In the summer of 1970, Chuck Falco was a handsome and charismatic 28-year-old scoutmaster at Camp Waubeeka, in upstate New York. I was eleven when he molested me.
He had quite a system going. He devised an “Indian Weekend,” gathering the cutest boys of three different troops to wear loincloths and run in foot races. Before the race, he took us into the teepee, two-by-two to rub Vaseline on the sides of our scrotums, because we might otherwise chafe them, he told us. Amongst ourselves, we thought this was a little weird, but none of us imagined there was a sexual component to what he did. Nor did we mind posing, later, for very artistic portraits he took of us sitting on a log overlooking the lake. When developed, he even sent copies of the photos to our home addresses; that’s how in-plain-sight his grooming was. My parents thought it was a lovely picture. It didn’t cross their mind that the photo would be sold and exchanged in pedophile circles for years to come.
That night, Chuck made sure my sleeping bag was next to his, and then, while telling less-than-enthralling stories around the campfire of being a marine in Okinawa, reached into my sleeping bag and put his hand on my penis, his movements concealed by the bunched-up sleeping bags. At first I was too shocked to react, and then as he began to jerk me off, too aroused to stop him. Soon enough, I had my first orgasm, somehow concealing my gasps of pleasure in the half-darkness. (I was too young to produce any semen.)
After everyone fell asleep, Chuck unzipped my bag and reached one arm around me, pulling me close until he ejaculated onto my back. After some long minutes, I meekly asked him to stop and he complied, saying a rather strange thing as he withdrew: “These things happen too easy.” He didn’t ask me not to tell, or threaten me if I did. It was an omission that still surprises me.
I did tell. I told another boy, Bruce, who told my brother, also a scout, who told my father. When I got home, my mother asked for details, but I was too uncomfortable to tell her any, only describing it as “some touching down there.” I don’t remember my father asking for specifics, only him telling me that he’d called the camp supervisors to suggest that Chuck’s contract not be renewed. Not that he be fired, just not rehired. The discretion of it all!
Later, my parents told me that they worried that if I had to recount what happened to the police or in court, that it might traumatize me. I don’t doubt that they believed this, but I think in reality they were unable to admit to themselves their real fear: finding out that some parts of that night had sexually excited me. On some level, they knew they had a gay child and didn’t want to hear anything resembling a confirmation of that reality.
In 2019, a massive class action lawsuit was filed against the Boy Scouts on behalf of over 80,000 boys who’d been victims of sexual abuse as scouts. Because it happened so long ago, I didn’t qualify at first, but when New York lifted the statute of limitations for all claims of sexual abuse, I signed on to the lawsuit. As part of my filing, I had to extensively describe not only the abuse that occurred, but also any lifelong consequences. Only then did it start to dawn on me that my sexual precocity in my teens might have been a direct result of Chuck’s abuse.
I was a junior in high school when I started slipping into New York City to go to gay bars, lying very creatively to my naïve parents about a fictitious circle of Manhattan prep school friends. A year later, spending my senior year at a French high school, I ferreted out the Montpellier gay scene, met and fell in love with a 29-year-old named René, and moved in with him after only a month. When my mother announced she was coming to visit, all my lies unraveled. My transatlantic coming out was an extremely dramatic affair.
In my twenties, I spun my youthful foibles into amusing dinner party anecdotes, enjoying the wide-eyed reactions at tales like that of running into my AP American History professor in the Mineshaft. Even after years of therapy and a midlife foray into true crime that landed me in prison, I had never really examined the possibility that my headlong pursuit of adult men while still in my teens may have had something to do with a desire to re-enact my encounter with Chuck, but with me in the position of power.
It’s impossible to be sure what really drove me, testosterone being a very powerful drug, but I do know I paid a high price for growing up so fast. After a sparkling first monthtogether, my French boyfriend turned out to be depressed and brooding, and it took me many years to rid myself of the gnawing certainty that the rug would be pulled out from under me as soon as I really fell hard for someone. When I could have been writing entire novels in college, I was getting drunk in every gay bar in Manhattan and doing drugs on every dance floor, ingraining those addictions into my behavior for years to come. I seroconverted before I was twenty, guaranteeing that HIV would define my life for decades.
When I blogged about my molestation in 2017, Bruce (the boy at camp that I’d told about it), now in his late 50s, reached out to ask me to ask if I knew what had happened to Chuck Falco, attaching links to several newspaper articles in case I didn’t. That’s how I learned that he was serving multiple life sentences in a Florida prison for sexual assault and kidnapping of six different minors. There was also a manslaughter conviction for the killing of a fourteen-year-old caught breaking and entering Chuck’s home in 1994—the victim of a booby trap that had been Chuck’s specialty in Vietnam. Bruce also told me that Chuck’s abuse was well-known to camp staff, but he had terrorized them into keeping their mouth shut.
In the time it took me to read the articles, my memory of Chuck’s abuse was irrevocably altered, retroactively colored with the knowledge of the damage he went on to inflict. Perhaps if my parents and the camp staff had reacted as they should have, Chuck would have gone to jail, but more likely he’d have simply been fired and perhaps ordered not to work with children. These toothless penalties are what happened to the abusers of many of the co-signatories to the lawsuit against the scouts with whom I exchanged stories. At least that’s what I tell myself when I think of that poor murdered boy and the six runaways Chuck later sequestered at his isolated tree farm.
I shudder when I think about I tried to look him up in the Bronx phonebook when I was fifteen, unable to find him because his last name was too common. Had I tracked him down, I wasn’t going to reproach him for what he did; I hoped to hook up with him. My failed search for Chuck did not stop me from hunting elsewhere. In the hospital for a minor operation on an infected toenail, I picked up the thirty-year-old in the next bed. Only his hernia prevented us from actually doing anything. By the next year, I’d visited my first gay bar on Christopher Street. My foot remained on the accelerator until I was 45, prison teaching me the hard way that perhaps I should try living at a sane, even slow pace, free of secrets and lies. My life has been amazingly sedate ever since, including a wonderful marriage.
I have long said that there is no proof that anything could have been any different in one’s life, but a lot of proof of the inverse, because what happened is indeed what happened. So I don’t waste time on regret. But I do allow myself temporary fugues into alternative paths that I may have taken. I periodically wonder who I might have been had I never laid eyes on Chuck Falco, and he’d never laid hands on me.
Mark Olmsted has been a screenwriter, essayist and blogger for over 30 years, best known for his work in Genre magazine, the Huffington Post and Medium. He is the author of Ink from the Pen: A Prison Memoir (Nuance Titles), and will be the subject of two episodes of the Everything is Stories podcast in June. He lives in Los Angeles with his husband, David, and is at work at a novel imagining an alternative history of a world without AIDS.