Monster in the Playground
This story is dedicated to all the children in this world who suffer abuse in whatever form, and to my step-mom, Dorothy. Dorothy’s prayerful hopes for me gave me the courage to write this story.
Have you ever wondered about your own sanity? I mean really wondered? I have, and I believe some of us do actually seriously wonder from time to time. But how about at the age of nine or ten? Did you ever wonder about your own sanity then? I did. In September of 1968, I was 10 years old, and a monster.
It all started when I was six years old. My family lived in the Midwest. We were farmers. I was the only son of an only son, surrounded by adults. I yearned for the company of a playmate. I couldn’t wait to get to my Kindergarten class where there were other kids to play with. I was short and small for my age. I had white and golden yellow hair, bright blue eyes, and a smile that just wouldn’t quit. My name was Michael, but I preferred Mike.
I made friends easily, played hard, and loved school. Then, all too soon, the day would be over and I would once more find myself alone, at home. Grandma, and the animals were my only company, so I kept myself amused exploring my world in what seemed to be ever widening circles of mischief. Some of the time though I would just lie on my back and ponder the shapes in the clouds.
My father was a big man, tall and lanky. His shirts never seemed to fit him proper as his arms were much too long for any shirt that wasn’t three sizes way too big for him. My father was an Irishman, who came from Ireland when he was a boy, where his father was a blacksmith. After Grandpa died, other family who had also come over from Ireland gave my dad a farm to work for his very own. We had typical farm animals, and Grandma kept a good size garden. I took care of the chickens, ducks, and for a time even the milk cow. This was my world, simple, quiet, lonely.
When the retired couple on the property next to us moved to Florida, and the farm across the road became vacant, I had even less to do. But then all at once two families moved in, both very different. One of these families was a nightmare. The family that moved in across the road had an uncounted number of kids. But there was one. I do not know if he even lived there or not.
He just kind of showed up when they all did. All I know now, looking back on those days is that the youngest boy in this family had either an older brother or an older friend, and together both of them became my tormentors, my living hell.
One bright summer day, when the air was thick with the smells of a working farm, and the puffy little summer clouds were bouncing by I was raped by these two older boys. I was six years old. They caught and killed my cat in front of me, and threatened even worse for me, my dog, and even my parents if I ever told. I learned to avoid these two whenever I would see them, but from time to time they would capture and torture me. Making me watch or do unspeakable things. Things no six-year-old child should even know about, or much less experience.
I would come home sometimes hurt, scratched up, one time even with a black eye. My father would just beam, “Boy it looks like you had yourself a good time today. Jeez, boy, when ya gona learn how to duck?” My dad was so proud that I was fitting in with the new kids, having fun, getting in fights, and playing rough, that he just thought I was having a good time. After all, I never complained or told. I took my licks and cried alone in my room at night.
I was so relieved two years later when we moved to California. The pain and torment was behind me, right? But something was wrong with me. I had lost the ability to trust other kids. I was easily frightened, and couldn’t form any lasting friendships. Gone was the friendliness from my soul. Gone was the smile from my face. Replaced by a scowl of anger and indifference. In 1968 I was just turning 10 years old, but in so many other ways I was much older. I was much older on the inside, but twisted, and hard.
Have you ever thought about your enemies? Do you have one? Everybody has someone that they do not like, or care for. Does everyone also have enemies? Enemy is such a strong word. Not all enemies are “in your face” about it. Some enemies can be close to us, and can even turn out to be your best friend. In my case, my worst enemy was myself. I let things happen to me. I let myself be dragged into situations, and it wasn’t too long before I put myself in bad situations.
After moving from our farm two years earlier I was still too embarrassed, scared, and frightened to talk about what had happened there. I tried to fit in whenever I could. I was always fighting this battle inside of myself. I wanted to be normal, but I just knew I wasn’t. Things in my head, feelings, and visions, flashbacks, and nightmares convinced me I wasn’t normal. But now at 10 years old I was bound and determined to just be a kid. I joined a city football team, a whole group of kids my age. Could I make it work?
The school photographer took note that I was photogenic. He picked me out of all the school photos and offered me a try-out for a shoe commercial. I was thrilled; my folks were not. So before it ever got started my brilliant acting career was shut down. I wanted so much to at least have a try at acting. I wanted so much to be in front of the cameras. Though my folks had said no, I told my coach that I wanted to try doing something like that. We went behind my parent’s backs, and went to talk with the photographer.
This photographer’s name has been forgotten by me, I am not sure I ever knew it, but all of the people around him called him Mr. Hollywood.
Mr. Hollywood was about fifty years old. Not very tall, and had scraggly salt and pepper hair that he wore long. His teeth were the main thing I noticed about the man. Mr. Hollywood’s teeth were a sight. Every one of his teeth was at a strange angle. It was as though he had way too many teeth for his mouth. All crowded together in a pile one on top of the other. But despite that feature the first thing you noticed about the man wasn’t the man himself, but his clothing, and accessories. Mr. Hollywood dressed in bright colors, and in a way-out style. Sure it was the 1960s, but he was not a young man. He dressed as though he was a teen. Then there were the nearly ever-present sunglasses. The only time he took them off was when he was taking pictures, but all the rest of the time, bright sun or clouds, rain or shine, even at night, there on his face were his sunglasses. Why did they call him, “Mr. Hollywood”? Maybe it was his clothes, maybe the sun glasses, but I think it was because he was always speaking of some shoot or other project. He sounded very much like some big time Hollywood movie producer. But he didn’t live or even work in Hollywood. He had a nice but small, two-room, very professional-looking office and studio, in an office building about a mile from my parents’ house in Costa Mesa, California. The heart of Orange County, about forty-five miles outside of Los Angeles.
My coach said that Mr. Hollywood was putting together a shoot for some sort of a catalog and needed kids to photograph. Coach gave me a form to fill out and have my parents sign. For the first of many more times, I forged my dad’s signature.
The day of the catalog shoot was gray, and overcast, the beach was fogged in, so the whole thing took place inside. There were kids, and parents, and all sorts of different clothes to put on. All summer wear, though it was the dead of winter. One by one, as each kid was finished they left until one other boy and myself were all that was left. The last clothes to model were for the beach or poolside. Using pool props like snorkels, masks, and towels, I and this other boy posed by ourselves, and with each other as though we were actually at the beach or poolside. The other boy had obviously been here and done all of this before. I took my cues from him as to how to stand, and what to do.
This other boy was noticeably friendly with Mr. Hollywood. Towards the end of the day this other boy whose name was also Michael, a boy my age, maybe a year older, came over to me and said under his breath, “I think it’s bonus time.” I asked what that was, and he said Mr. Hollywood liked to take nude photos of boys like us, and would pay us a lot of money if we said yes.
Mr. Hollywood came over and, showing us both a thick role of bills, said, “There is a bonus in this for you if you’ll do something else for us today.” He continued, “There is a hundred dollars here for each of you. Michael, you have done this before. What about your friend here?” I didn’t want to say yes, but I didn’t want to say no either, so I just went with the flow. The other boy didn’t even blink an eye. He motioned to me with his head, saying, “Oh, he’ll be all right.” And with that he began to get undressed. We were both only in bathing suits, so getting undressed was not that big of a deal. I got over any apprehension quickly enough. Was it the money he offered? Or was it the pot we started smoking? But as I posed with this other boy I became detached, almost as though I was in a dream. Like watching myself from some other place, I did what needed to be done, without any thought as to what I was doing. When I was asked to masturbate towards the end for an extra hundred dollars it was as if nothing had been asked of me at all. It was all so automatic. I had already been through all of this before. However the difference now was the lack of violence. No one was standing over me threatening my life, or the life of my pets, or parents. No one was hurting me, at least not as you would notice, and yes, in a very real way I even enjoyed what I was doing.
A certain numbness started years before grew in me that afternoon. I was able to remove myself to another place, until all of a sudden it was over and I was riding my bike home with $200 in my pocket. And, in 1968, $200 was a lot of money, especially to a 10-year-old boy. I bought some pot, and stuff for my bike, and a few records. I spent the rest on movies, and other junk. No one noticed that I was spending more and more time by myself.
I retreated more and more from social activities, even football. I am not sure why, but I seemed to be seeking out corners of my world left alone by others. One of those places was one of the many orange groves that dotted Orange County in those days. One of those orange groves was across from our school. Oh, sure kids played in the edges, but no one ever ventured far into the grove itself.
Some older kids had built a fort of sorts, using the fence on one side of the orange grove and discarded trash, like moving boxes, and refrigerator boxes from the nearby apartment complex, old lumber, and pallets from behind the grocery store. All the neighborhood kids had managed to construct a fairly good little fort on the side of the orange grove. The fort was a pretty good defendable area, capable of allowing us to ward off all sorts of enemy transgressions. Invading alien creatures to other imagined play time foes. But someone in the name of progress had come and uprooted every last orange tree, and cut down every wind break, totally destroying the orange grove and the eucalyptus trees that protected it. As these trees were destroyed huge bulldozers pushed them into giant piles, making room for the two new schools and fire station that would be built.
Now these piles of uprooted dying trees were all that was left of the fort, and my favorite place to hide in and play. I decided to see what was left of the fort and parked my bike and walked into the piles or trees. As I rounded one of the piles of debris I spotted two boys who lived by the school. I saw them first. The older boy about 14 or 15 years old was leaned over giving his little brother, a boy about 11 or 12 years old, a shot with a homemade needle. Before I could react …
Before I could even process what I was seeing, the older boy spotted me out of the corner of his eye. The older boy stood up and came at me saying, “Look who we got here.” Then he went to grab me, and nearly got a hand on me, but before he could close his grip I wriggled and twisted away before he could get a good hold. I bent down and grabbed a piece of one of the destroyed trees. It was a piece of a limb, about three feet long and two to three inches thick, about the size of a small bat. It was amazingly heavy for its size.
As I raised the branch to hit the older boy he laughed and lunged at me. I struck out with my club but missed and fell backwards onto my butt. The bigger boy bent down and tried to grab one of my legs, but I swung the club and caught him on his arm before he could grab me. My strike visibly stung him. I went from my knees to my feet. Both of us were now even more determined. I swung again at the older boy, but I was still off balance and only glanced his arm and head. I twisted around and swung again. This time at his arm which was raised to hit me. My blow glanced off his arm, but followed through past his arm and hit his head causing a cut to open above the boy’s eye. I lost my balance again, but this time as I swung I caught his knee with a hard blow as I went down to my side, and nearly to the ground. I popped up and around and swung again and connected well with the bigger boy’s head. He wobbled on his feet, and grabbed for my leg as he went down. I then swung as hard as I could at his head and connected though he tried to block my shot, only cutting open his arm. He tried in vain to grab and hold onto me, but I was able to wiggle away each time. I swung again. Thump! I connected even harder this time with his head. A sick sort of sound like throwing a melon against the side of a building.
The older boy tried time and again to block my shots, and grab my club, but I was focused and filled with resolve. Each time my shots only glanced off his arms to follow through to his head. I was flashing back to when I was six years old and being raped by the other boys now so far away. The frightened six-year-old boy in me became as an animal. It was as though I was two different people in one. The tortured six-year-old I had been and the frightened 10-year-old that I had become both fought together in a rage that came from deep inside.
As the older boy started to go down, he grabbed for my feet again. As he went to the ground I stepped back and aimed my club for the back of his head. Thump, thump, thump was the hollow sound of my club hitting him time after time on his shoulders, head, and arms. Finally with a muffled whimper and cry, like air being let out of a balloon, he finally went all the way down, face into the dirt, blood coming from his ears, back of his head, and arms.
I thought I might have killed him, but I didn’t care. I hit him again and felt a strange sort of rush well up inside me at the thought that he might be dead. I purposely hit him a few more times, just for pleasure. Then the other kid, the big one’s little brother jumped on my back. I was surprised. I turned in circles, twisted, and tossed this other kid off me quickly. I think this other kid was older than me, but he was still about my size. I dropped the club and looked at all the blood that had splattered on my hands, arms, shirt, and pants. A sick sort of feeling came over me, from deep down inside. I felt ill. I thought I might vomit, my head began to swim, but just then the younger of the two kids was back on me. He ran into and tried to tackle me. We both went down in a tangle of arms and legs as we both hit the ground grappling and struggling for control.
All of a sudden something else welled up inside of me, something primeval, something forgotten long ago. Suddenly I was six years old again. As we were scratching and clawing at each other the six-year-old inside of me was crying for help. The tortured little boy in me fought for control and slowly got the upper hand. I rolled over on top of this other boy pinning him to the ground. I screamed obscenities at him, not so much at him, but at the other boys who had raped me four years before, at the same time yelling at the coach, and Mr. Hollywood, and to Father John, and to all the nightmares and flashbacks, and to all the horrible things imagined since then. All of a sudden everyone who had ever hurt me was under me in the form of this one struggling boy. These two kids had done things to me at school, while coach and our priest watched. Now it was my turn. I became as an animal and I screamed, “Let’s see how you like it!” The boy under me began to plead, and beg, much like I had done once. This only served to enrage me further. I showed this kid no mercy as I took out all my frustrations on him. As he screamed at me to stop I pushed his face into the hard dirt and debris. Unable to breathe he convulsed under me. The older of the two boys began to stir next to us. I picked up another piece of tree and hit him again until he stopped making any noises. I turned back to the younger one lying face down in the dirt, he started to get up, but I fell on him quickly turning him over onto his back. I sat on his chest. Straddling him, I grabbed him around his neck. My intention was to kill him. I wanted so much to feel his body go limp under me. As he began to fail, as his struggling became panic, as he began to spasm, I realized I was enjoying what I was doing. The blood on my hands felt good. The boy losing his life under me at my hand thrilled me to my soul. The world began to swim. Something unseen grabbed me and lifted me up. I had stopped myself and stood up. I found myself looking down on the boy. I put my foot tight and hard on his groin and pushed. As I was out of breath I had to push out the words I spit at him, “Can you hear me?”
His eyes opened and weakly he said, “Yes.” I spoke very deliberately and with clenched fists and teeth I said, “If you or him come at me again, I will kill you both … understand me?” The boy whimpered back a shallow, “Yes.” “Explain it to your brother.” I said, and I took off running.
When I got back to my bike still parked at the edge of the destroyed orange grove my tears turned to a deep choking cry. Coming from some place deep inside me, as though the 10-year-old I was, and the six-year-old I had been, both now screamed and cried together. Blinded by my tears, I felt my way home mostly by instinct. What I had done both frightened and excited me, but I had enjoyed all of it, hadn’t I? Yes, on some level I had enjoyed it. That thought in and of itself scared me to the core of my being.
What had happened to me? What was happening to me? Had I become, or was I becoming, the very thing I detested, and hated the most? Instead of being the victim was I now becoming something far worse? What was this growing darkness inside me?
After that day a whole new set of nightmares haunted my nights, and flashes of what I had done beset me during my day as well. I was at night in my dreams hunting victims, or being hunted myself. Disturbing dreams and images I could no longer deal with. I had no doctor, or counselor to talk to. I couldn’t go to the coach, or Father John. I didn’t want to take my problems to grandma, or mom. There was no one to take all that had been happening to me to, no one to help with the growing insanity.
I decided to take my nightmares to my dad, with no explanation as to where they had come from. I simply told my dad I was having dreams about killing, or being killed in wars and fighting, in a real and imagined world, that my nights were scary and filled with ghosts. I had one particular dream about having piles of dead bodies piled on top of me, about how I felt like I was suffocating under the weight of the pile around me. Dad said I sure did have an active imagination, saying that ghosts real, or imagined couldn’t hurt me and neither could anything in my mind or in my dreams, “These things are just in here, sport,” as he poked me in the head. “Things in your head can’t hurt you, unless you let them,” he said. But at 10 years old that logic wasn’t very helpful.
Things that went bump in the night, whether real or imagined, and the nightmares that haunted me were just as real as the world around me, and just as hard to ignore. If I was able to go to sleep at all, I would wake up constantly all night long. Many a night I would roll over and look at my clock: 11:30 p.m.… 1 a.m.… 3 a.m.… 5 a.m.… Sometimes I would fall back to sleep, and sometimes I’d just turn on the TV. There were times when I wouldn’t even try to sleep. I would stack records on the turntable, plug in my headphones, and turn the music up loud, until the morning sun shone over the mountains to the east.
Then there were those times when I would just lie quietly in the dark. There alone in the dark was a very dangerous place for me. For it was in this dark and quiet place that I imagined all sorts of horrible things. It was hard to separate my feelings of embarrassment, fear, revenge, hate, anger, horror, until it all just swirled together in a kaleidoscope of insane and terrible thoughts and feelings. I welcomed the light, the activity of the day, though I sometimes just went through the motions, like a plane on auto-pilot. But even then these disturbing thoughts and images would creep in to distract me.
I was tired all the time, it was hard to concentrate, my school work suffered. At recess time, when all other kids were playing games or sports, or just talking in their various groups, I would go from group to group, until I found myself alone against the playground wall. Again and again I would find myself alone in the midst of a crowd of people, alone with the twisted, violent thoughts that had become my constant companions.
While sitting, or standing there against the playground wall I would pick at random someone out of the crowd playing around me, and in my mind I would wonder what it would be like to murder him or her. I would think of all sorts of different ways to cause the death of any number of the kids around me, my playmates, my play-things, to torture for my amusement. Until it was time to go back to class. This growing insanity at first disturbed me, then as time went on, the growing insanity only amused me.
I began to be scared all the time, not just at night. I was sure someone or something was lurking just out of sight, and getting ready to pounce. During the day this feeling, persistent as it was at times, wasn’t as bad as it was at night. When the shadows fell there was inside my very soul an ever-present feeling of impending doom, as though something awful was about to happen at any second. I could somehow sense the eyes that I just knew had to be on me from every quarter. Watching, always watching and waiting to wreak havoc on me or my world.
On some level of understanding I knew there wasn’t anything there, but knowing this didn’t help suppress the feelings I felt of doom lurking at every turn. I just couldn’t shake the feelings, and imaginings of being watched, stalked. These sensations became increasingly hard to ignore, until I was sure I was never alone. Even in the dark, in my parents’ house, alone in my room, I was sure there was someone just on the other side of the wall, listening, watching, waiting. Then there were the eyes, everyone’s eyes. They began to bother me. I would catch someone’s gaze and I just had to look away. I felt for sure that everyone was staring at me, always, observing every move, talking about me, watching. I even thought I was hearing two different people, a man and a woman, talking about me. I could hear their conversation, their hushed voices, just out of reach of understanding, like a whisper that is not quite understood, just outside the window or the door.
I just could not stand the thought of everyone’s eyes on me. Standing to read or solve a problem on the blackboard took all my courage. The eyes, I couldn’t stand the eyes, everyone’s eyes on me always. Voluntary participation in any group activity or sports activity was out of the question. I began to avoid all social gatherings. I began to retreat even further into myself. I avoided interacting with people whenever I could. Even at home. I tried to quiet the noise of the voices around me, with pills stolen from my folks, with weed bought at school, with booze taken from my dad’s bar in the pool area. But none of those things did any good. The voices continued.
The voices were not outside of myself. They were not something I could quiet by being alone, or by covering my ears. These voices came from some place else. They came from deep inside myself, from inside my soul or tortured mind. But knowing this or realizing this did nothing to make them any less real. On the contrary knowing they came from within myself only served to make them that much more disturbing. No matter what I did about the voices, I still couldn’t turn off the images in my head. I just couldn’t escape the things put there by fear, embarrassment, shame, guilt, and pain.
Images put there in my mind by the things done to me, in front of me, and by me. Images imagined in nightmares and dreams since I was raped. Haunting images shown to me from Vietnam, and the mix of pain and pleasure by all that I had endured. Feelings of guilt I had when it came to the time spent with Mr. Hollywood and my friend Mike Cunningham and worse.
When my dad would take me some place like church on Sundays, I would just stand in the back, if I went in at all. At the movies I went from sitting in the front, to sitting in the back, so the eyes couldn’t touch my head. Then I just stopped going to the movies altogether. I avoided everyone everywhere, whenever I could. Adults, other kids, the coach, teachers, my parents, everyone I held at a distance. I stopped doing everything. And even though I was still being offered money to pose nude for Mr. Hollywood, I stopped doing that as well. Stealing and drinking my dad’s booze helped, smoking pot helped, but the nightmares persisted. I was frightened by what I seemed to be becoming. Who or what was at the end of this ride I was on? Who or what was I becoming? At school or any other place I went the trees, buildings, windows, even the cement walls seemed to be watching me, mocking me. Did they know? Had someone seen? Did everything know? Had everyone discovered that I had become a monster?