Siblings discover dad's Scout abuse, remember own
Brandon Gray’s removal from Scouting was, his son said, the beginning of a decade of sexual abuse. It began soon after that February day in 1963 and continued until Jim graduated high school and joined the U.S. Marines Corps.
Unlike Carol, Jim has little trouble remembering. His father would stalk up the stairs and push his way into Jim’s room. Once, when Jim was about 11 years old, his mother walked in to find him and his father engaged in a sexual act. She turned and walked out. A day later, she moved Jim’s entire bedroom upstairs, the posters in the same place they had been in his old room, the bed in the same spot.
It was, he said, his mother’s attempt at physically shunting off the problem she could no longer deny.
‘‘I felt sacrificed,’’ Jim said.
By age 12 or 13, he recalled, when his father would act distant or give Jim the silent treatment, Jim would initiate sex. It was the only way, he felt, to get his father’s approval.
No one in the family acknowledged what was happening under their roof at night. But whatever tensile strands that held the family in place began to wither under the strain. Jim, the bright, engaging boy, and Carol, the vivacious girl, ceased to exist. In their place, grew poor approximations.
Carol became a moody introvert. She no longer made friends, and the friends she had, she lost.
She cried constantly, asking her mother, ‘‘What’s wrong with me? How come nobody likes me?’’
Jim turned angry. A good student early on, he had to repeat the fourth grade, the year he says his father began to abuse him. It took very little to set him off.
Eileen Gray, Jim and Carol’s elder sister, is 68 and lives outside Tallahassee, Fla. She said she was abused emotionally and verbally abused by their father but never abused sexually, and only learned of her siblings’ experience when they told her about it, later in life.
‘‘The three of us would fight with each other but at the same time we would make deals to protect each other from our father’s wrath,’’ she said in an email. ‘‘It was like ‘a war zone.’ We never knew what mood he would be in, and we adjusted our actions accordingly.’’
Carol moved out as soon as she was able. Jim followed suit in 1973, the year he graduated high school, the year their mother died. The family blew apart.
At 23, Carol bottomed out when she tried to kill herself. She would find herself drawn to religion. Twice she went through the application process for Catholic religious orders and twice the community cited her father’s drinking and mental illness as reasons to reject her. After her second rejection, she cried herself to sleep.
Then a nun named Sister Faith urged her to give it one more try. She did, and her acceptance led her to Maryland, West Virginia, Massachusetts, Mississippi and, finally, Tuscaloosa, Ala., where she now serves as regional director for Catholic Social Services of West Alabama, providing food, counseling and financial assistance to predominantly low-income families.
‘‘Did the sex abuse end up being a part of why this lifestyle ended up being the right one for me?’’ said Carol, now 62. ‘‘I can’t say it wasn't.’’
One night in the early 1990s, while at a Jesuit retreat, Carol awoke from a nightmare. The dream was unclear, but she remembers being on a bed, fighting to hold onto her sheets as someone tried to pull them away. She spent part of the next day praying outdoors when, suddenly, she was unable to breathe. The sensation was accompanied by a revelation. At last, after repeated denials in counseling, decades after it happened, Carol remembered the abuse.
‘‘It just washed over me all at once,’’ Carol said. ‘‘I completely fell apart.’’
Just days later, Jim called.
‘‘This will sound crazy to you,’’ he told his sister, ‘‘but Dad abused me.’’
His own path was a harrowing one. He had become acutely homophobic, he said. He wanted to prove that, despite the abuse, he wasn’t ‘‘a sissy boy.’’ He drank, fought and drank more.
‘‘I had so many mental health problems, not even the U.S. Marine Corps could straighten me out,’’ Jim said. Three decades of failed attempts at recovery followed, including a second stint in the Marines and a period where Jim said he was both a workaholic and an alcoholic.
In 2001, he said he finally got sober for the last time. He now works for the Peace Corps in sub-Saharan Africa.
‘‘The worst thing about the sexual abuse, mental health problems, alcoholism and all that ... are the losses,’’ said Jim, 58. ‘‘The loss of being able to maintain healthy relationships, intimacy, having children. These things that most people take for granted, I won’t have those.Continued...