The light filtered through the branches of the pine grove, the cluster of trees that provided complete seclusion. The floor was covered in golden brown pine needles and some pine cones. It seemed like a really peaceful place, filled with warm light, the smell of green and pine, a naturally created teepee. For four-year-old Tommy and I, it was magical. We held hands, eyes wide, grinning at each other in excitement, in complete awe of what was taking place. We were being made part of the neighborhood’s secret club of older kids. We were much younger than the rest of the kids at age four. We had no idea what being in the club meant, or what they did. We knew it was a huge deal to be asked and let into the club, and that we were sworn to secrecy. We were in such awe of it all, we readily agreed, even before being led to the grove by Tommy’s older brother Seth. Seth was fifteen and in charge of the club and everyone in it. There were about nine of us. I’m guessing that the older kids ranged in age from eight to twelve, aside from fifteen-year-old Seth. (I have changed names to protect my identity and the identities of innocent people who were present.)
There was a green pop bottle in the middle of the tree shelter. It was full. We didn’t ask questions or say a word. Seth opened the meeting by telling us all that we were sworn to secrecy. He then told Tommy and I to come to the middle of the shelter and kiss. We did, and then giggled. At this point we were dismissed from the meeting. We sort of looked at each other shrugged, and then left, thinking nothing of it. That was easy, no big deal. We were in the club!
The next time the group met, Seth began by the whole sworn to secrecy spiel. But then he said that every boy had to pee into the bottle in the middle of the shelter, and if they missed they would have to take a sip. We were further informed that if we didn’t do what he told us to do, we would have to drink the pee. Tommy and I were required to lick the rim so that we would know what it tasted like. At this point, I became nervous and felt sick to my stomach. I wasn’t so sure about the secret club, but was too afraid to say anything. The light seemed to change. The whole place changed. It was ugly and scary. It was cold and it smelled of dirt and urine. Gone was the beautiful light filtering through the pinetree tops. Gone was the security and beauty, the lovely smells. All I saw were a bunch of dead pine needles on the floor of the shelter and a bottle of pee. I also realized that the other kids looked unhappy and nervous. Tommy and I were told to stay in the center. Seth told us to pull down our pants and look at each other’s genitals. We were then told to touch them together until he told us we could be done. We both eyed the bottle of pee, held hands and did as told. We were then, again dismissed. Tommy held my hand as we left the grove. I whispered to him, “I don’t want to go back.” His face was grim, “We have to now. We were naughty just like everyone else. We’ll be in trouble if we don’t go back. We’ll be in trouble if we tell.” His little hand gripped mine a little tighter, “It’s going to be ok.” The memory of my sweet little childhood friend comforting me brings me to tears. We were two little tykes supporting each other through what had been traumatic and confusing.
I don’t remember much about other meetings. I vaguely remember older kids doing other things to each other that I didn’t understand, as those are still the memories of a four-year-old, and have not yet been translated to the understanding of a forty-something year old. I do remember girls crying sometimes. I remember wanting to cry, but being to afraid of the consequences. I remember someone having to drink the bottle of pee and then vomiting. When Seth commanded, “Lick it up!” I do remember his ten-year-old sister stepping in and saying, “That’s enough! Leave him alone!” He replied, “OK, but you’re going to get it later.”
How did we go about playing like normal children? At times Seth was the most fun. He was our fun babysitter. He never did anything bad when he would babysit. He was a different person. It was a relief and we had fun. How did I separate the two? I don’t understand how I had fun with him sometimes, knowing the monster he could be. These have never been repressed memories. How did I separate the two and enjoy spending time with him at times? I know that we played “house” dozens of times, and I was always the baby, and nothing bad ever happened until that day in the garage. He was grooming all of us, but especially me. I suppose it fits with a typical cycle of abuse. When Seth was nice and fun, we enjoyed the reprieve and hoped the bad things wouldn’t happen anymore.
All of this took place in a tiny town, population 1,400 people. Everyone knew everyone. They say that in small towns, everyone knows everyone else’s business and there are no secrets. I suppose that’s true of the adults. Kids in that small town were invisible, the grove of horrors was never discovered. The secrets have remained buried. The monster who terrorized us eventually became a celebrated hero of that small town as a police officer. I can do nothing but sit here and shake my head, still in disbelief at the future he enjoyed.