July thirteenth is a complicated day.
My Grandmother died in 1994. She was losing her battle with colon cancer and had come home for palliative care. Her doctor prescribed Morphine for her, and was very careful in his explanation of how much to take, and how much to not take, as too much would be fatal. He knew her. He knew she would want this information.
Two days before she died, I sat at the foot of her bed, with her propped up on pillows, and frankly very lively. She was weakened but not sickly. We laughed and cried, and asked questions of one another, the answers to which we'd always wanted to know, or had forgotten.
Toward the end of the visit, I said to her, "So if there's a way for you to communicate to me from beyond, let's agree now on what that is, so I don't miss it."
To her it seemed a reasonable request, and soon we agreed that the communication would be "713." The number has recurred throughout our family history, to this day, to an almost supernatural degree. It was the day my Uncle Van died. When he died, he had seven savings bonds and thirteen two dollar bills. His safe deposit box number was 713. Since then, 713 appeared in flight numbers, identification numbers, restaurant receipts, ticket numbers, lottery and phone numbers, the exact minute we looked at the clock – everywhere, and with a truly uncanny frequency.
After I left, my Grandmother made herself a cocktail of ginger ale and Morphine, and slugged it down. The next day she was in a coma, and the day after that, she was gone.
When I was a kid, I had a mentor. I met him when I was twelve. Being a well-known and successful lawyer, man about town, and pillar of the community, Nelson quickly won the trust of my family, who cheered the good influence he would certainly be on me. He was the cool stepfather I never had, a best friend, and protective big brother. Soon I was talking about how I wanted to be a lawyer, and he pledged to help me pursue it if that was what I wanted to do. He taught me how to sail, and about the law, and how to play racquetball. He also taught me how to have sex, and how to preserve the specialness of our relationship with secrets and lies.
In the six years from twelve to eighteen, I would see him every five or six weeks - infrequently enough so as to not arouse suspicion. The visits would include concerts, sailing trips, drives in sports cars, days at the beach, and conferences, and fairs, and they were always punctuated with sex.
The first experience with him was terrible, but it spoke to an interest in men that was familiar to me from my earliest memories. The last experience was only memorable because it was on the day before my eighteenth birthday. It was a brief and intense milestone, and one I think we both knew would be our last.
I knew well, and all along, that it was illegal and something that nobody would understand. It wasn't until college that I recognized that I hadn't been loved, but molested.
When he ran for a seat on the school board, I told my family what had happened to me. They experienced a full spectrum of emotions, as you might imagine, and I found myself comforting them as I'd really made peace with it. We went to the police and were warned of what would come of coming forward, being questioned, being disbelieved, and disparaged. And besides, I had no evidence. That was the security he had being a lawyer: he made sure there was no evidence. Undaunted, we told everyone we knew about what had happened, and being a small town, it spread quickly, and then I received a cease and desist letter.
I went to his office, unannounced, and he saw me right away. I wanted to tell him that I was no longer his victim, and that I was taking myself back. No more would I be Bronson who was molested, I'd just be Bronson. He sobbed behind the desk. I also forgave him, and told him I hoped that his wife never discovered she was married to a monster. He pointed out how I was making it harder on myself by talking about it, and that he would have no choice but to sue me if I continued.
I threw the letter on his desk and said, "Go ahead and sue me, and I'll hold a press conference so detailed that you will want to kill yourself." Then I left.
The years passed, my family healed up and I moved on. I went to college, began my coming out process, and started writing a screenplay about my experience - a musical. After college, I carried it to Ft. Lauderdale where I lived with my best friend, Chad and, of course, I told him what had happened. Three years later, I moved to Los Angeles, and Chad moved back to our hometown, to go to work in his parents' furniture store.
One day, Nelson came into Chad's store with a twelve year-old boy. Chad, being a salesman, pointed out the children's furniture section, and Nelson quickly clarified that the kid was not his, but his "protege." Then Nelson introduced himself, and Chad – not missing a beat – said, "Oh, I know who you are. My best friend is Bronson Page."
With that, Nelson suddenly had to be somewhere else, so he rounded up the boy and they left the store. When I heard the story, I was left with the knowledge that it's still happening, and caught between keeping it behind me and taking action. Not long after that I was contacted by people from my hometown who had heard the stories about Nelson.
I talked with a friend of mine who was in law school, and he told me about a little known legal loophole that would allow me to get my story into the public record, with little to no legal exposure. I wrote an exhaustive document – a civil lawsuit – in which I described everything I could remember, with exacting detail that only a person who had had the experiences would know. False accusations are vague; the detail provided me with credibility. I followed the instructions given to me by my friend: file the complaint, call the clerk of courts to confirm receipt, get the case number, and then withdraw the complaint without prejudice. Without prejudice meant that I was not pursuing the complaint, but stood by its claims. Once in the public record, it would come up on the radar of journalists looking for stories, and Nelson couldn't stop it or have it expunged.
Usually, when one files this kind of suit, they have the defendant notified by being served. I was able to skip this, since the complaint really only had life for an hour or two and besides, being a scandalous claim in a small town, Nelson was tipped off immediately by the clerk.
Of course, Nelson denied it vociferously, categorically, and carried it so far that he denied ever having known me for more than a few days. He compounded it by saying that I'd concocted the story because I was disappointed that he didn't take an interest in my Mother, who was single when I met him, and he went even further, saying that I'd started this smear campaign to reinvigorate my Mother's acting career. (She had retired from acting years before.) The more he lied, the more it seemed obvious that it was the truth. At least to me.
Then he went to a hotel in Yosemite and tried to kill himself with over-the-counter medication, leaving a note blaming me for the stress in his life that had driven him to it. He was unsuccessful, and the story got no traction in Naples. In fact, most of the town took his side, nonetheless, and pilloried me for making such a slanderous claim. There were a few who believed me and communicated their support. One of them was outraged enough to send my lawsuit to Jeb Bush, who was Florida's Governor at the time.
Governor Bush saw merit in my complaint and called for an investigation.
I was contacted by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and worked with them on their investigation. After four years, they discovered that the children molested by Nelson were thirty in number: twenty-nine boys and one girl. The girl was six. The boys were all twelve to eighteen, and looked very much alike, with dark eyes and hair, and tan skin. Several of us were in therapy long term. Three of us didn't recover and committed suicide. Two of us were in prison. Some of us met Nelson when he was just eighteen. The last of us was with Nelson in his fifties.
They arrested Nelson in the Spring, and the town was in shock. How could it be true? How could a monster be in their midst, on the school board, and in their church? How could nobody have ever said anything?
Nelson made bail for a paltry $10,000 and was released to his parents' custody to await trial. I would imagine that his wife and children were devastated. I know his wife was. She had an altercation with him in their driveway, and had a phone in her hand the whole time - a call with a 911 dispatcher on a recorded line. (She had clearly learned something from being married to a lawyer.) The recording captured Nelson's further incriminating statements, that would prove useful in both a criminal and civil context, and in public opinion as it was on the local news by end of day.
Days later, Nelson awoke at dawn and walked to a nearby park, sat in a child's swing set, and shot himself with his Father's gun. A friend learned of it on the news and called me. I was at work in Los Angeles. It was lunchtime. Somehow I knew why she was calling so I wasn't surprised when she said, "Nelson shot himself."
It was July thirteenth. 7/13.
I hung up the phone and cried from relief that it was over. I walked around the grounds outside the office laughing because I used the law to catch a lawyer. I said, "Fuck you, Nelson" over and over and over again. I felt like I was in a movie. I felt bad for his family, imagining their loss, and just before I called my Mom, I thanked my Grandmother.