Five years ago to this day, my life would change forever. It all happened after I received an ominous letter. The memory is vivid: For some reason, I took in the mail that day - something I rarely do. Upon opening the envelope, I saw that it was from a nearby law firm regarding a former priest that had headed the local parish I attended as a child. It asked me to arrive that following Wednesday at noon. At the time I was a bit thrown off, but reluctantly agreed to show up and learn more about what was going on.
The office was in Downtown Detroit, about 30 minutes from my home. After arriving, I was led down a long hallway and into a room. I can recall exactly how that hallway smelled: Mediterranean food. They had catered lunch for the office that day and offered me a plate, to which I agreed.
When I finally made it into the meeting room, I was shocked to find myself face-to-face with 37 of my former Catechism classmates, many of whom I hadn't seen in years. It was clear they were waiting for me, as I was the last to sit. Just a few moments later, a law associate would walk in to begin.
She looked around and said, "I'm sure you all know why you're here." Nods of approval filled the room. She continued, "We're gathered in this office today due to some revelations regarding your former priest, Father Kohler. It's to our knowledge that Father Kohler has done some horrific things to all of you. We understand that it'll be difficult to relive those experiences. But in order for us to bring this predator to justice, we ask that you find the bravery within yourselves to detail the horrendous crimes that he committed."
For the next hour, each person in that room described the "atrocities" they had gone through, and what Father Kohler did to them. There were numerous times when the person speaking would burst into tears as they reopened a dark attic of "terrors." For years they were filed away, deep into their brains just so that they could operate a normal life.
After making the rounds, it finally came to be my turn. Seeing as though I was last - forcing me to listen to each person prior - I couldn't help but sit there in complete shock. I didn't know what to say.
After taking a moment to collect my thoughts, I looked up and stated, "Wait…So you're telling me Father Kohler assaulted all of you?" The room as a whole, again, nodded 'yes.' I continued, "Even you, Tom?" Another nod. "That's BULLSHIT!" I exclaimed. "This whole meeting is BULLSHIT! There's no way he fiddled each of you and never once made a move on me! What kind of kiddy toucher wouldn't have wanted to get his hands on this!?" I flashed a picture of me as a child that I carry around in my wallet...
The room filled with a deadly silence, followed my a misplaced single chuckle. My face soon turned beat red from embarrassment forcing me to run out of the room.
For the next two years, I would find myself in a state of denial as the case very publicly proceeded. I was quoted multiple times in the local newspaper on behalf of the Vatican and my Christian faith, boldly stating that these people were lying. But after a jury found Father Kohler guilty on all 67 counts of varying charges, I had to face a stark reality. I had to face demons that I, too, had buried deep within me for years.
I mean, of course I knew in my heart of hearts that he did it, but I refused to find the strength to come to terms with it. My sense of denial was nothing more than some sort of defense mechanism that any child would use had they gone through the same trauma as me. Simply put, I didn't want to believe that Father Kohler had sexually assaulted all 37 kids in my class….except for me.
It's taken years for me to cope with the damage Father Kohler has placed upon my psyche. Since this devastating revelation, I've been to 8 different psychologists, all of whom diagnosed me with severe sociopathic tendencies. I was a victim left to fend for myself. The system had failed me; Even so-called "help" refused to acknowledge the pain I was going through, instead placing blame on my made-up narcissism.
But there comes a time when every person, no matter their trauma's, has to stand up tall and take back control of their lives. While the others were compensated handsomely with monetary rewards following the civil lawsuit, I was left to fight for myself; And that's exactly what I did. Through my incredible courage and unrelenting bravery, I knew I'd find a way to persevere.
For that reason, I wanted to write this open letter to you, father. Your fiddling - or lack thereof in my case - has reckoned my soul with daddy…scratch that…father issues that no one should ever have to deal with.
What was it that you didn't see in me? You fondled everyone. You even tiddled with the kid in a helmet, you tasteless pedo. The whole time you were choosing from the Kroger Manager's Special Mini Meat section when, instead, you could have had this filet mignon.
Thirty-seven kids, and still, I was left behind. I did everything I could for the chance to be chosen. Like during our Catechism class project when we each grew small perennials as a metaphor for Jesus' resurrection...I had the second-best plant in the class, yet your attention never deviated from little Jimmy and his monstrosity of a flower. I wanted your attention, so what other choice did I have other than to sabotage his plant with RoundUp weed killer?
When it was discovered that I was the culprit, you called us both into your office. I thought I had finally done it; This was my opportunity for some alone time. But alas, you led me out after your verbal lashing, only to have Jimmy stay behind to console him for what had happened to his plant. Well, jokes on you, father, because little Jimmy ended up being both of our victims that day after it came to light many years later that he passed of early-onset cancer. Lucky sap. Compensated from both your lawsuit, and the class-action lawsuit against RoundUp.
See, daddy, your denial of my existence plagued me for years. I couldn't help but wake every morning and ask, "Why not me?" But the pain you've brought upon my achy soul has created a man far stronger than you could have ever imagined. I hope you know I now own a media conglomerate - FaHooNews.com - and have established myself as this generation's greatest writer for people who don't read good.
But you...you'll be spending the rest of your days rotting in jail. With all that free time you now have to explore your thoughts, I hope it pops in your head that you were dead wrong about the little boy you refused to grope. I hope that feeling tortures you for the rest of your days: The feeling of what you could have had. I pray that that it sticks to the top of your mouth like the fuzzy feeling you got after each bowl of Cap'n Crunch I heard you shared with your subpar "victims."
I'll no longer...no...I refuse to allow myself to be a victim. I'm free of your burden, daddy...sorry...Father. I won't let your misjudgment of my youthful figure define my beauty and confidence BECAUSE YOUR TERRIBLE TASTE IN CHILDREN WILL NOT CONSTRUE MY HAPPINESS ALL THE WAY INTO ADULTHOOD!
When I sat in that law office five years ago, I could have gone along with the rest and made claims in an attempt to achieve some sort of stolen valor, but that's not me. I know who I am. I'm courageous. I'm brave. I'm resilient. And from this day forward, I can rest easy knowing that I'll always be your biggest mistake…
**For those of you out there struggling with something similar, I'd like to leave you with a little tidbit that helped me get through my tough times. Just know that you are good enough: