(This story comes with a Trigger Warning for kids getting touched inappropriately. If it helps, the kid in question is me and I’m AOK.)
It felt like 1989 took an agonisingly long time to end, but finally it did and 1990 began. At first, it was equally interminable, but then something happened: my poor sister developed terrible impetigo and had to go into hospital.
Masig didn’t have a hospital; only a nurse’s station, and my grandmother (who was a nurse at the time) had quietly posted us so many medical supplies we were better stocked than they were (most of the supplies used to stitch up my chin after I split it open came from our own stash). With no choice but to leave Masig, we were finally able to plan an escape. We would go to Thursday Island and check Lauren into hospital: as soon as she was able to leave again we would make a dash for the mainland. It had taken months, but we were finally leaving.
Dale found out. News travels fast on an island less than 800 metres across, I guess. Or maybe he was just extraordinarily suspicious. At any rate, he bullied and manipulated his way into our escape plans: he couldn’t get on the plane to Thursday Island, so he navigated a dinghy across the majority of the actual Torres Strait, from Masig to Thursday Island, so he could meet us there. Not that it mattered by that point, the most important thing is that were leaving THE MIDDLE OF THE FUCKING OCEAN. Him accompanying us was better than him trying to stop us.
I can’t remember what meagre possessions we owned by this stage (my sister’s stuffed toy monkey from the above photo, whose name was Manta, is the only belonging of ours I can remember), but whatever they were, they were bundled up into that tiny, rickety old lawn mower with wings that passed for an aeroplane and flown down to Thursday Island.
As it turns out, we kind of needed Dale, at least in principle: by the time we got to Thursday Island mum had to join my sister in hospital, as mum had been hit with a double bill of dengue fever and pregnancy. Neither she nor Lauren were in a state to travel, so if it weren’t for Dale, whose family/friends/whoever they were on Thursday Island once again provided somewhere for me to stay while they languished in hospital, I don’t know what would have happened to us.
Then again, if it weren’t for Dale, we wouldn’t have ended up in a house with the man who would molest me (spoiler alert).
With mum and Lauren both in hospital, I was stranded in a house with people I barely knew, alone. This, obviously, was mum’s worst nightmare, but she was stuck in a hospital bed; her body busy making exciting new fluids to leak internally while her organs considered shutting down and her uterus wondered if everyone could keep the noise down as it was trying to make a person.
I guess technically Dale should have been around to look after me, but he never was. I don’t know exactly where he would go, and by now that should not be any kind of a surprise.
So the family’s eldest teenage son, whose name I honestly cannot remember, let’s call him “Pete”, ended up looking after me most of the time. I have no idea if it was for days, or weeks, or even only one day. My memory of that time is hazy. But I can remember, quite clearly, the afternoon we were in his room watching the movie Porky’s II.
Yeah, I got molested to the backdrop of a shitty 1980s teen sex comedy’s even shittier sequel.
He sat on the floor at the foot of his bed, facing the television. I sat on the floor directly in front of him, between his legs. His hands were around my stomach in a loose, inattentive bear hug. This didn’t feel at all out of the ordinary to me. If anything, it was such a relief to have the first person in weeks (my own mum and sister aside) be nice to me. Everyone else either yelled at me or ignored me (and I had only very recently been completely blanked by Santa). So it was really an aching relief to feel safe and comfortable for once. Not to mention being in proximity to a toilet with plumbing. I was more than happy to sit in a lap and be held.
It is with a particularly tangy irony that I note that this was the safest I’d felt in weeks.
At an unremarkable point, while sitting there on the floor, Pete’s hands stiffened. The inattentive hug became more of a focused clasping, as if we were both acrobats and he was about to toss me into the air. He stayed like this for a moment or two, and then one hand moved quickly inside my pants and he grabbed my penis.
I jumped up with a startled yelp. “It’s okay,” Pete whispered. “It’s okay. It doesn’t matter. Sit back down. Let me do it, it’s okay.”
I sat back down. Partly because he was an authority figure who’d given an instruction. Partly because where else was I going to go? And partly because this, still, felt safer than any of the time spent on Masig. I’d recently had a run-in with a tiger shark and had smashed my chin open on the side of a boat and had regularly had to shit in a bucket; a horny teenager’s hand was nothing.
He put his hand back down my pants and spent a not insignificant amount of time…well I guess he was jerking me off. But I was nine, so nothing was happening, so I’m not sure if that’s still an accurate description. His other hand wandered all about the place, squeezing and poking and caressing, while I just tried to keep as still as possible.
Eventually he stopped. His hands went back to his own lap, and I sat there, not sure of what was going to happen next. He was fidgeting a lot behind me, though, and it was uncomfortable. I kept getting nudged in the back. I shuffled the smallest distance away from him, to see if he would stop me again. He didn’t. So I stood up.
His hands were down his own pants now (that would explain the shuffling and nudging), and as I stood up and took a step back he leered at me and pulled down his pants.
What I saw horrified me. I had never seen a grown man’s erection before, so as far as I could tell he was horribly disfigured. His penis seemed frighteningly large. And swollen. And kind of shiny. Was he sick? Had a bee stung him? Was he holding it too tightly? Did he have an allergy? Why was it that colour? Mine was at best a very very pale pink. Pete’s skin was darker than mine, sure, but that didn’t explain the weird reddish purple hue; a colour I’d never seen outside of a bruise. Had he bruised it? Was it like a black eye, only much worse? Did he need to go to the hospital too? Maybe they could deflate it for him?
Clearly the thoughts of horror that were racing through my mind also registered on my face, because when he saw how I was reacting to what looked like the world’s worst balloon animal, his eyes widened and he glanced away. Very quietly, but very curtly, he told me to get out. He never spoke to me again. In fact, I never saw him again.
I didn’t comprehend the full scope of what happened to me until many years later. It was fucking awful, but it could have been much, much worse. I wasn’t physically hurt. Mum and Lauren and the little clump of cells that would eventually become my brother all came out of hospital. We went home.
That I even had a concept of what “home” was meant to be by this point is a surprise, actually.