For years, I'd thought about going to see him, in much in the same way some people think about doing their taxes; they put it off until they have to do it. I didn't want to do it, but I felt I had to. Well, about a year ago, I decided that it was time; after 20 years of therapy, I was now strong enough to face him. However, I found out that I was too late; he died in 2009, five months after my dad. I found his obituary online.
This really threw me. I wanted to see him face to face, to look in his eyes, to have him look in mine, if he would. I wanted to talk to him, to ask him some questions that have been nagging me most of my life. Why did he do it? Did I mean anything to him at all? And most importantly, why did he leave me without saying goodbye? I'll never get those answers now, and I can't tell him what I wanted to say.
Just to provide you with a little back story, I was born in a very small coal mining company town in Appalachia. My mom was sickly, and spent much of the first few years of my life bedridden or in a hospital. My baby sister and I were shipped off to an aunt's house just after she was born. We spent a year there. For reasons I'll (probably) diary another day, I was ignored and neglected by my family, except for when I wasn't. At those times, I wished I was being ignored and neglected. I had recurring nightmares that my family went on a car trip. We'd stop at a gas station, and I'd go to the restroom. When I got out, they were gone. I felt so invisible that they would not realize I wasn't in the car when they left.
By the time he came to town, I'd been gang raped twice, and raped other times as well, but my only one man at a time. I was nine years old.
You see, Father Cyrus became my parish priest a year after I was gang raped the second time. By that time, I was starting to think that I was the cause of what had been happening to me. How could I not be? What other explanation could there be? Why else would I fail to protect my baby sister when she was gang raped when she was five? I was at fault. I was evil, and God was punishing me. It didn't help that some of the rapists told me it was my fault, but I think I would have concluded that anyway. I was nine. Nine year old kids always think they cause bad things happen because they are bad.
I had just been made an altar boy, and Father Cyrus was the first parish priest I served under. He was ordained a month before I was born, and was Parochial Vicar (an assistant priest) in several parishes before I met him. My parish was his first assignment as Pastor (a fully fledged parish priest).
At 34 years old, he was tall (at least to me when I was nine), with curly blonde hair, and handsome. He had a magnetic personality and all the kids loved him. He seemed to be the kind of person you could tell anything to. He had started a CYO in our parish for the kids. I thought that if I told him what had happened to me, he at least would believe me. I believed I could tell him that I was evil, and he would be able to save me. He was the next thing to God. Surely if anyone could save me, he could. I was Catholic, and had been going to catechism for three years. I knew what my fate was. I was damned for an eternity in hell.
I was susceptible to him because of the prior neglect, and because my dad didn't want me. The summer before I was in little league, but the little league was in an adjacent town. When my dad drove me to little league practice, he would complain about having to do it. He would tell me what a burden I was to him. He would list all the things he could have done with his life if only I had never been born. Never mind that I was the sixth of seven children, and that he thought the Rhythm Method meant "sex every day". In his mind, I was responsible for why he was so unhappy in life. He told me flat out that he wished I had never been born.
Anyway, I was hungry for a father, even if it wasn't a conscious desire at the time. Father Cyrus was more than willing to fill that role. He took me (and others) under his wing. He listened, really listened, when I talked. I'd never experienced that before. I fell in love with him. So I decided to tell him. He listened intently, and told me that I was right; I was evil, but he could help. I was so grateful, I cried. It turned out that I only had to do things for him and I'd be cured. Well, I've written about the result elsewhere, so I won't repeat it here.
I spent the next 3-4 years with him. They were the best, and worst, years of my young life. In most ways that counted to me, he was the father I never had. He cared about me. He talked to me about his life. He listened to me about mine. He really could have healed much of the damage done to me before I met him if that was all he did. It wasn't. I had to pay for his love, but I was willing to pay that price.
In a life filled with pretty low lows, the lowest point before or since was when he left. Back then priests were treated like soldiers by the Church; they were billeted for several years in a parish, then moved to a new parish. We were told it was to keep them from forming attachments to the people in any one place. In Father Cyrus' case though, it was because sexual indiscretions surfaced (not related to me) and the diocese had to move him. I was not his only victim. At least one of them was a girl too, and it was because of his relationship with her he had to move. Back then, if a fifteen year old girl moves in with a priest as a live-in housekeeper, people assume sex is involved. There's nothing better than a (heterosexual) sex scandal in a boring small town. Someone complained to the diocese, so they moved him. [Sex with boys was never contemplated. Priests would never do that. It was unthinkable.]
Anyway, his relationship with Cindy caused the diocese to move him, and he was gone. I found out from my mother. I can still picture exactly where I was standing when she told me. She was at the sink washing dishes, and I was standing several feet behind her and to the left. I was devastated. The only real father I had ever known left me, without so much as a goodbye.
It is difficult for me to describe why this affected me the way it did. This hurt worse than the gang rapes. He had dangled hope of salvation in front of me, and then pulled it away before I could grasp it. I felt I had been abandoned. Again. I felt unloved, and unlovable. If he really loved me, he wouldn't have left, or at least he would have taken me with him. I still thought I was evil, and Father Cyrus didn't complete the job of saving me. I was doomed to hell. I was thirteen years old.
I thought about all of this as I drove alone to the cemetery. I went alone for several reasons. This was a personal trip for me, and I was unlikely to be very good company on the way. And, my wife has her feelings and opinions about Father Cyrus. While I understand and appreciate her feelings (I felt that way too for a long time) I was afraid she would try to deface the grave. She has a tough time appreciating that I have forgiven Father Cyrus, and I don't want harm to come to his resting place. He loved me when no one else did. He cared when no one else did. Yes I had to pay for that love, but there was no love for free or for sale anywhere else. For a few precious years, I felt loved. I wanted to thank him for that. That was what I wanted to tell him.
I've come to realize that there aren't any inhuman monsters in this world. There are only human ones. Father Cyrus was human. He had his faults, and he did bad things. But he did good things too. He laughed, he loved, and he listened. He taught me that the most important things you can ever do for a child is to laugh with them, to listen to them, and to love them.
I really didn't know how I'd react when I saw his tombstone. As it turns out, I knelt down, and put the flowers I brought on his grave. I told him what I wanted to tell him when he was alive. I didn't tell him I forgave him. I didn't do that for him. I did it for me. I was able to tell him that I loved him and I was able to list the good things he had done for me because I had forgiven him. I cried a lot. It was a very sweet experience, and sad. I finally got the closure I had been craving. I realized that I did get to tell him what I wanted to say. I'm glad came.
Here are some helpful links if you are a survivor (or a partner of one).
- SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests)
- RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network)
- Male Survivor a great resource to find a support group or a therapist in your area (including overseas)
And if you are a survivor (or think you may be), please consider joining the House of LIGHTS group, and/or find a therapist that specializes in sexual abuse or PTSD. Some (several of mine over the years) specialized in sexual abuse of boys. The House of LIGHTS has been nothing but supportive to me. I wouldn't have posted this or previous diary without their help and support.
I hope you learned a little about the effects of child abuse. The floor is open.
House of LIGHTS (Loving Inspiration, Giving Hope To Survivors). A place for survivors of physical, sexual, psychological, and emotional abuse, assaults, and bullying. A place for the people who support them. A quiet place for all voices to be heard. A safe place where we can learn to educate, support, and protect our children and each other.
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