A shocking tale of secrets, guilt, and clerical child abuse.
“God has made you special, but I will show you how to have an extraordinary life. Show you true love, as God intended for our kind.”
It’s 1978. Blackburn Hamlet is a typical suburban village in eastern Ontario. In this vibrant Catholic community, life revolves around family and church. Then the safe comfort of both is destroyed by the arrival of a predator priest.
When charismatic Father Sweet invites his new favourite altar boy on a camping trip, the boy’s parents insist he go. Trapped in the woods, the boy struggles to evade the priest’s sexual advances. But Father Sweet forces him to make an impossible choice.
Twenty-five years later, he is lost, broken, and angry. His father’s death reveals secrets that spur the man to relive his own past. Desiring justice, in need of healing, he discovers, in a daring rescue mission, a way to achieve both.
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
J.J. Martin grew up Catholic in Ontario and pursued graduate studies in anthropology of religion at the University of Ottawa. His articles have appeared in multiple news outlets, including the Globe and Mail. He lives in Toronto.
Read an Excerpt
One time, my younger brother Jamie and I found a robin’s nest with only one egg in it. It reminded me of our suburban town. Like an egg in a nest, Blackburn Hamlet was snuggled into a forest on all three of its sides. If I could have had my way, I would have chosen to live in those woods, where I felt free, instead of the house I shared with my parents and Jamie on Woodwalk Crescent. Of course, twelve-year-old boys are not given such choices.
Although the town was one hundred and fifty years old when we moved there in the early seventies, a big rush of development had refashioned Blackburn, changing it from a dingy old farming village to a suburb of Ottawa with new houses strung out along roads that echoed with the sounds of road hockey, bikes, and balls.
You could bicycle every street in an hour, easy. Whenever we did, we traced all of Jamie’s and my regimented world. School.
Home. Scouts. Church.
One bright morning, we passed the rectory where Father
Sweet lived. The door opened, and I was startled to see Danny
Lemieux, another altar boy I knew, emerge with a backpack, as if he had slept over. His eyes met mine as I rode past him as if in slow-mo, and we stared at each other without greeting.
It was so much better spending time outside town. To the south was an ancient marsh. To the east, farms and scrub led to the original wilds. And to the north and west, past a municipal nursery and bound only by rivers, was unspoiled land that we kids turned into a playground, outside the reach or rules of adults.
We could be ourselves there.
It was a place of woodland, farms, and muskratty bogs, full of fox and beaver, too close to the city for bears, I believed. We did whatever we pleased on the well-packed mud trails we said were made by Indians. Often Jamie and I would collide with friends,
hiding and then hollering amid the trees and ravines. We built forts, shot at raccoons with BB guns, caught frogs, and slid naked in the clay at Green’s Creek, the local trickle.
We knew that Nature held death and danger. Our parents were always telling us that. But to boys, danger sounds like adventure.
Except for bears, of course. I did not like to think of bears.
Nature was the first place I discovered beauty and peace. You just relaxed and there it was. Truth. As much as you arrived in
Nature, it entered you. It was obvious how to act and what to do.
Everything made great sense. Not like at home.
The 1970s were a time of transformation. Traditions were changing, confusing the adults. And confusing us. At home, I
kept myself organized at all times and thought of myself as a
Scout, even when the troop was not in session. It was my defence.
Exactly as Baden-Powell advised. I made my bed each day and slept at night with the windows open as late into each season I
could. Each morning, the dawn chorus would wake me, and I
could be the first to rise. My first cool breaths could be the wet air of the forest around Blackburn. If I was careful and didn’t make any noise, I could enjoy the quiet of the house. I could even slip outside, and to the garden shed.
There, we protected that lone robin’s egg in the nest we found, and we kept it warm with a box and a light bulb.
I probably gave it a name, the unhatched chick. But I don’t trust my memory to recall, not entirely.
When you name something, you give it a soul. We can’t give names to the things we don’t know, and nameless things aren’t familiar to most of us.
What I do remember is that the egg never hatched, despite the waiting and my hopeful midnight visits. Weeks went by.
Eventually we cracked it open. And there, inside, we found the shrivelled ball of a dead monster.
This was the summer Jamie and I, both of us devoted Boy
Scouts, were building a platform tree fort a fifteen-minute jog from our home into the bush. Finishing our outpost far from adults, before school started in September, was the most important thing in the world to me.
This was the last summer I slept with the window open.
Every person has one summer in their life that claims him, and this was mine.