I Wrote a Letter to My Abusers

I Wrote a Letter to My Abusers

A survivor story written by Todd G. 

October 26, 2018


Dear Steve and Pam,

You were the neighbor kids. You lived at 6182 [street name redacted], just five houses away from where I lived with my family at number 6170. Ours was a quiet, middle-class neighborhood of stucco tract homes that bumped up against oaken foothills. In the summertime, us local kids would climb the closest slope and slide down the dry, grassy hillside on wide scraps of cardboard. In the wintertime, the rains would sweep in from the Pacific, bringing a frenzy of toads to our street — their croaks raising a ruckus as day turned to dusk. Do you remember?


This was me:

I was six years old when this photo was taken. Back when my family still lived in San Jose. Back when Jimmy Carter was president. Back when Saturday Night Fever had just hit the theaters and the Bee Gees were always on the radio.

Back when Steve made me suck his cock.


* * *


Back then, my best friends on the block were Amy and Jennifer. We were all the same age, but I usually played with the girls separately because Jennifer was an opinionated firecracker who demanded more than her fair share of attention, which wasn’t fair to Amy. Amy and I — or Jennifer and I — would rollerskate, play with my pet hermit crabs, listen to Free to Be You and Me, or color in our coloring books using the Crayola crayons that came in a big box with that sharpener that didn’t really work.

One day after school, Amy and I started flinging mud at each other for a reason I can no longer remember. We ended up doubled over, laughing, because we were having so much fun. When my mom found us, she took a picture, our muddy hands raised to the camera. In the photo, Amy is gap-toothed and freckled in a mud-spattered t-shirt that reads “California.” I’m at her side in my muddy, red Sakamoto School shirt, with my blue house key dangling from my neck.

Another time, Amy and I were hanging around my driveway, killing time in the summer sunshine, probably waiting for the ice cream truck to arrive so we could buy red-white-and-blue Bomb Pops. Pam walked over and started talking to us. We were afraid of Pam because she was so much older (twelve!) and she towered over us. But she could be nice when she wanted to and so, cautiously, we relaxed and fell into conversation.


“What’s your favorite candy?” Pam asked me.

“Now and Laters,” I said, certain that she was about to offer us candy. If she didn’t have Now and Laters, maybe she had an Abba-Zabba or some Jolly Ranchers.

“I’ll make you a dare,” she continued. “I’ll give you a whole garageful of Now and Laters if you french Amy.”

I knew I was right to be suspicious of Pam — but a whole garage of chewy, fruit-flavored taffy? Oh my gosh yes! I didn’t know what frenching was, but maybe I could learn.

“For real?” I asked. Still doubtful.

“For real,” Pam said. “I’m not kidding.”

I looked at Amy, who was growing bored.

“What do we have to do?” I asked.


* * *


He didn’t use physical force.

I didn’t run away.

He didn’t make threats.

I didn’t tell my parents.

He didn’t strike me.

I didn’t cry out.

He didn’t leave marks.

I didn’t understand.


He was 13.

I was 6.


* * *


My brother was with me the first time I saw Steve’s dick. It must’ve been soon after Christmas because one afternoon, while Steve was babysitting us, he saw the microscope that we got from Santa and asked us:

“Do you guys want to see sperm?”

I didn’t know what he meant. Not exactly. More than once I’d looked through my mom’s copy of Our Bodies, Our Selves, and I knew that sperm was sort of like a tadpole. But I wasn’t stupid either. I knew it wasn’t an animal, that it had to do with sex.

I don’t remember either my brother or me answering “yes.” Not that it mattered. Steve grabbed the microscope, still packed in the box it came in, and led us to the big bathroom off Mom and Dad’s bedroom. He took out the microscope and set it on the vanity, between the double sinks. He asked if we had any slides and my brother selected one and asked if Steve needed a slide cover.

“Not yet,” he said. And then he unbuttoned his shorts and proceeded to masturbate.


* * *


Pam explained that Amy and I had to kiss each other with our mouths open for one full minute. I hadn’t kissed anyone before except for my mom, my aunts and my grandmothers — and on those occasions, only ever on the cheek. I’d never thought before about kissing Amy and I doubted that Amy had thought about kissing me. Why did Pam want Amy and me to kiss?

“Are you gonna do it?” asked Pam.

Amy and I stepped toward each other on the oil-stained driveway in front of my house. With zero emotion, I leaned in and quickly kissed Amy’s lips.

“Like that?” I asked Pam, seeking praise.

“No!” shouted Pam. “You’re doing it wrong! You have to put your tongues in other’s mouths!”

“Ewwww gross!”

“I don’t know,” I said, realizing that it might not be worth it.

“Don’t you want the Now and Laters?” asked Pam.

“Yeah,” I said, starting to understand where this was leading. “But I don’t want to do it here where everyone can see. We should go to the side yard.”

So we went to the side yard.


* * *


Why did they do it?

Were they victims too?


* * *



Steve and Jennifer standing in the sheltered patio that frames the entry to our house. A tangle of philodendrons lends the illusion that they’re in a remote tropical jungle rather than a California suburb. He says that they’re going have sex. She’s wearing a glittery rainbow t-shirt and bell-bottom jeans. His pale freckled hands nudge her against the beige stucco wall. He tugs at her jeans. The front door is open a crack and I’m spying on them from inside the house. I do nothing to stop it. Frustrated by the sight of me, he yanks her arm and leads her through the wrought iron front gate and out of the patio. I don’t know what happens next.

Did you fuck her, Steve? Did you fuck my six-year-old friend?

Did you fuck Amy too?

Did you fuck any other kids?


* * *


To one side of our house, there was an unkempt path that led to a small vegetable garden and our backyard patio. The other side of the house had a concrete walkway linking the wooden front gate to our garage and the backyard. This is where I led Amy and Pam. We stood on the path, under the shingled eaves, just inside the gate.

This is where two six-year-olds kissed — under the disconcerting gaze of a bewildered 12-year-old girl.

I don’t remember the actual kissing.

I don’t remember Amy’s reaction.

All I remember is that This Happened.

I’d like to think that this incident was benign. Just one of those things that happens when children are left in the care of other children. But no, I don’t really believe that. I believe that this hints at something darker.

This happened 41 years ago

and I still remember.


* * *


His body scared me. There was a shock of red pubic hair. Not red-red, but orange. The color of Ernie from Sesame Street. And then there was his penis. It was so different from mine: so big and so pink. The circumcised head looked angry — shiny and red like the siren on a fire truck. Like a warning. An emergency.


* * *


It happened in the junk room.

I stopped because my jaw grew sore.

I was home from school but Mom and Dad were still at work.

This is the time when Steve would drop by our house.


How deep is your love, how deep is your love?


We were listening to the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack.

It was still playing in the living room when he led me to the other room.

The room cluttered with unused furniture, holiday decorations and boxes of memories.

He unzipped his shorts.

He had it in his hand.

I didn’t understand when he asked me.


’Cause we’re living in a world of fools


Do what?

“Put it in your mouth.”

Do what?

I said no.

I said it was dirty.

“I’ll clean it.”


Breaking us down when they all should let us be


He pulled a Kleenex out of his pocket and dabbed the head.

“It’s clean now.”

“Open your mouth.”


It was boring.

And uncomfortable.

I couldn’t breathe.

He was grunting.


And you come to me on a summer breeze


“Want me to suck yours?”

I didn’t want him to.

He did anyway.

It tickled.

Deep in my stomach.

I don’t remember how long it lasted.

I don’t remember if he came.


How deep is your love, how deep is your love?


* * *


You picked me.

Maybe you saw something different.

I couldn’t have seen myself.

But I know I talked funny back then.

Went to speech therapy for years.

Rs and Ss mostly.


I didn’t like sports.

Didn’t like roughhousing.

Never was a Cub Scout.

I liked to read alone in my room.

Stuart Little. Charlotte’s Web. The Cricket in Times Square.

Fantasy trumped reality.


Did you know that when I was a little boy I used to powder my face?

I’d make a paste of talc and water.

And whiten my face like a geisha.

It’s how I got ready before going out to Safeway or Sears with Mom.

She let me express myself freely.

Sometimes expressing yourself freely makes you a target.


* * *


There’s a land that I see where the children are free

And I say it ain’t far to this land from where we are

Take my hand, come with me, where the children are free

Come with me, take my hand, and we’ll live

In a land where the river runs free

In a land through the green country

In a land to a shining sea

And you and me are free to be you and me*





* “Free to Be You and Me,” lyrics by Bruce Hart, music by Stephen J. Lawrence, ℗ 1972, 2006 Arista Records LLC


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