Head on a Swivel #metoo
I wonder where I (we?) got the idea that I’m supposed to be happy all the time. Or why I respond with a subtle guilty feeling when someone advises me to count my blessings, or to be grateful, or to expect clouds to have silver linings, and so on.
(stock photo from The Washington Post - click on image for story about "toxic positivity")
What I AM grateful for is learning a couple of months ago (in “PTSD Summer Camp” at Onsite Academy) that it is actually not biologically possible for a trauma survivor to experience gratitude or to “see the cup half-full,” [at least for a while, since healing IS possible] because his/her brain has been simmering in a soup of fight-or-flight hormones that keep him/her on guard.
“Head on a swivel,” my first wife often remarked to me, recounting how she walked around Manhattan at night in the 1970s-80s.
I think that one can only experience gratitude when one feels safe.
If you were a student of former Saint David’s School teacher Rey Buono on one of his notorious bike trips in the 1970’s and ‘80s, I doubt you could feel very safe.
This was a man who smoked Parliament cigarettes, sported a droopy mustache, reportedly had a strange and sickly body-odor, and inspired such fear that a grown man, a Saint David's alumnus, an objectively “tough” man (he paddles into the ocean in post-hurricane weather, so far out that he disappears into the troughs), told me recently that when he saw photos of Rey last winter – whom he had thought was dead – alive and well [albeit in handcuffs], he felt an icy cold sensation hollow out his belly. 40 years after he had last seen this rapist/teacher, his body sunk into shock.
Rey Buono, like the other Saint David’s rapists, was also known for good teaching. These people can do both: rape young boys, and hide behind a façade of professionalism.
Rey Buono would take kids from Saint David’s and later Milton Academy on bike trips, lunch trips, movie-outings. A boy went to the bathroom at a restaurant in Boston once, on one of Rey’s outings, and when he came back to the table Rey asked, “Did ya have fun? Would you do it again? Can I watch?” and then laugh.
Why funny? And what did he mean? How confused was that boy – 12 years old? This was something that Rey reportedly said over and over again: it was his line.
The school knew about him.
His colleagues knew what he was up to. Even the Head of Milton – and, we assume, the Headmaster of Saint David’s, since parents complained to David Hume – knew what he was doing to boys.
For example, Rey Buono added this to David Hume's obituary notes in 2015:
David was the first, and best Head that I ever worked for. He hired me straight out of college, set me up in a fifth-grade classroom, then, gave me all the freedom and support any young teacher could want. From the get-go, he understood my theatrical temperament and need to find original ways to be a teacher.. He allowed my to find my metier, and to fall in love with a profession that is still at the core of my life. The school was a delight, an utter extension of David's energy, humor, enthusiasm and polymathic reach. I could spend hours and pages describing all the things that made it special, but suffice it to say that 12 East 89th Street was a place were all of us, students, teachers, and, yes, even parents, encountered gladness. "And gladly wolde he lerne, and gladly teche."
When he was extradited from Thailand in 2018, the Massachusetts detective who retrieved him from the FBI at JFK Airport, in order to drive him back to MA to face rape charges, told me, “I had never been with a creepier individual than Rey Buono.”
This is the man who Saint David’s refuses to name in any of its letters to the “community.”
This is the man who took 7th grade Saint David’s boys on bike trips in Europe and raped them.
This is the man who Saint David’s declines to investigate for these crimes.
This is the man who Saint David’s therefore implicitly supports, and condones.
This is one of the four men who Saint David’s administration, Trustees, and yes, even teachers, has shrouded in a code of silence, because:
-- none of these people will openly state they are opposed to the rape of students by teachers, and
-- none of these people will humbly own Saint David’s past and make amends to the growing number of men who were abused by Buono and other teachers in the 1960s and 1970s.
Despite its protestations that it is taking all steps necessary to look into the past, Saint David’s is implicitly continuing to support the rape culture that pervades this country, from the top down.
I had lunch with my a friend recently who was curious about how to deal with trauma, how to treat trauma, how to recover from critical incidents in one's life that leave marks.
We sat outside because of COVID – which, who knows, might have been over with earlier this year if our “President” had not lied to America about its deadly threat.
He asked me to explain EMDR, one of the therapy modalities that has helped me process some of the traumas in my life (sex abuse, war, terrorist attacks, prostate cancer ... etc) ("Etc"?!?!).
As an example, I spoke about how I had been molested in public on a train when I was eight, and that a police officer had been alerted by another passenger, and that when the officer drove me home, he asked me “Why didn’t you do anything?”
Every rape victim has heard that line. Why didn’t you do anything? Fuck, I was eight.
But imagine: that question has stuck with me for fifty years, gnawed at me, made me blame myself, made me wonder if I was masculine enough or tough enough or good enough, made me think I was weak. I mean, you carry a memory or a word or an interaction with you for FIFTY years: it has to be potent.
But by the end of the EMDR session with my therapist, a very different (although for sure maybe a bit clichéd) thought came to me.
I had an answer for the cop. It was, “My goodness, what happened to you that you would ask me that question?” And a little burden of self-blame slipped off my shoulders.
Women have spoken about rape and harassment for years.
And, we men have to do the same.
We do not abide by the message that we have received for four years – for, forever, really – that we have the right to “Grab ‘em by the pussy!” Or, in Saint David’s cases, by the penis.
No one, ever, has the right to sexually molest another person, man, woman, or child.
Wake up, Saint David’s. And everyone else.
For a list of resources for survivors, check out this.