“I Think I Died That Day”
by Chris de Serres
“I couldn’t get the little boy to come back to me. I think I died that day.” – Tyler Perry
Back in the Fall of 2010 I received a call from one of the producers of the Oprah Show. Her show was coming to an end and she wanted to do something special. She was planning to do a two-episode show on male survivors of child abuse. They heard about me through one of my advocacy colleagues and wanted to know if I would be interested in appearing on the show.
The plan was to bring in producer/actor Tyler Perry and psychologist Howard Fradkin to discuss male trauma. Oprah wanted the audience to consist of only male survivors. 200 of them. I had been speaking about my own personal story for a few years now at colleges and in social media, but this was millions of people.
I said I would do it. I didn’t really have any clue what this would mean. I hadn’t confronted my abuser. Most of my family didn’t know about the abuse. No discussions had taken place. My stomach turned over as I put the phone down.
What had I done?
The producer called again. He wanted to discuss my abuse. Though I had spoken countless times about what had happened, this seemed invasive. He was uncomfortable. I was uncomfortable. He asked these probing questions. I felt violated in a way that I hadn’t since the abuse.
It was then that I realized that I hadn’t come to terms with my abuse in the way I had thought. As a speaker, I tailored my story in a certain way that protected me from it. I had control over my story. Why did I feel so out of control?
The weekend of the show was a fast, surreal trip. They flew me into Chicago and gathered me together with all sorts of other men. Older men. Younger men. All races were represented. I bonded on the shuttle ride to the hotel with Michael. He was Native American, from a tribe in the eastern part of Canada.
There was two other guys from Seattle yet that didn’t seem to matter. We all looked different, but we were all the same.
Early the next morning they shuttled us to HARPO Studies in a long cattle line into the waiting area. Being a survivor of child abuse means feeling alone and isolated. Men don’t talk about it, and often we don’t even believe that we were abused. Every man in this room felt that they were the only one. It was overwhelming for me, looking around this room filled with self-identifying male survivors. Men don’t gather together to talk about their greatest shame.
At the same time we were awestruck to be on Oprah. Every man in that room that day experienced a shared cathartic moment. We filed in and were seated. In my lap was a picture of a little boy. It was me, long ago. I was 11 years old. It was right about the time of my abuse. Each man here, had a picture of little boys in their lap.
The producer asked everyone to stand and hold the picture in front of us. It was one of the most devastating moments of my life. Oprah asked for a minute to compose herself. She told us how overwhelmed she was at seeing this sea of men holding up pictures of themselves. She too was a survivor of abuse.
Then filming started.
There was a man sitting across the studio from me. His face was contorted in pain. He was inconsolable. The only thing I wanted to do in that moment was to walk over to him and hug him forever and tell him it wasn’t his fault. But I couldn’t.
I haven’t seen any of his movies, but Tyler Perry is my hero. He came in and bared his soul in front of the cameras. He spoke about the first time his father abused him.
“I think I died that day.”
We all did. It was hard to hear because I know it. That moment when a childhood is taken from the child, and you can never get it back.
Somewhat unexpectedly they brought in the producer who interviewed me over the phone. He hadn’t told anyone that he too had been abused as a child. I imagined how hard it must have been for him to call all of us and ask these questions, harboring his own inner turmoil.
On the flight home I thought about all I had lost in childhood and in life. I thought about a poetry reading a few years back. Joy Harjo read this poem called Fear. I often repeated it’s words over and over when I needed it most.
I release you.
I release you.
I release you.
Little boy, I release you.
Quote Challenge – Day One