THE DARKER SIDE
Here I am at a considerable age and have decided to reveal a darker side of Mobile, Alabama. A place I spent my childhood. A side I have kept to myself for many years…until now. This is for my benefit to ease a lifelong burden of frustration and guilt.
Growing up in Mobile was the best, a real Ozzie and Harriet setting but with moss-covered oak trees, thick southern accents and iced tea so sugary we had it by the slice. It was around 1970 and Mobile had a bustling downtown area with such stores as Hammels, Kresses and SEARS. We still celebrated Joe Cain Day in the Church Street Cemetery and Smiths bakery filled the air with freshly made bread.
Living modestly with my Mom and my sister on the outskirts of town in a rather dilapidated Victorian home, we lived a pretty simple life. My Mother had separated from my father due to his drinking habit, brave woman for the times. We were poor, dirt poor, but happy.
Working two jobs, my mother had to leave me alone a great deal. My sister had her friends and a typical teenage social life. I cleaned, did laundry and cooked. In my spare time I would read, I was a bit of a loner at that time and always kept to myself.
One of my schoolmates had told me about a children’s theatre called Pixie Playhouse and wanted to know if I would like to come see a production of The Wizard of Oz they were producing on Saturday. I was thrilled! Transportation was arranged by the director, Marty. Wow! To be taken to the show by the director, such a treat. I spent the week collecting soft drink bottles to afford the ticket, all of a dollar as I recall.
Saturday came and we were to meet Marty on a corner in my neighborhood. Marty arrived in a Volkswagen Beetle already stuffed with kids. She was a large funny lady and almost 30 years old…. an adult! We piled in and I got to know the crowd rather rapidly. Such fun and excitement.
The show fascinated me at the time. Knowing what I know now, I could see that the Pixie Playhouse was akin to a glorified babysitting service. The shows were worse than most grade school productions but it was fun and I made a ton of friends there in time. We all took our acting very seriously. Quite often I got the lead in the productions. I was in heaven.
During this process I met so many people and above all the Board of Directors, all mothers of participating children. It is an odd thing, I never once thought of myself or my family as being poor until it was frequently pointed out by the members of the board. Making comments about my clothing, my schooling and where I lived…in front of me. I found it to be hurtful but ignored them.
It was about a year later that Marty introduced us to Rob, a local physiologist that was brought in to interview us kids. Someone to talk to if we had problems we needed to discuss. Most kids are NOT that open to such activity and more protective of their street cred or reputation with the other fellow children.
During rehearsals or on Saturdays when we built the sets, Rob would talk to us one by one. I found the whole exercise to be rather odd and uncomfortable and told him that. He assured me that whatever we talked about was confidential and only between us. Still not quite secure in this arrangement, I chatted with him but not really opening up about anything important. He seemed to be trustworthy. Back then we took adults for face-value, no reason to really question anyone, they were adults and appointed to help us if needed.
From there, our sessions became longer and more intense for me. Once he asked me about sex and I know I must have turned bright red. I am all of 12 or 13, this is NOT something young boys talk to adults about. Even with our close buddies it is reduced to silly assumptions and fantasies.
One Saturday, Marty could not take us to our drop-off on her way home, she had a date and asked Rob to fill in. We all piled in his car and headed to our normal place. It was me and two other boys. The ride took us all over the place. We didn’t really care. We were all laughing and having fun as boys do. We ended up at Rob’s apartment where he invited us in to watch some show on television and we accepted. He was a trusted adult, why not. I called home and told my Mother where I was and who I was with as did the other boys.
We all sat on the floor and watched some comedy show. Rob was drinking a beer and offered us a sip. The other boys jumped to it. Since my dad was an alcoholic, I declined but not without ribbing from the others.
It became dark and Rob said he would take us all home.
A few weeks later Rob invited me over again and told me that the other boys were meeting us at his house to watch another television program. I accepted. He did not live that far and I knew Mobile like the back of my hand. I arrived and Rob answered the door in a bathrobe. I told him that I would come back later. He said it was okay that he would quickly change.
When asked about the other boys he said that they had canceled and he hoped that I was okay with that. He had also invited another friend over to join us, an old friend of his. We heated up a pizza and made Kool-aid. While in the kitchen, Mike arrived. Mike was a tall thin man of 35-40 and very friendly. We sat and ate and watched television.
Another older man joined, Larry. I recognized him from the theatre. He ran lights and often hung out with us kids.
At one point, Rob came back with more Kool-aid and we watched the rest of the show. I remember the drink being bitter and somewhat hard to swallow. I asked what flavor it was and before I knew it I was getting dizzy. It was at that time Mike came over and kissed me. At that point I must have passed out. Till this day, every now and then, I get flashbacks of what happened but as always, I block them out.
The next day I woke up all alone in the apartment on the bed, with nothing on. I was scared to death and not really sure how much time had passed. I immediately called my Mother who was fine in that Rob had called her the night before and said that I had fallen asleep and that if it was okay to let me stay the night. She agreed, not really knowing the situation, plus I did not want her to worry.
This was a turning point in my personality. I became angry and sad a great deal. I withdrew from my theatre friends and any school mates I may have had. I was so unhappy, as if someone had switched off my life force. This was far too much for a 12 year old to deal with.
My temper and anger grew out of control. During a rehearsal I began to get so angry and scream for no apparent reason. I was sent home until I could work better with others. I would cry uncontrollably and then sleep a great deal. I hated my life so much.
One of my friends asked if I was okay and I sort of told him the story, not the full story. He told me that I needed to talk to a board member and that his mother was on the board and that she could help. So, I did. Again, not telling the complete story but enough to get the idea. She dismissed it as being overly dramatic as most children in theatre are. I talked to two more Pixie Playhouse board members and got the same response. I was labeled a troublemaker at that point.
Out of frustration I tried to call Rob to find some answers but could never reach him. Marty had said that he was leaving the playhouse to work elsewhere. I was lost and so confused. I even walked over to Rob’s apartment on a few occasions but still no communication.
Two weeks later my Mother received a letter from the Pixie Playhouse board stating that it would be a good idea if I did not return to the theatre. It was heartbreaking. Confused, my Mother asked what this was about, I told her I had a fight with one of the kids. Again, I did not want her to worry.
I took it upon myself to talk to the President of the Mobile Arts Council himself and told him the full story. He sat with his arms folded and though not really condemning the action, I could tell that nothing would ever be done.
For weeks I called and wrote letters to The Mobile Arts Council and never received a communication. Nothing. Again, they could not be bothered. A child molested in their care and they could not be bothered. How many others have they ignored? How many others have been subjected to neglect and idle stupidity?
I am angry. I have been angry since this incident occurred. Not so much about the incident, but the grown-ups who could not be bothered with this and labeling ME the trouble maker. The grown-ups that were supposed to be there to protect, inspire and know that we are being supported. The idiotic Pixie Playhouse Board that was more concerned about their reputation and not that of a child in their care. Shame on all of them for such behavior.
The years of therapy and anger, the suicidal depression and anxiety. All thanks to The Pixie Playhouse. A place where a child is supposed to feel safe. They turned their backs on me as a child when I needed them most.
Because of more people opening up, I feel stronger and a little more self assured. My stomach aches for those who ignored this incident but it aches worse for any others that have been ignored.
Listen to your children.
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November 20, 2017
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