I am lucky enough to still be very close with one of my oldest and dearest friends. Katie and I met in 1983 in Mrs. Parrillo’s third grade class at the tender age of nine. Katie and her family had moved into her grandmother’s home and was new to my elementary school. We fast became friends. The next year seated at our “project desks” or some such thing I professed my undying love to her in a carefully crafted note. “Katie, will you be my girlfriend?” I wrote,(most like with my favorite blue crayon). She calmly read the note and replied back (in what was probably a sensible BIC Pen recently recovered from the class kleptomaniac, Becky.) “No. But we can be best friends.” and that was all it took. We were instant best friends and have remained so for the last thirty-three years. She’s been there through everything, so of all of my friends, she has a very unique perspective on me and my addiction.
Since all of the chaos in September and the weeks that followed, Katie and I hadn’t really had a chance to speak about everything in depth. She lives near Sturbridge, MA with her beau, Derek and her lovely daughter in a GORGEOUS home she and Derek built and only gets down to Rhode Island occasionally. She invited me out for
breakfast to catch up and after breakfast we decided to take a ride around our old stomping grounds and chat. Our conversations are always a treasured experience for me because, again, we’ve known each other so long. I wanted to express to her and make sure she knew how much I appreciated her in my life. Katie was my life-line at a critical point in my emotional development.
The Fall of the House of Carroll
In the Fall of 1988 my family dynamic changed drastically. My father, who traveled much of the year for business, decided he no longer wished to me married to my mother. My mother, of course, was devastated. She was completely blindsided and fell into a very deep depression. I was very difficult for me to see my norma
lly happy-go-lucky mother completely change overnight into someone I barely recognized. As an adult who has experienced the pain of divorce I have a completely different perspective on what my mother went through than I did as a fourteen year old.
The problem is fourteen year-old me did not get it. I knew that my mother and father did not have a happy marriage. When my father actually was home he was completely miserable, and because of that, so was my mother. They argued about everything and didn’t seem to mind that my older sister and I bore witness to all of it. When the pressure finally built up and boiled over and my father decided to walk away he not only left the country for business, he also left a big mess behind for my sister and I. Neither one of us was prepared for what was to come.
My sister had the luxury of escape. She was 17, a senior in high school, had a boyfriend and drove a bitchin’ Silver 1981 Volkswagon Rabbit with baby-blue “pleather” interior. (It took Diesel gas and got about 100 MPG. I remember it had what my Dad called a “globe plug” and needed to be plugged into an electrical socket to keep the engine block from freezing in the winter.) My sister worked as a dance teacher at the time and kept herself busy. I don’t actually remember seeing her very much after that. My Mom had become unmanageable in the weeks proceeding Dad’s exit. It became necessary for my sister and I to take my mother to get help, and so we did.
I remember the details of the evening vividly. In the days before my mother often mumbled strange things to me such as wishing she would die. At dinner she implied to me that “nothing really mattered anymore” and that “it would all be over soon.” So I called the ambulance and my Grandparents and told them to meet us at Rhode Island Hospital. As much as I love my Grandparents, I will never understand how they dealt with the whole situation. Firstly, I had to convince my Grandmother that my mother needed help and that she couldn’t even handle such simple tasks as bathing. I was legitimately afraid that my mother would take her life and at this point I was afraid she had.(Mom’s bathroom vanity has always and will always be a disaster of make-up,ointments, hair rollers and medication. It wasn’t clear to me whether she had actually taken something or not.) I think my Grandmother was just in extreme denial. My Grandfather would just wring his hands and make some exasperated noise. Once my sister and I convinced them and my mother that it would be best for her to take a “time-out” we took her from Rhode Island Hospital to Butler Hospital. Being both under the age of majority neither my sister or I could sign my mother in. We convinced her to sign herself in for us and to her credit, she did. My Grandparents brought us home and then went home themselves. They left us alone.
The next morning I called my father’s secretary and asked her to connect me with my father. His company was based in Sweden and it was probably around his dinner time when I called.(Remembering the hoops it took for me to jump through to connect to my father a half a world away in the late 1980’s gives me a total appreciation for the technology which is available to me today. If things had been different I could have FaceTime’d him and he could have seen how terrified I was and perhaps, just perhaps, things might have gone differently). After several mishaps and international operators my father’s secretary finally connected me with my Dad. I told him what had happened. He asked me if we were ok, and I said that I was. That was both the truth and a lie. I was “ok” in the sense that I was no longer worried that my mother might harm herself because she was under supervised care, but I was not ok with this whole situation. I asked my Dad if he would come home and he said that he “couldn’t” because of work. As long as I live I will never understand why my father, who had such disdain for his job, showed more loyalty to that company than to his own children. He said he would call my Aunt Sue and let her know what was going on and she would “check up on us”. I have no memory of this actually ever happening. I’m not saying it didn’t but the memories I have of this time are very specific and if my Aunt Sue did check on us it didn’t make me feel any more safe.
My sister and I did the only thing we could do. We followed our daily routine and went to school. When I got home later that afternoon, I was surprised to see my Aunt Barbara’s car there. When I walked in the house I saw my Aunt and my mother sitting at the kitchen table. My mother was not looking much better than she did less than 24 hours before when she was telling me she wanted to die. I remember saying something like “What are you doing home, Mom?” And my Aunt replying something like “We can take care of your mother, she doesn’t need to be in that place…” I think this is the first time I ever “saw red” in my life. (As an interesting aside, my Aunt and I have recently had a conversation about this story and to my utter shock, she remembered what happened next quite differently than the actual events. I will examine in another post a familial coping mechanism I’ve seen my mother and her siblings exhibit that I find absolutely fascinating.) I couldn’t believe my Aunt’s gall. What did she mean “we can take care of your mother?” Clearly, we could not. Was she going to sit there and watch my mother 24 hours a day? I flipped out. I started screaming at both my mother and my Aunt. “Who are you to take her out of there? She needs help! She says she wants to die! Get out! Get out of my house!” I’m sure there were expletives, and inappropriate words I had heard my father refer to her as over the years. It was enough that my Aunt finally left. My sister came home at the tail-end of everything. I told her what happened and she was also furious. We told my mother she had no choice but to go back to the program and that we were taking her now.
When we arrived back at Butler Hospital I remember sitting with my mother and some administrator and pointing my finger at them and saying “No one, is allowed to visit my mother without MY permission, and NO ONE is allowed to remove my mother from this property unless I approve it!” I’m sure none of this was legally binding but they agreed. I know that my mother stayed there and got help because she realized that she needed it and that she needed to get better for us and that is what kept her there and I am so proud of her for it. She continued and then switched to an Outpatient Program.
The Well of Loneliness
Things started to get a little better at home once Mom returned home. She began the long journey of being returned to sanity. She started going out with my Aunt, who was single herself, and found a group of single girlfriends and would go out dancing on weekends. During the summer of 1989 she was out with my Aunt on most nights. I spent alot of time on my own. Too much. As I mentioned earlier, Katie was my life-line.
We spoke on the phone for hours, much to her father’s dismay. “Call-waiting” was a fairly new feature that was not readily available in our area so if you needed to get in touch with the Prime household between the hours of 6pm and 11pm…good luck.
Back to the present, Katie and I were laughing about how we used to make her Dad crazy. It was during this conversation that I made an interesting discovery. I had always thought that my drinking started when I got to college, but Katie reminded me that I used to drink from my father’s wine cellar. I used to mix red wine and coke to make my “cherry coke”. I used to get completely hammered at 14 years old. I had found another way, besides food, to numb the horrible feelings of self-loathing and loneliness.
I blamed myself for so many things that happened back then. In a strange way, it was how I “comforted” myself. I just had to make some sense of how all of the adults in my life were acting. My father and his family had almost completely disappeared from my life. Cousins that I spent every weekend with and played sports with were a distant memory. My sister was pregnant with my neice and beginning a new life with her boyfriend. My father had met a woman and was planning to move in with her. My mother was trying to pull her life together and spent alot of time “sewing her wild oats” that she never got to do in her early 20’s. I was trapped in a rural home with no access to the outside world besides Katie and my dogs.
Thankfully, I had a vivid imagination. I used to perform entire musicals in my house with the music BLARING. I can’t tell you how many times I sang the score of “Annie” at the top of my lungs. I identified with her. My parents had left me, but I always held hope that they would someday return. To this day, I can’t even listen to the song “Maybe” without having emotional recall of a young me singing that song to my dog Brownie. As I type this I am tearing up, because the pain was so real. I felt like an orphan and it was all my fault. God was seeking vengeance on me, because I was bad. He took everything and everyone I love away from me because of what I did, and who I was. I was an aberration, a deviant, a misfit, disgusting, deplorable, unredeemable. I deserved this because of what I was and what I had done. There was a time when I actually believed that it was possible that I had died and was now living in my own private hell.
Not Like Other Boys
I was an “early bloomer”. Puberty started at age nine and I was shaving by age 12. I am always fascinated when I read stories about how guys discovered masturbation on their own. I didn’t. “Wet Dreams” were a common occurrence for me. I just thought I was a bed-wetter. If my Mom knew what was going on she never said anything, and my Dad, of course, never talked to me about any of that so I was flying solo. It wasn’t until I started having sleep overs with my buddies did I understand what it all meant. As a gay man, I am proud to gloat that my very first sexual experience was a three-way at the age of 11. I remember my first orgasm like it happened yesterday. I will spare you the details, but I will share the thoughts I had as it occurred. I remember the build-up and the uncertainty of these new sensations. I wanted it to stop, but didn’t want it to end. Right as it was about to happen I realized that something HUGE was about to happen and I jumped up and ran to my cellar door and ejaculated outside. “I never want that to happen again!” I lied. It is a very precious memory to me. I was with my buddies. We were bonding. It was natural. Though I am the only one of us who is actually, gay, there was actually nothing “gay” about it. It was primal. It was no more sexual than a group of chimps pulling on each other. It was release of pent-up sexual tension. I’m glad to say that it did happen again and quite often for the next three years.
My sexuality developed quickly. I had no idea what it all meant, but I was INTO it. I didn’t know what “gay” was apart from the way it was portrayed by Jack Coleman’s
Steven Carrington on Dynasty, and for those of you familiar with the reference you know that this wasn’t exactly the best role-model for a young homosexual. I applaud ABC and the producers of that show for being brave enough to explore the issue to the extent that they were able to but it did nothing to help me relate to the feelings I was having. I had heard vague references from my father and uncle’s and kids at school about “fags” relegating them to pedophiles, deviants and cross dressers. Homosexuals and Homosexuality were displayed on TV as the butt of the joke. Political correctness had not yet become the epidemic it had in the mid-late 90’s into the millennium. Characters like Jack Tripper on Three’s Company used it as an actual plot device and running gag to explain the crazy notion that a single man could only live with two women if he had no sexual interest in women. Misogyny in it’s highest form. None of that made sense to me. Jack, Chrissy and Janet were friends. Why was it so hard to believe? My best friend was a girl. She wasn’t in constant need to be protected from me. I just didn’t get it. I recognized more and more as I got older that my attraction to men was not the norm. I kept it a secret. A closely guarded secret, or so I thought.
Loss of Faith
I lost my faith in God a long time ago. I felt abandon and disillusioned. I was raised catholic and went to church faithfully every Sunday with my Mom and sister. Went through all the motions of receiving the sacraments and even became an Altar boy when I was 11 or 12 years old. During this time there was a young priest named who was in charge of training the Altar boys. He was very attractive and all of the women in the congregation adored him. I also shared this feeling. He was the first member of the clergy I had ever met who wasn’t a grumpy old man preaching fire and brimstone. He used to play the guitar at mass and had the most beautiful singing voice which always thrilled me. I looked up to him and for a short time I thought that someday I might want to go into the Priesthood(which to this day makes me laugh). He refused to call me anything but James(at the time everyone called me Jimmy)which made me feel special. It seemed like he had a lot of respect for me and I had never encountered that with an adult in my young life.
We used to have “practice” for mass on Tuesday nights from 7-8:30pm.(I remember this specifically because I used to be mad that I had to miss “Growing Pains” and I had a MAJOR crush on Kirk Cameron). This one night we had finished up early and the other Altar boy had left early. Father told me he had an obligation to get to in Providence so we closed down the church and he said I could wait for my Mom in the rectory. The rectory was the small living space the priests had that was attached to the church in the back. Father turned on the small black and white TV they had and told me he was going to take a shower and I could watch whatever I want(Kirk!!!). He went into his room and a few moments later emerged completely naked with a small towel covering his genitals. He then walked into the bathroom and turned on the shower, but he did not shut the door. He got into the shower which had a clear shower curtain and began washing himself. The way the TV was positioned it was impossible for me not to watch this show that was being put on for presumably for my benefit. None of this seemed odd to me. After all, I’d been to the Y and seen men taking showers in front of each other many times and had been in locker rooms at my dads country club seen many a nasty old white guy cleaning themselves off. Then I became aware that he was staring at me. Then I became aware that I was watching him not so discretely. He started cleaning his penis and it became erect, he then started masturbating. I became noticeably aroused and turned my attention back to the TV because, and this is the part that kills me, I was afraid he would see that I was turned on and that he would tell my parents and I would get in trouble. At this point I said to him “I think my Mom is here. Bye Father.”and left the rectory and ran back through the church. I remember the only thing that I could see the red lights emanating from the EXIT signs and the light that illuminated the face of the gigantic wooden sculpture of Jesus on the cross which hung over the pulpit. I remember stopping for a moment and thinking that Jesus was punishing me for having fooled around with my male friends and I think that was the first time I experienced self-shame/loathing.
My Mom was running a little late and I sat outside on the church steps replaying the scenario in my head and swore to myself I would never lust over a man again and prayed to God for the strength to overcome my desires. When my Mom finally arrived I got into the car and she asked me how everything went and I said “fine”. I think she could tell I was shaken up and she asked me if I was ok and I told her I was feeling sick. I never liked lying to my mother, but it was a partial truth, I was feeling sick. Not sick that I had just had been emotionally violated by a trusted adult, but that I was some kind of disgusting freak who was turned on by watching his priest pleasure himself. This began a pattern of me blaming myself for the behavior of others. That same year I had another experience with an adult with whom I was helping with the renovations of his old house. The details of that are not as important as the fact he was married with a baby on the way and I blamed myself for doing something with him that I knew was wrong. I assigned zero blame to him and felt like I was the one who had done something wrong. What made it worse was I adored his wife and felt like I had violated her trust. That next year the events of my family breaking up I described earlier in this post began. I view these events described as the beginning of the patterns of destructive behavior and self-loathing which led me to this path I am on now.
People I have shared these stories with personally have asked me why I have not pursued holding the men who abused me responsible for their actions and the answer to that is simple: I’ve forgiven them and more importantly, I’ve forgiven myself. It serves no purpose for me to bring harm upon any other innocent party. The experiences I had are mine. That’s MY power. I have asked my Higher Power to relieve me of this burden I’ve carried and he has answered. I am setting this free and no longer allowing the thoughts I had about myself to hold me hostage. I truly believe that God works in mysterious ways. My DWI and the fallout after has forced me to take a long, hard look at my life and who I am. Some things are great, some things are not so great, but everything is better.