A Sunday Afternoon

The boy is five, maybe six years old. He’s at his grandma’s, so it must be a Sunday. Little does he know this day will affect the rest of his life.

The adults are in the house, chatting either in the living or the dining room. Something tells him it was after lunch already, so some of the adults must be in the kitchen washing the dishes. If the other kids are in the house, they are spread around the three bedrooms they are allowed to go into.

They also might be playing in the backyard, talking on the front porch or climbing trees behind the large garden. But those are his memories from this house, not from this day. If he’s around five, some of his cousins are small babies or aren’t even born yet.

Maybe that’s why the house feels empty. It’s only him and someone older, someone he’s supposed to trust. Later the boy will do the math and conclude that on that day the other boy was 14, maybe 15.

On the left side of the backyard, there is another building, separated from the house. It’s a garage, but on the side there is a bathroom, a laundry room and a separate door that leads to a storage room. The boy’s father lived in this house when he was the boy’s age, and this room still has some of his father’s board games and toys.

The older boy invites him to go in there. “I want to show you something,” he says. They are not close in age and they never play together, so the invitation certainly sounded a little unusual in the boy’s mind.

His father is not there, his mother is not there, his uncles and aunts are not there, his grandparents are not there. I want to tell him to simply say no, to find an excuse, to run, to scream. Please, little boy, don’t go in there. Please, don’t.

But I’m not there either.

The boy is innocent and he sees no danger. He goes in. He won’t know it yet, but that happy, naïve little boy died that day.

The boy grows into a teenager. He started to discover his body when he was 10; he remembers being home alone touching himself without even knowing what he was doing. He feels no shame about his healthy self-discovery process. But as his fantasies progress, some disturbing images start coming to his mind.

Initially, the teenager doesn’t know what the images are or what they mean. They come in flashes and out of order. Are they his imagination? Or are they memories?

What he does know is that they disturb him. There’s something fundamentally wrong about them. He sees them when he has an erection while dancing with a girl, or when he touches a girl’s intimately for the first time. He starts associating what his body feels with these images. They are gradually clearer and more vivid.

Until the day he remembers it all.

The teenager remembers the invitation he received and how he was easily lured into that old storage room at his grandma’s house. He remembers what he was shown there. He remembers unfamiliar smells and noises. He remembers his confusion about what he saw, about what he was told to do. He remembers not questioning it. And he remembers doing it.

And just like that, years after the fact, the extroverted happy kid, the full-of-life school prodigy who was friendly with everyone and was liked by family, classmates and teachers, became a shy teenager with a gloomy personality, who runs away from girls and friends, from sex and life.

The shy teenager grows into a young man. In a way, he manages to put his secret behind him, or at least he learns how to hide it so well that even he forgets it sometimes. When he remembers, though, it is with a mix of disgust and pleasure, and he feels like a freak.

He likes women and wants to be with them, but when it’s time to have sex, he fails. The images from that Sunday afternoon come to his mind. Does that mean he likes men instead? It will take him years to understand that his reaction is normal and that he had no responsibility for what happened.

The older person in his memories from that afternoon, now a man close to his thirties, passes away.

The young man goes in a 2-hour car ride with his family to attend the funeral. He feels relieved that his secret is safe forever. At the ceremony, the small-town priest isn’t kind with his words: he says everybody should pray a lot because the deceased really needs it. The young man observes the mourning parents’ discomfort. Not everybody who dies becomes a saint.

During the funeral, the young man for the first time realizes how troubled this person was. Perhaps he died without understanding the suffering he caused. Or maybe he did, and that’s why his life had always been a mess.

In his prayers, feeling that the dead had a lot to explain already before God, the young man forgives him. He’s sincere in his feeling but also hopes that what happened is buried in the coffin in front of him too. That doesn’t happen.

The abuse is there when he finally looks for help with his sexual problems. The abuse is there when he decides, this time consciously, to keep it a secret from his parents, not because he is ashamed of it, but because he doesn’t want them to feel guilty and to suffer. The abuse is there when he opens up with a woman he loves and trusts, and somehow it is also there when he has his heart broken and can’t trust her, or anyone, anymore. The abuse is there in the problematic relationship with his father.

The abuse is there even when he loses his faith in God.

The abuse is still there in all the complexity of the love for his wife. The abuse is there in how much acceptance means to him. The abuse is there in his addictions, and lies, or even when he uses his story as a shield, an excuse for his own personality flaws. Somehow, it all leads him back to that storage room on a Sunday afternoon.

And it is here now, when all this 40-year-old man wants is to bring back to life the happy little boy he once was.


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