I was among one of the last generations to experience the now antiquated way newspapers were delivered, which has been portrayed as a gleeful boy riding a bike while tossing folded newspapers to the homes of appreciative customers. In my case, I did my route on foot. I worked seven days a week, in any kind of weather, delivering the Plain Dealer
to customers in apartment buildings on the westside of Cleveland.
Being on the streets delivering newspapers and having to go alone to collect money from subscribers left boys and girls susceptible to certain risks, including some that I didn’t understand at the time. Among them: being prey to predatory pedophiles. Nobody tells you about that part, or what to do about it if there is a problem.
In the spring of 1975, weeks before my 14th birthday, I was collecting money from my subscribers and thinking that I liked having a paper route. What I didn’t know was that I was about to walk into a situation that would completely transform me and overtake my life.
I didn’t tell anyone this story until I was in my 40s. Even then, I was vague about it. Only in recent months while I was thinking about writing this did I tell a therapist the details of what happened to me that day.
In preparing to write this, I looked up some stories about newspaper carriers. While reading the stories, it became easy to reason that the newspaper publishers knew what could happen to their child laborers. I wondered why they didn’t take steps to protect us. It is, after all, from the backs of those child laborers that newspaper publishing became a multi-billion-dollar industry. But then, why would they do anything that might interrupt the money flow?
In October 1970, an 11-year-old Indianapolis paperboy, Jerry Bayles, was stabbed to death. His nude body was found on the side of a country road. The murder remains a mystery.
In October 1979, a father of two was arrested after the body of 14-year-old Curt Cuzio was found in the man’s attic. Curt had vanished while delivering newspapers for the Detroit Free Press. He had been sexually assaulted.
In 1981, a 42-year-old Southern California man sexually assaulted and strangled 12-year-old Benjamin Lee Brenneman, who had been knocking on doors to offer subscriptions to the Orange County Register.
On March 20, 1983, 14-year-old Christopher Gunn was delivering newspapers when a 17-year-old accosted and sodomized him, and then stabbed him to death using a hunting knife.
On Feb. 15, 1988, in Hagley, Worcestershire, England, a 32-year-old man led police to the body of Stuart Gough, a 14-year-old paperboy the man had abducted and sexually assaulted. Stuart’s killer had been arrested for another attack, and was later a suspect in as many as 28 other sexual assaults. In court, it was said that he preyed on newspaper boys because they were alone and vulnerable.
In 1989, a newspaper boy in Cole Spring, Minnesota, was kidnapped and molested.
In 2004, a Nebraska man was convicted of the 2003 rape and murder of a 15-year-old female newspaper carrier, Heather Guerrero.
On July 6, 2011, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported that a man was sentenced to 33 years for the 2010 kidnapping and sexual assault of a 14-year-old female newspaper carrier he had forced into his car.
In 2013, a New Castle, Pa., man molested two newspaper carriers.
These are only some of the crimes against newspaper carriers that made the news. Mine did not, nor had it been reported. The difference between those stories and this one is that they were written by someone other than the victims. I am here to write mine.
It is believed that the first paperboy was 10-year-old Barney Flaherty, who was hired in 1833 to deliver the New York Sun.
I was a second generation paperboy. My father, who grew up very poor and had a tough life, delivered newspapers when he was a boy. A couple of my brothers had the route before I took it over.
My job as a newspaper boy began when I was 13, just after I started eighth grade in the autumn of 1974.
I learned I was going to be a paperboy when my mother, who barely spoke to me, said that I needed to wake up early and follow one of my brothers to learn the paper route.
My training for the job involved tagging along with my brother for two days in the morning and then going collecting with him for one evening. It was awkward, considering that my brother and I had always avoided each other, had never had a conversation, and that I didn’t talk much as a child.
Each morning, the route manager dropped off bundles of newspapers next to the driveway of the apartment complex where I delivered.
I never had a conversation with the route manager. The only contact I had with him was when I might see him from a distance while he dropped off the newspaper bundles as I was arriving in the morning. He would also stop by my house once a week to collect the money from a metal box kept in my parents’ dining room cabinet. He wouldn’t say much of anything to my mother or me as he counted the money. Then he went on his way. If nobody was home, he would let himself in. That was the arrangement.
I was surprised to get the paper route. I was an underperformer in school, got lousy grades, and was often belittled, both at school and home.
My family didn’t speak to me much. Being the youngest of six boys, I felt like an afterthought, or at least one of the final attempts for my parents to have a girl – which they eventually had. It was a household deeply troubled by lack of money, multiple mental health issues, and alcohol problems. On top of that, when I was four years old my father injured his brain in car accident – which altered his intellectual capacity. Months later, my mother also suffered a head injury in a house fire, spending weeks in the hospital, then sent home as if all was okay. It wasn’t.
Teachers seemed perplexed by me. I could read aloud well, but when asked what I had just read, I’d be blank and have to go back to try to figure out the answer. Today, I would be labeled learning disabled. Back then, I was simply “dumb.”
When I got my paper route, I sometimes carried a transistor radio and listened to the news station. I became fascinated by the stories of Patty Hearst’s kidnapping by the Symbionese Liberation Army. The combination of hearing the news and reading the stories in the newspaper made my brain click.
Being able to read and understand what I had read was a personal revelation. I wasn’t so stupid after all. At school I began volunteering to read out loud when the teachers asked. My retention, attention, understanding, and writing improved, as did my grades.
While my intellect improved, things were far from ideal. I had few friends, didn’t talk much with anyone at school, and nobody at home. Because things at home were many layers of troubled, I never brought anyone to the house.
By the time I was 13, I had been through some troubling situations.
When I was in fourth grade, there was an older teenage boy who did things to me that I didn’t understand. All I knew was that it was painful, frustrating, embarrassing, and something I didn’t know what to do about. I hated it. He did it a bunch of times. It made me bleed.
Some other boys brutalized me as a form of entertainment. My crying, being humiliated, and unable to defend myself seemed funny to them. There was no escaping. They were older, taller, faster, and stronger. Not knowing what to do about my predicament, and used to not being protected, but the opposite, including by those I should have been able to turn to, I spent a lot of time hiding to avoid humans.
That monstrous brutality ended by the time I was eleven.
Life got slightly easier, but things were far from ideal, and I knew it. My newspaper route became an escape from the gloom I lived in.
Being a newspaper boy gave me a sense of pride, although I didn’t understand the concept then. For the first time, I felt good about myself, and felt as if I were doing what I was supposed to be doing. It was the first time I had felt as if my parents were okay with me.
I was a good boy.
My days as a paperboy involved waking up before sunrise, delivering newspapers, showering, going to school, collecting money on my route, doing homework, eating, and sleeping. Nobody in the family seemed to have any interest in me. I was used to people not speaking with me. But then, it became as if I were invisible.
At school, I wasn’t popular, and nobody seemed to seek me out for anything. I simply observed.
My newspaper customers didn’t know my name. I never saw many of them, as they left the payments beneath their doormats, or in envelopes taped to their doors. I saw other customers every week on the rounds I made on Wednesday and Saturday evenings to collect money. Few of my customers said much to me, nor I to them.
Fall and winter went by as I delivered newspapers in some lousy weather. Then spring arrived, which made delivering my paper route easier.
One evening in April, I was in one of the apartment buildings collecting money from customers. While I was knocking on a subscriber’s door, the door behind me across the hall opened. I turned to see three clean-cut college-age young men walk out as they thanked the apartment complex manager for showing them the place.
That apartment was used as the recreation room for the complex, and people could rent it for parties.
After the college boys passed me, I gave a quick glance through the doorway. The apartment complex manager was in there. He saw me.
The man was about 50, tall, strong-looking, and had very short hair. He had recently taken over as manager after the young, friendly married couple who were the managers had moved away. He asked me if I wanted to see the apartment. I didn’t, but he encouraged me.
He backed into the apartment, as if to invite me in.
I looked in quickly, noticing that it didn’t have much furniture. There was a pool table. I stayed in the doorway, and had a feeling that I wanted to bolt.
He went to the other side of the pool table and pointed to that side of it, saying that I should come see something there. I hesitantly stepped into the apartment and walked to his side of the table. There was nothing there.
The man said it was just under the edge of the table, that I needed to lean down to see it. I did. There was nothing.
He grabbed hold of my hair, keeping my head down. I lost my balance and fell to my knees.
Things got frantic with me trying to pull loose from his iron grip. He was undoing his pants with his other hand as my head, face, and chin banged onto the side of the pool table while I tried to keep my face away from his crotch that he kept forcing toward me.
It was confusing and rough.
He forced my face to his penis.
I kept pushing away. Then my head was stuck between the pool table with his thing on my face.
As if angry, he grabbed me and slammed me face up onto the table.
As I tried to stop him, he yanked my pants halfway down, and ripped my underwear.
I heard my collection money scatter.
Forcing me back onto the table as I struggled, he briefly put his mouth on me. I had a rush of every terrifyingly bad feeling as I thought he was going to hurt me, or bite it off.
I kept hold of my collection book, as if that mattered.
He got up and kind of sat on my torso.
I said something about not being able to breathe. He cruelly asked, “Is that better?” as he kneeled on my arms.
Then, my arms were stuck between my torso and his legs.
He was above me as he rubbed himself in his fist. I didn’t know what he was doing. He seemed determined to have it in front of my eyes. He stank. His expression was some sort of strange, angry smile.
I closed my eyes.
He made groaning sounds. My face became wet. It got in my eyes, nose, and mouth. I didn’t understand. I had no knowledge of this sort of thing.
Then, he stopped moving so much.
He said, “Stupid boy.”
He shoved my face back and forth, one way, then the other. Like heavy, slow slaps. He seemed to be smearing that stuff on my face.
I felt like I was going to start crying, or vomiting, or both.
He said something as he got off me.
I thought he was helping me off the table, but he pushed me down again, forcing me on my front with my face and chest against the table. He groped me, roughly grabbing and slapping my behind. It was humiliating, awkward, disturbing, confusing, and made me angry. My heart raced and my brain felt strange.
I got off the table and nearly fell against the wall while trying to pull up my pants. I felt pathetic, frustrated, embarrassed, and stupid.
He closed the door.
He said something about how I had better hurry and get dressed. I thought he meant that someone was approaching and would be entering.
He watched as I tried arranging my torn underwear as I pulled up my pants. I gave up on that and simply got my pants pulled up.
He said I’d better not tell anyone, including my parents. He said he knew where I lived, where I went to school, and what my friends looked like.
He told me to pick up my money from the floor.
As he remained standing near the door, I nervously collected some of the change while I kept looking over at his feet. My hands were shaking. I kept dropping coins. He said something about it being enough. But I hadn’t picked up all of it.
He peeked out the door, then held it open and told me to hurry up and run out.
I didn’t want to go near him. Instead, I went the other way, toward the windows. He grabbed me. I struggled as he dragged me to the door, and shoved me out.
Still holding my collection book, I ran down the hall and out the door.
I ran to the back parking lot, because I thought he was running after me and would go the other way.
I hid behind cars. There were people talking by another building doorway. I thought they noticed me. I crawled to hide behind another car. I peeked up. They were gone.
Panicking, I ran out to the main street. Still thinking he was going to follow me, I went an alternate way.
Someone in a passing car yelled something and seemed to be laughing.
I noticed my torn underwear hanging out of the back of my pants. That too was frustrating and embarrassing.
Getting to an opening in a wooded area of a park, I got on my hands and knees. I stayed like that for a while looking closely at the grass, as if there was some answer there.
I heard voices of older teenagers. They stopped. A girl said there must be something wrong with me. A boy approached and asked me about being “on something.” I didn’t know what he meant. I didn’t look up at them. I turned and sat down.
They went on their way.
I went to the open field of the park. There were people in the distance. Baseball players ending their game. Not wanting them to see me, I lay down face first on the grass.
It started getting dark. I walked home.
Upstairs, I locked myself in the bathroom.
There were red scuff marks, like bruises, on my skin around my privates, hips, and my upper legs. My head hurt.
I took a long shower, as if that would wash it all away.
The next morning when I delivered papers, I was sure to be quiet when I entered into the criminal’s building. I wrinkled up and tore one of the newspapers and left it by his door. Then, I urinated on the newspaper, the door, and the rug.
For the next couple days, I tore or wrinkled his newspaper, or only left part of it.
One morning, the route manager, with whom I had still never had a conversation, sat waiting for me in his truck parked next to the bundles of newspapers. Sounding irritated, he said that one of my customers complained about getting damaged newspapers. The route manager asked me if I knew anything about it. I said I didn’t. He looked at me as if he knew something was up, or that he thought that I was an odd boy.
Regretfully, I left the criminal a newspaper every morning. I had avoided collecting from him. He was getting free newspapers, which I was paying for.
Every morning I became filled with anxiety as I went into his building, but I had to deliver the papers to a variety of apartments in there.
One morning he quickly opened his door. I ran away.
He started showing up places, from around corners, popping out of doorways, or standing in stairways, blocking me from being able to do my job.
I stopped collecting from the people in his building.
The apartment complex was also along my way as I walked to and from school. I began taking a different, longer path to and from school.
One evening as I was collecting, to avoid the possibility of crossing paths with him, I walked around the far side of one of the buildings. He popped out from behind a corner, and nearly grabbed me. I left the complex, not finishing my collection route that evening.
The money in the collection box kept in my parents’ dining room cabinet was dipping below what I owed for the newspapers.
I had been feeling dreadful for weeks. I feared that I would have to explain what had been done and was happening to me. I wouldn’t have known how to explain it. At least, not in any sort of adult way.
Nobody had ever spoken to me about private parts or bodily functions. Other than slang or childish words, I didn’t know what the body parts or body functions were called – or that certain functions occurred. I only had a vague understanding of how babies happened. I hadn’t known the words testicles, penis, erection, masturbation, orgasm, ejaculation, semen, or anything like those. I knew nothing about masturbation. Other than what people did to me, I was innocent.
Apparently because the money in the collection box was dwindling, the route manager said something to my mother.
When you mess up at a job, does your boss go to your mother? Why couldn’t he have asked me about it? He knew where I was every morning.
On a Saturday, my father, who rarely said much of anything to me, and who, because his history of drunken anger, made me nervous and uncomfortable, said something to me about going collecting.
Maybe my father thought that my mother had told me that he was going to take me collecting – she hadn’t. Maybe he thought that I had asked for help – I also hadn’t done that.
My mother also hadn’t said anything to me about knowing that I was messing up the paper route.
The next thing I knew, I was alone in the latest used car driven by my father. He said nothing. I was panicking, but tried not to make any motions to reveal how uncomfortable I was.
As we went door-to-door, my father explained in few words how I should collect, how I should mark the collection book, how I needed to collect a certain amount of money every week to pay for the newspapers, and how all of the money after that was mine to keep. It was as if he didn’t know that I had already been doing it for months.
We got to the building where the criminal lived.
The collection card my father held showed that the next customer hadn’t paid in weeks. My dad was extra sure that we knocked on that door.
The criminal opened his door. I stepped back. Seeing me, he instantly looked agitated. As if he were identifying a suspect, he pointed to me and said loudly in an accusatory tone, “There he is!” Then he went on to tell my father about how his newspaper is always a mess, torn, wrinkled, or wet.
The man didn’t seem to know or care that he was talking to my father.
I stood with my heart racing as I thought he was going to charge after me.
I thought that maybe he would do something to my father, who was a strong man, but seemed short compared to the criminal.
As if my father didn’t seem to notice how angry the criminal was, my father told him how much he owed.
The guy was not having it. My father listened while holding the collection book and looked at me as if he didn’t know what to say.
My father said something about how the guy didn’t have to pay. My father asked him if he still wanted the newspaper. He said that he did, as if the question were absurd. My father marked off all of the weeks that were not paid.
The agreement made me wonder if my father had noticed that before we went to the door that I seemed nervous and fidgety. Also, even if I had skipped the delivery, or had put damaged newspapers at the guy’s door, didn’t my father notice that the criminal’s anger was far beyond reasonable? Did my father have any concern about his son having to deal with that sort of aggression from a tall, strong, middle-aged man?
Without my father saying anything about what had just happened, we went to the next door. I felt let down, frustrated, and confused.
If anything, I felt disappointed. Was my father afraid of the guy? Was my father not the strong, tough, bullheaded, Irish factory worker he seemed to be?
Going collecting with my father that evening remains the most time I had ever spent with him, and the most he had ever spoken directly to me.
From then on, my perception of my father changed. I became another teenage boy silently critical of his father. I avoided him.
After school one day, a husky-voiced neighborhood girl a year older than me asked me if I would walk home with her. I told her that I had been taking a different route home from school because a man in the apartment building where I delivered newspapers wouldn’t leave me alone.
I didn’t tell her what happened.
As we approached the apartment complex, I saw the criminal raking the lawn. How convenient for him to be there at the time all of the children passed on their way home from school.
He saw me and paused. His face contorted into anger.
The husky-voiced girl started shouting things to him like, “Fag!” “Leave my friend alone, you fag!” and, “Stupid fag!”
I didn’t know what to do other than to keep walking alongside the girl.
I had the awful feeling that she was making things far worse.
The criminal looked at me as if he were ready to kill me.
I became friends with a boy in school who was tall, strong, popular, adored by girls, and had a paper route. I told him that a man on my route wouldn’t leave me alone. I think I gave my friend the impression that the guy was trying to steal my collection money.
My friend came up with a plan that he would collect my route one night to see if the guy tried to do anything to him. My friend seemed to think of it as entertaining. But he didn’t know the details, and I didn’t know how to tell him.
I met up with my friend and another boy on a Wednesday evening. We were on bikes.
From a distance in the parking lot, I watched with the other boy. My friend went into the building. The criminal exited the building. Cars in the parking lot blocked our view, but we could tell he was doing something. He then went inside. Then my friend exited, looked around, and then walked across the parking lot to us.
The criminal stole my friend’s bike.
I didn’t know what to say or do. My friend seemed to brush it off as if it were funny.
My friend couldn’t keep collecting for me. I had to do it. And I had to wake up every morning to deliver the newspaper.
The criminal continued bothering me, showing up around various places in the apartment complex.
Again, I was falling behind in the collections.
Before the man ruined things, I could easily say that I was feeling the best I had ever felt about myself. I learned how to read, was getting better grades, was doing my job, and making some money – including money that sometimes helped my mother purchase food.
Then, it became frightening, stressful, frustrating, and dangerous.
I didn’t want to do it anymore. I was worn down.
One morning after school let out for the summer, I went to deliver papers, but didn’t. I left the bundles sitting on the sidewalk.
When I arrived home, my mother saw me. She said something about the paper route. Apparently the route manager had called. As if she were an irritating pest, I said that I wasn’t going to do it anymore.
I went up to my room and sat crying on my bed.
Nobody mentioned the paper route to me again.
That summer became a surreal feeling of being untethered. I went from having a schedule, responsibilities, and discipline, to having none. Nobody seemed to pay attention to or expressed any interest about where I was, what I was doing, when I woke up or went to bed, what I ate or wore, who I spent time with, or what I thought. It was like being invisible in the house.
Within days, I was hanging out with kids who drank, smoked weed, stayed up late, or all night.
Inappropriate teenage behavior became my new normal. I began swearing. Not that teenage boys don’t swear, but my switch to talking that way was sudden, constant, and moronic. I became a disjointed, weird, socially awkward version of a jaded teenager feeling like he was an unwanted mistake, and didn’t matter.
Adult males became suspect. I was aware of them like a person would be while in the presence of aggressive, feral dogs. I’d get a sense of panic if I were around men. Avoidance strategies became a minor obsession. I crossed streets or suddenly switched paths to avoid men. When I saw my friends’ fathers, I’d say little or nothing.
Sometimes there would be a comment, like, “What’s wrong with that boy?” Any kind of recognition or questioning of my behavior would induce anxiety. I was always aware of myself, my movements, and tone of voice.
On top of that, my body was changing, which was confusing enough. Especially since nobody talked to me about it, and it seemed unmentionable to the point of shame, disgust, and confusion.
Living by what seemed like no rules, I drifted around like some sort of wild boy in tattered clothes, and with untamed hair.
Then summer was over and it was back to school. My grades went down. My parents didn’t say anything about that, either.
Food became an issue. Either I ate too little or I ate too much, then got rid of it by forcing myself to vomit. I got so skinny that I rolled my pants at my waist. Skinny was good, I thought.
One day, with concern in her voice, some girl asked what happened to me, that I seemed like a totally different person. Trying to diffuse the situation, I kind of nervously laughed. She said it seems like something is wrong with me. She asked if my parents cared, or if anyone cared about me. I said, “No.”
I got into several school fights that seemed to explode out of nothing. I wasn’t one of the tough kids. But sometimes I would get a fierce rush and pound on some poor kid for the slightest reason.
One night out with drunk and stoned kids, I made out with a girl from an all-girl Catholic school. It was talked about in school, which I thought was cool. Her mother heard about it. The girl was forbidden from seeing me. That bothered me. I was the type that Moms didn’t want near their daughters.
I was a bad boy.
I got a reputation for getting drunk. When some other school held a social with a DJ, I got drunk and stoned with other kids. At some point, I passed out on the dance floor. When I came to, I was surrounded by kids looking down at me. I popped up and pretended I was okay. At another of those school dances, I got so drunk that I began passing out while at the urinal in the bathroom. A strong boy quickly pushed me up against the wall and held me there until I regained my balance.
While walking home drunk one night in freezing cold, I opened the door of a car in a pub parking lot and urinated all over the inside. Then went on my way.
I felt lost and had no goals. There was nobody I looked up to, in the media or otherwise. TV was especially unreal to my reality as it presented smiley, happy, groomed boys my age that I couldn’t relate to: Donny Osmond, Shawn Cassidy, Andy Gibb, and Leif Garret. My existence was rotted.
For money, I’d do stuff for old people in the neighborhood, shoveling snow, raking leaves, cutting lawns, and digging gardens.
I never spent the money on clothes. If I wanted new clothes, I’d shoplift. Nobody ever asked me where I got the occasional new jeans, shirts, jackets, or shoes.
If I wanted to get drunk, I’d snag a bottle from a liquor store, or hang with the kids who had weed or booze. Sometimes we’d pool our money and get some adult going into a liquor store to buy us rum, wine, or beer.
In the spring, a year after I had given up my paper route, a friend of my mother’s came to visit from Michigan. She asked me, “Are you ready?” I didn’t know what she meant. It turned out that she was there to take me to live with her and her husband. I had no knowledge of the arrangement. Turning to my mother, who rarely spoke to me, I gave her a questioning snarl. She said that it would be better for me to go live in Michigan, since I didn’t get along with my brothers, and I had no friends. Not that she knew how I spent my time away from the house.
I was weary of adults. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t leave with the woman.
Later that day, my father came home, saw me, and asked my mother, “What’s he still doing here?”
Not exactly a self-esteem builder.
Other than for food, showering, and to wash and change clothes, I avoided the house, which was sometimes suddenly violent, my brothers behaving like my father used to. As the youngest and weakest, I was often the punching bag. I began sleeping in places like the backyard, an abandoned car, on a neighbor’s back porch, or church steps.
I often went without eating meals. I often ate the berries and fruits growing in nearby woods that had once been an orchard. I also had kept some level of a vegetable garden growing in the backyard, and ate raw vegetables from that. Sometimes neighborhood people would give me food.
I had stayed away from the house so much and paid so little attention that it took me days to realize that one of my brothers was gone. By overhearing a conversation, I found out that he had been put in a mental hospital, where he stayed for several months. Another time it took me weeks to realize that one of my brothers had left on some sort of meandering road trip and ended up staying away.
During the summer after tenth grade, a girl on the next street started selling little black pills. I would take one and do things like go biking and walking for many hours. Sometimes I took two or three pills at a time. I got skinnier. Nobody seemed to notice.
When I couldn’t get more pills I spent three lousy days in bed. Drug withdrawal is not fun, especially when you don’t know what is happening and there is nobody to ask or tell.
In December when I was 16, after a brutal experience with a few of my brothers, I hitchhiked to California. For two weeks, nobody hit me or called me names. Random people who picked me up fed me, gave me safe places to sleep, and talked nicely with me for hours, which I had never before experienced. In San Diego I saw the ocean and people in it surfing. It was like a dream for a teenage hitchhiker from Ohio.
Not knowing what to do, and thinking that it was important to graduate high school, I hitchhiked back to Ohio.
I heard my mother say that my father would never talk to me again.
One chilly day I sat in the kitchen while listening to music on the radio. My father walked in and said only that after I graduate high school he didn’t want to see my face, hear my voice, or know anything about me ever again. I said, “Okay.”
I got a Saturday job at a deli in downtown Cleveland, taking the train to get there.
My art teacher got me a summer scholarship to the Cleveland Institute of Art. One day, a teacher at the Institute spoke to me during a break when nobody else was around, asking me about my art project. I got panicky with the thought that he was going to do something dumb. Even though he did nothing wrong, I never returned to classes.
Through twelfth grade, I worked at a burger joint under the cloud of not knowing what I would do after graduation. The cynical kids at school voted me “most likely to fail.”
Nobody in my family showed up for my high school graduation. I was drunk.
After the ceremony, I wandered around the crowds of students with their families. Nobody seemed to notice me. Nobody congratulated me, or asked me what I was going to do after graduation.
For nearly a year after high school, I worked in factories, gave my mother rent money, bought a used car, and saved money to leave.
One day I heard my father say loudly to my mother, as if I was meant to hear, “What is he still doing living here?” Not something I had ever heard him say about my brothers.
In the spring, I left Cleveland. Nobody said goodbye to me. I have never returned.
I tried talking with my father on the phone once from California. He asked who he was talking with. When I said my name, he hung up.
Ten years later when doctors told me I was dying from kidney failure, I called the house. I ended up talking with my father. He didn’t hang up. He sounded much older, relaxed, and easygoing; we mildly talked about general things. He had stopped drinking and was retired from the steel mill.
He wrote me a letter apologizing for hanging up on me ten years prior. He also apologized for not protecting me when I was young. He said I had a good attitude.
He died soon after writing that letter.
My mother visited me once when I was in my thirties. I was not in a good place. It was not easy being around her. I kept conversations light, and showed her around museums, parks, views, and piers. We played Scrabble on a picnic table by the beach, which turned out to be her favorite thing to do the whole trip.
I wrote her a letter once mentioning a little detail about what happened to me on the paper route. She didn’t respond to that.
She has since died.
It is only in the last year that I have put much thought into considering the gravity of what the criminal did to me. Therapy has helped me to realize how much his actions have undermined my life. The experience was key to my downfall as a teenager, propelling me into disturbed behavior and a more troubled existence. It halted what were ongoing improvements in my life, tarnished my trust, warped my ability to relate to people, brought on a distorted sense of self and sexuality, and left me with ongoing nightmares.
Many times, I’ve moved furniture, torn apart rooms, and damaged things in my sleep — and injured myself doing so, including cuts, bruises, breaking my nose, spraining my wrists, and even knocking myself out by falling against a cabinet and waking up with half my temple and cheek swollen and my neck bleeding.
When I had an apartment on the beach, I woke up one night standing on the beach while looking up at the stars. That might not be such a bad thing. But, once, in a confused state of panic while still asleep, I put my hand through the glass of a window. I woke up back in bed with blood all over the place, and with a vague memory of what I had done, as if it were only a dream of trying to frantically escape from a room. But dreams don’t result in trips to the hospital to get anesthesia and stitches. Even today, things reminding me of what that man did can trigger anxiety, frustration, and night terrors. Girlfriends have told me that I’m nearly impossible to sleep next to. Doctors have told me that I have post-traumatic stress disorder.
I understand what it means when I read about people who experienced childhood sexual assault. They can feel damaged, used, and disposed of, have low self-esteem, often have fractured relationships, and live troubled lives. Many homeless people and addicts have histories of being victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault – especially homeless youth. I had been homeless numerous times in my 20s.
Most often, nobody is held accountable in these sort of assault cases. It is doubtful that the man who violated me is still alive, as he’d be over 90 years old.
Even if he were alive, laws relating to statute of limitations governing sexual assault cases prevent any sort of legal action.
As it has been said, while there have been cases of a person accidently killing someone, and the killer can always be prosecuted, nobody accidently rapes someone, but the rapist might not be prosecuted – because the statute of limitations prevents it.
A middle-aged man doesn’t accidently sexually brutalize and then spend more than a month stalking and threatening a newspaper boy. His actions were calculated, deviant, violent, heinous crimes committed against a 13-year-old boy who was working for pocket change, and helping to support his family, by delivering for one of the largest newspapers in the country.
Like other pubescent newspaper carriers, I helped build the newspaper trade into a multi-billion-dollar industry. The newspaper company got its money. And I got violently molested and then stalked by a predatory pedophile, then was never asked why I had abandoned my route.
A person in the condition I was in could take years to realize how to deal with what happened to them – if ever. Trying to not think of it doesn’t work, as news stories reporting other cases of what adults have done to boys continually remind me of what happened to me.
Canadian hockey players Sheldon Kennedy and Theoren Fleury, who as teenagers were molested by their coach, have written books describing the shattered parts of their lives relating to the repercussions of what that man did.
As I was writing this, news broke that former Republican Speaker of the House Congressman Dennis Hastert had molested at least four teenage boys while he was employed as a high school wrestling coach during the 1960s and 1970s. Later, Hastert paid one of the victims something in the range of $3.5 million to keep him quiet. Another of Hastert’s victims led a shattered life, and died young.
If you are a child in any sort of situation similar to what I was in, consider contacting Bikers Against Child Abuse International (BACAWorld.org). Also, there is ChildHelp.org. Although it was founded to aid survivors of priest abuse, S.N.A.P. can also be of help (SNAPNetwork.org). Those interested in supporting the organizations can make donations through the Web sites.
The author requested that
Scene not publish his real name.