In December of 1989, at the age of thirty-four, after decades of not remembering, I began recalling episodes of my father raping and otherwise sexually assaulting me when I was nine years old. I wrote Preludes, initially as a long short story which then became novella-length, based in substantial part on my memories.
Here’s the promo video for Preludes, made in a collaboration with Jennie Kondo, a great photographer and video artist (who designed the cover for Preludes as well):
Preludes is currently available at:
– Amazon’s Kindle Store
(This is the link for the US Kindle Store. For another Kindle Store, please do a search for “John Brooks” or “Preludes” on that store’s website.)
– Apple’s iBooks Store
(This shows a link for the Preludes page on iTunes. Alternatively, you can search for “Preludes” in the iBooks Store inside the iBooks app for iPhone and Kindle.)
– Barnes & Nobel’s Nook Store
and at other ebook sellers to which Smashwords distributes.
Here is a short description of Preludes:
Illuminating the horrors of child sexual abuse from a child’s perspective, Preludes is a novella chronicling the experiences of a nine-year-old boy as he struggles to survive sexual abuse by his father in a middle class American family in the 1960s. Preludes is based in significant part on the experiences of its author, a child sexual abuse survivor.
And here are the opening sections:
The Bedside Table Clock
The boy would lie awake in bed and watch its face—the second hand sweeping across the numbers backlit by the luminescent dial—12, 3, 6 and 9—and the black jots that marked the hours in-between. Sometimes he would reach to pick the clock up and hold it to his ear to listen to the sounds its gears would make, their tug and hum, as they pulled the sweep second hand around and around, progressed the minute and hour hands slowly but nonetheless steadily, moving Time forward, on and on without ceasing.
Setting the clock back on the table, he would continue to watch it until the second hand’s movement would start to seem like a constantly wagging finger, a never-ending accusation, and so, despairing, he would turn his head to stare at the ceiling’s whiteness in the dim light that spread weakly from the dial and filtered in from outside, around and through the shades of his alcove’s dormer windows, but then, fearing he would lose track of Time’s movement, he would return his gaze to the clock’s face, the progression of its hands, and all the while the words would be going and going in his mind: So what do I do what do I do what do I do?
The Week Before
The boy and his sister, two years older, shared the upstairs loft, though every evening, after their mother would go back downstairs after putting them to bed, when they would trade good nights from their separate alcoves, the silence following the two quick words of his sister’s disembodied voice could make him feel utterly alone as they drifted into their separate sleeps and all thought of his sister disappeared completely.
He woke in the middle of the night to the sound of his father’s voice softly saying his name, the feel of his father’s hand gently shaking him. He opened his eyes to see his father in his bathrobe sitting on the edge of his bed.
“Oh, hi,” the boy slurred groggily.
“Hi. Were you asleep?” The words from his father’s mouth came wrapped in a soft warmth.
“Yes,” the boy replied, his mind thick with fog, wondering why his father had come to his bedside in the middle of the night to wake him.
“Good, good,” his father said gently.
Then his father sighed slowly and his words flattened, took on a hard edge as he said, “Well, Sam, you’ve misbehaved and I’m going to have to punish you for it.”
“But I haven’t done anything wrong,” the boy, suddenly alert, replied instantly, kept saying as his father, his voice flattening, hardening further, insisted that he had, then told him to pull down his pajamas and turn over for a spanking, then shushed him, told him to keep his voice down so he wouldn’t wake his sister as the boy continued to repeat in a taut, angry whisper, “But I haven’t done anything wrong!”
Finally, teeth clenched, his father said, “OK, if you’re not gonna pull ’em down, I’m gonna do it for you!” The boy could hear the barely-contained fury in his father’s voice as his father grabbed his pajama bottoms at the waist.
“OK, OK!” the boy said as he pulled his bottoms down to just below his buttocks. He figured there was no use in resisting any longer. “Your underwear too,” his father said, and the boy did as he was told; then, as his father instructed, turned over on his stomach.
At this point there was a moment of peace, a brief lull as the boy lay there, gathering himself for a spanking, thinking, Gee, this is ridiculous. I haven’t done anything wrong. Decades later, as a man, he would sometimes seek solace by envisioning his boy self suspended in that moment for eternity—removed, unreachable; in some never-ending embrace of whatever remaining childhood innocence he’d still, by the age of nine, managed somehow to preserve.
Then, yanking the boy’s bottoms and underwear to his ankles, his father said, “And instead of spanking you, I’m gonna do this.”
The boy felt an intense pressure at the back of his neck, the base of his brain. He had started to make some sort of sound—to gasp loudly or cry out—and that was when his father, now on top of him, had wrapped his hands around his neck and started squeezing while, at the same time, using his thumbs to press down at the base of his skull, pressing and pressing until the boy began to feel as though his father’s thumbs were about to press through his skin. As he felt his father’s thumbs pressing even harder, his father’s fingers tightening around his throat, the boy tried to say he couldn’t breathe. Loosening his hands just a little, his father asked him what he’d said. The boy gasped again that he couldn’t breathe. His father told him to promise not to make any noise.
“OK, OK, I promise,” the boy was barely able to say.
So his father kept his hands just loose enough for the boy to breathe, just barely, and the boy gripped his pillow (had his fingers ever gripped so tightly before?) and clenched his teeth so as not to make a sound. Still, sometimes sound would come out—rasping expulsions from down in his throat; sudden, gasping releases of breath—and he would feel the squeeze of his father’s fingers, the pressure of his thumbs, increasing until he was completely quiet.
Then came The Blackness. Thick and viscous, It would start to fill his mind and it was all the boy could do to try to stop Its surge. The boy was filled with terror, for it felt as though if he went into The Blackness completely, he would lose himself forever, never to return. So he did everything he could to stop It, gripped the pillow even more tightly, clenched his teeth even harder. But The Blackness kept coming and the boy started to go into and out of It, and as he did so, he imagined he could taste It, and that It tasted sweet because It could save him from the effort of staying silent and the struggle of resisting Its surge; and so finally he welcomed It, entered It completely.
What His Father Told Him
He came out of the Blackness to the sound of his father’s voice, edged with worry:
“Sam? . . . Sam? . . . Are you OK?”
His father was sitting beside him again, one hand still halfway around his neck, though loosely; the other shaking his shoulder. His throat felt tight and raw, but he managed a quiet, constricted “Yes.”
“Good.” His father sounded relieved.
Then his father leaned down and the boy could feel his breath in his ear as, noticing a smell on it that, remembering as a man, he would identify as alcohol, he heard his father—enunciating each word clearly and concisely, matter-of-factly, his voice leaden with complete and utter seriousness—say: “And Sam, if you tell anyone about this, I will kill you”—the last four words deliberate and evenly spaced; the k of the “kill” sharp and percussive, producing a puff of air that struck the boy’s ear with undeniable reality. “Understand?”
The boy kept silent, hesitating, then felt his father’s grip tighten against his throat, the pressure of his thumbs at the base of his skull. “Yes,” he managed to get out.
“And that includes your mother. Understand?”
Hesitating again, the boy felt the thumbs press harder. “Yes,” he gasped.
Then his father stood and, as he tied his bathrobe, said, “And Sam, I love you.”
And then he was gone.