Florida, not the happiest place on earth…

Near the end of my 8th grade year, Father Gibson made an offer to take me to Florida for a vacation. While most 13 year old kids in 1974 would have jumped at the chance to go to Disney World I knew what I was in for. He made the suggestion to my parents, who were unaware of what was happening when I was alone with him. I was still too terrified to tell anyone what was happening and I was reminded frequently that whatever was happening was not wrong, it was a gesture of love. If that line didn’t work, and it never did work, then the threats would come. No one would believe me, I would shame my family and be an outcast. Those did work.

I did not want to go to Florida with him. I am certain that my mother thought the time away would be good for me. She probably saw that a trip to Disney would be fun and give me a break from all the drama that was playing out nightly in my house. She had no idea what was happening, I certainly had not told her. Resigned, I packed for my trip knowing that I was going to be the “E”  Ticket attraction.

We flew out of the Allentown regional airport. My parents saw us off, all smiles and waves. I boarded the plane sick to my stomach, dreading what would happen to me in Florida.  We rode rides and saw shows and parades. At night I would try to stay awake and aware of every move in the dark. It was more frightening than anything I had ever experienced. Days of anticipating what he had in mind and 6 nights of trying to be invisible. I failed at the invisible part, I was becoming resigned to his abuse. The more I struggled the meaner he became. I can safely say that nothing in my life has been as frightening as those nights.

While in Florida, as if to reinforce how normal it was for him to be traveling with a child, he would give people we encountered the impression that he was my father or an uncle. He told a few stories to hotel staff at the front desk or in restaurants stories that made it seem plausible for a middle age man to be in company with a 13 year old. He would drink in the evening, as if it was bolstering his courage to act out his fantasies.

I returned to my family after the trip, moody and on a hair trigger. The slightest sound, touch, comment would set me off. I grew very resentful of everyone around me. How could they not see what was happening? Of course a 13 year old would think like that, but the truth remained that I was terrified. I became very quiet and withdrawn. I spent most of that summer riding my bike and exploring the woods near my home, alone. I began isolating myself from friends and my siblings. I was careful to conceal  the  bruises (my Disney souvenirs) and avoid conversations. I found that I could become invisible at home.

When school resumed in September I decided to hide in plain sight by getting involved in activities and sports. I felt like I was two people.  On the one hand I was trying to be outgoing and involved, on the other I was wanting to be left alone, by everyone.   My public act was confident and flip, inside I was scared.  I was scared for years.

Freshman year at Notre Dame, I decided that I would never allow myself to be alone with Father Gibson again. That summer was the last time he touched me. I avoided him at all costs. I was lectured several times by the nuns teaching at the high school for my surly attitude towards priests, Father Gibson in particular. In one particular incident, Father Gibson had forcefully pulled me into the school chapel to remind me that I was to keep quiet. Sister Beatrice  walked in on me telling Gibson to get away from me in a very loud, obscene manner. The noise from the chapel had brought her in loaded for bear. She was horrified that I was speaking to a priest in that manner, especially in the school chapel. Gibson reassured her that all was under control and that he was doing pastoral counseling.  She eyed me with suspicion for my remaining years at Notre Dame. I wonder if she eyed him with suspicion as well? I do wonder why I was never disciplined for that rather profane screaming session. Why was I not referred to the Dean of Students for my blatantly disrespectful outburst in the school’s chapel? I am sure Sister Beatrice would never keep silent about such an outburst. If you knew Sister Beatrice Brown, IHM, you would know that she never kept her opinion of anything to herself. I had to be a topic of conversation at dinner in the convent at St. Matthews that night. Nothing was ever said to me by the principal or the Dean of Students. Why?

As a freshman I must have reached the magical point where I was too old for his tastes, thankfully he left me alone from then on. His presence at the school was infrequent after that. I was quick to exit the room when he was around, but he would glare at me in a silent warning on those occasions where I could not avoid contact.

I suspect he moved on to some other target at that point. I was no longer submitting to authority and fear. I assume 7th and 8th graders are easier to intimidate than 9th graders.

2 thoughts on “Florida, not the happiest place on earth…”

  1. OMG, I was molested on a trip to Fl too. It was 1975, and I was 16. I too dreaded going, totaly suspicious and extremely anxious of what was to happen. He had talked my Mom into taking me with him on a X-mas vacation to Ft. lauderdale. What a nightmare. It started on X-mas night and ended on New Year’s Eve. My “holidays” have never been he same. I told two nuns about it, and they in turn informed the Pastor, who in turn told the bishop. He had the last words; “We don’t want to open up a can of worms”. It also took me over 30 years to ever talk about it ever again. Ha, was he ever right. After years of denial and secrecy, it certainly has opened up a “can of worms” for me. Wonder if I’ll ever get back to “normal”?

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