When I was a kid, I molested a boy from my neighborhood. As an adult, I knew I had to try to make it right.
A ton of terrible sex things were done to me when I was a kid. The first time was when I was four or five. It was the night after my mother packed up my two sisters and me and took us to her BFF’s house because my step-dad had just choked her and hit her with his balled-up fist. Her bestie had a son, and neither she nor my mother knew that a four-year-old girl shouldn’t be put to bed together with a six-year-old boy. In his bedroom, in the dark, with the door closed. I woke up to the sensation of him playing between my legs. He gave me my first feeling of sexual arousal that night, and perhaps my molester’s wings.
The second time was by my own BFF. We were about seven, upstairs in my bedroom in broad daylight, on my bottom bunk bed. She took off her pants and said I should do the same. She humped, kissed, and scissored me.
I don’t want to talk about the third through fifth times because they involve family members.
However, I do want to talk about my sixth significant sexual experience. It was when I molested a neighbor boy. I forced him to touch me between my legs, although it was clear that he didn’t want to. And now that I know what it means to be an abuser, I’m shocked and disgusted that I was one myself.
“I wasn’t worried about saving face. I was worried about him; what I’d done to him.”
My basement was the perfect place for it because there were two rooms no one entered—the furnace room, and the room where my mother stored all her Tupperware and appliances. I was calculated in my approach: First I got him alone, and then I taught him our game. It was a treasure hunt. There was a doll I couldn’t find, and I needed Donovan (not his real name) to go into the dark furnace room with me to help me locate the doll. I told him that while we looked for it, he should play between my legs. He said “OK,” but he didn’t begin. Instead of grabbing my girlhood, he only looked for the doll.
“No!” I whispered, quiet but stern. “There is no doll.” Minutes passed. He still hadn’t touched me. I put his hand where I wanted it to be, and finally he began the caresses.
The honest-to-God truth is that I didn’t know that I was molesting him; I hadn’t learned that word. And since others had touched me in this way, I thought Donovan and I could play this game together, too. I thought of it as a game, like Candy Land or Operation. I did know that adults shouldn’t know about it. But we kids did many things adults didn’t know about, like playing with firecrackers, and jumping off the roof of the shed.
When I got to be an adult, though, and came to understand what I’d done, I knew I had to find Donovan and apologize. Tarana Burke coined the term “#MeToo” way back in 2006, but it’d be years later before I began hearing and reading about it. And the more I heard and read, the more I listened to women’s testimonies and heard them describe what men had done to them, the more I realized I had done much the same thing. I was the men.
I found Donovan on Facebook, sent him a friend request, and he accepted. I spent a week or two liking and benignly commenting on several of his posts, just because I didn’t want to lead with, “Hey, remember when I forced you to touch me?”
Before I wrote to Donovan, I asked myself if I was being irresponsible by writing this confession. I didn’t know what kind of man he had become. He could forward it, post it, or publish it. But in therapy I’d read the book The Body Keeps the Score. I knew that maybe he somehow had a record of what I’d done on his brain and in his very cells. The least I could do was try to make things even. And I wasn’t worried about saving face. I was worried about him; what I’d done to him.
Finally, I wrote him a direct message via Facebook. I started with, “Hey there Donovan,” to which he replied, “Heyyy!” I took his enthusiastic response as a sign that he didn’t hate me and that I could proceed with saying what I needed to say. After exchanging, “It’s been too longs” and “What have you been up tos?” I mustered the courage to reveal the real reason I was reaching out. I sent several messages, one after another—my longish apology broken into short statements, trying to get out everything I needed to say, afraid that at some point, he might call me a crazy b-word (or a crazy c-word), end the chat, and block me. I let him know that although it’s no excuse, what I did to him was done to me. I told him I was so incredibly sorry. I asked what I could do to make amends. I asked if he’d like a face-to-face meeting to discuss things further.
Donovan waited until he no longer saw the ellipses indicating I was writing before he responded, totally downplaying everything. He said yes, he remembered what happened; yes, all is forgiven; and no, he wasn’t traumatized. But his Facebook page seemed to tell a different story. For starters, he wasn’t smiling in any of his pictures. And he had posted a lot of Bible verses about suffering here on Earth. This worried me, because I knew he hadn’t been raised in church. I hadn’t been raised in church either, but years ago, I had turned to religion as a way to make sense of what had been done to me. I wondered if Donovan had turned to religion to make sense of what I’d done to him.
I DMed him again on Facebook to ask him. But he insisted he wasn’t traumatized and asked to change the subject. We continued chatting, but we were just making small talk. He told me he was a machinist, never married, and never had kids. He told me it looked like I had a nice life, and that he wasn’t surprised I’d done well for myself because I’d always been so smart. He surprised me by telling me that I was beautiful, though he didn’t say it in a flirty way at all. He said it in a plain way—a declarative sentence, instead of one with an exclamation point. We asked about each other’s families, said we’d keep in touch, and said our goodbyes.
But there was also another boy I needed to talk to. It was the summer before my senior year in college. My homegirls and I were acting like we were in Girls Gone Wild. This guy, Sean (not his real name), came over. He was super fine. And rumor had it he had a big thing. My housemate Monica said she wanted to see it, but he laughed it off and said, “No.” That’s when she enlisted the help of the other housemates. We four girls got Sean down on the floor of Monica’s bedroom and started pawing at his pants. Monica was straddling his thighs, so he couldn’t get up. I was at his head holding down his shoulders. Megan and Kesha were working on his button and zipper, trying to pull his penis out so we could examine it. I thought this was hilarious fun until I got a glimpse of Sean’s face, saw his expression, and realized he was terrified. I didn’t even know his last name, so I couldn’t locate him on Facebook. I looked through the friends of our mutual friends to see if I could find his face. But unfortunately, I never did, and I haven’t been able to apologize to him.
Weeks passed before Donovan and I chatted again. I had been thinking of him, wanting to know if he wanted to talk more now that he’d had some time to process our conversation. But I didn’t want to hound him. I’d been learning about boundaries and I wanted to respect his decision not to keep harping on this. When he posted something about wanting to travel—I’m a travel photographer—I took it as an opportunity to reach out to him again. I messaged him and asked if he was serious about traveling. He said yes, and that my travel pictures had inspired him to want to go somewhere. He asked if I had any recommendations. We chatted about this for a while, and the abundance of hearts and happy faces in his messages seemed to be hinting that he wanted to go somewhere together.
That’s when I paused and started to panic. There was something I had been avoiding thinking about. The fact that he was handsome now—incredibly handsome. He reminded me of Morris Chestnut—the way his perfect white teeth popped against his smooth, dark skin. And he had a beard. I’m a sucker for a man with a beard.
If it was me he wanted to go on vacation with, maybe we could try it and see what happened. We had actually been close when we were kids, so maybe we could become close again. Then I stopped myself from imagining us. I’d written to apologize, not to hook up. Yes, he was hot. And warm. But I felt there was something inherently wrong in hooking up with someone I had violated. What would we tell our kids about how we met? Well, boys, it all started in this dark and musty furnace room. I had gotten off the hook easily with Donovan. Had I been a boy molesting a neighbor’s daughter, I don’t even want to think about what might have happened to me.
"I don’t want to lose my Feminist Card when I say this, but I feel like I have to say it: I sometimes sympathize with college boys accused of sexual misconduct."
Which brings me to yet another issue I find it hard to talk about—“feminist stuff.” Molested boys get almost no ink in magazines or newspapers when the abuse is done by a woman. Yes, there’s occasional news of a teacher molesting her male student, but these sexual violations of boys are not just happening in classrooms. They’re happening in basements. And sheds. A lot. And I don’t want to lose my Feminist Card when I say this, but I feel like I have to say it: I sometimes sympathize with college boys accused of sexual misconduct. Because just like I didn’t know that what my friends and I did to Sean was wrong, I could see how a kid in college might not know that it’s wrong to have sex with a drunk girl.
Now is the part in the essay where I get to the thesis, or point. But what is the point? I think the point is that it’s important to apologize to those we’ve hurt, even if we were just kids when we offended them. Apologizing re-establishes dignity for those we hurt and gives us an opportunity to prove to ourselves that we’re fair and honest people who have integrity and humility. It’s so easy to remember all the people who have wronged us, but what about the ones we’ve wronged? It deserves a thought, and perhaps an apology.
Illustration by Natalia Bzdak
Adrienne Christian is a freelance writer and photographer. Her work has been featured in Today’s Black Woman, Jolie, Next Avenue, CALYX, phoebe, Prairie Schooner, and other magazines. She is the author of two poetry books–Worn (Santa Fe Writers Project, 2021) and A Proper Lover (Mainstreet Rag, 2017). Christian is an associate editor at Backbone Press and has been featured on panels hosted by Ms. Magazine and the Association of Writers and Writing Programs. She holds a BA from the University of Michigan, an MFA from Pacific University