The longevity of shame
More bad news? We don’t need it, do we?
Abuse, though. That always needs to see the cleansing light of day.
I wrote an essay about a football coach at the boarding school I attended many years ago who used his power to, literally, try to get into my young pants. He nearly succeeded. I summoned something from somewhere to stop him.
The school fired the coach, but not—at least publicly—for abusing students. Plural, yes, because in fact I didn’t report the coach. Someone else did.
So why write about this 60 years on?
For the same reason anyone who has been abused discloses it. Because it directs a spotlight on someone who has tried to fondle, blow, fuck or stroke them when they were too alone, when they were powerless to stop it, or felt they were.
You have no idea, if you have not experienced this, how jealous shame is. How it doesn’t want you to share. How it wants all the humiliation, remorse and ugliness to be yours and yours alone. And how long its life is. Shame may be the longest-lived emotion there is. And it never loses its grip. Unless you expose its source, and that, for some, is a mighty act of courage.
Let me show you something.
I sent my essay to the boarding school I attended, and they were shocked—shocked!—to learn this (might have!) happened. They started an independent investigation that has been going on for months and that I hope is concluded sooner than later. One of my main questions is: did the school cover this up? You can probably guess my hunch.
But as to my earlier point about the longevity of shame. Some months after I published my essay, I received an e-mail from someone I didn’t know. He found my e-mail address on my website. He wrote to thank me for writing that essay. Because he had been abused by the same man when he was a boy. This in part is what he wrote me:
“I was struck by the fact that your reaction to that experience was so much like mine. Was it a dream? Did I do something to cause this? This memory has haunted me for decades.”