I was abused as a child.
I wasn’t molested. I wasn’t raped. But I was abused.
When I was about 4 years old, I went to a new preschool. We had moved too far away from the one I went to before, so I had to go to another one. The choice was simple. My mom took me to different places, but when I saw the preschool sign with a little train on I was sold. I was a huge Thomas the Tank Engine fan and I decided that I needed to go to this school.
There were three classes: the green one, the yellow one, and the blue one. I was put in the yellow one, which was the intermediate one. I was very happy there. My teacher was very nice.
But I was a strange child.
Ever since I was little I tended to not fit in with my peers. In the beginning I would follow my teacher around during breaks. I would follow her everywhere, from the staffroom to the bathroom. I didn’t like the other children and they would often bully me or take my food because I was softer and quieter than them.
During my time at the preschool my name wasn’t Wentzel. I was Thomas (yes, the Tank Engine). I didn’t like being Wentzel who was a plain little boy who lived in a little town with poor parents who bickered and a father who was an alcoholic and a pill addict. But Thomas was someone else. Thomas was smart and confident. Thomas could do anything. I guess you could say that this was where my acting began. I created my own little world and I would imagine that I had lots and lots of friends who played with me. In reality I played alone. I already had social anxiety, and I couldn’t handle playing with all the other kids.
I was in the Yellow class for two years. I was supposed to be there for only one year, but my development was behind. Of course I didn’t know this at the time. My teacher was very kind and she always treated me well. I was happy.
But she wasn’t the only teacher.
The Blue class was run by the principal. I remember her as a tall, thin woman with pitch black hair and a hard face. I tried my best to avoid her, because I was terrified to death of her. She had a thunder cloud that followed her around wherever she went. During my two years at the Yellow class I always had a nagging fear in the back of my mind, because I knew that one day I would be in the Blue class, and that meant that I was going to Hell.
I remember the first time. She had sent me to go and get something in another building. When I got to the big building I couldn’t remember where to go. There were lots of doors in the long corridor. Suddenly I felt a piercing pain in my earlobe. She stood behind me and dug her long, sharp nail into my ear. I can still remember the burning pain. I felt certain that she must have left some sort of scar or permanent damage. I wanted to scream from the pain, but I kept quiet. I simply looked ahead of me and pretended that nothing happened.
From there on it got worse. Certain children took more beatings than others, because they really were naughty, or they were simply too wilful for her liking. I realized early on that the best thing to do was to be invisible. I didn’t talk unless I was spoken to. I didn’t play much. I became a part of the furniture. But not even that could save me.
The one day she decided that she would play a little “game”. We had to guess which colours were produced when others were mixed together. If you got the guess wrong you got a beating. My guess was what yellow and blue (ironically) produced. Like the vast majority of the other children, I got it wrong. I was in preschool, for crying out loud. Those who got it wrong were sent outside. As I stood outside I started to shake. My hands shook like leaves in a storm. Tears rushed down my eyes. I cried before the time, because I noticed that every time she beat the other children she got a sickening grin on her face. The more the child screamed and cried, the more she enjoyed it. I didn’t give her that satisfaction. I walked in with a stone face and stood completely still. In my mind I pictured my beautiful imaginary world where everything was wonderful and nothing was wrong. I stood there as she lashed into me and I walked out, not flinching or crying one bit. I told myself that I won.
But children never win.
I told my mom about what happened. She confronted her and she promised not to do it again. The next day she called me aside and spoke to me. The older I get, the more those words haunt me. She spoke in a low, gentle tone, unlike her usual hysterical yelling. She put her arm around me and she said:
“You know, Thomas, every time you tell your mommy about what I do to you, you hurt her. You not only hurt her, but you hurt your father, and your granny and grandpa too. You hurt me and everyone else. You don’t want that, do you?”
And Thomas kept quiet.
I didn’t speak a word about what happened at school. I didn’t tell anyone how she said that the pictures I drew were ugly and unimaginative. I didn’t tell anyone how she once picked a boy up onto a table and pulled his pants down, instructing the rest of us to laugh at him. I didn’t tell anyone how she made children run around in their underwear to humiliate them. I didn’t tell anyone about the time she hit me so hard on top of my head that my vision blurred and my ears sang. I kept quiet, because I didn’t want to hurt my loved ones. I thought I was protecting them.
There was one specific time that I remember clearly. Each year we had a concert and we had to perform little dance routines in them. My teacher from the Yellow class had to sit in on one of the rehearsals. After we performed the one routine, the principal asked her who she thought didn’t do that well. Before she even finished saying my name, the principal grabbed me by my arm and beat me in front of everyone. I didn’t flinch. But I looked at the Yellow class teacher with new eyes. She couldn’t look at me. But I knew that she had betrayed me too. If any one of the adults working at that school had even a hint of a backbone they would have done something about it. But they didn’t. They let us suffer.
It’s strange to think how one year of my life has affected me so intensely throughout my life. At the age of six I started to wish for death for the first time. I prayed at night that God would let me die in my sleep. Sometimes I fantasised that she would one day beat me too hard and that I would die. I guess I thought that this would make me some kind of martyr for the rest of the children. I wanted her to suffer. I wanted her to hurt the way I did. And I still do.
I was fortunate enough to only be in the Blue class for one year. By the end of that year I still wasn’t ready to go to school, but I had to go because I was getting older. I realize now that the reason for my delay in development was because of early signs of bipolar depression and because of the trauma I experienced at school and at home.
For the longest time during my school career, I continued to be invisible. I was the good little boy, because I was so terrified of making mistakes and getting into trouble. It was only in high school, when I truly began to discover the healing power of theatre, that I became more than just a face in the crowd.
So yes, I was abused as a child. My perpetrator will never face any justice. She will never have to answer for what she did to me and countless other children. And the worst part is that many people don’t even take me that seriously when I tell them that I was abused. I don’t talk to people about it because they immediately look at me with scepticism in their eyes.
No one believes me.
People always say that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but I don’t know if that’s true. The person I could’ve been died a long time ago. A lot of the time I can’t even look in the mirror because I feel so ugly and useless. Whenever I write something or perform, I remember how she told me that I was uncreative. Whenever someone starts speaking in a louder tone of voice, I immediately start feeling panic. I have great difficulty trusting people and therefore the prospect of a relationship seems more and more unlikely. Forgiveness is a nice thought, but how do you forgive someone who robbed you of so much? I am “stronger” to a certain degree, but at what cost? Although I don’t think about it every day anymore, it still haunts me. I might not have given her the satisfaction of screaming or crying, but she won.
One day during that same year, my parents took me to Spur for a treat. The waiter gave me a blue balloon with yellow writing on it. As I turned the balloon around and looked through it, the writing turned green. I felt sick.
I wish I had known before then that the answer was green.
“Careful the things you say, children will listen. Careful the things you do. Children will see, and learn.” ~ Stephen Sondheim