I’m sitting in the garage with Max. Jeff sticks his head in and tells me to get into the house.
“Where’s John?” I ask.
“None of yer business. Come with me.” He grabs me by the arm and pulls me into his bedroom and tries to throw me on his bed. I push him away and try to leave. He socks me in the stomach and I fall down. He jumps on me, while I try to kick him. He sits on my stomach and keeps punching me until I stop struggling.
What he does next is so awful I will never tell anyone what it is. I lay there crying until he grabs me and pushes me into the garage. Max jumps up and tries to get at Jeff. He escapes just in time. I lay on the floor crying. Max lays with me, licking the tears off my face. I fall asleep until John finds me. He wants me to tell him what is wrong. I cannot. He lays with Max and me, giving him a belly rub. Max is happy which makes me feel better. We fall asleep in Max’s blanket bed. We stay there until early morning. My dad and Edith have not come home. We sneak back into our beds so Jeff cannot complain about us to the parents.
I stay in bed all Sunday. When the parents come home, John explains I have a severe sunburn. No one bothers me until Jeff comes in and tries to get me to do things again. I roll up into a ball against the wall.
“I will start doing this with John, if you do not give in,” he looks crazed. I cannot say a thing. The parents are in the house, so Jeff is being quiet. He throws himself on top of me and is wiggling like a snake. I want to cry out but I am too scared and cannot.
“If you tell, I’ll kill you,” he threatens.
He leaves me shaking, with a mess in my bed. John comes in later. He’s upset that I can’t say a word. He gets the skin lotion, thinking my sunburn is so painful I can’t speak. When he pours the lotion on my back, it feels like what Jeff did. I shriek and start shaking. He jumps up before Edith and Jeff come in. Max is barking in the garage.
“What is wrong with this boy?” Edith asks.
“I tried putting lotion on his sunburn. It must hurt so bad he screamed,” John explains.
“Do I have to separate you boys?” she stands there with her hands on her hips. “Get me a stick,” she orders Jeff. “I’ll stop that dirty dog from barking.”
“No,” John shouts, as we both jump up and block the garage door. Jeff already has a broom stick to beat Max. Max is furiously barking behind the door.
Edith takes the broom, opens the garage door and starts beating Max. My dog has never been hit. He cowers in the corner. I try to stop her. Jeff laughs at my feeble efforts. John is in shock.
“You’re sleeping out here from now on,” she orders me. “You’re a bad influence on John.”
I lay with Max who is still shaking on his blanket bed. I am glad to be back in the garage.
John gets me up for school, carrying my only set of clean clothes. I notice he added some of his own clothes to the pile. I almost cry from him being so nice.
“You okay?” he asks. “The sunburn better?”
I nod, unable to speak without the tears flowing. I take Michael’s bike back to his house.
Again I cannot speak, afraid of more tears. My friends are being so nice. It almost makes up for how I am being treated at home. Just thinking about Jeff makes me shake.
“What is wrong with him?” Michael asks John, who shakes his head in confusion.
“Keep the bike, Jace. Remember how much fun it was with all four of us at the park?”
I cannot stand it; he is too nice. I run off toward school by myself. Michael and John walk together like normal people.
I keep my head down in Miss Nosy Rosie Butt’s class. Ever since my outburst, she ignores me. When she finally asks me a regular math question, I keep my head down and say nothing. She lets me slide. At recess, I sit on the sidelines while everyone else is running around. Finally Robby and Michael come over.
“What is wrong with you?” Robby demands.
Again the tears well up and I cannot answer. I cannot tell what happened and their concern just makes me a basket case. They finally walk away, shaking their heads. I am losing my friends. I am not hungry at lunch and sit outside underneath a large bushy tree that grows next to the school building. Its flowers smell heavy and sweet. I think they smell like death.
Miss Rosenblum comes over.
“Why are you not eating lunch, Jace?”
I just shake my head.
“You have to start telling me what’s going on. I can’t help you otherwise.”
“Well, I’m taking you to the nurse’s office.”
She leads me by the hand. I feel better now that someone is taking charge of me. The nurse examines me, noting my sunburn, for which she applies lotion. I am mortified when she finds a rash on my butt. She applies the lotion there as well. I am so humiliated. I hate Miss Nosy Rosie Butt for making me go to the nurse. I get so angry, believing everything bad happened since she stuck her nose into my miserable life. I sit there glaring at her. She avoids calling on me the rest of the day.
The next day I eat lunch by myself; I am starving. My friends avoid me since I am not talking. They know something is wrong but it is not up to them to fix it. John walks with me to and from school. He stops asking me questions, so there is no need to talk. We play with Max and walk him in the neighborhood. His happiness from belly rubs and ear scratching eventually makes me feel better. I am finally able to speak, talking to Max. John joins in. Max barks back. I start sitting with Robby and Michael at lunch. They decide I have nothing to say and stop bugging me.
The bad part is Jeff starts dragging me into his room after John goes to bed. He uses the broom to keep Max at bay. At first he just pushes me back into the garage once he’s done. Max knows something is wrong. One night he’s waiting for Jeff by the door. I laugh seeing how scared Jeff is when Max lunges at him. Max actually bites Jeff on the butt before he can escape behind the garage door. I hug Max so hard that night, he actually complains. But he knows he made me happy. The parents are never home until early in the morning. Jeff can get away with anything, and he does. After Max’s surprise, Jeff tells me to keep Max away from him, or else he’ll start molesting John. I will never let that happen. Jeff is doing worse and worse things with me, but I don’t complain. I’m protecting John.
I think it is the worst it can get. One night after several months of nightly molestation, he drags me into John’s room. John sits up wide-eyed in his bed as Jace proceeds to molest me. John jumps up and tries to stop Jeff. Jeff stops attacking me and attacks John. I’m heart-broken watching Jeff molest John. I try to pull Jeff away from John. He back-hands me, jumping on top of me while John cries on the floor. He goes at us alternatively. I throw up, causing John to do so, too. Jeff finally finishes.
“If you tell anyone, everyone one will know you’re both faggots. Jace will get sent to juvie for perverting you,” he yells at John.
He drags me to the garage, hitting Max who is barking at the door. I put up with it for so long, thinking I was protecting John. I am so stupid. Max lays with his head in my lap. I can’t sleep after what happened.
John refuses to come out of his room in the morning. I go in and find him so traumatized that he refuses to look or speak to me. I feel so guilty for being unable to protect him. I deluded myself that letting Jeff molest me would protect John. I feel hopeless. I try to hug John but it makes him shudder and cry. The only solution I know is to sneak Max into the room. John lets him jump into his bed and hides him under the covers. Only Max can touch him. I am so sad but relieved that Max comforts John.
After a couple of days, Robby and Michael ask where John is. I say he’s sick. Finally John is better. He can speak again, but is pretty morose. He was so nice to me before Jeff started in on us. I don’t know how to help John. Being solicitous makes him angry. Things keep getting worse. I still blame Miss Nosy Rosie Butt for interfering and making Dad bring Edith and Jeff into our house. I will never think that way about John, but everything else has gone to hell in a hand basket. John and I are both space cases. We fall into a silent acceptance of our plight. Instead of co-conspirators, we are co-victims.
Just when it seems like things cannot get any worse, Jeff injures John from the terrors of our abuse. John is barely eight years old. Jeff is now fifteen. When Edith finds blood in John’s underwear, she asks Jeff what happened. He blames me, saying now they know for sure that I am a pervert. They tell Dad. I am banished to the garage again. Dad believes Edith and Jeff over my denials. To keep me from telling the truth, Jeff makes me get on top of John and simulate actual sex. We were eight and ten. The only things we know about sex is what Jeff is doing to us.
“You’re my only brother,” Jeff tells John afterwards. “Jace is a molester now, after what he just did to you.”
He hopes to drive a wedge between us, thinking John will back him up with their mother. Neither of us can deal with what he’s doing. We are totally traumatized. John can no longer express the care and concern he had initially shown. I become almost completely silent, communicating with no one. Robby and Michael treat me like I’m a social reject. Which I am. They just ignore John who is two and three years younger than them. They let us hang out with them at lunch but no longer include us in their adventures. Time goes by with no markers of memorable events. I’m just a kid who has no life.
The next few years pass with little change in our lives. Jeff is now in high school. He still has no friends. His nightly visits to our bedroom remain a regular horror in our lives. We suffer together, although we never speak of it or commiserate. John is better at blocking out the memories. He has friends his own age who often come to our house. Max is everyone’s favorite pet. I remain friends with Robby and Michael. The year I’m in sixth grade, Robby is in junior high. His friendship with Michael and peripherally with me keeps him isolated from the junior high social scene. He grows his blond hair to shoulder length. I do the same. No one says anything. We look like brothers, except I have one too many brothers and don’t encourage anyone who mentions how much I look like Robby. At home, Dad makes cutting remarks that I’m turning out just like my waste case mom, even looking like her. He favors Jeff who knows how to suck up to him. Life in hell is tedious. I never block out what is happening at night. I just feel helpless. John is coping; he has a daytime life and a nightmare that ends every morning. Junior high is hell for most kids. We all suffer mostly alone in silence. Teachers are not like Miss Rosenblum, trying to make our lives better. It’s a nightmare for many of them as well.
When I’m in eighth grade and Robby is now in high school, he discovers pot. Extolling its virtues, he recruits Michael and me into his little pot gang. Michael is the only one who has spending money. He refuses to support Robby’s growing pot habit. At first, I don’t participate. I have no money and little interest in getting high. They enjoy the sensation of tuning out the world. It doesn’t work on me; seeing them so blissfully happy I sit there sad that my life is so miserable. It’s not an escape. When they have ‘scored’, Robby often insists I indulge; he claims it kills his high to be around me if I’m straight. Once we all get high, he doesn’t notice that I am my same old boring self.
Robby solves the money issue by becoming a pot dealer. His junior high connections, Michael and me, give him access to an untapped market. Robby’s dealer teaches him the ropes of the drug trade. He always has pot and never complains about sharing. Pot is a weed, supposedly growing everywhere. It’s distributed through a connection. Never local product, the dealers sell pot from outside the country – Acapulco Gold, Maui Wowie, and our favorite is Columbian. It’s cheap – $15 a ‘lid,’ which is an ounce. Everyone says it ‘expands’ as you smoke it, getting you higher as time goes by. Robby rolls joints to look like cigarettes which are passed around in a circle. Pot etiquette is strictly enforced. You take only one puff on the joint while everyone watches you. Not passing it along quickly is called ‘bogarting.’ Once most of the joint is smoked, it becomes a ‘roach.’ Robby saves his roaches, using a hemostat clamp to keep from burning his fingers. Sucking too forcefully creates a ‘run’ on one side of the joint, wasting too much of the pot. A hit is the proper amount of smoke inhaled and held in as long as you can hold your breath. Taking too big a ‘hit’ causes you to choke and cough explosively. Although some people say that you ‘cough to get off.’ Once you get high, you are supposed to sit back and ‘chill.’ Some stoners get overly excited, affecting everyone else’s high. Robby is that way. He has a set of drums in his room, where we all convene after school. He turns the radio up and plays along to rock songs, mostly heavy metal. Once his pot dealing becomes a steady income stream, he buys a fancy stereo and begins collecting‘classic’ rock LPs (long-playing albums). Michael doesn’t exhibit this hyperactivity, but to keep up with Robby he learns to play drums as well. Robby does have some high school friends who sometimes hang out with us to get high but are uncomfortable to be with junior high kids and especially John, a grade schooler. Ned is Robby’s age and has a girlfriend, Mary; they are comfortable getting high with us and do not care what their friends think. Robby always gets us high. If you want to have some pot of your own or to take to a party, he charges $15 for a lid which comes in a plastic baggie. As part of Robby’s gang, we are a connection. People come up to us at school, give us money and we deliver a lid the next day. People call us Stoners which becomes my reputation as I never participate in sports or social groups. I do not care; that is part of being a Stoner, not caring. I have no expectations.
Junior high is pretty much a blur. School holidays and vacations mean we spend all day at Robby’s, hanging out. Smoking weed gets us hungry, ‘the munchies.’ We raid everyone’s kitchens and devour whatever we find. Jeff catches the gang at our house and is mean to everyone. We all hate him, but it means that our kitchen is out-of-bounds. The extra food starts me growing. I’m no longer a runt. By the end of 8th grade, I’m almost six feet tall, if I straighten up while standing. I remain skinny, using snack food to fuel my growth. The jocks still push me aside in the school hallways. I hate them but never stand up for myself.