Friday, April 22, 2005

Damaged

Some may find this entry disturbing, so please be warned.


In 1971, I was 5 years old and living in Las Cruses, New Mexico. We had a little 3-bedroom ranch style house on a quiet cul de sac. My Mother was all wrapped up in my newborn brother and had little time for me. My Father was in the Air Force and was sent overseas for months at a time (there was a war on). The kids in the neighborhood were friendly, but most were older than I was and had all grown up together. My family was a relatively recent addition to a well established neighborhood. I longed for a friend.


I'll never forget the day I overheard my mother talking with one of our neighbors. From her side of the conversation I learned that someone had bought the house next to ours. It had been up for sale for a long time. The house was larger than all the others in the development and was priced very high for the area. It had a pool. I could just see the pool on the other side of the stone wall in our front yard (the backyard of their house was against the side of our yard). Southern New Mexico was hot most of the year and I remember longing to swim in that pool.


Listening to my mother gossip with the neighbor, I learned that a divorced man had bought the house and that he had a young daughter. A kid was moving in next door!! I was so excited.


A short time later, I remember watching the moving truck being unloaded. I sat on the curb in front of my house hoping to catch sight of the new kid. She and her dad didn't show up until the next day. They arrived in a large truck with a motorcycle mounted in the back.  When they got out of the truck, I heard her dad say "Well, this is it! We're home!" The little girl looked so sad. She eventually looked over in my direction and I smiled and gave her a little hopeful wave. She smiled a little and followed her Dad into their new home.


I didn't see much of the new girl, at first. Occasionally I would hear her in their house when their back slider was open. I heard her get yelled at quite a few times when she would try to let herself out the screen door. She was not allowed out by the pool by herself. She had to wait until her dad or their maid, Dolores, was there to watch her. I knew she watched me and the neighborhood kids playing out in the street (our circle never had any traffic, only the residents.) I wondered why she never came outside to play with us.


Summer came and the heat was unbearable. I sat in the shade of the lone willow tree in our front yard and listened to the little girl next door playing with her Dad in their pool. I was so jealous. It didn't matter what the weather was like outside, once I finished my breakfast in the morning, I was shooed out the front door to play. My only rules? Stay in our circle, tell my mother if I decided to play at someone's house, and be home when it started to get dark. It amazes me now to think of it. So much freedom at five years old...


I'm not sure when I noticed the man watching me. He was leaning on the stone wall that divided his yard from mine and smiling at me.


"What's your name?"


Rebecca.


"How old are you?"


Five.


"My daughter is five also. Do you want to come swimming with us?"


YES!  ...oh. But I better go ask my Mom first.


"Don't worry. I'll call your Mother and invite you over."


I was too excited and couldn't sit still! I ran into the house and yelled "Mommy! The man next door is calling you! I want to go swimming!!! Please can I go?"  My Mother seemed startled and was busy tending to my brother. She was flustered when the phone rang. How he knew which number to call, I have no idea. I was sure my mother was going to say no. She always said no to anything I really, really wanted.


The man next door must have been really charming...my mother said yes. She put on my swimsuit and handed me a towel. I got the standard lecture on being polite and saying thank you...and was also told to be very careful. This pool had a deep end and I wasn't a swimmer.


That first swim date was the start of my new friendship with Katie and her dad Bill (names have been changed). Katie's Dad was like a kid's dream come true. He bought us ice cream from the ice cream man, he spent hours playing with us...tea parties, dress up, hide and go seek... Since I rarely saw my own Dad and tried my best to stay AWAY from him when he was home on leave (my relationship with my Dad is a whole other topic for another day), Bill became the Dad I always had wished for.


Bill took me and Katie to the car wash and gas station to fill up his truck. Bill had a CB-radio mounted under his dash. I had never seen one before. He had it rigged up with a speaker under his hood so that when he keyed up the microphone, anything you said would be amplified loudly through that speaker.  It was great fun making the gas attendant jump when I yelled "Hey you! Don't scratch the paint!" through the speaker, with Bill's prompting.


Bill also took me for my first motorcycle ride. He had a special helmet, just for Katie, and a special seat on the back of his bike. Bill asked me if I wanted to go for a ride, but I hesitated. I knew my mother would never allow it. Bill seemed to read my mind and whispered in my ear, "We don't have to tell your Mother...it will be our secret."  I was thrilled! He helped me put on the helmet, and then hoisted me up onto the back of the bike. He grinned at me and instructed me to hold on to him, tightly, and to lean into the turns, not away (as I soon found out, I really wanted to lean the wrong way!)


I was giddy! Riding that motorcycle was the most exciting thing I had ever done in my short life. It felt like flying! At the end of our ride, Bill again whispered to me, "Don't tell your Mom. I don't want you to get in trouble."  I nodded solemnly then grinned. I loved Bill. He was the greatest.  I trusted him without question.  Just as he had planned.


I was invited over again for a playdate with Katie, and I brought my swimsuit. This time, things went a little differently. After swimming the afternoon away, Bill announced it was time to get out of the pool and dry off. He told Dolores to take Katie to her room to get her dried off and changed. He took me into the downstairs bathroom to "help" me with my suit. He had never done that before, but I trusted him. He took off my suit and as I stood there in the nude, he began to slowly towel me dry. He paid particular attention to  my private areas. When he felt me starting to pull away, he stopped and wrapped the towel around me. He smiled, and said "There now. That's much better. You looked so cold...all warm and dry now?"


I looked up into his face and nodded. The expression I saw there scared me. I had never seen him look at me that way before. He took the towel away and I stood naked in front of him while he fussed with my clothes and looked at me. He helped me get dressed and deliberately let his hands and fingers brush against my skin and linger in places I knew he shouldn't be touching that way. I started to cry.


Bill had a look of panic on his face as he shushed me and hugged me to his chest. "What's wrong, sweetie? Are you tired? Maybe too much sun and swimming today. Don't worry. Everything is ok."  I nodded and wiped my eyes. I felt silly. Why was I crying? Bill was a nice man and he wouldn't hurt me.


I tried to convince myself that I had imagined the whole thing...but I knew something was very wrong. I couldn't articulate how I felt. I wanted to tell my Mother...but I knew she would just be angry with me. She would accuse me of making up stories and she would never believe me. I would just get hit again, like always.  I didn't really know how to explain to her what he did, anyway. I wasn't entirely sure that what he did was wrong and my Mother might even laugh at me and call me silly.


I decided not to tell. It would have made me feel worse not to be believed...and my mother never believed anything I told her anyway.


The next time Bill called to invite me over to swim, I made excuses to my Mom about why I didn't want to go. She called me ungrateful and spoiled. I didn't care...as long as I didn't have to go over to that house any more. 


Katie never came looking for me. I would see her watching me from her bedroom window, now and then. I think she knew. I think he did things to her too.


The end of summer came and something horrible happened. Once again, I heard my mother gossiping on the phone with a neighbor. The little girl next door had drowned in the pool. The maid found her floating there. A very short time later, the house was up for sale and I never saw Bill again.


I will always wonder if it was an accident. Katie didn't know how to swim either. Would a five year old commit suicide? I'll never know.


To this day, I've never told this entire story to anyone. I confided bits and pieces to my best friend (the friend I wrote my first journal entry about) and some to my husband. I hinted to one or two others about what I had experienced.  I was one of the lucky ones.  Fate intervened and things never went any further with Bill. But it was enough. The damage was done.



Watch your children. Be alert to sudden behavior changes. Be wary of adults who seem too close to your kids. And let your children know that they can trust you and tell you ANYTHING and you will listen without judgment. 


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