Touched: A Novel by Scott CampbellTouched: A Novel by Scott Campbell

Touched: A Novel

byScott Campbell

Paperback | March 31, 1997

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Robbie Young is an ordinary twelve-year-old boy about to drop a bombshell that will devastate his small town family. One day he rides his bike home after school, finds his mother in the kitchen making dinner, and speaks aloud the secret he's been keeping for a year, "Jerry Houseman's been touching me." Robbie has been molested and the Young family will never be the same. From that moment on, the novel unfolds with inexorable power. The story is narrated in four parts: first by Robbie's mother, then by Jerry Houseman himself, then by Houseman's wife Linda, and concluded by Robbie himself fifteen years later, when he has returned to town for a high school reunion. Each voice is remarkably persuasive and utterly convincing, and the result is a novel that is impossible to put down as it is impossible to forget.
Scott Campbell was raised in Jackson, Michigan. He is the author of two novels, both of which have been adapted by others for performance—one for the stage, one for the screen—and of a nonfiction collaboration with Phyllis R. Silverman.
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Title:Touched: A NovelFormat:PaperbackDimensions:324 pages, 8.5 × 5.5 × 0.75 inPublished:March 31, 1997Publisher:Random House Publishing Group

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0553378228

ISBN - 13:9780553378221

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1       I am not an angry woman by nature. If anything, I’ve always gone too much in the other direction, being too friendly, too nice.   In high school, I was voted Sweetest Girl in my graduating class. Travis Dunlap and I had our picture taken for the yearbook at the Fanny Farmer on Michigan Avenue surrounded with heart-shaped boxes of candy, smiling sweetly at the camera. At least we were supposed to be smiling sweetly. But we got to goofing around and started feeding each other candies, then he smeared some chocolate on my face and I smeared some chocolate on his face and the photo that finally appeared in the yearbook showed us covered with chocolate, holding up fingers behind each other’s heads as if giving each other horns. I hadn’t looked at the photo since, until a couple of years ago, when I pulled out the yearbook to get ready for our fifteenth reunion. And there we were, Travis and me, looking like little devils. Somehow it seems appropriate now, this sweet-faced little angel/devil, in dotted swiss, of all things, smeared with what looks like mud. It seems almost prophetic.   Travis Dunlap was at the reunion. He’s a hairdresser now in California. He has a dark tan and wears lots of gold chains, his shirt halfway unbuttoned. They took our picture again and posted it on the bulletin board at the Holiday Inn during the party. There he was in his chains and his tan, and there I was in my green silk dress, looking … well, I have to admit it, looking pretty good. A little wide in the hips, maybe, but looking good for thirty-three. Travis held his fingers up behind my head like horns again, but I couldn’t do the same to him, I just didn’t want to touch him. Somehow he didn’t smell right to me. Maybe it was the bottle of Polo cologne he’d doused himself with.   It seemed like a measure of growth to me that I could choose to not like someone just because of the way he smelled, just on the basis of instinct. I’m not even sure I’d had instincts in high school. I’d always thought you had to find something to like about everybody, whether you wanted to or not. So it seemed like a step in the right direction that I could choose to dislike Travis Dunlap, or at least choose not to play games with him. I took it as a sign that I had developed a stronger sense of myself.   But when I think of those pictures now—the one of the innocent high school girl all dressed up and sullied with chocolate, and the one of the self-possessed mother of two with horns sticking out of her head—it makes me wonder about myself. What seemed like growth to me, I don’t know … I’m not so sure anymore.   I am angry all the time these days. When a stoplight turns green, I lay on the horn before the person ahead of me even has a chance to move his foot from the brake to the gas. I can’t get more than a few minutes into a television program before I get irritated and change the channel. And if anyone gives me grief at work because they’ve waited too long for a table, as likely as not I’ll threaten to cross their name off the list and tell them to try their luck up the street at McDonald’s.   I can’t remember when I’ve felt so on edge. The closest thing I can compare it to was when I was carrying Danny, my oldest, but that was just being pregnant and scared. I wasn’t even out of high school and there I was expecting a child. Well, no, I was not expecting a child. Ken and I were not expecting a child. It just happened, and I was upset all the time. First I was sick with morning sickness, then sick with fear about telling Ken, then sick with fear about telling my parents, my friends, the rest of the world. I wasn’t the first in my class to get pregnant, but I was one of only two or three. In 1962, it wasn’t the expected thing, the way it almost seems to be now.   Of course now in 1980 there are bigger things to fear for your children. I’d much prefer to have Danny come home and tell us Sharon is pregnant than to tell us he’s doing drugs—or even worse, not to tell us he’s doing drugs. It’s scary to have a teenage son: You feel like you’re watching them swim a channel full of sharks and swirling currents and all you can do is stand on the shore and knead your hands and worry whether they’ll make it to the other side. But when they do … well, they’ve reached the other side. They’re gone. No longer yours anymore. I think this is what they refer to as a no-win situation.   But here I am going on about Danny, when Robbie’s the one who’s in trouble.   I remember exactly what I was doing when Robbie came in and dropped his bomb. It was a Saturday evening in August, just about three months ago. It seems more like three years ago, so much has happened since then. It was about five-thirty or six. Ken was still at the hardware store and Danny was off with Sharon, as always. I’d been weeding my little vegetable patch and had just cleaned up and come in to fix dinner. I was standing at the kitchen sink, chopping onions for porcupine balls: meatballs with rice and onion and a can of tomato soup on top. It isn’t anyone’s favorite meal, but it’s quick and easy and tastes pretty good, and I was too tired to do much more. I had a slice of bread in my mouth—a trick to keep you from crying, I read about it in the newspaper—and I was listening to the radio.   I was starting to wonder where Robbie was, when I heard the front door slam and he skulked into the room and took a cookie out of the jar. He was wearing an oversize tank top, gym shorts and sneaks, his skin nut-brown by then from being out in the sun all summer, and dusted with light blond fuzz. A sheaf of blond hair fell over one eye. I reminded myself to get him a haircut.   He parked himself in the corner of the counter by the oven and nibbled at the edge of the cookie, staring at the floor. I didn’t really take note of it then, even though it was kind of odd for him to nibble a cookie—he usually just engulfs them—but I’ve played that scene in my mind so many times since, I can see it in Vista Vision. I’m not sure if I spoke to him first—I might have said “You’ll ruin your dinner” or “Don’t slam the door” or something like that—but I’ll never forget the first words that came out of his mouth. He nibbled on that cookie and stared at the floor—and I can see it now, even if I didn’t see it then, I know it was there, I can see it now, his eyes were dark and furious, fixated—and he said “Jerry Houseman’s been touching me.”   You wonder how you’d react. When you see those people on Donahue talking about their messy lives, you wonder how you’d behave if your life all at once turned into a soap opera. I guess I’d always thought I’d know exactly what to say and do and I’d do it without a lot of fuss, crisp and confident as a nurse. But when it really happens to you …   What I did was, I got mad at Robbie. I didn’t know it at the time, that that was what I was doing, but looking back on it since I see that I got angry at him. “What?” I said. I said “What?” and turned on him with the knife in my hand. I didn’t remember I had the knife, I didn’t remember to set it down. And even now I can see the horrified reaction on his face, the shock as he looked up at me to see me coming toward him. He tried to back away from me, but he was already lodged in that corner and he just shrank from me, as if he were melting inside his clothes.   I think I must have gone blind after that. I just remember those two things. Robbie staring at the floor, nibbling on that cookie, possessed. Then Robbie looking up at me, shrinking from me, terrified. After that the memory becomes white heat, as if we were both inside the sun, as if we didn’t really have bodies. I think I knelt in front of him—I think I still had the knife in my hand, and holding him by the shoulders I held the knife right next to his face, his neck—and I think I shook him. Spill, I wanted to tell him. Spill, But I don’t believe that’s what I said. I probably said “What do you mean?” Or “Where?” Or “What do you mean?” again.   I’ve spent some late nights wondering since what made me quite so hysterical—I mean so quickly hysterical. Did I know before he told me? Had I suspected all along? Had I suspected and looked the other way? Even now I don’t know, I really don’t know. But it seems like I must have known, and maybe what made me so angry was that Robbie was making me see it.   I pulled him across the room and sat him at the kitchen table, set down the knife and squared myself, then looked straight into his eyes. “Now tell me,” I said. “Exactly what happened.”   He huddled in his chair as if he were cold, his shoulders drawn in toward his chin, his head scrunched down between them. He actually seemed to be shivering.   “Where did he touch you?” I said.   His eyes darted away from me.   I took a deep breath, swallowed hard. “Did he touch your penis?”   He grimaced and nodded.   “When?”   “Sometimes.”   Sometimes? “What does that mean?”   He rolled his shoulders around the way he does when he’s trying to ward me off, when I’m trying to groom him, or kiss him. “I don’t know,” he said.   “When did it start?”   He bent to tie his shoe.   “When did it start?”   “A while ago.” His head was still hidden beneath the table.   “Robbie,” I said. “Sit up.”   When he did, his face was red. “I gotta go to the bathroom,” he said. He started to get up. I grabbed his wrist. “I gotta go to the bathroom,” he whined, trying to twist himself free.   I realized I was holding his wrist like a handcuff. I let go of him and sat back. “OK,” I said. “OK. Come back.”   He shouldered out to the hall and thumped up the stairs.   I lay back my head. No thoughts would come to me, no words. I just sat there with my mouth open, looking at the little flap of paint hanging off the ceiling. I’d been meaning to scrape and repaint for months—no, it had probably been years by then—and there it was, still hanging.  

From Our Editors

It begins when 12-year-old Robbie Young comes home from the mall one late afternoon to tell his mother the secret he's been keeping for a year: "Jerry Houseman's been touching me". In the tradition of "Ordinary People" and "The Good Mother", here is a powerful and moving novel of a family shattered by crisis, a book which marks the debut of a brilliant new voice in contemporary fiction