(This summer in Vermont where I used to work for Outward Bound)
When I worked at Outward Bound, one of our 23-day courses was with all at-risk boys ages 13-15 and it was insane. Besides all the gay-bashing we had to shut down and the toxic masculinity we had to deal with and the fights I had to literally jump in between and break up, the most meaningful and beautiful yet tragic thing that happened involved this one kid, Calen, the bully, who lost his shit during solo.
He was the kid everyone was afraid of, the kid who rarely talked, the kid who clearly had serious issues but wouldn’t open up about any of them. I was even afraid of this kid on some level cuz he was strong enough to hurt me and i could see this quiet rage in his eyes and in the way he ripped out the grass around him when he was eating lunch.
He was supposed to stay in the woods isolated, like all the others, for three days with nothing to do but be quiet and reflect during their solo. And when it came time, he begged me not to leave him there and seemed really visibly upset and even faked some stomach illness to try to get me to let him sleep near us instead. But I finally pulled myself away cuz you have to let kids try to work their shit out instead of saving them all the time. And things were okay the first few hours…
Until a kid blew his emergency whistle. When I found him he said he’d heard what sounded like “someone losing his shit” far away. So I followed the direction he pointed, which was, of course, Caleb’s camp. What I found was like out of a horror movie- all the trees had their bark ripped off of them as far as the arm could reach. And there were holes dug over a foot deep dug by hands, like someone trying to claw their way to China. And then I found Calen, with his shirt off, panting, and in a daze. Almost as if he was on drugs or something. Just gone. And again, faking a stomach illness. So I left the group and I took him down the mountain so we cold get a lift from the trailhead to an urgent care.
Of course the doc found nothing wrong with him.
But on the hike back up that day, out of nowhere, and maybe because he trusted me finally, he told me his stepdad beats the shit out of his mom and it was his job to step in the way now. But out here in the woods for three weeks, he couldn’t protect her and he couldn’t even call to see if she was okay. And that’s when it all made sense to me why this kid was losing his fucking mind. He was worried sick about the only person who cared about him, who his “job” was to protect. So we let him sleep next to us the rest of solo, protected by adults who won’t hurt him and from the torture of being alone with his thoughts.
But the part that tore me up was knowing that this sweet kid who loved his mom dearly would probably end up being just like his stepdad if something dramatic didn’t happen to prevent that cycle of abuse. And that he would hate himself for being the man he hated so much but learned everything from.
My ex’s dad did the same thing to his mom. My ex tried to even kill him once when he found him beating her up. His biggest fear was that he’d become his dad and yet he couldn’t face the fact he actually had. It was too devastating for him.That is why I cannot hate my ex and why I beg of you to stop calling these men monsters. Because even though they belong in jail for what they do, at one point in time, my ex was Calen, on that mountain, alone and scared and lost and headed down that same road he wishes more than anything he would never ever step foot on. And because we fail these men as a society, on some level a lot of them have no fucking choice but become the men they fear most.
That’s why we need to stop calling this a women’s issue, folks. It’s every bit a man’s issue too.
I didn’t have time to go into all this with Kevin Allison on this week’s RISK! episode, but I hope it gives some insight into why I was so determined to humanize my abuser.
(Sorry this story is sad! Feel free to share if you want)