NATHAN Spiteri had the seemingly perfect life of a normal eight-year-old.
He was a fast runner, loved riding his pushbike and played cricket with his mates in the cul-de-sac where he lived.
But in the summer of 1987, at the Queanbeyan pool, he encountered the man who would cast a dark shadow over the rest of his life.
“I’d ridden my bike there, my sister came, too; we’d spend all day at the pool… that’s what kids in Queanbeyan did,” Nathan said.
“I was one of the last to leave that day, my sister had already gone home, the man – a stranger – followed me into the change rooms.
“He raped me in the shower and said if I told anyone he’d kill me and my family.”
Nathan would go on to suffer a five-year cycle of abuse, at the hands of the paedophile, the pair living just streets away from each other in a presumably “safe” town.
The sexual acts occurred at the man’s home, he was in his 40s and had a family of his own.
Then one day, Nathan said, it suddenly stopped.
“He dropped me, he abandoned me, then he disappeared.”
Not realising it at the time, Nathan was suffering from “Stockholm syndrome”, where victims form a deep love for their abuser.
In the eyes of the abused it feels like a normal relationship; it’s anything but.
“This was a guy I had feelings for, he told me he was the only one who loved me, and that my family hates me, and if I told anyone I would go to jail,” he said.
Struggling to make sense of it all, a teenage Nathan began to engage in risky sexual behaviours, with other men, that subsequently ended in violence.
“From 15, I started sneaking into gay clubs and cruise lounges in Fyshwick and I’d do what I did with the man,” he said.
“Afterwards I’d feel so much anger and hatred towards myself that I’d hit the men, I was very violent and, in return, I got beaten up.”
Leaving Queanbeyan for Sydney to pursue acting, Nathan’s life spiralled out of control with excessive drinking, drugs, and violence towards strangers.
Then to New York, where he acted in a few feature films and theatre productions. But the horrors of his past caught up with him, leaving him “rock bottom” on the bathroom floor of a New York club.
“I was messed up on drugs, it was my birthday and no-one came to my party. I ended up in a cruise lounge and bashed a man in the bathroom,” he said.
“Looking at myself in the mirror, I didn’t recognise who I was, I fell to the floor where the man I beat up was cowering, and I said to him: ‘I’m sorry’.
“For the first time in my life, I realised that what I was doing was wrong.”
Soon after, with a friend, Nathan opened up about the abuse.
It felt like such a relief, he said, to finally confide in someone.
“As soon as I realised it wasn’t my fault, I instantly felt the weight come off,” Nathan said.
Through intense therapy, Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics and Sex Anonymous, Nathan came out the other side.
Refusing to let an evil crime dictate the rest of his life, he has written extensively about his experiences in his just-released book “Toy Cars”, the title drawn from the gift his abuser gave him.
“I would sit in my bedroom on my own, all day long, and play with my toy cars. I became more withdrawn from my family.”
Nathan’s story, while confronting, is compelling and would lend itself to a good screenplay adaptation, he said.
But for now, the launch of his book has brought him back to Queanbeyan, stirring up some mixed emotions.
“It’s bittersweet,” he said.
“Dad has terminal cancer, so it’s nice to be back in Queanbeyan, but there’s a lot of terrible memories here.”
From a Maltese family, Nathan was reluctant at first to tell his family about the abuse.
When he did it led to shock and disbelief, but finally acceptance.
While Nathan would have liked complete closure, that isn’t possible, given his abuser died and never faced charges.
“I would love to ask him, ‘why did you choose me?’”
“Then I’d take a baseball bat and kill him.”
He acknowledges it’s been a harrowing journey, but has tried to find some good, aligning himself with organisations in Australia and the US that speak out for other child sexual-abuse survivors.
“If I can turn something so evil into something good, then I’ve won,” he said.
“I’m at peace with life now.
“I want to meet a girl and have a family… I want my happily ever after.”
“Toy Cars” is available from all online bookstores.