I never knew what to expect on those Sunday trips to Manhattan. I had no choice — another day with Warren! Riding in the back seat of our family car, getting closer and closer, my mind would race: What will he do to me today?

Our parents were best friends. On many Sundays during my early childhood, we visited their luxurious apartment on West 72nd Street in Manhattan — actually two apartments combined into one. The adults drank whiskey and told dirty jokes in the living room; I spent the day in Warren’s bedroom: my “chamber of horrors.”

True, he never physically hurt me; that wasn’t his style. Mental anguish and scare tactics were his game. He figured out very quickly that he had the upper hand with me. He was a bit older and bigger, and he always used it to his advantage.

Warren would sometimes hide in the closet space above the doorway to his bedroom (how he got up there, I’ll never know) and, when I walked in, he would leap down in front of me and growl like a big brown bear. I remember his laugh: creepy and cruel.

I would often go to the room off the kitchen and play the piano. Warren would come in, close the door, and sit down on the piano bench, blocking access to the door. I remember feeling trapped and nervous.

Each summer, our families would travel to “beach clubs” on the Long Island Sound. We kept our clothes and other belongings in cabañas, with doors that were open at the top and bottom. Warren would wait until my most vulnerable time (after I took off my bathing suit) and his sinister face would appear under the door. Of course, I always screamed with embarrassment.

In the swimming pool, he would sneak up behind me and hold me underwater until that frightening moment of nearly drowning. When I came up for air, I would look around, hoping that someone saw this dastardly deed, but no one ever did.

I watched him steal money from his mother’s purse — always with a sly, deceitful grin. I learned then that I could never trust him.

My family ignored me when I told these and other stories about Warren. They said I was exaggerating, and that he couldn’t possibly want to harm me — mentally or otherwise — because his parents were such nice people. They labeled his behavior “harmless childhood pranks.” In fact, they joked about our inevitable marriage.

I cringed at the thought.

One time, in his bedroom, Warren suggested that we play “Doctor” — with me as the patient. He told me to lie on his bed and pull up my shirt. He started fiddling with my belly button while holding a screwdriver, not-so-gently poking and mumbling some mock voodoo chant.

Suddenly, he turned and looked me sternly in the eye.

The room was quiet. He had my attention.

“Did you know that, if I unscrew your belly button, your ass will fall off?”

I found absolutely no humor in this joke.

An analyst would have a field day with Warren. He was a troubled boy with sadistic ideas of watching me (and, I suppose, others) squirm.

Some years later, while visiting Warren’s parents, I met Warren’s wife and daughter. When they were all in the living room, Warren backed me up against the refrigerator and tried to kiss me.

People don’t change, do they?


© 2012 Joanne Shwed