NOTE: The following story was sent to me by Ron Arnett, who has granted me permission to publish. It is a perfect example of how a perpetrator targets a vulnerable kid. With the current events happening at Penn State involving Sandusky, I thought this story illustrates perfectly how these perpetrators work.
Titled: The Invisible Scars
Each and every one of us have memories of our childhood that we carry with us as we travel through life, often talking and laughing about the time cousin Tim fell off his sister’s bike and chipped his front tooth or the trip to the California Coast with mom, dad, sister and brother, all jammed in the family car. Those happy memories become a place we enjoy to visit and reminisce about when with family and friends, a place we cherish and hold dear to our soul.
The memories of our past experiences, the events of our past, they are what help shape us into the people we become, mould us into the adults the rest of the world sees, they are the fond places we can escape to when troubled times confront us as adults.
Memories can also represent a horrific world of pain, confusion and shame, a place you have tried so desperately to keep hidden from others, a place you have tried so hard to keep buried from even yourself.
Sights, sounds and feelings that overwhelm you when allowed to surface, when allowed to escape the confines of those re-enforced closets you have silently constructed in your troubled mind. Pain, confusion and shame all rolled up into one word that never goes away, one word that won’t stay hidden, the one word that has tormented you for decades, WHY?
How can it be that one three letter word can represent so many dark and painful memories, how can it hold such gravity and power over your desperate need to suppress?
When I allow myself to look back into the shadows of my childhood, I see not the laughing faces of happy family gatherings and holidays, I can’t seem to see past the hollow eyes and shrunken face of my young mother whose body and mind had been ravished by Alzheimer’s disease while in her early thirties. When I look back into the darkness, I only see death and despair peering back from the ominous depths, I feel only a deep rooted sadness that has haunted me my entire life, and I feel alone.
The long walks to the hospital from school, the burden of guilt I carried upon my small back, the ever pending sense of doom and despair I felt as I walked down the long halls leading to her room yet I pushed on, forcing myself to visit her even when she no longer recognized me, after she could no longer talk or communicate in any way, long after the spark of life had left her once beautiful eyes.
She used to love to have her hair brushed so I would stand behind her high backed wheel chair with brush in hand for as long as I could endure the ever rising tides of pain and confusion, brushing her hair, stroke after gentle stroke while the hot tears ran freely down my burning cheeks, while the painful lump grew within my throat.
When I could finally bear no more, I would lay her brush aside, and try to give her a hug and a kiss, many times only to be pushed away as if I were a stranger while she uttered stern words of gibberish. The lonely walks away from her room where the longest and most painful trails I have yet to encounter.
It was then I discovered that the soothing warmth of alcohol had the power to diminish that which I could not, and if I were to drink, I no longer hurt with such force and the constant state of confusion I found myself in now had new meaning.
Although I was still a young teen, alcohol was easily obtained as I had found myself befriended by a school bus driver who seemed so very sympathetic to my troubled situation, seemed almost eager to listen to my confused questions, always ready to pass me the bottle and give me a hug when I could no longer keep the feelings within.
He never asked me for money, always seemed to have a bottle of five star whiskey stashed in the cubby hole above the stairs on the bus.
I would hide the liquor in the bush out behind our country home, sometimes drinking until I vomited, sometimes only enough to dull the increasing pain of my troubled life, troubles that for some reason began to feel worse.
I rarely had to worry about being discovered by my father for he spent every possible moment at my mother’s side, living in his own world of torment and pain as he watched his beloved wife wither and slowly die from within.
The warmth of the alcohol and the comforting encouragement from the bus driver seemed to help dull the pain yet there now seemed to be another depth to my troubled soul and I began to feel a bitterness burn within my soul, constantly asking, almost shouting, WHY ME?
My mother’s condition worsened as time passed, my father’s dismay became more visible and he became more distant, trying so hard to deal with his own pain, to bear his own burdens. The worse she got, the more I drank, the more I drank, the more bitterness and confusion I felt yet I was unable to see the connection, unable to realize what was fuelling the flames now burning within my devastations.
I continued those long lonely walks to my mother’s room, brushed her hair and stayed with her as long as I could bear, finding it more difficult to stand behind her, finding it harder to bear the weight of the burdens I carried. The pain and guilt of what was happening were beginning to consume me and it became so terribly difficult not to literally break down as soon as I entered her room and saw her vacant face.
I found myself wondering what suicide would be like, what it would feel like to die, to end the horrible pain and confusion, to just go away and leave it all behind.
It was then, when I found myself at the lowest point in my life that he molested me.
Wilf had invited me to a party at his farm outside of town, telling me there would be a whole bunch of guys from school there for a campfire and some combat games.
I rode with him to his farm on the school bus Friday night but to my confusion, no-one showed up for the fire and it ended up just being he and I sitting around his fire pit drinking five star whiskey until I could barely walk.
I have tried so desperately for over three decades to forget what went on during that first encounter, the horrible feelings, the sickening guilt, the dirty feelings that overwhelmed me, his smiling face. WHY ME?
I soon found myself completely withdrawn, shutting out the world, terrified he hurt my younger brother as he threatened he would. I became so scared I could barely think straight, living in a constant state of terror and shame.
The months that followed are now only a blur, but the control, the threats, the horrible encounters and the way he forced me participate with horrible threats finally resulted in my skipping school for weeks on end, hiding from him and from everyone I knew, living in a world of sheer terror. The feelings of guilt and shame I felt were overwhelming and the thoughts of suicide became my constant companion. I wanted so desperately to end it all, to run away, to die. I just wanted it all to stop. I knew inside it was entirely my fault.
The last visit I shared with my mother before she passed was in so many ways the same as the countless before, the pain and despair I felt as I walked down the hall, the lump slamming into the back of my throat as I once again looked into her hollow eyes and shrunken face, the weight I felt as I stood behind her and slowly brushed her now greying hair. How very empty and alone I felt at that moment, how very ashamed for what had happened, how I just wanted God to take me away.
As I bent to kiss my mother good-bye she looked at me and said, “I’m not crazy you know. I love you.” The shock was dumbfounding, she had not spoken in over 18 months and at the moment of my deepest despair she told me she loved me. She died four days later, leaving me forever.
I took a job as a Wrangler in a Guiding camp that summer, learning to cut trails, packs horses and live the life of a wild mountain man, living a life far away from towns and people, hiding from him and the shame.
I stayed in those mountains until the snows of late fall finally drove us back to civilization, back to the world I had ran from, back to face the hidden shame.
Within a few weeks of being back in town I met a young friend who lived down the road from our home, he had attended our family church and had often played at our house before our world had fallen apart. I knew by just looking in his eyes that Wilf, the trusted bus driver, had been hurting him the same as he had hurt me, I felt so horrible for him, so guilty for the hollow look in his once bright eyes, I felt his shame.
The weeks that followed my encounter with my young friend were filled with fear, pain and overwhelming guilt and in the end, I decided I had no choice to go to the police and tell them what the bus driver had done to me, how he had hurt me and threatened me, how he had controlled my life with shame and fear.
I can still remember the horrible feelings as I walked around the block several times, looking up at the brick police station, the dark windows, the long stairs climbing into a place I was so afraid to go. I kept telling myself I had to go, not for me, but to save my friend from the world I now lived in, a world of pain and shame.
I sat in front of a policeman that day, told him of one encounter with the trusted school bus driver, told him with hot tears spilling from my eyes of how he had touched me, how he had devastated my life, how he had ruined me. The officer taped our conversation and when we were done, lead me to the front door and turned me back into the world without even a word of thanks.
I found myself hoping, praying, almost begging God that now I had come forth someone would help me, so desperately needing someone to listen, someone to trust. No one ever came.
I have lived with the guilt, the shame and the horrible pain caused by those encounters for three decades, drinking heavily, using drugs and suffering from an inability to share in a trusted relationship with myself or anyone else. Living with an open wound that seems unable to heal, unable to do anything but continue to bleed.
I now live a sober life, a life without the fog of heavy drinking and drug abuse however I still find myself wanting to be alone, holding people at arm’s length, never allowing them to get close enough to hurt me.
I often found myself wondering bitterly why the School Board didn’t rush to the aid of the boys Wilf Atcheson molested and manipulated, 17 of us it was said he had harmed when it came to the courts, 17 of us he ruined and as penalty he received three months in prison while we were left to deal with a lifetime of shame.
Was it easier to leave us to deal with the devastation alone than to take responsibility for what their employee had done? He used his position as a trusted school board employee to prey upon weak young boys, to ease his way into our lives so that he could destroy our innocence for his personal perversions, leaving us to live unstable lives, leaving us alone to deal with the shame.
I often find myself thinking, wondering how those other boys learned to deal with their pain, how they learned to deal with their own shame, wondering if they find themselves suddenly drifting back to those horrible days, wondering if they find themselves asking themselves the same question I’ve asked myself so many times. Why Me?
I trusted him, when I desperately needed someone to talk and to trust he came along, the man in the big yellow bus, told me he was my friend, took me by the hand and devastated my life, destroying whatever chances I had left at a normal life, seemingly without any significant consequences. It is the victims that have paid the price.
Looking back into the abyss, the shame still hits me with tremendous force, even now as a man in his early forties, a man who has lived a life of hardship working as a Wilderness Guide and Horseman, nothing can compare to burdens cast upon me as a boy, burdens I carry to this day.
The scars I was left with as a result of those horrible and sickening encounters, the threats, the shame and the fear that he seemed to relish while he looked down at me with those dark and evil eyes, they have been difficult to bear, but it is the inabilities my life has been burdened with that have had the most detrimental effect of all.
Every one of us wants to love, to hold and be held, to cherish and protect, yet my scars have proven to make the realms of a loving relationship a very difficult place to navigate.
Having to endure the devastating experiences that occurred with my dying mother in and out of her hospital room have haunted me constantly through life, always feeling a desperate need to be loved, to be held closely within a warm embrace, it is the scars “HE” left me however, that make me so very fearful to allow anyone to come close.