In college, Mills, in love with a girl, was sent to a co-ed summer camp funded by the UJA-Federation, a Jewish philanthropic organization. Director Dan Farinella, with his “big shoulders, strong arms and broad chest”, “a pack of cigarettes rolled up in his left shirt sleeve”, likes to ride horses with male campers.
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One evening, after a sex education movie, Farinella summons Mills saying, “Don’t worry, you haven’t done anything. I just like getting to know my campers. He then proceeds to test and groom Mills, taking him for long walks, questioning him about masturbation, taking advantage of his isolation. Mills is flattered, as are his parents when Farinella shows up off season, bringing a box of cannoli when he takes Mills for a “projects” weekend at camp.
Once on their beds in the infirmary, Mills says, Farinella tosses him a pornographic magazine, pushes him onto a mattress, and sucks him off. “I closed my eyes and prayed,” Mills writes. “I am not here. I am not here.When he opens his eyes, “I was floating, looking at my body, as if it belonged to someone else.
Anyone who has listened to the stories of survivors of abuse will recognize certain characteristics – the dissociation, the shame, the self-flagellation. But Mills has his father’s instincts as a writer. He fills his story with indelible detail – the Brylcreem in the hair of his predator, the sickening compliment Farinella gives Mills’ stepfather when he arrives to invite Mills to the Bahamas for Christmas. And Mills does a nuanced job of capturing his own emotions, how he blames himself for being turned on, how he rejoices when Farinella gives him a Led Zeppelin album, how he imagines the glowing letter of recommendation his abuser will write to colleges.
This commitment to honesty continues in the book’s second section, “Flight”, as Mills talks about his descent into “drugs, petty crime and paranoia”. He sabotages promising relationships with women, joins a yeshiva in Jerusalem, drops out of college, then volunteers in a refugee camp in Thailand, where he falls ill. When a doctor tells him he is suffering from post-traumatic stress, Mills returns to New York to seek help.