Molestation memoir packs punch

Chad-SchroerPee-Shy: A Memoir by Frank Spinelli (Kensington Press 2014), $15; 353 pp.

When he was just 8 years old, Frank Spinelli received a toy medical kit as a gift, and decided on the spot that he wanted to be a doctor. It was a surprise, therefore, when — years later — he flunked out of undergrad college, his scholarship gone with his dreams. Taking the advice of a friend, Spinelli began therapy to explore the reasons for his dark life and med-school failure. The answer, as it turned out, was easy.

It started when Spinelli was just 11 — overweight, bullied, sports-hating and a frustration to his Italian parents, who pushed their son into Scouting.

Spinelli hated Scouting, but he admired the area’s Scoutmaster. He liked Bill, and he knew that Bill liked him. Bill took young Frank out for ice cream; he invited the boy over to his house for what Bill called “boy bonding.” When Spinelli eventually told his parents about this molestation, very little was done and even less was said.

Fast forward: Back on track, Spinelli achieved his dream of becoming a doctor. He opened his own practice in New York and grew his clientele. He seemed like a successful, happy gay man, but old issues still plagued him: sometimes, he couldn’t empty his bladder. Configurations of bathrooms mattered. Other occupants mattered. Urinals were mostly off-limits. It was a remnant of his abuse, and he’d learned to deal with it.

Pee-ShyAnd then, old memories began to float forward. Small reminders nagged at Spinelli. He found a book written about Bill, and learned that Bill had adopted a son.

That opened a floodgate of images and questions. So Spinnelli picked up the phone and called the man.

Is your jaw on the floor yet?  I know mine was as I followed Spinelli on his incredible journey in Pee-Shy: A Memoir. With steady strength and a rare kind of candor, Spinelli writes of a childhood filled with embarrassment and curiosity for forbidden (i.e., “girlie”) things. It’s almost a relief as this formerly-outcast kid lets us see him become a successful adult.

And yet, it’s a mixed bag, since we’re then privy to his falling apart, his self-doubts and frustrations that his body reacts as it does, now that it’s safe. None of this is easy to read — it’s a squirmy book, for sure — but what makes it worthwhile is the sense of courage and closure that the ending allows.

The explicit bits in this book are, thankfully, not gratuitous. If you can handle them, then Pee-Shy is a book that’ll surely stick in your memory.

— Terri Schlichenmeyer

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 19, 2014.