(By J.B. Mahugh)
Those woods were as much mine as anybody's. A few hundred yards from the house where I grew up was a small, forested vacant lot. It led to a large clearing, encircled by a few fallen timbers that started to decay years before my family and I arrived in the area.
With the advantage of time and distance, I've started to see those woods more clearly for what they are, a simple stand of trees. But that spring day in 1968, I wasn't quite five years old. They were still a place of enchantment.
Was it boredom or curiosity that lured me on? I can't say. Whatever it was, I followed four older boys I'd never met. When they looked back, they laughed at my trying to tag along. But they didn't stop me.
I was soon with them in the seclusion of the clearing. One boy ordered me to take down my pants and to lie on my back in the dirt. It didn't feel right but I did what I was told. As I lay there for what felt like a long time, pine needles pressed against my bare bottom and the back of my legs as they thrust pointed sticks into my private parts. Laughter intensified and increased as the voices jeered and belittled my small shivering body.
An intruder entered the woods. "What are you doing to him? You leave him alone!" It was my mother.
They scattered. She told me to pull my pants up. I did and we walked home.
That was the last anybody spoke of what happened that day in those woods for another twenty-eight years.
It took me nearly three decades to recall what occurred in those woods when I was small and those woods were still mine as much as anybody's. After that day they became something else too.
They became my woods of shame. And it would be years more before I'd clear out the debris left behind, rotting away inside my head.