wanted him as a father. He was a nice man. But she fought with him, a lot. I got mad one day and screamed at her for it. Even though I knew it was a lie I told her she had done the same thing with our Dad. I didn’t acknowledge what he did to her. I always regretted that.

Glenwood wasn’t keen on high school students. Only a few stayed on campus and they attended the local public high school. They were the top of the totem poll. They could do almost anything they wanted. I know one of them was caught in a basement shower screwing one of the younger boys. I think it was in Spaulding (or Spalding) residence. He wasn’t relieved of authority over the boys. All I know was the campus was awash with the story and he seemed a bit embarrassed at being caught, but he remained an ROTC officer with power over the boys. Even when Pooh Bear was eventually caught he was just quietly asked to leave campus—as far as I know nothing every happened to him.

I had graduate grade school and was now in high school. Mom had briefly remarried and the Glenwood years were over. But, I felt as I had betrayed you. I had been so separated from you all at Glenwood I felt as if I had stopped knowing you. And I felt guilty. I should have protected you and I didn’t. I realize now that I couldn’t.

There was so little I could do. Back then, this sort of abuse was routinely hidden out of view. Both the physical and the abuse of children was just not talked about.

I came home feeling distant from you. I wanted to apologize for failing you. And I couldn’t. So, I hid away from you staying in my room reading. I never became the brother I should have been. Being with you only reminded me how I, the older brother, couldn’t stop the physical abuse, or any sexual abuse you may have experienced.

Now, so much time has gone by I can’t come back. I left home while in college and never returned. I called Mom all the time. In my entire life she never called me. I moved to the city and might see you at Christmas but then moved out of the area and was thousands of miles away. None of you called me, and I couldn’t call you. I didn’t want to discuss what happened. I thought I could just sweep all that away and start over.

I followed you as much as I could on the internet. I know I have nephews and nieces, who I have never known. I wish I knew what they looked like. I had some email correspondence with G, but then his email changed and I was never given a new one. Our Aunt tells me she never hears from you either and doesn’t know where you are. If I tried hard enough I could reach you. But I wont.

I won’t because if I did I’d have to explain my absence for some many years. To do that I would have to tell you painful things which you probably don’t remember. Maybe the stuff at Glenwood is something you remember. Or maybe you escaped Pooh Bear’s advances—I didn’t. But I’ve always assumed you did. And maybe you did, but it was something you have put out of mind. I don’t know.

To explain my absence I’d have to tell you about Dad’s beatings. You probably don’t remember any of that, or very little of it. I’d have to tell you that chances are good you suffered the same physical abuse, and worse, at Glenwood. These are memories you may not have. And to give them to you would be too cruel. If you have forgotten them, perhaps it is to your benefit. I can’t forget them. And for you to understand my absence you would have to understand those memories. And I don’t want you to live with them

I have often felt empty without you as my brothers. Knowing about nephews and nieces, even seeing a small unclear photo of one of them today has been feeling depressed and lonely.

I hope you have wonderful, happy lives. I really do. If you do, my reappearance in your life, would only give you sad memories, if not traumatic ones. You would ask me why I have never contacted you. And I don’t know how to answer that without given you painful thoughts. So, I’m not planning on contacting you. I wish you all had more public information on the internet so I can see my family. When our Aunt is gone, I’ll only have you guys. But you were taken from me decades ago by our father, by Glenwood and by the guilt I lived with because I failed at being the big brother you needed. I’m so sorry about that.  

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The Lies and Fear Begin

Please remember, if anyone actually reads this, that if you want to understand what happened, you should start with the earlier posts. Everything here is as it happened, as best I can remember.

Up until the day I watched my father die, no other person had inflicted the pain on me that he did.  His cruelty when drunk seemed endless. While it is hard to remember my thoughts, I’m sure that with his death I thought relief would come.  I thought the rest of my childhood would be one with cruelty and violence. I didn’t realize just how much worse it could become.

My father was a fire fighter in Chicago. His station was a good hour away from us, perhaps a bit more. And it had a dormitory for the fire fighters who were on duty. He was frequently away and that meant days without pain. Only when he came home and starting drinking would the violence begin. But even then it wasn’t every time he got drunk, though it only happened when he was drunk. There was a strange sort of relief for me in the drinking.  I knew that the alcohol allowed him to commit the violence. I could assure myself this wasn’t how he would treat us when sober. He didn’t mean to inflict pain and suffering. And that comforted me. It wasn’t intentional.

This, perhaps, is one of the hardest things for me to understand about Glenwood School for Boys, at least when I went there. The pain that was inflicted on us boys was fully intentional. There was no excuse of being drunk. When we were hit, which was often, it was done as policy on campus. What I would soon discover was that the entire set up on campus was one that encouraged violence and institutionalized it. Older boys were given control of the younger ones and allowed to inflict pain on them for a number of reasons. It was a system that encouraged brutality and abuse—physical, mental and sexual.

I had pleaded with my mother when she told us we were being sent to this school and that we would live there. I didn’t want to go. She wouldn’t listen. Even though my two youngest brothers were too young to attend, and were at home, her excuse was she couldn’t care for us. In reality, she rarely cared for us. I can never remember her being affectionate. I can never remember her caring for us. She rarely cleaned the house and she hated to cook for us. We spent much of childhood eating take-away.  Later in my childhood she stopped cooking entirely and simply ordered takeaway every night of the week.  

Her efforts at protecting us from the violence of my father were minimal. And the few times she fled, mainly because she was being beaten, were only temporary. She always made us go back no matter how many times we asked her to not go back. Actually, it was I who asked her. My brothers were far too young to fully understand what happened.

I was promised that when we were taken away that my brother, who was two years younger than I, would be kept with me. I told them I wouldn’t go unless we stayed together. I felt it was my obligation to protect him. Mother told me that the school had assured her we would not be separated.

I remember the drive to the school; at least from the moment we entered the campus. There was a long road heading straight for a building in the middle of the campus. This was the administration building. To the left was a large green field with a huge flagpole. In the distance was a church. My mother has us dressed in our good suites, apparently to make an impression.

She parked in the parking lot in front of administration and we walked up the stairs. As I remember it the foyer was a large room in the center of the building with offices to the sides. But, this was my childhood, and perhaps everything seemed larger than it really was, because I was so much smaller then.

We were to meet Mrs. V., a social worker. She had an office there. She first spoke to my mother alone. My brother and I sat alone in the empty room outside the office. We were shaking with fear and nervous. Besides us were small suitcases with our clothes. All we knew was that our mother would shortly abandon us here, leaving us to an unknown fate—unknown to us, and I hope unknown to her.

I never knew what Mrs. V. and mother discussed. No one told us. Mrs. V. came out all friendly and smiling and brought us to her office. She told us she was there to help us. Perhaps this is why I have such distrust of anyone who pretends to be there to help others.  She assured us that we could come and talk to anytime we wanted and that she was our friend. She told my mother to leave. I can’t remember mother hugging us, or even kissing us goodbye. She got in her car and drove away. My brother and I were both crying.

Within second Mrs. V. called for someone to join her. She instructed this person—was it a man or a woman?—to take my brother to one of the cottages on campus where the boys lived. And she started taking me in the other direction.

I realized it had all be a lie. They weren’t going to be with Rob (a pseudonym for my brother). There were taking us to different cottages and separating us. I cried out: “But you promised we could be together.” She told me, “You’ll see him soon enough. You don’t want to give me trouble on your first day do you?” The question seemed more like a threat than a genuine question.

I watched, as Rob was being lead away. He looked over his shoulder at me as if I had betrayed him as well. We were close until that moment. But from the second he was pulled away from me our relationship was never the same again. I always felt, when near him, that I had abandoned him and broken my promise to protect him. I can’t tell you what he thought. In the decades since we have never spoken of the matter again. And, if truth be told, I haven’t spoken to him at all in almost 30 years. That day broke our family and the sense of betrayal I felt meant I left home as soon as I could, and then went as far away as possible. I didn’t know this would happen, not that day, but because of everything else that happened, it wa

s inevitable.

The one lesson I learned was that this social worker couldn’t be trusted. She lied to us and she didn’t care. Whatever would happen, from that day forward, I could never go and speak to the one person who allegedly was their as our advocate. Her dishonesty meant that when other things happened, perhaps things she would not approve of, there was no temptation to tell her. I knew it would do no good. She couldn’t be trusted.

I was taken to one of the old cottages on campus. It was built in the 1800s. The school was founded in 1887. I don’t know the whole story but we were constantly told that Lincoln’s son was involved somehow.  I think the building I was housed in was built around the time the school was founded. And the woman hired to watch us there wasn’t much younger than the building.

She was a slovenly elderly woman who smoked a lot. I remember her hair was one of these dye jobs you often seen in the elderly. I think it was supposed to be dyed red but the color was a mish-mash with grayish-white roots and the red seemed faded. She was a nasty woman who didn’t seem to like children at all.  She never spoke, she barked. She ordered me to take my suitcase and follow her upstairs. I was taken to a bare room, with a large window without any curtains.

There was a metal-framed bunk bed with a thin mattress on top. A chair sat next to the bed. I don’t remember any other furnishings. There was a cupboard in the hallway where we could keep our clothes.  The room was ba

re of decorations and seemed to have a high ceiling common of the era in which it was built. She ordered me to put my clothes away and change out of my suit. There is little else I remember of that day, from that point on.

What I do remember was the bed. The thin mattress barely provided any protection from the springs beneath it. Another boy was in the bunk above me. I can’t remember him at all. The bed squeaked terribly with even the slightest of movement. The light from outside easily flooded the room. I was afraid. It was the first time in my life that I was alone, away from home, and I started to cry. I tried to cover up the crying.

The housemother, who we were forced to call “Ma,” was prowling the hallway, waiting to hear the slightest infraction. She heard me in spite of my efforts to cover my tears. She stormed into the room and screamed at me: “We don’t put up with crying around here. Stop it immediately.”

I forced myself to stop and lay there terrified of this nasty witch of a woman.  After hours lying their afraid, and feeling so alone, I finally fell asleep. A few hours later I work up horrified. I had wet the bed.
This was not something I had done before, at least not since I was a small child. But I could feel that I was wet and cold and so was the bed. I now know this was just a sign of the trauma I was experiencing, being

forced away from my home and put into a strange environment. And any decent childcare worker would know this as well. Ma didn’t know it. If she did, she didn’t care.

I tried to cover up my transgression by making the bed and putting on my street clothes. I sat in the chair until I heard her in the hallway screaming to everyone to get up and brush his teeth. She then started going from room to room screaming at any boy who wasn’t fast enough to please her. She came into my room and stared at me for a second. Then she looked at the bed.

She suspected something wasn’t right and pulled down the blanket to find wet sheets and my piss-stained pajamas bundled underneath.

She turned and glared at me. Here is where a real childcare giver would offer sympathy. She howled at me and slapped me. And then it got worse. She screamed loudly, for every child to hear, that the “New baby wet his bed.” She ridiculed me for what had happened and told me she would show me how they deal with baby bed-wetters like myself. She made me pull all the sheets off the bed, along with my pajamas and carry them through the hallway of staring boys. Every one of them was made aware of what I had done, as if I had done it to purposely upset her, instead of done it out of fear.

I was taken down two flights of stairs into the basement where there was a washbasin. She made me scrub everything by hand in a tub of cold water with a bar of soap. She stood there yelling at me while I did it. And then, after she felt I had scrubbed them enough she told me that now we had to go to clothesline outside and I had to hang them up to dry. She made sure I knew that every boy on campus would see them there and that they would all know what a baby I was. She told me that every time it happened I would be punished and that each time I had to hang them out in public for the entire school to see.

What trauma I felt the day before seemed almost joyous after this incident. What I didn’t realize was that something else was happening. By forcing a boy to hang his sheets out in public, to humiliate him, the school was sending a signal to every other kid on campus. I don’t know if they did it intentionally, but whether they meant to or not, they clued the entire campus in on which kids were ripe targets for bullying.

As I try to sort through why they did this, I can’t help but think it was intentional. When I was a child there, the school operated on fear and pain. Everything was an infraction and each infraction brought corporal punishment. Each houseparent, teacher and main staff member had wooden paddles. The paddles usually had holes drilled in them so the air wouldn’t cushion the blows at all. And it was common for them to make children bend over while they beat them with the paddle. Typically there would be two to five swats, done at full strength by the adult who handed out the swats. Any adult was free to use their discretion as to when swats were deserved. And most handed them out readily.
On numerous occasions kids who were swatted would return with bruises. There were welts in all cases and heavy bruising was not unusual. Some of the boys had skin that looked almost black and purple because of the severity of the swats. And, as I would discover, these were the best you could expect. There were times that boys got as many as 10 to 15 swats. Often other boys were forced to witness the beatings.

I can remember Mr. S., the dean. He would patrol the campus with a German shepherd at his side, like some SS guard patrolling a camp. Perhaps my memory is playing tricks with me but I seem to remember an accent that made him appear more SS-like than perhaps was warranted. I saw him swat boys in front of the entire school.

He would force them to bend over, pull down their pants—to add to the humiliation that was a weapon in their arsenal—and then he pull the paddle back like a baseball bat. But instead of a ball, he would hit a boy. You could see that he put his entire body into the swing. He intended to hit them as hard as he could. The boys who flinched were told they had to start the punishment over again. Boys who screamed or cried were given additional swats. There was alwa

ys another reason to hit the boy again.

Even though I mostly managed to avoid swats myself, thought not always, each time I saw this terrified me. I would watch these adults torturing a child. They called it discipline, but that was easy for them to say, they weren’t on the receiving end. I stood there with tears running down my face. I felt sorry for the boy and tortured by the incident. They did it this way intentionally. It was to terrify the rest of us into total submission. I spent the rest of my grade school years in perpetual terror because of Glenwood School for Boys.

I know they claimed they were there to “help” us poor, unfortunate boys who had “bad circumstance.” My only crime was that my father had died. I did nothing to deserve the hell that they put me through.

For the first time, I wished the man who was my father, had still been alive. What pain he inflicted was sporadic and unintentional.

At Glenwood the pain was systemic and intentional. It was a tool they used to instill fear into the boys in order to force us into submission to adult authority. And it worked. And that is why so many of the boys were victims of other kinds of abuse, abuse that the school mostly ignored.

Another thing I became aware of was that the school was really gearing each boy up for the military. We were the boys that were expendable. We didn’t come from “good” families. If we had they would have had the money to allow us to stay home when we lost a parent. But boys like me, from working class homes, were expendable. Other boys were sent to the school because they got in trouble.

Why they combined kids who were orphans, with juvenile delinquents, I don’t know. But it was the delinquent types who often ended up as “officers” over us.

My next entry will discuss the “military system” on which the school was based. It was a full-fledged training program to turn us into warriors, including uniforms, marching, a chain of command, and learning to shoot. You will see why my statement, that they were trying to turn us into military fodder, is not a far fetched as it may have sounded at first.

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A Comforting Death and Betrayal

ImageEven though I am not expecting readers, and won’t be telling anyone about this blog, there are some things you should know. The story I will tell is true. And it is ugly. It is not the childhood that anyone should have to recount. But it is mine. I am not trying to write systematically, as if this were a narrative or a news article. This is me, dealing with my issues, as they arise. And they may not arise in a logical sequence.

But, when things are mentioned in an earlier post, I will not necessarily explain them again in a later one. So, if there is anyone really reading any of this you might wish to start with the oldest posts and move forward from there.

What I will cover here is how I came to be at the Glenwood School, which is where the real nightmare began for me.

I can’t say I had a normal childhood. I thought so at the time. Today I know better. My father was not an evil man but he was a drunk. And he was a mean drunk and that normally meant taking things out on my mother and on me. My younger brothers didn’t get it as bad as I did.

My father was a big man. He had been a Marine, fought in Korea and was a firefighter. He was a man’s man. He looked a lot like Clark Gable but without the charm.

I don’t know how he and my mother meet. I do know he was married once before and that I had an older half-brother who I never really got to know.

What I do remember is the drinking and the anger. And usually his target was my mother. She was half his size, small even for a woman. She was short and skinny. She worked as a registered nurse all my life.

When father wasn’t drinking there wasn’t a problem, but he was always drinking. Often my mother tried to take myself and my brothers to hide somewhere. Usually it was at my paternal grandmother’s house. She was the one person who, even when drunk, my father tended to listen to.

On more than one occasion she would stand on the front stoop of her house and refuse him entry while we hid in her bedroom. She ordered him to leave until he was sober.

Yet her own husband was a drunk. I don’t know if he got violent the way my father did, but he was loud and obnoxious when he was. In all the years that I can remember she never allowed him into her bedroom. He was permanently in exile, sleeping in the attic alone. There were two bedrooms downstairs. One was my a small bedroom that had been my great-grandmother’s room. But she died when I was young. I have memories of her but not many.

Her room remained empty. Sometimes I slept there. Sometimes I slept next to my grandmother, it made me, and my brothers feel safe when we did.

As much I learned to despise my father I know he didn’t mean to cause me pain. I remember once he came into my room during the day. I pressed myself against the wall by my bed until I had pushed the bunk beds away from the wall, which wasn’t easy given my age and small size. I crammed myself between the bed and the wall and looked at him with terror. I was waiting for him to hit me and I was trying to find a place that would be as safe as possible.

He wasn’t drunk that day, but I didn’t understand it. I was just terrified of him. He started to walk toward me but when he saw the fear on my face he stopped. He just stood there looking at me. I was trembling, wishing he would either go away or get it over with. He looked extremely sad. It was the one time I think he realized what he had done. I just remember the expression on his face when it was clear to him that his own son was terrified of him.

He didn’t say anything. He didn’t express any regrets or even try to speak. He just looked at me with despair and turned around and walked out of the room. But things didn’t change. He’d still drink and then there were the fights. I could hear him hitting my mother. It terrified me.

One night I remember well. The screaming started and I heard thumping and bangs. I forced myself out of bed and looked into the hall. He was there and had my mother. He grabbed her on both sides of her body and lifted her into the air. He was a tall man, and she so slight, that he had no trouble lifting her up. He was hitting her head against the ceiling and screaming at her.

I screamed at him to stop. He did. He dropped her and turned toward me. I got a beating for interfering.

There were many such incidents, such as a ruined Christmas. But perhaps I will touch on them at some future time. I just don’t want to now.

All I want to do is say how we ended up at Glenwood.

It was Mother’s Day, early morning, literally before dawn. At this time there was myself and my three brothers. One was under 1 year of age. The three younger ones were in one bedroom. I had a very tiny room of my own at this time. And there was a bedroom for my mother and father.

It was still dark out when I heard the screaming. I was convinced it was another beating going on and I was afraid to leave my room. But I could hear my mother screaming over and over and calling out for me by name.

I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to go running but I was afraid to get out of bed. I was afraid he would turn on me. She kept screaming and I heard the front door open and she ran outside yelling. She ran to the house next door and started pounding on their door.

 

I finally crept out of bed and made my way down the hall until I could just peak into the living room. My father was on the couch. Something was wrong. He seemed to be having convulsions. It is hard to remember exactly how he moved. But he was moving and something was very wrong. I could see it in his face, the same thing he saw in mine for all those years—fear.

And somehow I knew. He was dying. I didn’t know what was causing it, or why it was happening. I just knew it was. And I stood there. I didn’t move toward him. I couldn’t help him. Even if I could, I knew I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t lift a hand for him, for all the times he lifted his against me.

I just stood in the hall and watched until he stopped moving. The life just drained out of him as I stood there. And I felt relief.

I heard my mother and the neighbors running up the driveway and I returned to my room. I never told her what I saw that night.

I laid in my bed and listened to the crying, and the voices. The light of an ambulance flashed across my bedroom wall. I carefully peaked out the window so that no one could see. They took the gurney out. My father was on it, covered with a sheet. He was dead before they arrived. There was nothing they could do to save him. And I was glad of that.

I crawled back into bed and went to sleep. I may even have smiled. I don’t know for sure. But that is how I envision myself, snug in bed with a blanket around me, a small smile on my face. And for the first time, I slept knowing I was actually safe.

By the time I awoke my aunt was there. This is my mother’s sister. Perhaps she had my maternal grandmother with her. I don’t remember for sure. They brought the three of us boys out. The youngest was too young to be told anything. They sat us down on the couch. I was on the left and to my right were my two brothers in order of age.

I don’t remember if it was my aunt, or my mother. But one of them said: “Your father went to heaven today.”

I knew what they meant. So did my brothers. I just sat there. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t tell them I saw it all. And I didn’t tell them what I was thinking. When I was told my father had gone to heaven, I had one thought. “No, he didn’t. Not him.” I never believed he was the kind of man who deserved heaven and it satisfied me.

My aunt bundled us into car and drove away with us. I remember all the neighbors coming out to watch us leave. The kids were knew stood there watching. By then everyone knew he was dead.

I was on the left, in the back of the car and looked out the window at them. And I was wondering if their fathers were like mine. I was wondering if all fathers were as awful as my own. I had always assumed that what we experienced was the norm. And, that morning, for the first time, I was doubting it. If the father of a friend of mine died, I wanted to know if it would make them as happy as it was making me. There would be no more screaming in the night. There would be no fists punching my mother, no one slapping me around. For the first time I thought life with tears and pain was possible.

I didn’t realize how wrong I was.

The funeral was awful. My grandmother collapsed as we sat there. They thought it was a heart attack and rushed us boys out of the room. It was just grief. Her loss I would have felt. She was a refuge for us. She saved us in ways my mother was never capable of doing. In truth, she was the closest to a mother that I really had.

It was shortly after the funeral that we were told that I and my brother Rick would be going away. They were sending us to a school. They wanted to make it sound fun and told us it was a military school and we would get uniforms. I don’t know if Rick found that appealing, but I didn’t. I wanted to stay home. For the first time in my short life I actually wanted to be home and now they were sending me away. I know I cried at the news. But my mother said she couldn’t take care of us. I don’t want to sound cruel, but she was never able to take care of us. But I didn’t want to leave.

No crying or pleading on my part would change her mind. She was sending us away and that was all there was to it.

And, for me, this was the ultimate betrayal. She was too small to protect us from the man she married. But the threat was gone. For the first time since my birth there was peace in the house. There was no drunken tirades or fists hitting soft flesh. And, now that the problem was gone, so were we. I couldn’t understand how it was possible for the two youngest to stay home and for us two to be sent away. It was a treason I would not forget. And what happened at Glenwood meant it was a treason I would never forgive. 

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Looking at the Nightmare: One Step Forward

It is not my assumption that anyone will read what I write here. The possibility that someone may is, for me, a step forward.

I have lived with things that haunt me, things that were done to me, which I have hidden and kept secret. Very little of it have I told anyone and never to a friend.
I did once come across some people who dealt with abuse and after much mental anguish I wrote them. They told me that they didn’t work in the state of Illinois and gave me the name of someone who did. But, after having pushed so hard to confide in them, and then not everything, I just couldn’t do it. I forgot about the recommendation and buried everything away again.
I have fought with myself mentally now for more years than I care to admit. The abuse I will recount took place in the 1960s when I was a reluctant student at the Glenwood School for Boys. I was there for one reason—my father had died and my mother couldn’t earn a living and take care of four boys at the same time. So two of us were shipped to the school. We weren’t rich, we were charity. But everything comes with a price, and what my mother didn’t pay in cash, I paid in pain, suffering, and mental torment for decades.
In the end I could no longer look my family in the face and disappeared from their lives, to a large extent. I was alienated from my mother who I felt allowed this to happen. And I felt as if I had betrayed my brothers as I was unable to protect them. I was the oldest and I felt it my duty to save them, but I couldn’t.
I spent my childhood in fear. In fear of abusive adults and bullying boys my own age. And worse yet, the bullies at the school were encouraged. The way the school organized student life gave the bullies power and allied them with the administration. It was a nightmare. The bullies were the favored students in an authoritarian structure and they had the power to treat you as wished—as did the adults, though not all of them. And they way the system worked there was no where to go, no one to speak to. I know. I tried.
There is no chance that what I recount here will be done systematically. It will be my opportunity to “tell the world” the truth about my childhood, even if I am the only one who will ever read it.
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