Holiday’s over, Jonno. Back to work…
Today is the fifth of July. It is now thirteen years and two days since I moved to the US. Perhaps I didn’t mean to stay. But I’m here and happy and like all good Americans, deeply in debt to the bankers who, if the major religions are all to be believed, will be consigned to hell for the sin of usury. But that’s another blog (and a moral abrogation of my own responsibility… I DID do the borrowing…)
In true July Fourth fashion, last night we gathered for a barbie at a mate’s place up in the hills above Los Feliz and watched fireworks pop across the LA basin. And there we met new people. And some of those people had little ‘uns.
For the grown Buggeree, kids present a very real and immediate set of problems. Having clouded over large swathes of my childhood memories, for years I felt like I had no understanding nor relationship to kids at all. They were strange, unruly, delicate, completely foreign to me, and I would do all I could to avoid them. I felt that I had no possible common ground, no way of understanding them. And while I blamed this on my specific circumstances, it may just be that this is how most 20-somethings feel about kids – especially those who come into contact with them about as frequently as they come into contact with plague rats.
But then the black ship of Nosferatu arrived. One of my dearest old friends, Jeremy, even had a kid of his own in his mid-twenties. It seemed stupendously early (now I envy him! Oh how I envy him…), but one day I stood at the doorway to the wee fulla’s room while he slept, a cocktail of very convoluted emotions leaking out of my tear ducts, and quietly swore a sort of eternal fealty to him, whispering at the sleeping infant (while his father, mercifully, was detained by a need to piddle in his herb garden) that no matter what, I would always be willing to leap to his aid if he ever needed it. It is a ritual promise that has since been given to Jeremy’s second son, to my nieces and nephews and a dribbling toddler demi-Serb. It’s given mentally to every one of my friends’ children. I probably feel more duty to their kids than I ever have to them…
These children kept springing up around me. On a rainy day at my brother’s house in North Carolina I changed my first nappy. I even had a few hours in solo charge of a two- or three-year-old. I was almost getting into it.
One day I was home in New Zealand, coming in from a surf, and my nephew needed to be bathed. He usually took a shower with his dad, but since dad wasn’t around, my sister asked me (or I volunteered) to take him in with me while I rinsed the salt off. Great idea. I went to the car to get my clothes, turned around to go back into the house and some giant unseen hand clobbered the back of my knees and punched me in the stomach. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t suck in a breath. I don’t have words to describe what I was feeling: horror, fear, dread: they seem too concrete, too laden with cinematic cliche. Anguish? That may come close. Self loathing? A soupçon. The facts were: Me. Little boy. Shower.
Oh – before we go any further: I am not, nor will I ever be, a paedophile.
Let’s get that out there. There is a misconception that the abused become abusers. That may be true in a limited way – that those that sexualise children were probably introduced to that idea firsthand, at an early age. Yes. It is probably a necessary condition. Just as it is probably a necessary condition that men who abuse little girls are heterosexual. But not all heterosexual men are abusers. In fact, if child-buggery was a vampire-like affliction, the sheer mathematics of infection would mean the whole world would have become pedos aeons ago.
No – I wasn’t afraid that there was a coiled beast inside me, with a white van and a questionable moustache, who in the moment I stepped into the shower would overwhelm my meagre mortal defences, that I would howl and grimace like Jack Nicholson in Wolf (or Taylor Lautner, Michael J. Fox, Lon Chaney, Michael Sheen…) at the quickening, that with a momentary exposure to hot water and little boy buttocks I would transform into a slimy, slithering Uncle Chester the Molester.
What was happening was some kind of PTSD meltdown, I guess. I couldn’t do much other than try to breathe, try to stand, as those three facts shouted deafeningly inside my brain, drowning out all rational thought, all irrational thought, all but the glaring, blaring Me. Little boy. Shower.
Me. Little Boy. Shower. I clawed my way back to the house. My sister was in the kitchen. She took one look at my face, and in that weirdly supernatural way that only mothers and stage managers have of instantaneously assessing and resolving a calamitous situation with sang-froid and hot beverages, pulled one child off her boob, another child’s hand out of the sink-disposal thing, a cappuccino out of the Pavoni, and said it’s OK, he can shower by himself. It’s OK. Have a seat. No – a seat – don’t lie on the floor quivering. Have this cappuccino. Wipe your chin. Seat. OK… it’s OK…
It was as if having your younger brother walk through the kitchen door with a mind going into meltdown as his personal space-time continuum collapsed and his adult and childhood existences swirled and tangled around inside his brain was an occurrence on a par with someone buying the wrong fat-content milk.
Now that I think of it, my sister has been there through three of the four biggest emotional breaks I have had with this whole thing, and the fourth one happened in therapy, anyway. A lesser man could start suspecting foul play…
But I got through it (the coffee may not have stilled my racing heart, but the thought was there). I got through the years where any time I saw a grown man alone with a child anywhere I would go into a similar (albeit much smaller) meltdown. The more I played with kids, the more I defeated the fear of them. My landlord had a kid who I played with in our driveway. I discovered how to make them laugh. How much fun it is to hang them upside down from their ankles. The mileage that can be gotten from making fart noises and bum jokes. Kids became cool. And fun. I’ve gotten so used to them that I’m trying to make one of my own.
Last night, the Fourth of July, when I met that nice new couple and played with their young ‘uns, threw them over my shoulder, lay on the ground with them climbing over me, bounced them on my knee, had the time of my life, I count it as a small victory that only ten percent of my mind was taken up with what is left of that anguish. Yes – I still had the irrational terror that someone would discover that I am a carrier of the Pedo infection, the Typhoid Mary of pederasty. But I could walk. I could breathe. Happy Independence Day.