Q: Can you tell me why you left your adopted parents’ home at sixteen?
A: You already know that my birth parents were killed in a car accident. But I don’t think I told you that I was still in diapers when my aunt and uncle adopted me. They couldn’t have kids of their own, so it was a win-win. I was familiar with them thanks to regular visits before the accident happened, and they just loved me to bits. Basically, a bad situation was made as good as it could possibly be because I was still young enough to be moulded into a kid that they could genuinely call their own. I was still malleable, impressionable. I was a perfect little mirror that would one day reflect back all the values they were going to instill in me.
My uncle was a gentle, soft spoken kind of guy; profoundly Christian. My aunt was a little sterner, but again, profoundly Christian. They both wanted the best for me. Not so much the best of things, but the best of experiences—good, wholesome, Protestant Ethic based experiences.
[He stops to light a cigarette]
Not many kids get the kind of second chance that I was given. My aunt and uncle doted on me, without spoiling me. They dedicated the best years of their lives to what was, in their minds, the noblest of undertakings: raising up a hardworking, decent and honest young man; their gift to the world. They were good, well-intentioned people. But like everyone else, they were flawed. Unfortunately, they were flawed in what I now consider to be the worst possible way, meaning they were credulous with a capital C.
[He takes a big drag off his cigarette and exhales through his nose]
In some ways I guess you can’t blame them for this, because nothing beats religion when it comes to intellectual laziness. I mean, when people don’t have to think for themselves, they generally don’t go out of their way to do so. Believe me, I wasn’t exaggerating when I said they were profoundly Christian. They went to church twice a week, and of course, I had to go with them. At first, I was happy to, because I liked Sunday school. I liked all the arts and crafts and stuff. It was pretty fun.
[I see nostalgia misting his eyes]
I remember making this caterpillar one time. It was made out of little green and red pom-poms. I glued Popsicle sticks to each end of it so I could move it around like a puppet. I brought it home with me and put on a show for my aunt and uncle. I still remember the storyline. It was about a caterpillar who tries to make friends with a butterfly, but the butterfly is old and arrogant. It forgot where it came from, you see, so it laughs in the caterpillar’s face and flies away. A few weeks pass and the caterpillar turns into a butterfly. It explores the meadow, testing its new wings, and lo and behold it sees the old butterfly snared in a spider’s web. But instead of turning a blind eye, the young butterfly stops to help the old butterfly out of the web and while doing so it reveals its identity. But the old butterfly is as arrogant as ever. It mocks the very idea of a caterpillar turning into a butterfly, and then it points out that the young butterfly isn’t a butterfly at all, but a gypsy moth, and that butterflies, especially monarchs like himself, don’t associate with moths. The gypsy moth contemplates its drab wings in comparison to the monarch’s brilliant ones, as the monarch flies away without so much as a goodbye.
[He pauses like he’s waiting for me to catch up to him]
Do you know what the message of the puppet show was?
[I shake my head]
People are assholes.
[He flicks the butt of his cigarette out the window, grabs another and lights it]
So anyway, I grew up going to church way more than the average kid, and it wasn’t long before I graduated from Sunday school straight into the boys’ choir, thanks to my melodious voice.
[He sings a couple lines from some church hymn that I don’t recognize]
I was such a natural, I got chosen to be the soloist. And it made me proud to be good at something. But, it was there at the front of the choir that I found myself face to face with the man who ruined it all. We’ll call him The Ruiner.
[He looks out the window, smoking his cigarette a little more furiously than before]
The Ruiner gathered intel on all of his choir boys because it expedited the grooming process, and if you were unlucky enough to be one of his favourites, he’d redouble his intel gathering efforts. Me being one of the soloists automatically meant that I was one of his favourites, if not his very favourite, and this in turn meant that I was given more one on one time with him, in the form of vocal training sessions…You know what pederasty is, right?
Good, good. I can skip the theory and get right down to the nitty gritty…So, it didn’t take The Ruiner very long to see that I was shy, or diffident, or whatever you wanna call it, and he started hushing the other choir boys during those rare moments when I felt the urge to say something. He knew this would have an ingratiating effect. He also began to have weekly meetings with my aunt and uncle, so that he could glorify my god given gift for singing and, of course, stroke their Christian egos by telling them how polite and respectful I was, and that Jesus was smiling down on their parenting skills.
[Something grips him right at this point. The quickness with which it happens is unsettling to watch. His body stiffens, his hands ball up into fists, his face goes noticeably red, his eyes clamp shut, his mouth contorts into a grimace, and veins appear on his temple. I can’t tell if he’s experiencing a paroxysm of rage or if he’s in physical pain, because he manages to stay completely silent while this is happening. Then it’s over as fast as it began and he continues where he left off]
All The Ruiner had to do was say that I sang like an angel and that I was going to be the featured soloist in that year’s Christmas concert, and my aunt and uncle were putty in his hands. I don’t think I have to tell you that a Christmas recital at a church is nothing more than a dog and pony show. It’s the furthest thing from spiritual you could possibly suffer through. It’s a bunch of Joneses keeping up with Joneses. I’m gonna make myself sick just thinking about it.
[He rolls his window down. Cool air rushes in and he takes a few deep breaths]
It wasn’t until the one on one vocal sessions that things got very real, very fast. He held them in the basement of the church. There was a room down there that he said was acoustically perfect, but that was bullshit. It was just a private place where he could introduce his boys to the wonders of being fondled. Some boys were more receptive to it than others…Surprising to me was the fact that I was one of the receptive ones. He’d tousle my hair, massage my shoulders and give me lingering pats on the bum. Then he’d sit down at the piano, put me on his lap, and accompany my singing.
[He stops. I can tell he’s rattled by mental imagery. I ask him if he wants to take a break for a bit, but he shakes his head and lights another cigarette]
After the basement of the church, it was vocal training weekends at his cottage. There’d be other boys there too, but never any parents. My aunt and uncle were thrilled to be able to say that their son was being personally trained by one of the foremost choirmasters in the country. They didn’t have a clue what was going on. Not a fucking clue. Nor did any of the other parents, because like I said before, why think for yourself when you can leave your own fate in the hands of Jesus and the fate of your children in the hands of the choirmaster.
[He starts rubbing his temple. The grimace returns for a bit and then fades. He keeps going]
He had a sailboat at the cottage. Only one boy at a time was allowed to go out on it with him, for the simple fact that he could not have any witnesses to the heinous crimes he was committing below deck. It started with a kiss, then a hand job, then fellatio, and then it was full on sodomy. If there was ever any blood, and of course there was, he’d get very concerned sounding and say that Jesus would heal me, and then he’d quote Mathew 6:14-15.
[I’m unable to prevent my body language from telegraphing my revulsion. He notices this and asks me if I want him to stop. I tell him that I need to know everything, for the sake of the book. He agrees and asks me if I’m familiar with Malachi 3:10. I tell him the only thing I can recite from the bible is Proverbs 26:2: Like a sparrow in its flitting, like a swallow in its flying, a curse that is causeless does not alight, I say, surprised that I could actually remember the whole thing. He laughs and tells me that he always refused to swallow. This pun is so brutally blunt that I have no idea how to react. I’m literally frozen in my seat, speechless, until he shrugs his shoulders and resumes]
In Malachi 3:10, Gods tells Malachi to bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in his house. Test me in this, God says, and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it…Now keep in mind that the church where all this shit went down served an upper class, extremely wealthy congregation of about three hundred. That’s a whole lotta money in the collection plate when you consider the tithe is supposed to be one tenth of your income. It makes you wonder how much of it went into The Ruiner’s sailboat, eh?
[I’m still speechless, still frozen, and in my peripheral vision I see him turn and look at me. He keeps looking at me as I drive a little faster toward the roadside gas station in the distance, eager to get out of the car and clear my head. I feel like there’s a part of him that’s honoured, but there’s a bigger part that’s disgusted by my reaction. I’ve reaffirmed my weak-mindedness, in his eyes. The weight of his gaze is unbearable, and he knows it, so he shows me some mercy and concludes his story]
That weekend on his sailboat made me a different person. I went home to my aunt and uncle a very different person. But I never said anything to them about it. I kept it all to myself because I was so utterly ashamed that I could feel any pleasure at all from something so grotesque. I kept everything to myself, but to my credit I refused to go back to the church, and this broke their hearts into a million pieces because they couldn’t figure out why. They kept asking me and asking me and eventually it made them angry and that’s when I came up with my exit strategy. I got a job as a stock boy at the local grocery store, saved every penny I made, and the day I turned sixteen I found an apartment and moved out, leaving them to wallow in their grief.
[He flicks the butt of his final cigarette out the window and mutters something that I don’t quite catch, so I ask him to repeat himself and this time it registers loud and clear: I’ve never told anyone what I just told you, he says]