The year was 1985, and I was a rowdy and awkward four year old boy who loved to play with He-Man action figures. Moss Man was my favorite – because he felt like real moss. I remember the layout of the apartment very well, even now. My room was directly on the left as soon as you came through the front door. My room was basically right across from the bathroom – and it was my own little utopia for a couple of years. From my window, you could see the alley I sometimes played in – and there was a porch right outside, too, which overlooked an alley, filled with refuse and tagged with graffiti. My siblings and friends and I spit watermelon seeds from the rickety porch in the summers.

I remember downstairs on the second floor, there lived an older boy. I had made friends with the girl on the first floor, and she was closer to my age. But this boy was a teenager and he had started talking to us sometimes when we’d play outside with her Teddy Ruxpin toy. I lived on the third floor.

I thought this boy was cool, almost like an older brother. He had awesome action figures – like the complete set of Voltron robots, and some Ghostbuster toys, too. He would find me in the hallway often, and we’d play with the action figures in the dusty recesses of the stairwell.

“Wanna’ see something cool?” He asked me once after a few weeks, leading me to his porch.

I couldn’t imagine anything cooler than Voltron. “What is it?” I said, practically leaping through the hallway. “What is it?” I repeated.

He turned and smiled before he opened the door to his porch, one floor below mine. “You’ll see,” he said. His denim vest and long hair made him look like a rocker. Maybe HE was cooler than Voltron.

He led me to a little shed with a door. When he opened it up, there was a cot inside. The walls were lined with pages of men on top of women – but none of them had clothes on. There was a radio inside. Packs of cigarettes. Beer.

“Cool, huh?” He asked. “It’s like my own fort.”

“Cooooooooool!” I said. I jumped onto the cot and looked around. “This is just like Castle Greyskull! Hey, what are these people doing in the pictures?”

“They’re fucking,” he said, smiling. “You know what that is?”

“No,” I said. “But they’re naked.”

“Yeah,” he said. “Because you need to be naked to fuck.”

I was four, and even then – I had an inkling that something was not quite right. He came and sat on the cot next to me, and we were both engulfed in darkness as he shut the door. Light came in through the cracks – and for a moment, I thought of screaming. I hated the dark, hated the things I thought lurked there. But then he pulled a cord and, with a click, we were illuminated with light.

“Listen,” he said. “There’s no point in me trying to explain fucking to you. You’re too young. I’m just going to show you.”

And he did show me. Over and over again. When he put his hands down my pants and grabbed me, I panicked, but he assured me it was okay. When he kissed me and made me kiss him back, he explained how to do it. He instructed me, he made me stay still so he could “show me better” how to do something else.

I was only four years old. I was totally incapable of discerning right from wrong at that age. I didn’t exactly know what he was doing to me all the time, but I did know that I didn’t like it, that it turned my stomach, that it eventually filled me with dread. When we were done, he rewarded me with candy.

This went on for some time. Days, months. Each day it happened, I grew more apprehensive about being outside my room. But candy would magically appear on my windowsill – and, dangers momentarily forgotten – I would sneak out onto the porch, only to have the boy from downstairs suddenly appear behind me when I went out to retrieve the candy. Later, when I was older, I recognized this as his way of listening for me out on the porch. He’d hear the door creak open and know I’d come out to fetch the candy.

My mother, unaware of the situation, was just glad I was out of her hair for big chunks of time. Or, that’s how it felt, anyway. Over time, I grew afraid of seeing the boy downstairs. I didn’t like what he demanded of me. I didn’t like the way he made me feel. I didn’t like the hunger I saw in his eyes when we were near his shed.

The final time I ever let myself be cornered by him, he pushed me inside his shed when I told him I didn’t want to be his friend anymore. I told him he could have his candy back. He hit me and he closed the door, and there was a special anger in him that day. “Welcome to the Jungle” was playing on the radio – and this time, the inside of the shed was not illuminated by lights. It was a deep, dark pit – and I could not claw my way out for breath.

The next day, I did not go outside. Not for Voltron, not for the girl downstairs, and not for the Double Bubble gum on the windowsill. I stayed inside and kept far away from the angry boy downstairs, the one who did things to me that I could never tell my mom about. I stayed inside all the first day, and the second day. And then, on the third day – there was a knock at the door.

“No, mum. don’t open it,” I said.

She ignored me, and when the door opened – she swung it open and pointed to the boy from downstairs, who was smiling at me in the doorway. His eyes looked hungry to me. He looked like Gmork from Neverending Story.

“Joey,” my mom said. “It’s your friend. He wants you to go outside with him.”

“I don’t want to go outside.”

“Joey, you need to get outside. Mom needs a break.”

“No,” I said, wringing my fingers. At four, I was having my first panic attack. “No! No! I don’t want to go outside!”

“C’mon, Joey,” said the boy in the doorway. “It’ll be fun.”

“Joey,” my mom said, growing impatient. “C’mon. I’m not holding the damned door open all day.”

At this point, I ran to the bathroom and slammed the door shut, crying. I yelled that I didn’t want to go outside. I yelled that I didn’t want to go with him. My mom, finally sensing some sort of sheer panic in my voice, told him that I didn’t want to go outside with him. I could hear him begin to argue with her. Eventually, her voice rose and I could hear the door slam.

I never knew what she told him, but I do know that, after years of reflection – I understood finally when I was a teenager – that I had been the repeated victim of sexual abuse. Rape, molestation, and I’d also been manipulated. This series of events had a profound, negative effect on my life.

-I began to act out sexually myself, at an age that was far too young. I began to try to copy his behavior.
-I began to wet the bed, and I did so until I was in my late teens.
-I became depressed and full of anxiety, and became a loner
-I distrusted everyone

There were other problems I had, sure – but these were the biggest. Around high school, I set about trying to find out who the guy was. I checked sex offender registries, I asked questions to those who might remember him. Meanwhile, I planned my revenge. I was going to murder him. It was my only recourse. He had robbed me of my innocence – and I was FURIOUS. My blood pounded when I thought of the ways in which he took advantage of me, of MY BODY – when I was anything but capable of defending myself or reasoning through what was happening. He used me, and he tore a massive hole in my soul with his actions.

Eventually, it was all I could think about. How I was going to torture him. How I was going to enjoy watching his life slip away after I took everything he loved and destroyed it.

But real life soon took over and I grew some until eventually, I came to terms with what had happened to me. I face it every day. Every waking moment when I ask myself if I should trust someone, or if I should give my time to someone. I think about it sometimes at random – and I can see the acts transpire, and I am still powerless to stop him, even today.

Other events happened in my life where I was sexually assaulted or severely harassed, but this was the catalyst for many of the problems in my life. I fight the effects from that initial event even now, even today. As survivors of sexual assault – that pain can come rocketing back at any second, and it can affect so many aspects of your life, even without you realizing it.

I ask you, as you see these courageous men and women sharing their stories with the #metoo hashtag – to understand that it takes a lot for them to do so. It certainly took a lot for me. Women experience far more sexual harassment on a daily basis than men do, and this movement was begun due to that – but I think it’s important for everyone to share their stories, in order to highlight the frequency and the horror of these acts. If it can happen to a four year old boy in 1985 – it can definitely happen to anyone in today’s world. It’s a sickness we don’t talk about, don’t confront. Well – I hope that changes. Because four-year-old me still has never told his mother, and that little kid grew up with a whole basket full of problems. People need to be aware, be vigilant – and try not to lose sight of who you value most in life. Don’t let them be victims, and if they are victims – don’t let them go through it all by themselves. Be there for them.