I had just begun my post for When the Beats Strike: My Life in Music 1983 and decided for my introductory video, I would look up episodes from my favorite sitcoms I watched as a child. To keep with my theme for the year, I searched for episodes of Diff’rent Strokes that aired in 1983. As soon as I saw the video in the results, I immediately recalled the episode. I was young and not yet mature enough to understand the painful reality that it covered, but I still knew in my heart how evil and disgusting I thought the character of Mr. Horton was. As I watched the way he lured them in, I felt ill, but I watched the entire episode. When it was over, my heart was broken, and I remember not watching TV for several days afterward.
About this time, one warm, sunny afternoon, I was outside playing hide and seek with a bunch of children on our street. It was a short, dead-end street that ended with a train tracks plodding through the on the crest of the hill. My brother, sister, and I lived in the last house on the street, with the exception of one house on the other side of the hill. It was nestled at the bottom right off the water. We never saw the neighbors who lived there, but we never made the forbidden journey to the other side.
On this day, I almost did run over, but not because I was invited. Not because I saw anyone there I could talk to. I was ‘it.’ The other eleven children hid in lush back yards flooded with brush, bushes, and trees. It was paradise for this kind of game. I had just finished counting, yelled my “Ready or not, here I come” warning to the world, and opened my eyes. When I looked up, I saw an ugly car parked in my aunt’s driveway. It didn’t belong to family or friends of anyone on our street. There was a stranger in our midst, but at the moment, I did not know where.
Unaware of the danger I was in, I darted off to the right, and he stepped out from beside the garage where he was hiding, waiting for me to come his direction. The others did not see him standing there, as they were all hidden, waiting to run me ragged in urgent search of them so I could get them all before they made it “home.” A middle-aged white man with dark brown curly hair wearing black and white checkered pants stood in front of me, blocking my path between my aunt’s house and her garage. He wouldn’t move. I stepped left, he followed suit. When I stepped right, he was my shadow. I went to scream for my brother and male cousins, and he raised his hand toward my face. He told me to get in his car, and I immediately turned and ran toward my house where one of my older cousins was inside watching TV.
I ran up on the porch and went to rip open the door, but the screen was latched. As I yanked on the door, I turned and saw the man begin to walk toward the house. My cousin came to the door, she was visibly irritated and told me to go play with everyone else. When I tried to tell her about the man trying to get me in his car parked at her house, she looked up and he was no longer in view. His car was still there, and she said maybe he was visiting someone and shooed me off the porch. Not knowing where the man was hiding or what to do, I took my chances and bolted across the street, running between houses yelling at the top of my lungs. As I got into the backyard, I heard a car squealing its tires down the street. By the time I corralled everyone and got them out front, the man was gone.
Looking on that afternoon now, I realize how fortunate I was. He could have grabbed me and forced me into his car before I got away. I could have been grabbed off my porch, and when I ran blindly through to the backyards across the street, he could have stepped out and grabbed me, and no one would have been the wiser until they got tired of waiting for me to hunt them down. By the time they would have realized anything was wrong, it would have been too late. How simple it would have been for my cousin to listen. How few seconds it would have taken for her to open the door and let me in.
For those of you who weren’t as fortunate as I was, for those of you who were molested and sexually abused as children, whether the person who violated you was a stranger, family friend, or family, my heart goes out to you. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for you to endure and how much you have had to struggle to overcome the trauma of what was done to you. But I admire you all for your strength, courage, and love that you show in sharing your stories with all of us. So you can heal. So more people are aware of the dangers. So more people appreciate the childhood or life they may take for granted. While I was sexually abused as an adult, I had a friend growing up who was molested by a family friend and another I met later in life who was also sexually abused.
This episode aired in 1983 in two parts. As you watch, you will see how something as innocent as a child wanting a bike and befriending the owner of the bicycle store Arnold’s father rented the bikes from can turn to something sinister and damaging. Mr. Drummond protested Arnold getting a bike, because he didn’t think it was safe for him to be riding in the park in the City alone, but he never thought that he would have to protect Arnold from Mr. Horton. Using humor to lighten up a very sensitive topic, the writers of the show include many elements that exist when children are abused: the perp who loves children and secrets that are supposed to be kept secret between them: expensive or lavish amounts of gifts that they can only use when they are with the abuser, food, games, movies, which turns to, for some, alcohol, porn, and photographs.
Has a child ever tried to tell you they were in danger? What was your reaction? Did you believe them, hear them out, or brush them off? Were you ever in a situation I was in? What did you do? As a child, did you have any friends who were being sexually abused or molested? For those of you who were abused, how have you dealt with the trauma?