The nightmare below the surface; one man's tale of sex abuse

Now 33, Pool - articulate, with a sharp wit - is married and a homeowner. He holds a good job in aviation sales in south Seattle. But Pool knows something about some of the nightmarish possibilities of the American dream.
Pacific Publishing, the Queen Anne News and Magnolia News' parent company, is publishing Pool's story as a cautionary tale for unwary parents, and to put a human face on the kind of horror story so much in the news these days. Too often, in those stories, the human damage done, and the monstrousness of the crime, get lost.
The second half of Pool's story will appear in our Aug. 7 issue. A third part, a discussion with professionals in the field of child sexual abuse, will run Aug. 14.
Pool is not afraid to talk about a subject he believes needs to be faced unflinchingly by society. "It's hard, but not embarrassing," he said of telling his story. "I wouldn't be embarrassed if my house burned down."
"He's very bright and has total recall," Jean Curran, assistant district attorney for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, said of Pool. Curran eventually prosecuted Pool's abuser, who is now in prison.

Mark Pool has a stack of photographs of himself on a trip to Disney World in 1981. In one scene, the cute 12-year-old with a blond, page-boy-like haircut is lying on his side in a motel bed clad in blue pajamas. He's not looking at the camera, but he's laughing.
The bed Mark lies on has obviously been slept in.
The photograph was taken by Mark's 23-year-old motel roommate, chaperone, Little League coach, family friend, future employer and, at the time, sexual abuser.
Maybe only in 20-20 hindsight does the eye, looking at the photograph, zoom in on the second bed.
It, obviously, has not been slept in.
"I was afraid I wouldn't get home," Mark said of the trip that for many 12-year-olds would have been a dream vacation.
Instead, from the time he was first seduced at age 10, until the time he broke away at 21, Mark lived a nightmare of sexual abuse from which he couldn't awaken.
During those years he struggled to maintain a facade of middle-class normality, even while praying in bed at night that he would die.
Eventually Mark fought back, but not before being robbed of his childhood.

A "normal" childhood
Mark was born in 1968 in Rockport, Mass., a picturesque New England town of 8,000.
His father was an early professional in the computer industry. His mother worked in computer sales in Boston, an hour's commute away. Mark had two older sisters. The Pool children were raised strict Catholics.
Mark met his future abuser in a ballpark across the street from his house.
"I would have been 9; he would have been 20, working in the family lumberyard," Mark recalled.
It would turn out that the young man - a former high-school jock, 5 feet 8 inches tall, who came from a hardworking, blue-collar family - had been abused by an uncle.
He started out teaching basketball moves to the lonely 9-year-old who was small for his size. The young man began spending more time with Mark, serving as a role model and mentor.
Mark's father, whose family had been in town 300 years, knew the family.
"When Mark was 4 to 6 he used to say to me, 'I wish I had a brother. I wish I had a brother,'" his mother, Elizabeth, recalled in a telephone conversation from her Massachusetts home. "This is a small New England town where everyone knows everybody. This was not an unknown person. He didn't smoke or drink. He loved sports. He was like an older brother to Mark."
One Saturday Mark was invited to a sleepover in the cottage where the young man lived in back of his parents' place. They watched movies until Mark fell asleep on the couch, which also served as the young man's bedroom. And then Mark was awakened.
"I remember him rolling around and touching me," Mark recalled. "It was like the feeling of being on a roller coaster and your stomach seems to come out of your head."
Mark remembers his host asking, "Do you know what this is, what this does?" as if he were being helpful in sharing knowledge.
"This is what happens when people care about each other," he was told.
Visits to the cottage took place as many as four times a week. Looking back, Mark sees himself as a scared boy craving companionship, whose greatest fear was loneliness.
Even now Mark hates the word "cottage."
For the first six months the sexual activity was confined to touching. Then things escalated. Oral sex was performed on Mark. Then he was asked to do the same. Anal intercourse came later.
As time wore on the child of 11, 12 and 13 continually examined himself: "Am I gay?" he wondered. "Do I like this?"
These were the years when Mark's abuser was also his Little League coach. It was also the time of the trip to Disney World. Even now, Mark says, when something triggers a memory of that trip - a smell, a certain shade of blue in the sky - he recoils.
"It's overwhelming," he said. "I need to get away from people for a few hours."
'The fellow practically became a member of our family," Elizabeth Pool said. "He was the salt of the earth. He was a wonderful baseball coach. He had tons of patience with the kids."
Mark's mother said she was also aware that the young man's home situation wasn't always the best, and that he appeared to enjoy spending time with the Pools.
As for the trip to Florida in 1981, "going to Disney World seemed so much more fun for Mark" than taking a trip with his family.

Fear and self-loathing
Mark, anticipating those who would second-guess his situation in the early 1980s, asked rhetorically, "Why didn't I tell someone or just walk out?"
"Fear, guilt, embarrassment," he answered. "The fear that you're going to be completely alone. That everywhere you go people will know. When you're 10 years old that's a horrible feeling."
The abuse continued. In fifth grade Mark missed 37 consecutive days of school.
"I figured if I can't go to school then I can't go to the cottage after school. I had to figure out a way he could still be my friend. I could talk to him on the phone, but I didn't have to be with him."
The Pools' family physician, in light of Mark's school attendance, recommended a child psychologist in Boston. The one-time session came tantalizingly close to uncovering Mark's secret.
Among other subjects, the topic of Mark's older friend came up. Inside, Mark was screaming with the hope that she would ask the one, magic question, and the desire that she wouldn't. He began to perspire.
The psychologist moved on to another topic.
Her findings: Mark doesn't like school, feels inadequate and not as smart as the other kids. The truth remained buried.
"My parents were clueless," Mark recalled. "I don't think [the abuse] entered their minds."
Also, his parents instilled respect in their children for themselves and others.
"They didn't have fears of us making stupid decisions," Mark said. "I was a good actor."
When he was 13 Mark experienced a kind of epiphany on the baseball field. He saw the way his coach and abuser looked at a teammate's attractive mother sitting in the stands.
"He's not gay," Mark told himself.
"I got scared because I thought she was pretty, too," he said. "Then I wondered, 'Well, what is this?'"
As a high-school freshman Mark stood 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighed 120 pounds. His parents bought him a set of weights. As a junior he stood at 5 feet 8 inches and had buffed up to 190 pounds. Mark was working for his abuser, who had started his own construction business.
"I thought, if I can get as strong as he is, I can stop it by myself," Mark said.
Even so, thoughts of suicide were competing with his new identity as a physically robust teen.
"I knew if I got my [driver's] license at 16 I would kill myself," he said. "I wanted to die in my sleep. I prayed to God to just take me in my sleep."
At 17 Mark acquired his license and bought a used Renault Fuego turbo, capable of going from 0 to 100 mph in eight seconds. Mark found a straight road and hit 100. But he didn't cut the wheel, as planned. The image of his parents crying over his death eased his foot from the accelerator to the brake.
Mark took to the road four more times, cranked it up to 100, and eased off. The last time he screamed to himself, "You're such a chicken!"
"Killing myself was the easy way out," Mark said. "Dad taught me not to back down from my fears. I realized this guy was bullying me."
Mark shut the door on suicide.
"I decided 'I will end it. I will stand up and face it,'" he said.

Next week: Mark Pool fights back.

For comprehensive services and information about sexual assault, including resources for adult survivors, call the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center's 24-hour resource and information line, at (800) 825-7273.[[In-content Ad]]