|ChrisOLeary.com > Sacrificed > What Happened II|
A quick trigger warning before I get started.
This episode discusses child sexual exploitation, abuse, and assault.
I do so at a high level and not at all graphically. At a 30,000 foot level. And I skip over the worst stuff.
But, the topic itself is disturbing and I want to make sure people are aware of that before I get started.
"At least THAT never happened to ME," I say to myself, over and over again. Unconsciously repeating it, like a mantra. Trying to reassure myself.
To CONVINCE myself.
It's late 2019.
Earlier on in the year, in the late Summer, I had been contacted by another survivor of Father LeRoy Valentine and my friend the cardinal. As we talked over the course of the next weeks and months, he revealed that one aspect of his story was that he was so affected and devastated by what happened to him — just once, during his First Confession, which he made with Fr. Valentine in Face To face Confession — that he had to repeat a grade in school.
I remember thinking at the time, after he told me his story, but also, in truth, in the years since I'd started to figure out what had happened to me, "Thank GOD the stuff I endured didn't affect me academically. And didn't affect me beyond grade school."
Which, of course, was a completely absurd thing to say.
High school for me was a disaster.
One shameful failure after another.
I. Failed. Typing.
And I barely survived Freshman and Sophomore year of high school, at least.
The fact is, I didn't get my act together academically, and even start to realize my potential, until I went to college.
Out of state.
And the fact that I could forget that — and realize that my memory is a self-deluding jumble — disturbed me to no end.
Then and still.
What else is in there, disregarded?
Waiting to surprise me?
To add to the puzzle? And the shock?
What else am I going to forget? Or fail to realize?
Which means I ALWAYS have to be remembering and reviewing EVERYTHING.
And the fact that I've done that — not immediately understood, and have forgotten, my high school stuff — sows seeds of doubt that The Accuser loves to seize upon.
And torture me with.
As a result, my memories are something I'm still desperately trying to figure out.
Make sense of.
And simply sequence.
Because that lack of CERTAIN sequence, in particular, is somewhere else The Accuser targets me.
Where and how he tells me I'm lying.
For instance, several of my memories may be from the same day — Special Training and That Day, The Worst Day, for instance — but were chopped up and scattered around inside my head, such that I can't be exactly sure how they fit together.
What happened when.
I know it doesn't matter, but The Accuser loves to use it against me.
Or to try to.
And then there's the Feelbacks.
In describing the state of my memory with my therapists, the analogy I've used is a Non-Linear Video Editor like iMovie, with different tracks for Images, Video, and Audio, which my brain chopped up and scattered around in my mind.
I've spent years finding and arranging them as best I can.
Not that it matters, really.
Not that it's NECESSARY.
I know it happened.
Even if I can't always say when or in what order.
But what's weirder still — and, as I think about it, is probably the biggest thing that leads me to doubt myself — is that, most of the time, there's nothing TO my memories.
Beyond the Images, Video, and Audio.
The problem is — the angle The Accuser plays — is that, if a memory has no emotion or weight, then how could the underlying event be THAT bad?
It's almost as if a fourth track — the Emotion track — has been stripped away.
Such that it's hard for me to understand, or say, how something objectively terrible made me feel.
Which is bizarre.
But, the fact is, that Emotion track wasn't discarded.
Where there IS emotion, that's ALL there is.
Emotion that hits me, without warning. From behind. Usually, when I'm least prepared to handle it.
Like a Flashback, but of pure emotion.
That terrifies me.
Makes me feel like I'm going crazy.
What Happened II
This is Sacrificed, a survivor's eye view of the Catholic sex abuse crisis that picks up, as my story does, where the movie SPOTLIGHT left off, providing a no punches pulled, no holds barred, and, above all else, no enabling look at the crisis and its aftermath.
What happened and why and how.
Both back then and now.
My name is Chris O'Leary and I'm a survivor of the Catholic sex abuse crisis.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, I was sexually exploited, abused, and assaulted — raped — by a Catholic priest.
Then, when I went to my archdiocese for help in March 2002, and my friend the cardinal — and not the baseball kind — called me back, that's when things got REALLY bad.
When the Abuse of the Abused began.
Epitomized by my treatment at the Mass of Reparation for the sex abuse crisis, in September 2018, held mere weeks after the release of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report, where I was ignored — shunned — by all the priests in attendence.
As captured by the picture that serves as the cover art for this podcast.
Why would my archdiocese and the Catholic Church do that?
HOW could they do that?
Treat a survivor in a way that might be Catholic, but is anything but Christian? And gives the lie to the promises of the Pope and the rest of the church?
In order to protect certain powerful, connected men.
And the church.
To conceal a crime.
And larger truth.
That some survivors — including myself — were simply thrown to the wolves.
The Catholic Church knew.
And did nothing.
Not only did they MANAGE my and our abusers, they PROTECTED them.
As for VOS ESTIS LUX MUNDI, Pope Francis' bill of rights for survivors, which was supposed to — finally — end the torment and ensure we're helped?
It's a sham.
A false hope.
A cruel taunt, directed at survivors.
All of which raises what for me is the big question.
If the Catholic Church can do what it's done to me, a survivor, over the past 20 years, and what it allowed to be done to me, and us, first as children and then as adults — sacrificing us, then and now — what else can it justify?
When it comes to children, above all else.
I'll be damned if I allow what happened to me to happen to anyone else, so I can't and won't stop until I figure out what happened.
And ensure it CAN'T happen again.
If Jesus Christ can do what he did, entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to a certain and KNOWN fate, then I can do this.
I know it's the week before the 4th of July.
I think in 1980.
My parents are out of town at a convention at the Greenbriar and my brothers and I are at home with a babysitter, I think Mrs. Bartels.
I'm serving for Fr. Valentine today so, excited, I get up early.
Literally, at the crack of dawn.
While the farm report is still on.
After waiting for the interminable hours to pass, 8:30 finally arrives and I leave the house to walk up to Immacolata.
I believe the bridge over Black Creek was closed for construction, to reinforce its footings and straighten the channel of the creek, eliminating a loop that caused erosion and flooding, so I take a different path that I normally would. Instead of coming up through the Ethical Society parking lot, I walk down the lane, hop the brock wall at the end of the lane, and wind my way up Tanglewood to Clayton Road.
As I walk up the hill, past the Cronins' house, I notice the blue of the sky and am struck by how EXCITED I am.
Which I suppose is why I remember this so well?
I cross Clayton Road, walk up the grassy hill, and enter the sacristy through the East door. And Father Valentine is there to greet me with a smile.
And now I'm sitting at the base of a tree on the North side of the intersection of Clayton and McCutcheon roads.
The right tree.
After having dived through its branches.
And then the urge to keep moving comes over me.
I push aside the branches, feeling them scratch and tug and me, and walk down the East driveway of the Ethical Society and North across the parking lot.
I reach the grassy strip between the parking lot and the woods and come up short.
What am I going to do?
What am I going to say?
I go into the woods below the Ethical Society and start to walk through the woods, to head home, but end up walking around and around in circles, trying to decide whether I can EVEN go home.
I'm freaked out and terrified.
But I don't know why.
Or of what.
Eventually I again realize I need to keep moving and get out of there; I need to put some distance between myself and Immacolata.
I cut through a gap in a hedge, cross a back yard, dive through another gap, and end up at the circle at the East end of Twin Oaks, the road the runs just to the South of and parallel to Black Creek.
I follow Twin Oaks to the West. Before I get to McKnight Road, I remember that the bridge is out, so I hop the guardrail and trudge down the slope, towards Black Creek, the tangles of english ivy pulling at my shins and trying to trip me. I duck between two houses and emerge in front of my house.
From what, I have no idea.
It's some time...
7th or 8th grade.
Or maybe 6th.
Which would make it after Special Training, at least. If not The Worst Day.
I'm serving with T and D.
And, as we prepare for mass, I notice that they are doing something that I can't. They can enter the priests' side of the sacristy.
Come and go.
But I just...
This thought strikes me as I'm standing at the door between the Priests' and Altar Boys' sides of the sacristy, the big room at the back of the church where everyone gets ready for mass. I need to get something that's on the priests' side of the sacristy, by the door that's Stage Right.
And I'm just standing there.
I can't enter the room.
It's like there's a force field that's preventing me from crossing the threshold of the door.
Keeping from being able to do what T and D can do so easily.
"WHY can't I do what T and D can do so easily?" I remember noticing and thinking to myself.
That's REALLY weird.
Regardless of why, instead of walking the direct, maybe 20 feet path across the priests' side of the sacristy, from the dividing door to the Stage Right door, I instead walk all the way AROUND.
Thru the Altar Boys' side of the sacristy, through the Stage Left door, around and past the altar, entering the Priests' side of the sacristy from the outside of the Stage Right door.
I walk 100 or 150 feet rather than 20 feet.
Even then, when getting what I need — Maybe the candle lighter? And/Or some matches? — I keep one foot on the marble outside of the Priests' side of the sacristy.
Why, I don't know.
I just do. HAVE to.
All of which goes to the question of why it takes so long for survivors to come forward.
Even though this moment was sufficiently confusing and distinct that it stood out — for me to recognize and remember it, clearly — I wasn't able to UNDERSTAND it.
To make sense of it.
For 40 or more years.
Obviously, it makes sense that I would be afraid to enter the room, and walk past the spot, where my sexual exploitation and abuse, under the guise of Special Training, took place.
But understanding why that is so hard would require my even understanding what happened during the Special Training. And then remembering the worst of it. Despite the fading fog that descended upon me as I tried to focus on the task he had given me, while tried to ignore what his hands were doing.
As for why I haven't thought about this memory more? Tried to figure out what it meant?
Whenever I do, I get dizzy. The blood rushes from my head. And I get HOT.
Still, 40 years later.
Right now, as I write this.
And exactly as I did the two times that Fr. Valentine came up behind me and surprised me, causing me to almost faint.
And, lately, all of that is compounded by these terrible, pounding, nauseating headaches I get. And that turning writing just this brief section into an ordeal that required a week of tortured work.
That's what the kids used to call me.
As we got older.
Starting in 5th or 6th grade, I think.
Which, of course, is the same time I started serving and the worst stuff started to happen.
Those are homophobic slurs, but I had no idea what they meant.
I knew that men liked women and vice versa, and that was that.
But I also knew I didn't like the way those words were said and the, all too obvious, contempt that lay behind them.
Yet, what I've started to wonder, since, is if they were just random insults — my school and classmates were EXTREMELY homophobic, with "faggot" being an all too common put-down — or if they were a sign I was starting to change.
To act out.
To be AFFECTED by what was happening to me.
And the confusion I was feeling.
Confusion about why a priest and a man would treat and talk to me, a boy, like a girl.
Of course, I doubt it's a coincidence that I remember those phrases coming out of the mouth of the same R who was at the Risk & Pizza Party in the Fall of 4th grade. Was it that I was acting out? Or that he was throwing at me something that was the result of what he himself was enduring? Or both?
The truth is that I don't remember exactly when the worst stuff happened.
I have no reference point.
And, I mean, I was a kid, so...
But, if I had to guess, I'd say it was during the Summer of 1980, between 6th and 7th grade.
I say that based on when my parents would go out of town.
And how old I felt.
And what happened during the first mass of 7th grade.
I KNOW I'm a 7th grader.
I FEEL like a 7th grader.
I have the arrogance that comes from being one of the older kids, but not the fear, and resulting humility, that you see in the 8th graders, for whom graduation and high school — and Freshman Year — are just around the corner.
Instead, I think I'm pure, undiluted awesome.
It's warm — late August — but I'm handling the heat OK, as I do.
No big deal.
In part because Monsignor Flavin liked to absolutely CRANK UP the air conditioning in the church.
And now it's time for Communion and I go to the East aisle. Stage Left. And I take the East position. By the organ and the wall.
And then Fr. Valentine takes the position between me and the other server.
And, out of NOWHERE, I start to get HOT.
My legs start to shake.
And I start to wobble.
To sway, in increasingly large circles.
Like a Weeble.
I'm trying to do my job, putting the wood-handled, brass communion plate below the mouths or hands of the littler kids as they come up for Communion.
But it's getting harder.
Because now I'm having trouble seeing.
My cone of vision is closing down.
And there's this sound in my ears.
And, all of a sudden, Mrs. M and Sr. Helen are standing there, in front of me, with looks of concern on their faces.
From 40 or so feet away, they've watched the blood drain from my face.
And me turn white as a sheet.
As I start to sway, and stumble, each takes one of my arms and they help/carry me back into the server's side of the sacristy, which is behind me, and grab a chair and sit me down in it, with my back to the wall that divides the sacristy.
I put my head down between my legs and, gradually, cool down. And the blood starts coming back into my head.
And I'm left there to wonder what the HELL is going on.
Why can I make it through the pre-Easter Sunday masses, and the ordeal of Good Friday and the stations of the cross, while holding a candle inches from my face and breathing in clouds of thick, heavy incense, but can't make it through a stupid back to school mass?
While, for most people, the week between Christmas and New Years is a week of relaxation, for me it was always a time of inexplicable...
Even when I had, or took, the week off, I'd have trouble relaxing.
Particularly as my kids got older.
Literally, the only time I recall being able to really relax during that week, and not obsessively lose myself in my computer, was when we were out of the country, in the Caribbean.
Things did get easier, for a number of years at least, because my older daughter's birthday is December 27th. The events related to her birthday — birthday parties, slumber parties, karaoke, and all that — provided me with a distracting respite.
But it didn't last.
And it's only been in the past few years that I've started to understand why.
What was going on.
I was reacting to, and being affected by, even though I didn't remember, what I believe is the bookend to the memory I started this piece off with.
The Mud Cave Trip.
On December 26, 1980 — I know the date, because it's written on the back of the photo — two other guys and I, one of the guys' dads, and Father LeRoy Valentine went caving.
I don't know exactly where the cave is located. And I mention that because, if we had crossed over into Illinois, it would be a federal crime — a violation of the Mann Act — which Fr. Valentine DID commit with others, as was documented by the New York Times in the early March 2002 piece in which he was first named.
But not with me.
As far as I know.
I think, suspect, and have always remembered the cave we went to as being in Missouri and down Interstate 44, an hour or so outside of St. Louis.
I don't remember anything from caving aside from doing standard guy stuff and having fun; on my chest, belly in the mud, slithering under a rock to reach a hidden room.
What does stand out, and I have always remembered, and have told multiple members of my archdiocese about, is what happened afterwards.
On the ride home.
We were in the church's station wagon, which was white with a dark blue or even black interior and I guess vinyl or pleather seats.
Flannel Shirt Guy, Number Shirt Guy, and Number Shirt Guy's dad were in the back seat.
And I was riding shotgun.
Next to Fr. Valentine on the wide, single, bench seat.
What I remember is taking a nap and waking up, I think with a start, and immediately looking at Father V.
And what I saw disgusted me.
He looked normal.
But also repulsive.
I saw into him.
Into his soul.
For just a moment.
One of my therapists called it a flash of insight.
It was like the "You're Going the Wrong Way" scene in the movie Planes, Trains, & Automobiles when Steve Martin, who's riding shotgun, looks over at John Candy and Candy, for a second, turns into Satan.
That's what Fr. Valentine looked like to me.
But not Satan himself, of course — no horns and red suit — just a pathetic, disgusting imitation of him.
Which, needless to say, confused the HELL out of me.
I mean, it was Fr. V, the nicest, coolest, friendliest priest in the world.
Who I had never before had a negative thought about.
Or even a question.
Out of the frying pan and into the fire.
That's the phrase that comes to mind when I think about my high school experience.
My abuser left after 7th grade, —rotated on to my now current parish — leaving me and us behind, an act that saved me.
That led to one of the best years of my life.
I didn't know at the time why I felt so...
But I did.
As a result, I went to my Jesuit high school — St. Louis University High — with a completely different sense and feeling.
That was dashed within the first week.
I have what some have referred to as a "photogenic" memory.
No, it's not actually photographic, but I have a very good memory for places and spaces; basically, once I've been somewhere, I can mentally tour it — walk around in it — at will in my mind.
Which is why the blank spots — and not just blank spots but BLACK, as if they have been redacted, spots — in my memory stand out.
Black spots like the locker room at SLUH, a room I was in hundreds of times, but of which I can only remember a narrow path from the hall door to my locker.
Everything else about the room is just...
And not like it was never there, but as if it's been covered up.
At SLUH, we had gym I think twice a week and were told that we MUST shower after gym or risk a demerit. As a result, after my first gym class at SLUH, during that first week, I quickly stripped off my gym clothes, threw them in my locker and walked over to the showers.
I don't remember much about what happened.
It's been reduced to flashes and feelings.
But what I remember is the feeling of eyes on me.
All over me.
Tearing me apart.
Maybe — likely — there were other guys in the shower room, but they're not who I remember.
All I remember is him.
In the locker room.
On or by the gray, wooden bench, placed below the big mirror, that was set against the wall opposite the shower room.
And I realize that he's watching me.
Staring at me.
In the shower.
I don't remember what I thought, if I thought anything, I just knew — it became obvious to me, was driven HOME to me — that I wasn't safe.
That feeling — of DIFFERENCE, of BETTER, of HOPE, of LIGHTNESS — that I felt upon arriving at SLUH?
It was gone.
At a minimum, I knew I was NEVER going to taking a shower again, damn the demerits. And, more consequentially, while most of my classmates would get involved in after-school activities at SLUH, I just couldn't.
I had to get the hell out of there.
The only way I could survive — stay sane — was to get out of the building, and on the bus home, as soon as the last bell rang.
What's more, I wasn't going home to do something productive. Instead, and like the child in the movie Kindergarten Cop, I spent my time after school up in my room, coming up with elaborate fantasies of defenses. Ways of protecting myself from...
Rather than doing my homework, I spent countless hours drawing, and trying to instantiate into reality, devices that would enable me to protect myself.
And the NEED to create those drawings interfered with everything; if I had to stop drawing to do my homework, I'd be overtaken by waves of anxiety.
That had the most obvious and absurd consequence that I failed typing — TYPING — the first quarter of freshman year in high school.
The typewriter was downstairs in the den, not up in my room, so how exactly was I supposed to do my typing homework? If I couldn't leave my room. And there was no way I could use the typewriters at school to do my practice exercises, given that I had to get out of there as quickly as possible.
As for how long the after effects of this perhaps single incident in the shower, during the first week of freshman year, lasted, I know it was an issue through Sophomore year at least, because simply returning to school triggered an all too common wave of gender confusion.
It was just a disaster.
And I had enough difficulties such that, even when things went well, my teachers couldn't help but snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory.
As Mr. Becvar did, senior year.
I really struggled with the first semester of calculus, because so much of it required memorization — the first derivative of SIN(X) is COS(X), and that kind of stuff — and I was simply unable to memorize much of anything.
I had to study with the TV on and the stereo playing, in order to distract myself, and that made memorization next to impossible.
However, some of what I was learning did manage to seep in, such that when, I think in the second semester of senior year, we took a standardized calculus test — and I was REALLY good at taking standardized tests, to begin with — I scored something insane. I don't know for sure, but it was so far above my grades and other test scores that my teacher was convinced I had cheated. As a result, the next day during lunch, we went through the test and he would only give me credit for my answers that were explicitly worked out, not the ones I had simply intuited.
It was horribly humiliating.
But, in that respect, nothing new or unusual.
"What did your doctor say?" my therapist once asked me.
"When?" I replied.
"When your parents took you to him to discuss the problems you were having; your grades and how you couldn't leave your room?" he responded.
"I never talked to my doctor or anyone about this stuff," I replied.
That may be hard to believe — as a parent, I have trouble believing it — but it's the truth.
And it wasn't the first time something like that happened.
In fourth grade, which was the year Father LeRoy Valentine showed up at our school, and the Risk & Pizza Party happened, if not Face To Face Confession, as well, my teacher — Mrs. M, who I mentioned earlier, in the story of the second fainting episode — once said something to my mom how I had changed.
How I seemed...
Which sure sounds to me — as with the first fainting episode — like I was reacting to what Fr. Valentine was doing to me; that it was clearly affecting me.
However, my parents decided to try to handle things themselves.
My dad, who was a lawyer, not a psychologist, went to the library and read a number of books, and decided that what was happening — what Mrs. M has said to my mom — was no big deal.
That it was just a phase that I was going through.
All of which is very hard for me to process.
To know that people saw the warning signs, but decided I wasn't worth helping.
Not for the first time.
I'm sometimes slow to catch on to social things.
For instance, it wasn't until Junior or Senior year in college that I could finally feel the eyes tearing in the back of my head when I would ask question after question of the professor, and realized I needed to just shut up and ask my questions after class.
Some of that MIGHT be due to an Autism spectrum thing — though it's hard to tell ASD from PTSD, and none of my therapists thought ASD makes sense, given how I interacted with them — but some of it is due to my experiences with Fr. Valentine.
And how he interacted with me.
How he first got his hands on me, besides wrestling.
When you're a kid, and are growing up, most of what you know about the world is the result of how your family, and family friends, interact with you. All you know is what you've experienced.
In my case, what I experienced was tickling.
By Father Valentine.
I don't remember much about it — it's another thing that's mostly blacked out and just gone, or nearly so — just that I got it in my head that that was how you interacted with people, especially those who are younger than you.
To me, tickling meant warmth and human contact and being valued.
Sure, there was a level of creepiness underneath, but what about interacting with older men doesn't feel a little creepy?
Or a lot...
However, as I grew older, and interacted with my cousins and nephews, in part by tickling them, I started to figure things out. To realize that it was a weird way to interact with people.
Sure, they sounded like they were laughing, but it was more complicated than that.
I've since turned it into a joke — asking them if they want their tickle now or after I leave — but it bothers me to think that I'm still finding and excising parts of my abuser.
Why was my experience with Mr. Becvar, in senior year of high school, so devastating?
A reflection of what I had lost?
For whatever reason, I always tested EXTREMELY well, particularly on standardized tests.
As I mentioned earlier, if you put the right answer in front of me, most of the time I can sniff it out.
(Screw you, whoever came up with, "None of the Above." ;-))
As a result, I took the SAT, I think the Spring of 7th grade, as part of the screening program for an advanced math class called MEGSS, or Mathematics Education for Gifted Secondary Students.
I was admitted to the program and started taking classes, I think as soon as the school year was over.
Sure, it was Summer school, but this was different. Voluntary. And the classes were all about solving puzzles of different types.
So there I was, having fun solving puzzles, and starting to notice some of the girls who were both smart and beautiful, and then the week before the Fourth of July — and the anniversary of That Day, the Worst Day — came around and I was just...
I don't remember exactly what happened, but my parents were out of town and, as the Fourth of July approached, I started to get...
All of a sudden, what had been interesting and sometimes even fun became terrifying. Just the thought of leaving the house freaked me out.
I don't remember exactly what I told our babysitter — remember, my parents would go out of town for the week of the Fourth of July — but I know that I managed to talk my way out of going to class.
Instead of going to class, I spent the week hiding.
Digging in the hole that I had started a few years back and turning it into a full-fledged, camouflaged fort with a trap door on top and an old wooden fish tank, that I flipped over, on top that let some light in, while still allowing me to hide inside.
And, as I think about that underground fort, I think I started working on it when the worst stuff started and I needed somewhere to escape when hiding in the woods by the creek wasn't enough. And the start of my creation of that fort coincided with my losing many of my friends, as they got older and I remained...
In a moment.
And, speaking of being stuck, though I'll discuss it at length at some point, I should mention one of the serious consequences of child sexual abuse, at least for me.
Part of me is stuck back there.
Such that I feel like there is an 11 year-old version of me stuck — trapped — inside of me.
And, when things get familiar and or bad, the 11 year-old will take over.
And, too often, ruin things.
It's not like the movie, "Split."
But there's some truth to what you see in that movie.
At various times the 11 year-old will take control. Maybe not control, but he at least has veto power. If something happens that he doesn't like, he has the ability to make me sick — physically ill, with nausea and headaches and worse — that makes it impossible to do whatever it is that he doesn't want to do.
That triggers him.
And here's another thing — from the present — that helps to explain what the big deal is about abuse.
As I write this, I have in my Facebook inbox, Direct Messages from two different guys.
That they sent me three months ago. Back in November...
But that I can't stand to read.
Because they make me feel...
Which is a problem because, of all my triggers, happiness and excitement and anticipation are the biggest ones.
Which goes back to the Risk & Pizza party in fourth grade.
And how I was feeling before.
Which is excited and thrilled.
Imagine trying to live your life when anything positive, or even just the promise of it, triggers feelings of dread.
The anticipation that comes with having a pregnant wife bringing along with it mystifying feelings of being creeped out.
And that didn't and doesn't just affect my home life; I can also see how it affected my work life. How good things, or the promise of them, would happen to me and, instead of ENERGIZING ME, they would instead PARALYZE me.
Because they would TERRIFY me.
As I'm triggered — paralyzed and, underneath it, terrified — by the Facebook DMs, from two friends, offering their support, that are just sitting in my inbox.
And that I can't even look at.
Or think about.
And then there's the way older men make me feel...
Especially when they have power over me.
Before I close, I have to address something, head on, that I don't want to, but need to.
And what I remembered.
As I've said, and as you can see, I remembered the VAST majority of everything.
95 percent of it.
But not the very worst stuff.
Or for a long time.
Or without the help and safety provided by a therapist.
What I'm telling you is what I remember; what I've ALWAYS remembered.
But there are holes.
And not just holes, but black spots.
It's not just that there was nothing there, or I forgot what was there, but, in certain — and just a very few — circumstances, what was there has blacked over.
I may have been drugged or given alcohol — whiskey, I wonder, given that I can't STAND its smell? — or I may have blacked out or I may have been stunned.
So how then can I SAY — how can I KNOW — it happened?
Logically speaking, there's the fact that my archdiocese — even though they won't HELP me — believes me.
They named my abuser as an abuser.
Then there are the sexual obsessions and compulsions.
That all point to the same, terrible thing.
Then there's the thing I did — and, around the anniversaries and that time of the year, I still do — that I've discussed with my therapists, and that is characteristic of boys who have been raped.
I'm not going to go into detail but, suffice it to say, my three therapists believe me.
As does my archdiocese.
Who publicly named my abuser.
Even if they won't help me.
And I wish people would ask the necessary, penetrating question.
If the archdiocese of St. Louis has named all of these priests as abusers, then how many victims — survivors — are there out there?
And what is being done to help them?
Why do this?
Talk about it? Out loud? On tape?
The problem is that part of me is stuck back there.
The part of me I call the 11 year-old.
And the problem is that the 11 year-old part of me, because he has forgotten about, and failed to understand, this stuff before, never wants that to happen again.
So, too often, he forces me to remember — over and over and over again — what happened.
I guess so I won't forget.
But the problem is that leaves me in a constant state of agitation and arousal.
What I'm trying to do with this podcast, in part, is to record my memories on paper and audio so that the 11 year-old will know that they can't and won't be forgotten.
Maybe that will quiet him.
And allow me to think about something else.
And, maybe, remember some of the things I know I've forgotten.
Though I don't really want to, I should address a lingering question.
Where were the adults?
I've already discussed how my parents were out of town for the worst stuff and, unlike some guys, I didn't have ANY understanding what was going on, so I didn't tell my parents anything.
It's hard to process the actions of my parents without regret but, the fact is, they aren't psychologists and had no experience with this.
But that doesn't mean that everybody was clueless.
The fact is that, within a week or so of school starting, in the Fall of 1977, the woman who ran the after-schoool program went to Sr. Helen to warn her that something wasn't right with the new priest.
She won't talk, so I'm getting this second or third hand, but the gist of what she told Sr. Helen was that Fr. Valentine was COMPLETELY inappropriate.
How he dressed.
And what he did with the kids in the after-school program. The wrestling and I don't even know what else.
And here's where things get REALLY disturbing.
Sr. Helen then, immediately, went to Monsignor Flavin who told her, in no uncertain terms, to mind her own business. That her concern was what happened in the school building.
And that was it.
Everything else was Monsignor Flavin's responsibility.
And then Sr. Helen did something I can't understand.
She obeyed him.
Finally, why this has affected me so deeply?
Why can't I just put it behind me?
That comes down to a 2008 episode, of what I can only assume was PTSD.
That was probably fear.
I've told three of my most recent psychologists about it, and they said it was fear.
But felt like anger.
And it terrified me.
My now ex-wife and the kids were out of town, in Colorado for two weeks. It made me sad that I couldn't accompany them, but I was trying to finish up a couple of projects, and figured I could use the time alone.
The problem was that, as soon as they left, I started to struggle to concentrate.
For reasons I didn't understand, but that make sense, I was extremely involved in my kids' lives and their extracurricular. For some weird reason, I couldn't stand to leave them alone with coaches or at events like boy scouts.
I'd get agitated.
So their leaving for Colorado was the first time I've been away from any of them, much less all of them, for any significant amount of time.
That I hadn't been around them to protect them.
Always and everywhere.
From what, I had no idea.
I doubt it helped that, as they drove though Kansas, they ran into a line of thunderstorms and ended up in the hallway of their hotel, with tornados on the ground just blocks away.
The next day, as I was driving West through Kirkwood, past the YMCA, I was overtaken by a wave of emotion.
That was probably fear.
A panic attack.
But it felt like anger.
An anger like I had never felt before.
I was PISSED, and for no reason.
And, from that point on, I realized I needed to do two things if I was going to stay sane. First, I needed to never let my kids out of my sight again. Second, I had to be REALLY careful whenever I left the house, because I NEVER wanted to feel that way again.
Because, if I did, I might kill someone.
It's been ten years, to the day, since I made the biggest mistake of my life.
Since I went back to the Archdiocese of St. Louis for help, in 2011, after first talking to my friend the cardinal in March 2002, following the release of my own personal SPOTLIGHT article.
That began a process of lying and gaslighting that was FAR worse than anything my abuser did to me. That's because, while my body knew how to handle — how to wall off from me and compartmentalize — childhood sexual trauma, it had no idea what to do with the psychological abuse I've been subjected to, ever since I got up the nerve to ask for help.
Abuse, I suspect, whose aim is to try to protect my friend, the cardinal.
Finally, and again, if you'd like to — or would rather — read what I have to say, go to chrisoleary dot com slash sacrificed. Those pieces also include photographs that document what happened to me and that, I hope, help to prove my words and story.