Wednesday, December 7, 2016


Today's story is my own--one of them. I have told it elsewhere, and in a variety of ways. It bears repeating here, I think, because it's not just my story, it's a story many men carry with them, sometimes for the rest of their lives, as wounds. For me, the telling has itself been therapeutic. That I need to tell it again suggests that the healing is not yet complete, and indeed it likely never will be...  

If there are those among "Boyhood Memories" readers who had a similar experience as a boy, I offer an ear and a place (this blog) to let it out--anonymously if preferred--along with the anger and the subtle complex of other emotional baggage that goes along with it.

By Peter Clothier
Mr. Ellis was a mathematics teacher at the exclusive private boarding school to which my parents sent me in the south of England. I was there from the age of six until I was twelve years old, when I moved on to “public” school. Mr. Ellis was a small, ordinary-looking, bespectacled man with thinning grey hair, an earnest mien, a ridge of wrinkles across his brow, and the smile of a benevolent uncle. With a white dog collar and a black cassock, he could easily have passed for one of those Catholic priests we hear so much about. Outside of school, in his regular life, he happened to have recently inherited a farm not far from the Hertfordshire village of Braughing (say it like “laughing,” with an American accent) where my father, an Anglican minister, was vicar of the parish. Learning of this felicitous proximity, and needing to spend a weekend away with my mother at a diocesan conference, my father gladly accepted Mr. Ellis’s offer to put me up for a night while they were gone.

They drove me there in my father’s sporty grey Armstong-Siddeley automobile and left me off in Mr. Ellis’s charge. I was, as I remember the occasion, at once reticent and excited. I was perhaps eleven years old. It felt odd, certainly, to be staying with one of my teachers, but he welcomed me kindly and we spent the afternoon exploring the farm-yard and the barns, discovering in one of them an ancient, upright motor car with dusty, decaying leather seats and brass lamps for headlights, now dulled with age and neglect. Mr. Ellis hoisted me up to sit in the driver’s seat and squeeze the rubber bulb of the horn, pretending to drive this magnificent relic from the early days of horseless carriage vehicles. There was much else, too, of similar vintage to be discovered and explored, and the afternoon passed quickly.

Then it was dinner in the cold, bare, stone-floor kitchen… and time for bed. Nothing, as yet, had alerted my body or mind to the advent of adolescence, but I was aware of a certain discomfort as Mr. Ellis helped me into my pajamas and tucked me up in a bed adjacent to his own. I lay there without sleeping for the longest time, listening to my teacher’s movements in the darkness as he prepared himself for bed. I was aware, too, of his breathing, his awakened state, and I think I may have held my own breath—in fear, or anticipation of I knew not what. Until he spoke… and there was a strange hoarseness to his voice.

“Are you awake?” he asked.

I barely managed a whispered, “Yes.”

“Are you cold?” 

It was, in fact, cold in that big old house. I was shivering. "Yes."

“Would you like to come into my bed?”

I recognized that this was not an invitation. It was an instruction, coming from my teacher.  I had been taught to do as I was told. And, really, I knew of no possible evil intent. 

I did know, however, that what ensued was not right. Imagine my shock when his head slid down under the covers, breathing heavily, and took that part of me into his mouth. I felt the response, felt a strange and—I knew—forbidden but still intensely pleasurable sensation that I tried simultaneously to resist. It was not right for Mr. Ellis to be dong this. I could not imagine what it was all about, but I was quite sure that my father would not approve.  

After some minutes down there, engaged in this peculiar activity, my teacher re-emerged, and I was left with the clear impression that there was something that remained incomplete, something that had been expected of me that I had been unable to fulfill. There followed more movement down there, the sensation of something strange and hot and fleshy pressed up against my body, along with a dangerous, musty smell that was entirely new. Then I heard Mr. Ellis say--coldly, I thought—“You can go back to your bed now.” And I did, appalled by what had happened, yet shamefully excited in a way I could not understand. Back in my own bed, I felt suddenly alone, dismissed, and with the feeling that I had somehow proved a failure…

My father came to pick me up the following day. On the way back home in the car he chided me for having seemed so rude and ungrateful when we said goodbye. He, too, was disappointed in me: he expected better manners from his son. I said nothing. What could I have said?

It was a year or so later that my father came up to my room in the vicarage one evening, before I went to sleep. He had received a telephone call from the headmaster of my school, to let him know that Mr. Ellis had been sacked for “playing around” with boys. Had anything happened, my father wanted to know, that night I had spent with Mr. Ellis on his farm?  I acknowledged, yes. A grave silence. Did I want to talk about it, my father asked?  I said, no. I would not have known how to talk about it. And my father said, Alright then, and quietly left the room. Closing the door behind him. I think he was simply too embarrassed, too ashamed of having misplaced his trust and exposed his son to this abuse, too devastated to know what to say himself. We never spoke of it again.

So, yes, it was a wound. Yes, I was abused. Yes, it went deep, and yes, there is a reason that the memory has stayed with me so clearly. There is a scar. I could attribute to the experience some of the inhibitions and reactive patterns that remain with me to this day: my reticence, my guardedness, my distrust of authority, my aversion to what I perceive to be any invasion on my privacy… Such explanations belong in the realm of therapy, and I do not discount their significance or value. It is possible, our culture has discovered, to repair such damage by means of bringing it to the surface and examining its effects.

For myself, I am no longer condemned to allow this past abuse to cause me perpetual suffering. I am blessed with the ability to choose the path of freedom. For those men and women, boys and girls who have been the object of similar abuse, I wish the same. From the work I have done with men like myself, I know they are more numerous than most of us can possibly imagine. The deeply human gift of sexual desire and the equally human joy of sexual gratification can all too easily be perverted. If those who read this story have their own, this blog invites their--if so desired, anonymous--participation.

1 comment:

  1. Gosh, friend you have my deepest sympathy and admiration for having survived that abuse and violation by a supposedly authority. Adults such as the one you mentioned have no excuse for their perverted behavior. There's a millstone somewhere with his name on it. As for you, you're still the rock star of a college Dean I've ever seen!