When we’re children, there’s a lot we don’t understand about the world. It takes growth, maturity, and experience to truly make sense of things, and that can only come with time. This is particularly true when bad, traumatic things happen. Just take it from these people, who recently shared stories about the horrible things they witnessed as children that they didn’t understand until years later.
45. The Fortunate Tattling
When I was in first grade, a girl next to me in class decided to secretly show me her bum in the middle of class and tell me to touch it. I told the teacher because it was weird and girls were gross.
Teacher pulled her out of the class to talk to her. Principal came. Upset adults… I sit there mortified that I got her in trouble. She gets pulled out of the class and never comes back. I think I’m the biggest jerk for tattling.
Later find out she was being sexually abused, hence why she thought secretly showing her body was what she should do for boys she liked, and my saying something is what triggered adults to pull her out of that situation.
44. Beating Out Demons
I grew up in an evangelical unaffiliated church. They believed in speaking in tongues, demon possession, and exorcisms. A local boy who I befriended, maybe 12 to 14 in age at the time, lived in the apartments near our church. He was poor and rough, he cussed, and he was generally on his own. But on Sunday and Wednesday nights he started coming over to the church.
One night, for some reason someone decided that they needed to put hands on him and pray for his soul. He didn’t like that so he jumped back and yelled profanities at them. That apparently was clear evidence that he was possessed, so several adults wrestled him out of the pew and held him down while he screamed and flailed and cussed at them for the next couple of HOURS until he was exhausted and bruised enough and they were satisfied that the demon had left. The hundred or so onlookers just all started praying and crying and dancing around.
That was just a pretty normal church night, maybe a little more spirited than usual. He didn’t return, and in retrospect it’s amazing that the police never even showed up. Similar things happened multiple times throughout my childhood.
It wasn’t until I was an adult and I looked back to see how completely messed up that all was. How terrifying that must have been for him.
43. Dreaming Of You
One night I was woken up by my mom screaming for help. Dad rushed in and grabbed my baby bother, who was unconscious. Dad gave him CPR, trying his hardest to revive him. I was maybe 5 or 6 at the time and I didn’t know what to do. No one was explaining to me what was happening. It was only when the ambulance came that I was sent to a neighbor’s.
My brother was born with a lung problem and he was hooked up to a machine that helped him breathe at night. The electric company failed to let us know that they were going to do maintenance on a transformer outside and cut the power. Because of that, he suffocated overnight and died.
I didn’t know what was happening at the time, and it did not really come up until one night I was in the car with my parents. Then the song “Dreaming of You” by Selena came up, at that moment I just cried so much. I remember asking my parents why did they have to take him, and how much I missed him. To this day I still cannot listen to that song.
42. Mean Minivan
We were in the minivan about to leave the grocery store. Minivan next to us is about to leave as well. Only one of the kids is not in their car. The doors are locked. The kid is crying. Begging, pleading to be let inside. The parent ignores this and starts to leave.
The older sister is enraged, gets out of the minivan, and starts yelling at the parent. Parent lets the kid get inside. They drive off. My mom says she should have just let them drive away.
I still wonder about that kid in particular. I wonder if he ever got help from what was clearly an abusive parent.
41. Weapon In The Woods
I found a gun buried near my school when I was 8. My Cub Scout troop was picking up trash in the woods behind the school. I saw what looked like a small piece of plastic, but when I tried to pick it up I realized it was a mostly-buried plastic bag. I yanked it out, and saw there was a gun inside. When I told my leader, he called the cops. They took it, and that’s the last I heard about it.
I’m pretty sure that you don’t bury a gun in the woods if you own it legally, or if you never intend to use it.
40. Gas Station Shooting
I saw a dude shooting something into his arm in a gas station restroom. We made eye contact through the stall. I was like 8, he looked ashamed.
I had no idea what he was doing but I knew it was bad.
39. Domestic Affairs
I saw my dad wake up every day so early to go for a walk and was fascinated. Soon after he broke one of his legs, and he would still wake up early to talk on the phone. The guy had a couple of affairs with different women at different periods of his life while married with kids.
38. Off The Deep End
I was 8 at the time, swimming at a hotel pool with my family. Suddenly there is yelling, and I look over to see some people crowded around my little sister doing CPR.
Back in the hotel room, when I heard she was stable I was like, “Oh thank god, she’s all better.” Like in the movies where a person wakes up and just walks away.
It turns out brain damage doesn’t really work like that. But still, she’s really happy now, 14 years old and going into high school with support from an aide (in mostly normal classes!). So it’s a happy-ish ending.
37. Thinly Veiled Lie
When I was in my early teens, I started noticing my sister eating less than usual. Since she was two years younger than me I didn’t give it much thought, but would sometimes ask why she only ate a plate of porridge for breakfast and always visited the toilet after heavier meals.
My dad noticed too and would sometimes tell her to eat more, but whenever it was brought up she became very defensive. The part I feel worst about now is that I “agreed” with her and said that she “just isn’t hungry!”
As you might’ve guessed, she was diagnosed with anorexia about a year later, and she’s still in the process of recovery.
36. Bad In Bed
When I was around 5, my family visited my grandma who lived by herself (except when her boyfriend John would spend the night) in another state. I slept with her in her bed, and apparently in the night I would move around and kick and steal the covers. My grandma told me about it the next morning and I felt terrible, so I told my mom, “Grandma says I’m bad in bed,” and my mom replied, “Yeah, that’s what she says about John, too.” I suddenly remembered this the other day and just realized what my mom meant!
35. The Messy Truth
When I was younger, we moved to a lake where most of the people were summer residents, including our neighbor who was living at a retirement home and on weekends would come out to the lake. One day, before heading off to church, I went down to say good morning and when I got there he wasn’t moving, just sitting by his front door with a broom across his body. I went home and told my legal guardian he wouldn’t wake up. When I got back from church, there were police officers waiting to ask me questions about what I had seen. I was told that he had passed away in his sleep.
It wasn’t until I was talking to a friend about it in high school that I realized multiple police cars probably wouldn’t show up for a simple natural death. So I did some online searching.
It turns out our neighbor had been attacked and tried to defend himself against the robber. In the scuffle, he hit his head on a cabinet and died from the impact. The open door had hidden the blood from me, but now it makes sense why the house was so messy. I remember thinking how sad it would be to die alone cleaning a messy cabin when I was little. As it turns out, I had found him within 15 minutes of his death and police were still searching the area. They never found who broke into his cabin and killed him.
34. The Sudden Sleepover
When I was 4 or 5, my mom bundled up my sisters and I for a sleepover at grandma’s. It was already after our bedtime, and our grandma was unprepared for our visit. I remember she gave us uncomfortable decorative pillows from the couch to sleep on. We never went back home. Years later, my mom made a few remarks about how much our dad partied, and I realized he’d been abusive towards her. That sleepover was the night she finally left him. She sheltered us from it so much that it took me 15 years to figure it out.
33. Never Forget
I was 8 years old, sitting in third grade, when our teacher informed the class that something bad had happened and that our principal was coming in, which was weird, because she never came into our classes.
She sat us down around her and began talking about a plane that had crashed into a building in New York. It was 9/11. At that time, in my mind, I just could not comprehend why she was telling us this, or why we would be going home. I remember thinking, “Yes, that’s sad that a plane crashed, but doesn’t that happen all the time? Why is this one so special?”
Decades later, it stands as the worst terrorist attack in the history of the United States. My little brain just could not comprehend the importance of what had happened, or why we were being told by our principal and all the adults seemed scared and sad. It’s so strange to think back on, now.
32. Dad’s Second Life
Growing up, I thought my dad was awesome. He had a nice house and his own business in the desert. He would stay there during the weekdays and come home to us in the city over the weekend. When we asked our parents why he didn’t sleep at home every day they said it’s easier for him to have a house out there instead of commuting two hours every day.
My siblings and I would visit him every summer for as long as I could remember. Every time we stayed over, we would see my dad’s employee staying there and my dad would insist that she didn’t have anywhere else to live so he took her in and let her stay there. Since we were so young, we didn’t think too much of it until we realized they shared the same bed.
Once my older sister understood what was happening, we told our mom. My mom was naïve and didn’t believe us. Once my dad confessed, my mom still didn’t want a divorce and my dad still chose the mistress over my mom.
I later understood my dad would spend 5 or 7 days with his mistress and spend the other 2 days with his family. To this day, my dad is still with this woman and we have no contact with them. He is still married to my mom.
31. Traumatic Train Ride
When I was little (6-8 maybe?) my mom, brother, and I were on the train traveling home from visiting family. The train suddenly stopped in the middle of nowhere and we just sat there confused for a minute until my mom gasped and said, “Don’t look out the window.”
Naturally, this piqued our curiosity and we clambered all over our mother to get a look out the window while she tried and failed to hold us back.
There was nothing there. Just some sticks and maybe some paint, really nothing worth noting. We were like “what gives?” My mother laughed and said, “Gotcha! Were you scared?” We both slumped back into our seats, disappointed and waited for the train to start moving again.
She told us years later that it had been a death by train that we had happened across. There is just no way we could have recognized what we were seeing as a human being and my mom managed to play it off as nothing, even though it must have been a truly horrifying sight to somebody who knew what they were looking at.
30. Bob The Weasel
When I was about 8-10 years old, I asked my dad’s friend Bob why my dad always referred to him as Bob the Weasel.
His response was, “I wasn’t aware he called me that.”
About a decade later the memory crossed my mind and I realized I snitched on my pops for routinely calling his friend a weasel.
29. Frightening Float
When I was around like 8, a dude at the lake drowned and was found floating maybe 15-20 feet from where I was playing. I was all of maybe 5 feet behind him when they got his body out of the lake. I’m 24 now and still dislike swimming at night unless it’s a pool. My mom says she asked me if I knew what was going on because we were there when he went missing too and I told her, “Yeah, I knew he died when his mom screamed.”
28. Talked Off The Ledge
I saw my dad stop a woman from jumping off of a bridge to kill herself. I didn’t realize what was going on at the time. My mom just moved my siblings and I along, getting us as far away from the scene as possible while my dad grabbed the woman and pulled her away from the edge.
27. Bikes And Bodies
I was around 12-13 years old and would take my little sister and cousin to the park a few blocks from my aunt’s house. One day we were there and some kids were riding bikes around the playground. Some adults were hanging out too. I just got a weird feeling and hustled my sister and cousin back home.
Later my family was driving home and the police had the park road blocked. We found out later they had discovered the bodies of the two boys riding bikes in the park. Wesley Allan Dodd (a serial killer in Washington) was at the park at the same time as us and had killed them after we left.
26. The Haunted Castle
I was at Six Flags in New Jersey in 1984 when the Haunted Castle caught on fire. I was about four. We were just exiting the attraction and we could smell it. I can vaguely recall HEARING the fire, too. The sound and smell were behind us as we ran. My mother said it was part of the ride.
We went back to Six Flags in New Jersey maybe 10 years ago and I asked my mom about the Haunted Castle and she told me about the fire. Eight kids died in there that day in 1984.
25. Multiple Moms
I lived in Salt Lake City, Utah when I was a kid, and I had a friend who always talked about their moms and dads. Plural. As I got older and learned about polygamy it started to make sense. My friend had two moms because their family practiced polygamy.
24. The Birdnapping
When I was about 11 years old, I saw a man grab a pigeon, tuck it inside a happy meal box, and walk away while holding it closed. The way the pigeon flapped its wings while struggling was pretty unnerving. I still have no bloody idea why someone would go out of their way to capture a pigeon (diseases and all), but I doubt it was good for the poor bird.
23. Dying For A Dog
When I was a young kid (5?) I really wanted a dog. My dad didn’t want a dog around, so I understood as long as my dad was around I couldn’t have a dog. For a good while when I thought about having a dog I would draw pictures of my dog and I visiting my dad’s grave. Mortifying and hilarious. Poor dad (he’s still alive and well I’m happy to report!).
22. Toeing Around
I once found a big toe on the street. Police were called, they picked the toe up and we never heard the rest of the story.
21. Sad Snow White Viewing
When I was six, my parents took a group of my friends and me to the movies for my birthday. They were re-showing the original Snow White.
During the movie, a lady in the row in front of us had a heart attack and died. Obviously, they had to stop the movie and get her medical assistance, but she was clearly dead.
It messed me up for life. For the past 30 years, I have had a terrible fear of death and my loved ones dying. One minute I was giggling eating popcorn watching my favorite movie with my friends and the next I was a foot away from a dead body. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized how badly that incident affected me.
20. Creep Photographer
When I was around 6 or 7, my best friend and I were playing at a beach near my house. I live in a tiny rural neighborhood on a peninsula that’s known to be quiet and relatively safe, so we’d be allowed to walk to and from the beach by ourselves during the daytime.
One afternoon we had been swimming and were still in our swimsuits playing on the wharf. A middle-aged man approached us and asked very politely for a photo. It made me feel weird for a reason I couldn’t understand at the time but we let him take the photo anyway because he was being so nice to us. Now that I’ve recalled the scenario as an adult, it makes me feel sick.
19. A Dark Crash
When I was about 9, there was this horrific car accident that happened. Some morons were drag racing and hit a truck going the opposite way.
That was the first time I saw a dead body. I was so confused. My dad had gotten out of the car to help them (ex-EMT) and I was alone in the car in the dark.
I was stuck there for hours and there was a young girl next to me who was bent the wrong way in several places. If I had opened my door and stepped out, I would have walked on top of her. That’s how close she was to me.
The cops tried to take me out of the car away from the carnage, but since my dad told me not to leave my seat, I didn’t go.
I talked to one of the cops’ girlfriends on the phone for over two hours and I somewhat calmed down. But due to this (and something else very private), I’m considered a trauma victim. I still have nightmares about it.
I was just confused and scared and just wanted my dad.
18. Two Mortgages
My father bought a house when I was 4 and we were still living in our old house. His real estate agent for the old house was a lawyer. He assured him the old house was sold. Everything fell apart when he found out the lawyer never even had a buyer for the old house.
My father paid 2 mortgages and taxes for almost a year on two houses. He made bad money and basically borrowed more to pay for the old house. He tried to sue the guy. We had our windows smashed and other vandalism in the new house as a response to him suing. My dad went into massive debt during this period, all while my mom was pregnant with my brother.
17. The Man In The Mall
I was at a mall once with my mom. I don’t remember my age, but I had to be under 10. She was ordering something for us from a Starbucks when I meandered off a bit to admire the mall’s architecture. As I was wandering around, a man approached me and kindly asked if I could help him find his dog. Being the naïve, stupid idiot I was back then, I said, “Of course mister! Let me just get my mom and we can help you look for him!”
So I did exactly that. I got my mom, and led her to this friendly stranger. They talked for a few moments, and then my mom calmly led me away. I just kept wondering why we weren’t helping the guy look for his dog.
Imagine my horror when I discovered years later that there was probably never a dog, and that whole ordeal could have turned out much worse for me. I found out years later mom never told my dad about this either.
16. A Car In Cement
When I was in fourth grade, my parents took me on a trip to Disneyland. On the way from the airport, we saw a big drummed cement truck being emptied out on the highway — cement everywhere on the ground, surrounded by police cars and EMTs. My mom grabbed my head and put it down to shield me, but it was too late. I saw it… a car crushed under the cement truck.
I didn’t put it together until later that it was an accident and clearly they couldn’t get the truck off of the car until it was empty because of the weight. There’s no way anyone in that car survived. I’m still terrified to drive near those trucks.
15. Manic Mother
My mother and I were sleeping over at her friend’s house one weekend. No biggie, we did that a lot. Some time in the middle of the night, my mother dragged me from my bed, tore off my clothes, and dragged me out of the house in my underwear. All the while, she was yelling about the giant brown shoes that were chasing her. She yelled all over the neighborhood until the cops showed up. I remember hiding up against somebody’s garage door, freezing my butt off. It was early March in the north and really cold at night.
At the time, I just thought she was tired.
It wasn’t until I thought about that night years later that I realized what kind of mother she was. As an adult, I wonder about all the people involved in that incident and think about all the people that did nothing to protect young me, and I get angry. So many cops. So many neighbors. My mom’s friend. Maybe somebody tried, and nothing came of it, I don’t know.
I think back to it now whenever I see something that raises the hairs on my neck. I try to stand up for those who don’t have help.
14. Roofless Wreck
I watched a car go way too fast on the highway and basically do a barrel roll before landing on its roof — that is if it had a roof. It was a roofless sports car.
My brother didn’t see it and my mom refused to acknowledge that anything happened, so I assumed that I had daydreamed it.
Ten years later I asked my mom again and she admitted denying it to shelter me from seeing someone die.
13. Laughing At Lunch
In 4th grade, we had 5th graders as “lunch monitors” so our teachers could have a much-needed break. One of the kids in my class opened his lunch bag to reveal a baggie of flour. Being jerks, everyone in the room made fun of his lunch, which he ate because he was hungry.
Had adults been in the room, I think that they would have recognized the situation as needing intervention. Unfortunately, everyone just tormented him like he was wearing off-brand sneakers.
Kids are terrible.
12. Bird’s Trick
When I was young, probably about 6 or 7, I lived in a rural part of southern Idaho. A couple of times a week, my dad would take us into the city. I remember this big dip in the road right next to some power lines around some train tracks and whatnot, super vivid landmark in what was otherwise a sea of farmland.
Anyway, one day while we were driving, dad points up and says hey look that bird is doing a trick. Me and my sister looked out the window and saw a bird hanging upside down by its claws from a power line. I thought it was cool at the time. Even cooler that bird bro was able to keep his trick up for weeks on end every time we drove by. I admired his strength and tenacity and it broke my little heart when he finally decided he had done the trick long enough and flew away.
Flash-forward a decade or so and I realize in horror that the dude somehow got fried and was swinging upside down for weeks from his seized-up deathgrip. RIP my dude.
11. A Paralyzing Scene
My childhood home was near an open field which had a smallish stream running through it. We used to go fishing and playing there and people used it for all kinds of outdoor activities.
I remember one day there were these two guys riding dirt bikes there and it was really annoying because they were very loud. Anyway, one of them tried to jump that stream and crashed into the opposite bank. We heard his friend screaming and everyone rushed over. It turns out that his neck was broken and he was paralyzed from the neck down.
This was more than 20 years ago, but recently I have been thinking about it quite a bit — it didn’t upset me much at the time though.
10. Like Stealing Candy
When I was 10 or so, I was biking around town and I stopped at a gas station to get some candy. I’m in there, looking around when two guys walk in. One guy approaches me and tells me to leave the store, but I told him I had candy and needed to pay for it. He tells me to just get the heck out, so I did, candy in hand.
I never thought of it again until a few years later, it clicked. Pretty sure they robbed the joint, not totally sure, but looking back it seems probable. Was nice enough of them to let me out of the store before they did it. Sorry, to the clerk of the Texaco.
9. Sleeping Dan
Finding my dad’s best friend dead on the couch in the living room. I was just a kid and didn’t understand how important this guy really is/was to my dad. I said, “Dad! Dan won’t wake up!” I kept lightly shaking him saying, “Come on, Dan, you said you would make breakfast.”
From the other room, Dad said to leave him alone and let him sleep a little bit longer. So I did for about 20 minutes. I go back in there and finally realize he doesn’t look right. I go get my dad and tell him Dan feels cold. He goes into the living room with me and immediately knew something was wrong. He yells for my older brother in a way I will never forget. I see my dad performing CPR while my stepmom calls an ambulance. My older brother grabbed me and hurried me back into my room.
In the end, he died due to a brain aneurysm. He passed peacefully. Years later, my dad and I were talking about it. Turns out that was the worst day of my father’s life.
8. Double The Dogs
When I was three or four, I got a Miniature Yorkie-Poo (Yorkshire Terrier/Miniature Poodle mix). If you don’t know, this is a designer, expensive breed of dog. One morning, my mother was backing out of the driveway to go drop me off at preschool. There was a thump, followed by my mom slamming on the brakes. I was turning around in my seat, trying to find out what was going on. Mom got out, called my dad, and took me to school. I thought nothing of it at the time. I got home from Pre-K and loved on my dog.
Years later, I’m a 12-year-old at a family party where my parents are partying. Somebody mentions my dog, and a whole new side to the story is brought to light. Turns out, Mom hit my dog and fatally injured it, then proceeded to devise a plan with my father to purchase an identical $1,000 dog before I got out of Pre-K that day. Needless to say, I was flabbergasted.
7. Puppies And Pain
When I was in second grade, my chocolate lab Brandy went into labor while my mom and I were home alone. The first puppy came out deformed and foul-smelling and my mom started panicking because our dog was clearly in terrible pain. She loaded Brandy into her Blazer and slammed the glass upper-back door: it shattered into weird, tiny cubes. She had what I now know is a panic attack, and I calmly got her a pill and consoled Brandy as she cried and yelled in pain until my mom was able to drive us to the vet.
The vet had to scrape the rotten puppies out of Brandy. He said she had mated with a giant dog and couldn’t carry the litter. My mom has told me as an adult that I was calm and detached to a “creepy” degree for a little girl, but I think I just had no clue how bad it was.
6. A Hanging Memory
I found a relative who’d hanged himself in his garage. I was… a pretty little kid (still in the single digits).
At the time, I didn’t fully appreciate what I was seeing. In my head, I realized something was wrong and that they were gone (dead). I didn’t react or cry. I just calmly walked back to my family member’s house (with whom I was staying) and then began to worry.
Eventually I called my mom and letting her know. I do remember the reactions. Lots of wailing. Crying. The usual you’d expect when family finds out one of their own has committed suicide.
To this day I still don’t really know how to feel. The visual is burned in my memory, but I never properly reacted.
5. Erotic Errand
When we’re little, my dad used to regularly take my brother and me to his secretary’s house. My brother and I, both under age five, would sit in her living room watching TV, while they would go do laundry.
As an adult I realized that my father was taking his small children to the house of his mistress (who really was his secretary), so they could hook up. Like what the heck, dad! Who does that?!
I guess at some point my brother or I must have mentioned these outings to our mother as the affair was found out.
4. Doctor Visits
This one is hard because I barely remember parts of it and I didn’t find out the whole story until I was 20.
At about age 4, I was being tormented by my older brother who was 12 at the time. He kept annoying me and would be a pest like older brothers are.
One day we were playing on the trampoline when our neighbor called my brother over to show him something. I didn’t go with him. After that day, my brother stopped being such a nuisance to me.
A few weeks later, I noticed my brother was constantly leaving the house with mom to “go to the doctor.” This was happening nearly every day. I always asked where they were going and mom said: “We’re going to the doctor!”
I didn’t find out until 16 years later that my brother had been being harassed by our neighbor and justice was never served.
3. Horrifying Hide And Seek
I remember playing hide and seek with some friends in the parking lot of our church. There was an Embassy Suites hotel in the same parking lot. We were in elementary school. I was “it” and looking for my friends who were hiding. Instead of finding my friends, I found a man hiding in the bushes with a girl who was obviously scared. I was scared too when I realized he had a gun in his hand.
He yelled at me to go away and had to yell at me twice because it took me a few seconds to process what I was seeing. I quickly forgot about it and didn’t remember it had happened until years later. I hope the girl is okay.
2. Haunted By Hotel Parties
When I was around 10, my parents would throw these parties once a month. We would always be asked to help set them up.
They always threw them in hotel venues, and it was always super fun to help set up because they usually had a theme.
When my parents began the divorce process when I was 18. That was when my younger brother finally filled me in on what those parties were really all about. Apparently they were swinger parties.
When he was about 12, my brother found this out by looking through the hard drive and accidentally found a video of our mom and another woman together. I believe this is what sent him off on a wild spiral of anxiety and substance abuse.
1. Passed Out In The Parking Lot
Walking 20 minutes to school only to pass a bar where you see your dad passed out in the parking lot. Great childhood.