Cape Cod Quarantine: Ode to the Outdoor Shower

Text and photos by Sarah E. Murphy

There are two things fundamental to my upbringing that have been missing from my life for the past twenty years – a dog and an outdoor shower. My husband and I are currently all set with pets, since our 15-year-old cat keeps us up all night, every night, due to his geriatric OCD issues, which are getting increasingly worse with age. Sometimes I think his younger brother would prefer to go back to sharing a cage at the rescue organization just so he can get some sleep, and there are many nights I’d consider joining him. Therefore my dreams of having another Great Dane (maybe a blue one this time), or boxer or Rhodesian Ridgeback are currently on hold. I’m okay with that for now…

But I’ve been lamenting my lack of an outdoor shower for years, primarily because it’s a connection to my childhood. We even had one (albeit just a shower head) on the back of our house in West Newton, where we lived before moving full-time to our summer house in Falmouth Heights in the early 70s. That set-up was primitive in comparison to what I’d later come to know, for growing up on Cape Cod, the outdoor shower is part of life’s backdrop, an extension of home.

Holding my palm up, while huddling in a sandy bathing suit, waiting for the water to warm up. The persistent trickle of running water mingling with a wire brush scraping against the grill. The pungent perfume of charcoal briquettes wafting through the air along with James Taylor on WCIB.

Back before global warming, when we actually had four seasons, the outdoor shower was perpetually running, from steamy spring days to rainy fall nights.

Earlier this summer, Chris and I felt extremely lucky to get on Joe Calfee’s schedule for some long overdue home improvement projects. Joe’s reputation for quality work precedes him, and finding an honest, expedient contractor is no small feat, so he’s always in demand. But you won’t find a fleet of vehicles all over town bearing his name, just his signature red pick-up. As a Falmouth native, he cares first and foremost about preserving the character of our town by maintaining the charm of its homes. Instead of pointing out cracks, he looks for potential. He doesn’t sell you on things you don’t need or make promises he can’t keep. So when he said he had time to add a shower to his to-do list, Chris put his dreams of a shed on the back burner for my sake.

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Summer 2020 has been one for the books. For the first time in 48 years, it’s mid-August, and I haven’t even put my toes in the water. I feel like an alien as I drive around the Heights hill and see hordes of people crowded on every inch of beach, vaguely remembering the shocking relief that comes only from saltwater meeting skin. Or to use a different cliche, feeling like a proverbial fish out of water. An alien fish. 

The shower has been my saving grace…

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Not only did we get an outdoor shower, we got a unique work of art, constructed with cedar and pressure-treated posts. The yin-and-yang curves allow for more air flow and also resemble waves, a perfect theme for this ocean-loving Pisces, and the shower head and hooks are thoughtfully placed with a petite person in mind.

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There’s even an adorable little bench…

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I took my first outdoor shower – at my own home – for the first time in two decades, on a cool and starry moonlit evening two weeks ago. A slight breeze danced through the trees, the neighbors’ wind chime at its heels. Just around the corner, I could hear the Island Queen’s last ferry of the night signaling its way back home to Falmouth Harbor.

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Thank you, Joe. It finally feels like summer again…

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Catholic Crimes: a Survivor’s Story

By William Verdad

Intro by Sarah E. Murphy

It was February 2019, and I was packing for my first trip to Rome, when I received a Facebook message from a friend thanking me for an article I had just written about clergy sex abuse. In it I shared the story of a man in my hometown of Falmouth, Massachusetts, now in his early fifties, who endured a decade of abuse at the hands of Monsignor Maurice Souza at St. Anthony’s Church in East Falmouth. We were following his story to Vatican City, where we would peacefully protest the Pope’s summit that was called to supposedly address the issue. My friend could relate to the experience of finally speaking his truth after so many years, for he too was coming to terms with what happened to him as a boy in another Massachusetts town, at St. Brigid’s Parish in Lexington in the late 1960s. 

Earlier this week, he decided it was time to come forward and name his abuser, the late Reverend John Patrick “Fitz” Fitzpatrick, in the hope of helping not only himself, but other survivors, and offering families of survivors a window into their loved ones. Perhaps this has happened to someone in your life, but he or she isn’t ready to come forward. Or perhaps that person has blocked it all out. My friend is tired of shouldering the burden of misplaced shame that accompanies keeping secret an experience no child or adult should ever endure. While he isn’t ready to be identified by his own name just yet, he doesn’t want to be a proverbial “John Doe.” He’s chosen the name William “Verdad” for a reason, for it translates to “Determined Guardian of Truth.” 

This is his story…

Speaking My Truth

by William Verdad

I need to get this on paper, or “out there,” so to speak. My experience as a victim of childhood sexual abuse represents one of thousands, maybe millions. I am a statistic, but it’s finally time to share the actual words and story with the people it could potentially help. Abuse of this kind alters lives drastically and permanently. 

When I was a child, I was raped about a dozen times by two priests from my childhood parish. I blocked out the experience for over 40 years.

I am now 60 years old.

I finally began to remember about ten years ago, when I ran out of money for drugs and alcohol, and moved to my brother’s house to dry out. It took months, but one day it all finally started to come back. John and I were watching Mystic River, a film I had tried to watch a few times but always walked away from as soon as it got difficult. This time it triggered something.

“I just thought of when I was a lector as a young boy. I read from the Bible at mass a couple of times, didn’t I?” I looked to him to validate my recollection.

“Yes, but probably more like a dozen times,” he said. 

This news was significant in putting the pieces together, as John’s memory has always been better than mine, and he is older, so I knew it must be true.

I began firing questions at him, starting with my age at the time. Nine or ten was his response. 

Then it hit me – the church said I had been chosen as the youngest boy ever to read the Bible to a Roman Catholic crowd. Ever. Suddenly this seemed incredulous. Wow….ever?! That’s pretty noteworthy. How had I forgotten that for so long? 

Bits and pieces began to come back. My mother and the whole family were so proud. What an honor.

I remember thinking, ‘why me?’ I didn’t ask for this. I am horribly dyslexic and can’t even read that well. Actually, I am terrified, but everyone seems so proud and excited, so I don’t want to disappoint anyone. I’ll practice a lot and I’ll be okay.

It was always Father “Fitz” and another priest who gave me my assigned reading, and each time, no matter how much I read it, I still didn’t really get the meaning; the words were unfamiliar and hard to pronounce.  They would pull me out of religious education class (which was held in a building on church grounds), and we’d go to the basement to rehearse my reading.

At first I welcomed the chance to practice, since I was dreading having to read in front of hundreds of people on those Sunday mornings. Next, I remembered asking them why we didn’t actually practice when we were in the basement. Their demeanor changed in an instant from being sweet and complimentary to cruel and harsh.

The same thing happened when I questioned why my pants were belted at a different hole and my shirt was tucked in a way that I would never do. Oh, they got so very angry when I asked that.

I noticed that when they brought me back to class, much more time had seemed to pass than made sense. Although it was held on Thursday afternoons for two hours after regular school, we referred to it as  “Sunday School.” I recalled getting in trouble often with my teacher for falling asleep at my desk after returning from the basement. This happened many times, but at the time, I was just glad that it made the day seem shorter.

A few weeks after the incident watching the movie, more memories returned to me one night in a dream.

Waking up in that basement, everything very foggy, only the shaking light of the high cellar window slowly coming into rhythmic focus. Feeling something behind me and being grabbed by it. Does he have his finger in my bum? What is this? He was much older, and I heard him snap at the younger priest, who quickly put a cloth doused in something over my face.

The memories continued. I would read the verses once, then they would put a cloth over my mouth and nose and put me face-down on a high table. Waking back up every time to one holding me upright and the other waving an amyl nitrate in my face. I later asked them what they had done to me. Was it a medical thing? I had no real understanding of sex, but did remember doctors putting thermometers into my anus. They were very, very angry at my question and said it was a bit like that, but it must be kept secret and that I was special.

 

Then it began to be a threat that if I told anyone I would break my mother’s heart. They said if I didn’t stay quiet they would take the big Easter reading away from me, and that was a huge honor.

I kept my mouth shut. I loved my mother so much, and she was so proud. But at one of the Sunday readings, I was massively nervous. It was a lot of letters from Paul to the Corinthians, stuff I didn’t get. I was a kid who asked a lot of questions, and they didn’t like that. I asked if I could read something easier that I could understand; I think I even suggested something from the Psalms, something about love or helping friends. This also made them very angry, so I didn’t ask again. 

I got through the reading and I had to wait in the wings to read again. I was with the two altar boys. One of them was a year or so younger than me. He was small but seemed so much older. His eyes were very dark and sunken.

As the mass was in progress he turned to me and said matter-of-factly, “Did they fuck you yet?”

“What?” I said, completely shocked. 

“Did they have sex with you yet?”

I didn’t even understand what he was saying. “But they’re men. A man can’t have sex with another man,” I responded.

“Yes they can. In the ass,” he said, pointing to his own butt. 

I became upset and repeated more loudly, “A man can only have sex with a woman!”

Next thing I knew, an angry priest came over to us telling us to never speak to each other while mass was in progress.

The last thing I remember about it all was how kind they were to me at first, and how special they made me feel, followed by the confusion and pain of being chastised and shunned for being bad. I never understood what I had done wrong or what I did to deserve it.

I’ve carried this with me for the past five decades, trying to block it out and keep it all down with lots of drugs, drinking, and drama. Those evil parasites scarred me for life, and aside from a handful of people in my life, no one knew about it until now. Or did they? Those who enable and cover-up for these predators are just as guilty, so I’m sharing my story in the hopes of saving another innocent life from being shattered. And if you’re reading this and you know this pain firsthand, I hope you know you’re not alone.

William Verdad

August 7, 2020 

Children of the Sea: For Courtney

By Sarah E. Murphy

As small, suburban flowers

we were replanted

in more nourishing, salty soil

and the ocean soon became

the backdrop of our lives.

It roared to us on ghostly winter nights

while we burrowed in tiny beds

assuring us we’d soon return.

And so we did.

For at the close of each school year

our sandals found their way to water’s edge

dreading the red swimsuits

and noses greased with sunblock warpaint. 

Instead we prayed for rainy days

too stormy to practice the crawl

so we could revel in the warmth

of off-season sweats

huddled around the Pentas’ TV

watching Ghostbusters and Meatballs 

on a rented VCR from Zoom Video.

And now the sea 

which always joined us 

divides us

as you embark on a semester 

in our ancestral land.

On your last night

while packing

your relinquished your sandals

knowing you wouldn’t be needing them for awhile

so now I’m literally walking around in your shoes. 

I only hope you return as promised 

to collect them

for you’ve always followed your own lead

going left when Mom would say right

a cat always landing on all fours.

You who grew up before I could blink

suddenly singing effortlessly 

for strangers 

while I, the stage mother

stood on the sidelines

clapping louder than anyone. 

Come home to us, baby sister.

You must be missing your shoes. 

Sarah E. Murphy/December 1996

Picking up Courtney at Logan Airport after her semester in Maynooth, December 1996.