Our current news focus on the Penn State athletic department has likely caused a lot of people to reflect on bygone shame. I am one of those who has. The following is a personal experience I have never written about. Moreover I have not spoken about it with any parent, relative, spouse, or friend. So why am I about to tell of it now, and publish it on the Internet with my actual name? I do not know. And as i begin to write, I wonder if I may change my mind and keep it as a private account. Time will tell.
I am guessing I was twelve or thirteen at the time. My father was teaching summer school at what was then the Appalachian State Teacher’s College in Boone, North Carolina. Dad and mother and I lived in an apartment on the second floor above the student center. My activities included tennis, exploring Howard’s Knob and other nearby mountains, fishing trips, playing trumpet in a summer band, and working on my Boy Scout merit badges.
Our family attended the local Presbyterian church, sometimes had Sunday meals at the Boone Hotel, and often went for drives along the Blue Ridge Parkway and other mountain and country roads in this beautiful region of Western North Carolina. “Going for a drive in the country” was a favored activity of our family, which I enjoyed then and still enjoy. We would stop at small country stores and I would usually get an ice cream or popsicle. Sometimes we would play “count the cows” as we drove, and I would try my best to win. Our apartment had a fire escape which provided my favorite entrance and exit. I remember these as happy days. But there is another memory as well.
I sometimes attended meetings of a local Boy Scout troop. I remember the scout leader as a working class mountain man who rode a Harley Davidson motorcycle. He was plain spoken and somewhat arrogant. I never liked him much, but I did like it when he offered to take me for a ride on his motorcycle. And not just a short ride. He said he needed to go to a distant town and I could go with him. I asked my parents if I could do this and they said alright.
The scoutmaster picked me up as promised and I got on behind him and we rode through the country. It was thrilling. I wished my friends could see me. We got to wherever he was going and he talked with whoever he had business with. When it came time to head back he asked me if I would like to drive. I did not know what to think or say. I told him I had never driven a motorcycle and did not know how. He assured me that it was easy and he would help me and teach me and everything would be fine. He insisted and I finally agreed.
He started the Harley, put me on the big seat in front, and got on behind me. Starting out, he basically drove the thing with me in front, but once on open road be showed me about the controls and gave me the handlebars. At first he helped with driving, like a piano duet, but I soon caught on and was able to drive without assistance. It was then that he brought up the subject of sex, asking me if I knew about girls, if I ever saw one naked, and if I ever played with myself and did it feel good.
His hands moved down to my crotch and he began to unzip my pants. My hands were glued to the handlebars. I was confused, afraid, embarrassed, and wishing to be somewhere else. I feared crashing the motorcycle and I feared resisting this man, even if I knew how. He pulled out my penis and began stroking it, asking me if I had ever measured it and if I knew how long it was. All of these details are as vivid in my memory now as they were then.
Eventually his fondling produced an erection. Then we came into the edge of town and he quit and zipped me back up. That was all. I do not recall that he tried to take me anywhere or do anything else. And I don’t recall him warning me not to tell about this, although you would think he might have.
I never even considered telling my parents. Although he was a college professor with a PhD, my father was a mountain man as well. Had I told him this story there would have been immediate repercussions. He would have taken me to confront this man, to accuse him face to face as my father listened with growing anger. I was a shy young boy with a deformed large foot that kids made fun of. I mostly avoided girls and confrontations. I kept everythig to myself.
I did not go back to Boy Scout meetings for a long time. Why I went back that one last time I can’t remember, but I remember vividly what happened when I did. The scoutmaster saw me come in, looked surprised, tried to remember my name and couldn’t, and his greeting was: “Hey, do you still have that hard-on?” There was a sense of his accomplishment in the tone of voice.
He said this in full hearing of the other boys. Thinking back on it from an adult perspective, I can only assume that his attention to me had been practiced with other boys of his troop. Some, at least, perhaps all.
Thankfully, I was not scarred for life by this experience–nothing even close. I rarely think of it except when reminded by something like the Penn State accounts. I put it in the category of bygone shame. And probably more people than we imagine have such a story to tell, if only they could or would.
Shame is long lasting, at least in my experience. I can still feel embarrassments I experienced long ago, even though my rational self declares that I should “get over it” and “move on.” This explains why victims of sexual abuse are reluctant to share their stories, much less to face their abusers.