Sunday's violent storm continued overnight and into Monday. Cameron and I were both tired from staying up late talking, but the worry of the storm made for an uneasy sleep. I was continually expecting a tree to fall on the cabin. Cameron told me later that he kept thinking he'd made it down from the mountain safely only to be crushed by the roof falling in on him. We were tired and grumpy when we finally crawled out of bed. Around lunch time, the storm cleared up as suddenly as it had started. The cabin had escaped damage and we were safe. Cameron brightened with the change in the weather and the passing of the danger. I moped around, trying to make sense of my problem and trying to work out how to resolve it. Fortunately, Cameron realised that I was off in my own world and he left me to sulk in peace.
Late in the afternoon, I went for a long walk. Even as a young child I had liked to have time alone; I loved my family and the time we spent together, but I needed space around me, too. The walk that day gave me the time to myself that I hadn't had since the afternoon I arrived at the cabin. It didn't magically provide answers to my questions, but it was soothing after the stress of the previous day. I enjoyed the sights and sounds of the bush, which smelled clean and fresh after the rain. The brisk mountain air cleared my head and the exercise gave me a healthy appetite. By the time I returned I was feeling much happier, especially when I found dinner waiting for me.
Cameron was supposed to have completed his hike that day. He would have called his mother when he arrived at his pick-up point, and then she would have driven up from Melbourne to collect him. We decided that it would be easier for him to stay with my family until his ankle healed, and then catch a train to Melbourne. He phoned home, and it was all arranged—except that his mum decided she would make the trip to Sale to pick him up.
Tuesday dawned clear and sunny. The only signs there had been a storm were the numerous fallen branches and a carpet of wind-blown leaves. A local council crew cleared branches from the road, and I kept busy cleaning up around the cabin while Cameron rested his ankle.
Spring is delightful in our part of Australia, and Wednesday was another beautiful day. We ate lunch out on the veranda, enjoying the warmth and listening to the birds chattering in the surrounding trees. In the distance, a kookaburra was laughing, and a couple of rabbits were grazing near the road. The Wellington River behind us was louder than usual—roaring rather than burbling—so I guessed a lot of rain had fallen up in the headwaters. Concerned that a flood might be on the way, I had checked the river level earlier in the morning. It was higher than usual, but the level wasn't rising, so there didn't seem to be any danger.
We were sitting at the table after our meal, enjoying a comfortable silence. It was three days since Cameron had told me his story. I'd spent a lot of time thinking about it, but I still couldn't decide whether it was relevant to my own problem.
Eventually, I broke the silence. 'So, where do we go from here, Cam?' He had been deep in thought, too, and my question startled him. I couldn't help laughing at his reaction.
'How do you mean?' he asked when he had recovered.
'Well, I came here to be alone and sort myself out—and ended up finding a waif on my doorstep. I haven't had much time alone, and I sure haven't got myself sorted out. In fact, the waif told me a story that's only made me feel more confused.'
Cam chuckled. 'I know that feeling,' he said.
Ignoring him, I continued, 'And you went on a solo hike to be alone and to prove something to yourself, and ended up begging for shelter from an anti-social nervous wreck and getting stuck here. So, what have we achieved? Was your hike worth it? You've never said what it was you were trying to prove.'
'Oh,' he said, 'I just wanted to prove people wrong. And I did! I had to push myself to the limit, but I did it.'
'Man!' I exclaimed. 'You picked your place well. What would you have done if it hadn't turned out okay? You would have been stranded in the middle of nowhere without any help. In these mountains, at this time of the year, you could have frozen to death.'
Cameron sighed. 'I know.' He paused, as if he wasn't sure what to say next. 'But I had to do it, and…and, there was another reason.'
He paused, and when I looked up his eyes were moist.
'It was in these mountains that Daniel and his dad died. I wanted to come up here to say goodbye,' he said quietly.
'I found the crash site. It was pretty remote, but I did it. I just sat and cried my heart out, but when it was over I felt like a burden had been lifted from my mind. I stayed there for ages, just talking to Daniel and his dad. By the time I left, I felt better than I had in months. I was on my way out when I hurt my ankle. You know the rest of the story.'
'Yes,' I said. 'I do. Man, you were game. But I can understand that you needed to do that.'
He looked at me and grinned. 'Okay. Your turn.'
'Whaddya mean "my turn"?'
'Your turn to answer questions,' he said. Then, before I had time to wonder what questions he was talking about, he asked, 'Who is The Monster?'
I looked at him incredulously. I'd told him all about The Monster. Why's he asking me that? I thought. He knows exactly who The Monster is. Rather indignantly, I answered, 'He's the bloke who kidnapped me, and raped me, and…and ruined my life! You know that.'
'Yes, I know what you've told me about him, but who is he?'
By then I was really puzzled, and more than a little frustrated. 'What else is there to know?'
'Well, I've been thinking about your problems with him, and that got me wondering about your relationship with him.'
'I don't have a relationship with him!' I snapped.
'Yes, you do. On some level you have a relationship with everyone you meet. In everything you've told me about this guy, you've never called him anything but The Monster. Does he have a name?'
'Of course he does, but he doesn't deserve to be called by his name—he is a monster!'
'Okay, yes, he is, but do you know why? Do you know his history, and what happened in his life to make him that way? I'm guessing he wasn't like that when he was a little kid.'
'Are you defending him now?' I was getting worked up.
'No.' Cameron drew out the word. 'No, I'm not. What he did was wrong, but it occurred to me that trying to understand him might make it easier to come to terms with what he did to you.'
That stopped me in my tracks, and the anger drained out of me. 'Whoa!' I stopped to think, while Cameron waited patiently. 'Um…how do you think that will help?'
'Well, I'm wondering if you've—how can I put it—"de-humanised" him? In thinking of him as a monster, I reckon you've pushed him into the back of your mind as some impersonal "thing" that you can ignore. That way you haven't had to own up to your resentment and anger over what he did to you, and those feelings can keep smouldering away in the background. I don't think you would be able to do that if you thought of him as a real person with a name and a history that made him what he is. It's easier to ignore an impersonal "it" than to ignore another human being.'
'Whoa! Again,' I added when I realised I was repeating myself. I mulled over what Cameron had said, wondering if he was right. I did know some of the man's background, because the defence barrister had brought it up in court in an effort to get a shorter sentence for his client. I had listened, but I'd seen it as a ploy to explain away what The Monster had done, so I had promptly forgotten it. As I thought back to that day in the courtroom, I began to remember what the barrister had said.
'He had a terrible childhood,' I said, finally breaking my silence. 'He was an only child, and never knew who his real father was. His mother was a heroin addict, and had a succession of junkie boyfriends. Most of them abused him in one way or another. His mother pretty much ignored him, and he grew up thinking no one wanted or liked him. A lot of the time he had to scrounge for food. When he was fourteen, his mother's boyfriend beat him so badly he ran away and lived on the street for a few months. He had a horrible scar under one eye. He got that when an older, homeless guy attacked him for sleeping in his spot—the guy smashed a bottle in his face. Eventually, he was taken in by foster parents when he was sixteen. They were the first people who ever showed him love, and they helped him get on his feet and get a decent job.'
I paused to reflect. 'You know, I thought he was really ugly and mean, and he was very rough with me, but his barrister had character references from the managers of the prisons he worked in, as well as from several of his workmates, and even a few ex-prisoners. They all spoke highly of him, and several of them called him a gentle giant. A couple of the ex-prisoners described how he'd helped them get back on the right track and make something of their lives.' I took a deep breath. 'I don't know, Cam. That seems so different from my experience of him. You'd reckon they were talking about a different person.'
'Yeah, it doesn't sound like they were describing a sex offender.'
'I know—but that reminds me of something else. During the trial, the prosecutor said something about sexual abuse being invisible. I wondered at the time what he was talking about, but now I think I can see what he meant. It's invisible because the offenders are so ordinary, so "normal", and because most sex offences are never even reported. He also said that, although abuse is a compulsive and repetitive behaviour, there's no such thing as a "typical sex offender" and that there's no "magic test" to identify them. The only thing they have in common is that they are abusers.' (1)
'So…you're willing to allow that he might be human?'
'Yeah…I guess,' I said, reluctantly. 'I can see that he's a person, and that there are reasons for him to be the way he is, but he still hurt me—and I still feel cheated. He left me confused. He stole my virginity, and left me feeling violated. I'm damaged goods, Cam. I'm shop-soiled. If I was a fridge or a washing machine, I'd be in a scratch and dent sale.' I threw up my arms and sighed deeply. 'How can Zoë, or anyone else, love me now that I've been used?'
Cameron was silent for a few moments, thinking. 'Try looking at it this way: the choice was taken from you, but that's in the past. You had no control over what happened then. Now, when you're ready to love—whether it's Zoë or someone else—it will be the first time you've given yourself to anyone, so only then will you be giving up your virginity.'
'O…kay, that makes sense. I think. So, where do I go from here?'
Cameron gave me a cheeky grin. 'What's his name?'
I groaned. 'Persistent, aren't you? It's…Vincent John Giambruno.'
'Ah, a Vinnie. I'll bet he was a cute little kid.'
'All little kids are cute!' I snapped, bitterness and resentment returning. 'Until they turn into monsters.'
'Michael,' Cameron said gently, 'kids don't turn into monsters all by themselves. Monsters are made.'
I looked at him. I knew he was right, but I wasn't ready to go where he was heading.
'Michael, think of him as a little kid, little Vinnie, innocent and trusting. He only had his mother, and instead of loving him and protecting him, she was doing drugs. She ignored him and allowed her boyfriends to belt him around. Imagine that the only times she spoke to him were when she was yelling at him. He didn't have a father to look up to or to give him hugs when he was upset. He grew up thinking drug abuse was okay and that it was normal to have men coming and going all the time. It must have been a chaotic life. How could he learn to love? He had to fend for himself when he was only fourteen. It's not surprising he turned out damaged.'
I nodded. I didn't trust myself to say anything. Again, I knew Cameron was right, but I wasn't ready to do what I knew he was suggesting—to forgive The Monster.
I stood abruptly. 'I'm going for a walk,' I said as I headed down the steps, not waiting for a reply.
I walked and walked. I lost track of time, oblivious to my surroundings. It was as if I was trying to beat my body into submission by wearing it out. It was my mind that needed to submit, not my body, but I had so many thoughts running around in my head that I couldn't make sense of any of them. Perhaps it was just that I didn't want to face up to them, or perhaps I thought that if I wore out my body, my mind would tire as well. Eventually, physically tired and emotionally drained, I flopped down on a grassy patch beside the road and drifted off to sleep.
When I woke, the sky was still blue, but the sun had disappeared behind the mountains. There were a few fluffy clouds, and I lay on my back watching them changing shape as I tried to collect my thoughts. I went back over the conversation with Cameron. He was pretty clever, I thought. He hadn't exactly told me what to do, but he had asked his questions in such a way that I couldn't dismiss them. Although he hadn't said it in so many words, it was clear that Cameron thought I needed to forgive The Monster.
He only thinks that because that was right for him, I thought. But it makes sense, came a counter-thought. I lay there in silence for a few minutes. 'Vincent John Giambruno, I hate you!' I shouted. 'Why—' I stopped abruptly as I realised what I'd done.
'Whoa!' For the first time ever, I had given the guy his name. 'Maybe Cameron is right,' I said quietly. 'Perhaps thinking of him as a real person instead of The Monster will make it easier.' I let my mind drift back to the courtroom. I listened again to each barrister's arguments. Surprisingly, the prosecutor was quite compassionate. He didn't demonise my attacker, but portrayed him as a sick man who needed help. He didn't excuse him, either—he didn't pull any punches when he described Vincent Giambruno as a cunning predator who had lain in wait for his victims and then used them for his own pleasure. The defence barrister described Giambruno's childhood in graphic detail. As I remembered the long tale of the mother's neglect, the stepfathers' abuses and the teenager's life on the streets, I couldn't help contrasting Vincent's childhood, and his mother, with mine. Soon I was crying, as I tried to comprehend how anyone—especially a mother—could treat a child that way.
By the time I was cried out, I had made up my mind. Cameron was right: I had to forgive Vincent Giambruno.
It was getting late. I stood up. 'Uh oh,' I said, as I realised my clothes were damp from lying on the ground. 'Why didn't I notice that before? Now I've probably given myself a cold.' It wasn't enough to dampen my spirit, though, and I headed back to the cabin in a much better frame of mind.
The following day I was calmer, but still a little tense. I was grappling with the idea of forgiving the man who attacked and raped me. It was a big step to take. Although I had decided intellectually to forgive Vincent Giambruno, getting the message through to my heart took a conscious effort. I was harbouring resentment towards him, and I feared that being "damaged goods" would affect my future relationships. Gradually, however, I came to realise that I could do it, and as the reality sank in, my disquiet lessened. Cameron was very understanding, taking my occasional "snappy Tom" moods in his stride, and patiently answering all my questions.
That evening, Mum phoned to say that she had been chosen to transport the gang up for the weekend, and that everything had fallen into place so that they could leave on Friday instead of Saturday. She expected that they would arrive at the cabin in time for lunch, and implied that she was letting us know so that we would have a chance to clean and tidy the cabin before they arrived.
'Parents!' I muttered when I got off the phone. Cameron roared with laughter when I told him what Mum had said; he reckoned his mother would have done exactly the same thing.
The prospect of the gang arriving a day early lifted my mood. I was really missing Zoë and I was looking forward to introducing Cameron to everyone.
I almost refused to do any cleaning, on principle; my argument was that we didn't need to, because we had kept the place clean and tidy. Cameron persuaded me that it would be sensible to allow Mum to believe that she had been right, figuring that she would be impressed that we had made an effort. So, we attacked the job after breakfast, and soon had everything looking shipshape. I had to do most of the work because Cameron couldn't get around easily, but he did what he could. We were relaxing on the couch when there was a toot outside.
'They're here!' I said, and rushed out. It seemed that Zoë was as anxious to see me as I was to see her. She was the first one out of the van, and I grabbed her in a bear hug. Travis and Noriko were next, followed by Brett and Clare. Finally, Mum and Simon hopped down from the front seats.
'Man, it's good to see you guys!' After hugging each one in turn, I took them in to meet Cameron, but realised as I was making the introductions that Travis was missing.
'He just had to get something out of the van,' Mum said.
No sooner had she spoken than Travis burst through the door, in his inimitable style, carrying a pair of crutches. What on earth? I wondered, but he made straight for Cameron, who was standing with the others gathered around him.
'Hey, dude,' Travis said. 'We brought you a present. Mikey's mum thought you needed a bit of support!'
We all groaned, and Travis looked really pleased with himself. Cameron's face lit up. 'Wow! Thank you, Mrs. Parker.'
Travis cracked up laughing. '"Mrs. Parker"? Ha! I've never heard anyone call her that before. You'd better call her "Mum" like the rest of us do.'
Simon couldn't resist having a dig at Travis. 'Well, in your case, it's because you spend so much time at our place you forget which is your real mum!' He ducked as Travis took a swipe at him.
I stood back, smiling happily. It was good to have my friends around.
We quickly adjusted the crutches to Cameron's height and he took a test run around the room. 'Oh, man, this is cool,' he said, grinning happily.
'I'm hungry,' said Travis. 'What's for lunch, Mikey?'
'I don't know. I thought you guys were bringing it.'
'We did,' Mum said. 'It'll be ready in a few minutes.' Then, in typical Australian fashion, she and the girls moved into the kitchen to prepare lunch while the guys sat around catching up on each other's news.
After lunch, and after making sure that Cameron was comfortable being left with the other guys, Zoë and I went for a walk. I had a lot I wanted to talk over with her. It was a while before we got around to that, however, because we kept stopping to kiss and cuddle. I don't think we'd realised just how much we had missed each other.
Eventually, we found a grassy spot beside the river and sat down. Remembering my wet clothes from the day before, I had a picnic rug that I spread on the ground first. Happy to be together again, we just sat and chatted.
Naturally, Zoë wanted to know all about Cameron and how he came to be at the cabin. I had asked Cameron earlier how I should respond if my friends asked why he was in the mountains, because I figured that would lead to questions about Daniel—and Cameron's relationship with him. He had given me permission to tell the full story if I thought it was appropriate, so I was able to tell Zoë without feeling that I was betraying a confidence. She listened attentively as I ran through Cameron's story. That led to her asking what my "retreat" had achieved. She put air quotes around the word, knowing that Cameron had gatecrashed my time alone.
I told her how I had come to believe that I needed to forgive Vincent Giambruno, and of my struggles in getting to the point where I could actually do it. I laughed at the way her eyebrows shot up when I used his name, and then had to explain how Cameron had suggested that giving him his real name, instead of the more anonymous The Monster, might make it easier for me to forgive. She nodded. 'That makes sense.' Then she gave me one of her searching looks. Sometimes I had the feeling she could see right through me. 'So…have you done it?'
'I, um, well…'
Zoë took my face in her hands and looked me straight in the eye. She could tell I was holding back, still not quite willing to make the transition from decision to action. 'Michael David Parker!'
I steeled myself for a dressing-down, but then her expression softened.
'Michael, I can only guess how hard it must be, but I think Cameron's right—you have to do it.'
'I know. It's just…well, there's still something that makes it really, really hard. And, uh, I…need to talk to you about it.'
She let go of my face. 'Okay…'
'Oh, man, this is hard. I feel really embarrassed that I even need to mention it.'
Zoë took my hand. She spoke tenderly, 'Michael, I love you. Whatever it is, I'm not going to think any less of you.' Then, her face twisted into an evil grin and she started to tickle me. 'So, spit it out, mate!' she growled as I doubled up laughing, trying to grab her hands to stop the torment.
That broke the tension, and I was able to tell her of my fears that the rapes, and my memories of them, would ruin any future sexual relationship I might have. Not only that, in the back of my mind was another fear: that I wouldn't even be able to have a normal, loving, non-sexual relationship. 'Zoë, I feel used and spoiled. I feel like I couldn't give myself to you—or anyone else—because the fact that I've been with a man would always come between us.' There, I've said it!
'Oh, Michael.' Zoë's voice was full of compassion. 'That wasn't something you chose to do, and you didn't have any control over it. That guy stole your choice, and he stole your…innocence, but that doesn't mean you can't choose to give yourself to someone else. If that person loves you then she'll accept you as you are.'
I wasn't quite convinced. 'Do you accept me as I am?'
'Yes! Michael, look: if we ever get around to having sex, what happened to you won't bother me. We would be making love. What Vincent whatever-his-name-is did wasn't love. He was just satisfying his own selfish needs, and you were the person who happened to be handy. What he did will only affect you if you allow it to. A sexual relationship with someone you love and who loves you will be an entirely different thing.'
She paused and leaned her head on my shoulder. 'Michael, I love you because you're you. The…rapes…happened in the past, and they won't affect how I feel about you, okay?'
I nodded, but I must have looked a bit unsure, because Zoë gave me a passionate kiss that took my breath away. When I broke the kiss, gasping for breath, she asked, 'Convinced?' Between gasps I managed another nod. She pulled me down onto the rug and kissed me again, tenderly this time.
We lay on our backs looking up at the cotton-ball clouds above us, talking quietly. Now that the barrier had been broken, I was able to talk freely about my feelings about Vincent Giambruno and the turmoil he had caused in my life. I shared with Zoë stuff that I'd never told anyone—not even Doctor Cazelaar or Cameron. Zoë proved to be a patient and empathic listener, and whenever I came to a hurdle, she gently helped me over it. I already loved her deeply, but that afternoon I came to appreciate her all over again. In a way, she was playing the role that Cameron had a few days earlier. The big difference, however, was that Cameron had been a virtual stranger, and when I opened my heart to him I expected that he'd be gone in a couple of days and I probably would never see him again. I had an existing relationship with Zoë and I hoped that she would be around for a long time. It was embarrassing telling her about my deepest fears, but at the same time I understood that we would never survive as a couple if I wasn't completely honest and open with her. Later, I would look back on that afternoon and realise that the long talk with Zoë had been cleansing. As we made our way back to the cabin late in the afternoon, I finally knew that I had forgiven Vincent Giambruno. It was wonderfully uplifting, and for the first time in over a year I felt clean and fresh.
When we arrived back at the cabin, we burst out laughing. Mum and the girls had turned the tables on the boys, who were busy in the kitchen cooking tea while the girls were relaxing in the living room. Cameron and Simon were peeling and slicing vegetables, Brett was making dessert, and Travis was keeping an eye on a roast in the oven while generally supervising and egging on the other three. He put me to work preparing a fruit punch, and generously allowed Zoë to join the other ladies.
Now that I was feeling happier, I was able to join in the fun. It was great to have all my closest friends and family around me; only Dad and Kellie were missing. As I listened to the banter between Travis and Cameron, I was happy that Cam was fitting in so well, and I realised that he was quickly becoming as close a friend as Travis and Brett were. Thinking about that, it dawned on me that it would have been impossible to share on as deep a level as Cameron and I had without forming a bond.
After we had eaten and the dishes were washed and put away, Mum put a disc in the DVD player and told us, 'Sit!' Puzzled, we did as we were told. My confusion turned to joy when Kellie's face appeared on the screen, introducing a thirty-minute documentary about her life in Japan. It was fascinating seeing the masses of dark-haired people in the streets and the bumper-to-bumper traffic. Kellie introduced us to her host family and showed us around their home. She took us to school where we met her friends and teachers, and on a trip into the country where it seemed that every square metre of land was under crops. She took us up one of the high-rise buildings in Shinjuku—riding in a glass lift on the outside of the building. It was amazing watching the view change as the lift travelled higher. She took us to Yoyogi Park, crowded with people on a public holiday, and showed us the Sunday street market and entertainment in the closed-off road alongside the park. We were intrigued by the innovative ways the Japanese people had found to save space. Kellie had filmed a service station where the fuel hoses dangled from the roof, a car hire outlet where the cars were stacked in racks, a multi-storey carpark where cars were transported to the upper floors by lift, and a tiny park, complete with trees and lawn, on the roof of a department store.
Noriko became really excited. We had to keep pausing the movie while she pointed out a place she knew, or explained something that was happening. She burst into tears when Kellie surprised her by filming a visit to Noriko's family, complete with messages in Japanese from her parents and younger brothers.
After the documentary, there was a short message Kellie had recorded especially for me. She knew I had been struggling and wanted to encourage me to keep hanging on. That made me cry.
Later, Brett got out his guitar and we sang a few songs. Clare talked him into singing a couple of his own compositions. Brett had been playing the guitar for years, and he had a great voice, but I'd never known that he wrote his own songs. We sat, rapt, as he played and sang for us. The first song was a ballad about three boys and their adventures. Because he had changed the names, it was a little while before I caught on that it was about Travis, Brett and me. It caused a lot of laughs as it brought back memories of days past. There were a couple of songs with beautiful melodies and awesome words, but the one that he kept for last brought tears to everyone's eyes, because it was a haunting and moving account of my kidnapping.
The next two days were a lot of fun. We took a drive up to Bennison Lookout, further up Tamboritha Road, and enjoyed the view down the valley and across the ranges. Noriko was overawed at the huge expanse of mountains and bush, almost completely empty of signs of human activity. We took walks, exploring the area around the cabin. Cameron, newly-mobile on his crutches, really enjoyed getting out and about. I felt guilty, because it hadn't occurred to me that he might have been feeling a bit cooped up. When I apologised for leaving him inside so much, he said, 'What were you going to do? Carry me?' He had a point, and I didn't feel so bad after that. Travis kept us laughing with his antics, with Noriko adding to the fun by playing the straight guy to his comic routine. We were going to miss her when she returned to Japan, but, as Clare pointed out, we would have the Internet and webcams to keep us in touch. I would miss Cameron, too, but he would only be a couple of hours' drive away.
Eventually, late on Sunday afternoon, we packed the van, cleaned and closed up the cabin, and climbed into our seats for the trip home to Sale.
Mum started the engine, put the van into gear and started down the road. I gazed out the window, watching the trees drift by. I was lost in thought, marvelling at how much had changed in a little over a week. The day Mum had driven me up to the cabin, I'd been anxious and fearful, desperate to get the demon off my back. Since then I'd met a new friend, heard an amazing story of pain and forgiveness, and discovered that my demon was actually a real person with a real name, and with demons of his own. Inspired and encouraged by Cameron, I'd managed to forgive Vincent John Giambruno. With Zoë's understanding and help, I'd even managed to let go of the remaining hurt and the sense of violation I had been feeling.
Zoë rested her head on my shoulder and slipped her hand into mine. I turned and kissed her. I was whole again, and my world was back to normal. I sighed happily and settled back, smiling, to enjoy the journey home.
(1) Salter, Anna C. 1995. Transforming trauma: a guide to understanding and treating adult survivors of child sexual abuse. SAGE Publications, Thousand Oaks, CA. pp. 5-33.