W.R.R. escaped his father’s child sex ring only to endure the horrors of homelessness: illness, starvation, and yet more sexual violence.
This is the first in a series on Male Disposability on The Good Life.
Editor’s note: This essay contains graphic descriptions of child sexual abuse and violence. Discretion is advised.
As I watch my children play, sometimes the fear, grief, and horror of my own childhood and early adulthood fades. I remember that we work to keep them safe, my new family and I. We strive to educate and protect, and listen to them. They are grateful for what they have and they know they won’t always be given what they want, but will always have what they need. Mainly, they know they are loved and they know they are treasured. I can’t promise them that they’ll never have a bad day, or that nobody will ever be mean or unfair to them, but I can promise to do everything in my power to keep them safe and to love them.
To make the din of my past abuse fade to the background so that I can just feel joy as they play, I remind myself of these things: my children will never be used for sex by sick and twisted people, or denied food because they refused to obey a sadistic monster. They will never be rented to pedophiles by the hour, or beaten for stealing a piece of bread to give to a naked toddler kept in a dog kennel. They will never be tortured where the marks won’t show to keep them healthy-looking for their clients. They will never have to escape this horror only to end up in the horror of living homeless, digging food out of dumpsters, or ending up in prostitution just to stay alive. My children will be spared this, as I was not; they will have peace, love, protection and plenty; and this, and they, not my past, are my true legacy.
My children saved my life, and they do this almost daily. When I have been driven by abuse memories and damage to think of suicide, they are my first thought anchoring me in the present. Even when the lie of “They’ll be better off without you” creeps in, I still worry for their safety and want to see who they will become, what they will choose to do with their lives. When I was their age, I didn’t have what they have. Growing up in a child sex ring run by my father, I spent my earliest years desperate to make him love me, as children of neglect and abuse do. I tried to learn what he taught; how to behave to lure new clients, how to obey, and even how to use a gun—all before the age of ten. Some of the things he ordered me to do—things I did to win his approval—make me sick with shame and guilt to this day, and may haunt me forever. Voices of reason remind me that the child is not to blame for the crimes of the pedophile, but the screams in my memory often drown them out.
I didn’t run away as a child, because of the lies I was raised to believe. My father told me all families were the same, all fathers used their children for sex, and it was my duty as a son to obey and please him. He said if I tried to ask for help, those people would just use me as punishment for my defiance of my owner—my own father. I was taken to other homes, other places, and shown that this was true. As a child, I didn’t know those other places were not “normal homes.” If that ploy ever grew thin, he threatened to kill me, other children he owned or managed, or my mother. My mother used me too, but she didn’t use pain and terror against me. She gave me the affection that I craved so intensely. I obeyed her just to please her. It took meeting another boy in junior high school to start showing me my father’s lies for what they were, but by then I was so entrenched and had learned that I was complicit, and so I was far too terrified to run away.
When I left, it was due to a combination of factors. I knew, finally, that I wasn’t a weak little boy anymore. My father had a new plan for me: I was to start getting new children for his pedophile sex ring. The day I came home to him beating my mother, he turned on me when I intervened.
His intention that I continue his “family business” was so repulsive I could barely breathe. The violence he began that day, I finished in a manic fit of rage. When it was over, I threw him out. I was so confused and devastated, I clung to the idea that I would stay and protect my mother. We would find another way to make a living (a grand childish idea I had no clue how to follow through on). In my mixed up abused state and twisted love for her, I envisioned a future together that, to my shock, she didn’t share. Her outrage and rejection of me because I had made him leave made me instantly want to die. I knew he might return and kill me for my defiance.
What saved me from using the gun I’d stolen from him to simply end my life right there in our foyer, was my own fledgling anger. I had saved her; how dare she reject me? I turned away from her, and there was the world outside our open door, and my old curiosity returned. I wanted to know, and now I could leave and find out. I gathered what could be carried in my backpack and finally left that sick life.