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  • You were 17, angry, always angry. About what? You didn’t know. Sometimes you found yourself hitting something or someone, maybe getting hit back, and wishing the other boy would lose control and slam you repeatedly rather than just settling you back with a couple of casual fists, stinging you, splitting your lip. You were afraid of your anger. You tried to keep it boxed up inside but that effort cost you, kept you cut off, alone.
    A would-be girlfriend, giving up, complained, ’You don’t let anyone know you.’ And inside a voice: ‘Me and all neither.’

    A school friend invited you to the youth group at her church. In the cool of an autumn’s Sunday night you found hundreds of teens crammed into long benches in a worn hall, clapping then joining hands, closed eyes, singing love songs to Jesus. You were uncomfortable, unnerved, but they were alive and you couldn’t look away and then you couldn’t stay away, drawn into that sprawling family that swept you up and along in its missional flow.
    ‘As the deer pants for the water, so my heart longs after you,’ they sang, and, ‘Don’t get left behind’.

    Around the same time you started fooling with guys. Waiting till that cold, old house was dark and quiet, you slid out into the night to roam the streets smoking and to meet them, older men, in the shadows of those North Shore parks. Amongst the fountains and war memorial statues and azaleas, you learnt that maybe that old emptiness in your heart was in the shape of a man not of God. You learnt that you could make these worldly men laugh with your boldness, your effrontery. You learnt that you had power over them and that, ten,15, 20 years older than you, they also carried longing inside.
    Afterwards one asked, ‘Do you come here a lot?’, breaking into contemplative darkness.
    ‘No, not a lot.’
    His cigarette glowed, a sneer. ‘Just like the rest of them.’

    Caught between two worlds, wanting to belong, finally you confided. And they were so sure. ‘There is a brother who helps people like you,’ they said, ‘Our God is mighty to heal, in him all things are possible.’ They sang, ‘By our God, we will do valiantly, it is he who will throw down our enemy…’
    So you came to be sitting across from a grey man in a shapeless grey jumper. Bert wanted history, ‘How was your relationship with your father?’ and ‘Many boys are abused.’ He wanted details, ‘Where did you meet him? Was it in the surf sheds?’ and ‘What did you do next?’ He was persistent, ‘Should we try hypnosis again today?’ He was inventive, ‘Often the memories are buried very deep and only surface with EMDR.’ His arm swayed rhythmically, palm forward - ‘Follow my hand with your eyes’ - then swept towards the ceiling, ’Eyes closed, what’s the first thing you see?’ He was prayerful, ’Shall we join hands? Dear Heavenly Father …’
    And there was the group. Gathered in Bert’s dim living room, in a circle, humble, confessing, ‘I pictured my friend Tim when I masturbated.’
    ‘What did you picture?’
    ‘I imagined him naked.’
    ‘Let’s support our brother now with prayer. Dear Heavenly Father…’
    Year on year. The timid victories. The pathetic failures.
    You told Bert it was working but in the group your eyes lingered on Josh’s shaved head and broad landscaper’s shoulders. And round the corner from Bert’s, in the dusk on the way home, you turned into the car park and pulled up under the trees at the far end and waited.

    You stood outside the back door of your share house, smoking, thinking, watching the smoke drift. In the next yard, two kids took turns bouncing on a trampoline, their heads rising above the the greyed paling fence.
    ‘Scary man, scary man,’ they called each time they appeared over the fence. For a long time you didn’t hear them - ‘Scary man, scary man’ - and it was longer before you finally realised that the scary man was you. For the first time you saw yourself, a man, a scary man. Not a boy.
    You smiled and squinted into the low winter sun and flicked your cigarette away. And a month later walked away from Bert and the group.
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