[notice]NOTE: DO NOT READ UNLESS YOU ASK YOUR PARENTS[/notice]
This is a family magazine written to bless and encourage, therefore you can understand that this article is printed with great reluctance.
But if it will save your children, then we must tell Tommy’s Story.
Many of you will be offended. We considered this but decided that not printing it would be refusing to declare what we know is happening. God says in Isaiah 21:6 “For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth.” We are the watchman. Porn has changed the very fabric of our society, and it will touch your family. There is living among most of us a terrible enemy seeking to destroy our godly seed. He or she is a family member, a best friend, a teacher or preacher, or even a homeschool child in your church. While parents have had their heads in the sand worrying about making a living or finding a better place to worship, the world as we know it has become a different place. Satan is going to and fro, jumping quickly from homeschool family to homeschool family, stealing the very thing we hold most precious.
We are the watchman crying out. Beware. Be wise. Be on guard. Nothing—not church, not family, not work—is as important as protecting your children. Don’t get too busy. Don’t be too trusting. Don’t be deceived.
I personally believe you need to read this story with your children and discuss it. You don’t have to be graphic to make a point. They need to feel Tommy’s fear, pain, and lack of hope. They need to see how he was deceived. Your children need to be warned because those prepared are usually spared.
[notice]NOTE: DO NOT READ UNLESS YOU ASK YOUR PARENTS[/notice]
My mama met me at the door, handing me the newspaper as she spoke. “Todd was arrested today for soliciting sex from a 13-year-old girl on the Internet.” Her voice droned on as I turned to walk out. I got in my truck and drove to the other side of the barn, and rolled down both windows so the cold, cleansing wind could blow through. Long-beaten-down memories of me and Todd as little boys, all the things done to us, things that changed our lives forever, flooded my mind. Poor old Todd. The river of evil just kept on going in his life.
I remember when I was five. We were poor but we were happy. I went to the park with mama and then later in the afternoon helped her in the garden. Sometimes I rode my bike or walked down to the store. It was during the ’70s and life was fun with nothing to worry about. It was about that time my parents joined the small, local Baptist church. It was a kid’s dream place. They had lots of great activities, and to top it all off, I met my first best friend, Todd Burks. Todd and I did everything together. I had the best life ever!
When we were in the second grade Todd and I got saved. It was in this cocoon of a perfect life with wonderful parents, friends, and church folks that I entered the third grade. For two happy little boys, the end of perfect had come. Todd and I were about to meet the devil.
I was in the bathroom at school when Mr. Wood approached me. I was standing at the urinal working on my zipper. He put both hands around me to zip my pants. I pulled away embarrassed, muttering “I can zip my own pants.” I felt he was treating me like I was a little kid.
Todd’s family lived next door to the church. I was there the next Saturday when we saw some big boys playing football behind the church, so we went over to watch. Mr. Wood was there playing with the big boys and asked us if we wanted to join in the game. Todd whispered, “He’s our new preacher and he is also a teacher at school.” The preacher kept giving me and Todd the ball. It bothered me that he wanted to grab us up, but I thought, “He’s the preacher so he must be good.”
After the game he invited us over to his truck and gave us sodas and candy. Then Mr. Wood told Pete, one of the older boys (about 10), that it was time he learned how to drive a truck. We all watched as Pete, sitting in Mr. Wood’s lap, lurched away driving the truck. One of the guys said Pete stayed at Mr. Wood’s house every weekend, and last week the preacher bought Pete a mini motorcycle.
It was our main conversation all week. We envied Pete getting to go camping and even drive a truck. The next morning we went to church, and I couldn’t wait to see the new preacher. Guess who walked up behind me and picked me up with one hand between my legs and the other on my chest? He winked at me like we had a secret. “Hey, football man, let’s play again today.” Mr. Wood went to meet my parents where they sat in the church pew. He shook hands with my dad. He told my parents he was a teacher at school and liked to work with the boys. He asked my dad if he could come by and pick me up a few afternoons this week to play football and do other stuff at the church. Several of the boys would be participating. My dad was delighted for me to have the opportunity.
At school Mr. Wood sat down with me at lunch and we talked about him coming to pick me up to play football. When Mr. Wood arrived, he already had Todd in the truck. The big boys didn’t show up for the game so we went for rides on the motorcycle with Mr. Wood, and then we went through all his sports equipment in his garage. He invited us in for soda and candy. Both our parents restricted our junk food, so he told us we needed to keep it a secret. He wanted to take our pictures and showed us pictures of Pete. Pete never seemed to wear his shirt, and Mr. Wood wanted us to take our shirts off for the pictures. Pictures were a secret too. Sure... no problem. Mr. Wood called our parents to see if we could stay for dinner and games. That evening Mr. Wood let me drive home, sitting in his lap of course. It bothered me that he kept rubbing his hands between my legs, but it was fun driving for the first time.
The weeks rolled by and the invitations came more and more often. Several times a week Mr. Wood came to our home in the evenings to watch TV and talk with my parents. I heard my parents say he was lonely and just needed a good family and we fit the bill. Mr. Wood gave me and Todd jobs to do at the church, which made us both feel very important. It amused the adults to see us do our jobs with so much care and duty.
One weekend Mr. Wood finally let me steer the motorcycle by myself. He told me he had to keep his hands in my lap in case he needed to help me. I was so excited about steering that I hardly noticed his hands rubbing my crotch. It was weird. No one had ever touched me there, but I got used to it because he did it all the time.
When summer break came I was really excited because Mr. Wood said he would take us camping, fishing, swimming, and riding motorcycles. The very first day we were out of school, Mr. Wood arranged with our parents for us to spend the night over at his house. Right at the beginning of the evening he lit up a cigarette and let us try. It was gross. Then he lit up a pipe and had us try that. He was also drinking liquor. He gave us some of that too. He laughed and told us we better hope our parents didn’t find out because they would whip our tails. Mr. Wood said he needed to wash our clothes to get the smoke smell out. He had us pull off our clothes and wrap up in a towel. We were barely 9 years old and were used to doing as we were told. In our perfect world, there would have been no reason to hesitate. We didn’t that know our perfect world was gone.
He encouraged us to drink and then he started wrestling, jerking our towels off and laughing as we ran. The liquor and late hour made us drowsy. He sat in a big chair and told us to sit on his lap so we could look at the cool (porn) magazine he had. We were stunned into silence but still unable to turn our eyes away. His hands were moving over our privates. He went for more liquor and came back with his camera. It was late; we were two sleepy, half-drugged little boys and hardly noticed his picture taking. Sometime during the night Mr. Wood climbed into our bed and sexually molested both of us.
The next morning I felt so bad. My stomach hurt, my head hurt, and my butt hurt. Todd looked really sick. We sat in silence waiting for Mr. Wood to wake up. When he came in it was like nothing had happened. He told us to get in the truck because we were going out to breakfast. He put me in his lap to drive, and now the rubbing was not subtle. I didn’t want to drive anymore. Todd drove back to Mr. Wood’s house and received the same. We played games but hated it and wished to go home but kept silent, waiting. He took us out to his shed where he had a darkroom. He showed us how he made pictures, but we didn’t see his pictures. Finally the afternoon came and we got our stuff together to go home. He warned us again that we would get in a lot of trouble if our parents knew what we had been doing. He made us promise not to tell. On the way home, he talked about all the fun he had planned for us. Then as I was getting out of the truck, he sealed the deal. “Next time we will go to the motorcycle shop and get you your own bike. You DO want one, don’t you?”
As I walked up the steps to my house, I felt dirty. My mom asked if I had a good time, and I muttered “yeah” but quickly ducked out of the room. She followed me to my room and said it was dinnertime, but I told her I was not hungry and was tired. I just wanted to take a bath. I avoided my parents. I felt so ashamed. I lay on my bed with my head covered, trying to blot out everything. I thought about other people finding out, especially my parents. I tried to sleep but I was too worried. That night, for the first time, I was scared in my own house. I decided that I would kill myself before I would let anyone know what Mr. Wood did to me.
The summer school vacation seemed like a death trap. Mr. Wood visited my family, laughed, preached, and then he sexually abused me and Todd. He took us to amusement parks and waterparks, and we went camping and swimming. What people saw was this really decent, fine gentleman who gave his life for boys. No matter where we were or what we were doing, he was busy abusing us in some form. He showed us pictures of other boys and none were wearing clothes, and then he started taking pictures of us while he abused us. I hated my life. I dreaded each day. I cringed when the phone rang, knowing it might be Mr. Wood calling to chat with my mom and then suggest he pick me up to go camping. I felt dead inside. I tried to think about other things. It seemed I had two lives: one was what people knew about and the other was the secret evil that no one would ever even guess was happening. Mr. Wood constantly grilled us on what to tell people, so I didn’t even know what the truth was. My own mind became muddled; I felt evil.
School was soon to start and I had a glimmer of hope. Maybe I could get away from Mr. Wood. The very first day of school, I ran to the bathroom and Mr. Wood followed. He smiled as he rubbed his hands on my private parts, “Are you ready? I called your parents and you are spending the whole weekend with me. I told them we were going camping.” I remember thinking as I walked out of the bathroom, I need to die. I didn’t know how to get away from him. I didn’t know what to do. During that first week Mr. Wood would come to my classroom and get me, take me to the closet, and sexually abuse me. I would walk stiffly back to my room wondering what all those kids would think if they only knew. I got so paranoid that I thought everyone was talking about me. It was hard to think about learning. I watched the door with a sense of panic. I counted the days, getting more anxious as the weekend grew closer. He took me camping. The abuse was endless. I learned to daydream about being somewhere else while he was on me. My daydream escapes helped me not feel the pain, and sometimes I wasn’t even there.
The year went on. I learned new tricks: how to be sick, how to make myself throw up, anything I could think of to avoid Mr. Wood. This worked for a while. Mr. Wood would come over and my parents would tell him I was sick. My grades fell and my parents worried. They talked to the teacher who suggested they get a tutor. Well, guess who volunteered for the job? Mr. Wood now had access to me three times a week. The abuse got worse. I was physically hurting all the time. He got Todd the days he didn’t get me. Mr. Wood knew how to make us avoid our other friends. I was isolated and had no one to talk with. Anger bottled up in me to the point where I hated all the other kids. I hated my parents. I hated my life. Nothing my parents could do pleased me.
My parents were at a loss as to what was happening to their happy son. Mr. Wood came over often to talk to them about how boys go through stages and how he had dealt with this many times. He offered to take me to church in the afternoons to do church duties and reminded them how much I once enjoyed my church work. They found comfort in his advice. I felt like a trapped animal with nowhere to go and no way to escape. Every evening at church and even in the baptismal I was his play thing. Now I was mad at God, really mad. How could God let this preacher do this to me? I stopped begging God for help. I stop thinking of God at all. I was scared of any grown-up I did not know before this started, because I assumed they were all like Mr. Wood. I was now 10 and felt old. I spent a lot of time thinking about how I could kill myself.
One day Mr. Wood came to the school room door again and asked the teacher if I could go with him. Like a robot I got up and followed. This time he spoke softly to me. “The principal wants to see you. He is going to ask you if I ever touch you in any way. You tell him no or he will call your parents and everyone will know exactly what you do and will see your pictures.” I felt like puking; my legs trembled. When I entered the office, Todd was already sitting in front of the principal. He was as pale as a ghost. I felt sorry for my friend. I felt sorry for what was happening to both of us.
The principal explained, “Mr. Wood is going to talk to you boys first. He will come and get me when he is ready.”
When the principal left the room Mr. Wood again told us what the principal would ask and told us what to say. I will never forget what Todd said to him: “Mr. Wood, when can we quit lying to people?”
Mr. Wood answered without a skip, “Remember, it is not a lie if you are trying not to hurt people.” I told Mr. Wood if we kept lying, we were going to hell and that was for sure. But our preacher and teacher, Mr. Wood, had an answer for that as well. “If you tell stuff and get the preacher in trouble, you will really go to hell. So what are you going to tell the principal?”
Todd and I looked at each other knowing we had no choice, “We will say you never touched us.” Then Mr. Wood made us pray with him.
The principal heard what he wanted to hear. Then he added to our burden, “Boys, I don’t want you telling anyone about this meeting. If you tell anyone, I will bust your butts. Do you understand?”
Mr. Wood walked us back to our rooms, “I hope he doesn’t tell your parents about this because you boys would really be in trouble.”
Todd’s trembling voice almost made me cry, “I don’t want my mama to know; my dad either.”
Mr. Wood put his hand on Todd’s shoulder, “Don’t worry, I’ll talk to the principal and tell him not to tell.”
As I walked back in class, I felt every eye on me and I knew they suspected. They were talking—I could tell. I hated them.
After school I went to the woods and sat down behind a tree, pulling my knees up tight against my chest. I felt like I was having a heart attack. I wanted to talk to someone but didn’t know who. There, sitting by that tree, I decided I would never tell. I sat there until dark wishing I would die but I never did, so I went home.
I could often see concern in my mama’s face. She would kiss my head and ask me how I was feeling. I sloughed her off and told her I was fine. I took a lot of showers. I would lie on my bed in the darkness, hating life.
The stress just got to be more than I could bear. One night I threw up all night. My mom thought I had a virus so she let me stay home from school. I was not ill; I was scared sick. My mind would not let me rest. I was scared of everything—of people finding out, of Mr. Wood coming to get me, of never getting free of him, of people laughing, of mama crying, and my dad being sad and thinking what an evil person I was. I thought other people would want to do to me what Mr. Wood was doing. On and on . . . my mind was tormented. Everyone was out to hurt me in some way or another. I hated everybody.
I had to go back to school, and Mr. Wood was there every day, calling me out of class and into the closet or following me to the bathroom. He called to set up after-school tutoring, and then spent the time abusing me. I begged Mr. Wood to stop but his lust had grown. Now, he wanted me to look at all his pictures with him, big boxes full of naked boys. I actually started to believe that everyone did what we did: all the kids in school, the people at church—everybody. My perfect world was now altogether evil. I could not trust anyone. I quit talking to people—kids, adults, parents. I kept my eyes on the ground so I could disconnect.
Then one day Mr. Wood didn’t come to call me out of class. Hours went by, lunch came, and no Mr. Wood. In the afternoon I watched the door with dread, but he didn’t come. I spent the whole day with my stomach churning, wondering if everyone found out. What was going on? I was more scared than when he came to get me. I was in my room at home lying on my bed with my head covered when I heard my mom come home. She called to me but I didn’t answer. I couldn’t stand to think of her knowing. I remembered where my dad kept his gun, and I decided that after she came in and told me that she knew, I would take the gun and go to the woods and shoot myself.
When mama came to my door she asked me, “Did you see Mr. Wood today? The teachers had a going-away party for him. He is stepping down as a teacher and moving to a new church in Centerville. He will not be our preacher anymore. Are you okay with that?” I could hear the concern in her voice. Mr. Wood had convinced them that he was the only stabilizing person in my life, and she was worried I would be upset.
I called Todd and told him Mr. Wood was moving away. He wouldn’t be at school anymore. He wouldn’t call to talk to my parents. I wouldn’t have to spend the night at his house again. This long, hellish nightmare was over.
The rest of the week Todd and I talked about sports. It was the first time in a long time. We were both still scared. We would always be scared, but now we could think about other stuff. We were walking out of the lunch room at school when the principal called to us, “Hey, there’s Mr. Wood’s boys. I hope you boys remember your promise to keep your mouths shut, because I would hate to beat your butts, but I will.” Then he handed me a note that read, “Mr. Wood will be at your house to pick you boys up after school. He cleared it with your parents.” Dread, fear, and anxiety hit me. I stumbled and almost fell as we walked to our class. We were not safe. He was coming to get us. When I walked back into my classroom, I looked around to see who was staring at me. I knew that they knew.
I met Todd in the parking lot. Mr. Wood honked his horn and waved us over. He talked with excitement about taking us to his new house and church, but first he had a big surprise for us. He had dangled the hope of our own motorcycles over us all these months. Now, he pulled into the shop and while we sat on the bikes making believe we were driving, he talked to the salesperson. When we left he told us that if our parents said we could have one, he would buy it. When we got to his new house there were two older boys there who I remembered from Mr. Wood’s photo boxes. They were driving their motorcycles over jumping ramps. Mr. Wood laughed and told us, “I know how to take care of my friends.” When the big boys left, Mr. Wood took us to his new house to abuse us.
Now I had lost hope. I was mad. I was scared all the time. During class, I worried about Mr. Wood coming to pick me up, so that I never knew what was taught at school. My stomach hurt so bad I could hardly stand up. When I went to lunch, the principal would stand and stare at me. I couldn’t eat.
The next Friday Mr. Wood picked me up as usual except Todd wasn’t there. He provided the usual distractions—bikes, pool, his private collection of boy porn, smoking, and drinking. He was abusing me when the phone rang. It was the hospital saying one of his new church members had been involved in an accident. He took me to the hospital, and I watched as he sat with the family members, holding their hands and praying for the victims. He seemed so sincere, but I knew he was nothing but a wolf in sheep’s clothes.
Weeks passed and Mr. Wood always made arrangements for me to be with him on weekends. I was again thinking about suicide. I had stopped talking to people or even looking anyone in the eye. My grades were terrible because I couldn’t think, my stomach hurt, I was filled with rage, and I didn’t trust anyone. But the one dread greatest of all was that someone would see the awful pictures of me. One Friday afternoon I stumbled out of school wishing I was dead so I didn’t have to go with Mr. Wood.
In the parking lot I was surprised to see my dad instead of Mr. Wood. Fear grabbed hold because I just knew my dad had found out the truth but he put his hand on my shoulder and said gently, “Hey, son, how was your day?” Dad talked about the family and what was happening, and I just sat silently listening. When we got home Dad said he had some good news. Mr. Wood had married another teacher.
Surely Mr. Wood would not come to get me and Todd since he was married. One week, then two and even on into the summer; Mr. Wood was out of our lives. I almost thought maybe this time we would be free. But our freedom didn’t last. One weekend Mr. Wood came to visit my parents, but I knew what he was after. This time Mr. Wood was violent. He used me like his sex slave. He slapped me when I didn’t do as he wanted, even choking me until I passed out. He tied me down. I thought he was going to kill me. The phone rang and he answered. He quickly untied me and said get cleaned up and dressed fast because my dad and granddad were on their way over. Before they got there Mr. Wood noticed I was covered with bruises. He told me to tell them I had a motorcycle wreck. I was saved—my granddad was taking me to his farm down south for a few days! It was like being taken to heaven, the relief was so great.
When I got home from the farm, I learned Mr. Wood’s new wife had divorced him, so he was leaving the area. I didn’t have any hope left. I knew he might show up any time and next time he might kill me. I lived in dread, but time passed and he didn’t show up. Slowly, I stopped living in constant fear.
The devil had moved on to destroy another life or lives and no one was the wiser.
The years passed, I grew into a man, joined the Marine Corps, finished my stint, married, had children, and then became a detective specializing in bringing child molesters to justice. But through it all I never told a soul what had happen to me. I was so sickened, ashamed, and embarrassed. It was not until Todd was caught that the truth was made known.
I wish I could tell you that what you just read is fiction, but it is true. Only the names of people and places were altered. The sad thing is that, as a detective, I have seen this happen to so many children, and usually parents don’t have a clue. No parent, including my own, can stand to admit it happened on their watch. But predators (male and female) are smart, wily, and kin to Satan himself; so they have an advantage on simple, trusting souls. Mamas look at strange people and have a natural instinct to protect their children, but the average predator is your friend or even more likely, a close relative. He loves kids. He is fun. He will fool the best of you.
Through the years the struggle has been difficult. I’ve had to work on retraining my brain to understand the beauty and goodness that God created in expressing love. I’m a new man in Christ, but the pain of the past has stained many things. I know many challenges will continually crop up in my path as I walk through life, but I have been blessed by God and have grown strong through his strength.
For people who are carrying the pain of sexual abuse, or any pain, the only relief is through God. I would share this advice with everyone: Forgiveness is greater than vengeance; compassion more powerful than anger.
Don’t allow your mind to play with things of the past. Let those thoughts fade by non-use. Overwrite the old files with new, good memories. Fill your mind with Scripture by memorizing key verses. Sing old gospel hymns when evil thoughts pop into your head. The pure words of worship will run the devil out. The more I study and understand the Word of God, the more I grow in strength, hope, blessing, and peace that passes all understanding.
Keeping secrets like this is not wise. Everyone dreads opening up an ugly can of worms, especially if it is a family member (it usually is). You must understand that the real DREAD is allowing the abuse to continue by pretending it never happened. STOP the molester. Your voice might be the only thing that can save a thousand little children. You must also understand that an evil man never outgrows this addiction, no matter how old he gets. Don’t believe the lie that he must be too old to be lusting, so now children are safe around him. It is not true. If a man (or woman) ever abuses children, then he is most likely still abusing children.
Train your children to yell and tell. Let them know at least once a week that you will believe them and that you are there to protect them. Your children’s best defense is knowledge. As the Yell and Tell books say, those prepared are usually spared. If I had known to beware, known that the bad person will try to threaten me to silence, and if I had had an understanding that no matter who hurts me, I must tell, then I would not have stood alone. There would have been hope—hope for me and Todd, and hope for all the other children Mr. Wood continued to abuse over the years. Let there be hope for our children. It is time to yell and tell.