I still think about you.
Our paths never crossed again, not since then. It’s been decades now, that blue and beautiful day that seemed so full of possibility.
It was the day that you raped me.
How could a man let that happen to them? Those were the unspoken words I heard for years.
You were bigger than me. Older. You’re still older, but I’m probably bigger now. All grown up.
I was eight. A man in my own eyes. In yours, too.
There’s a lot about what you did that I don’t remember, but one I do: that you told me to play pretend, though a different kind of pretend than the one to which I had become accustomed. Pretend that you had come home from work, as you pressed my face into the pillow of your bed.
The years went by. Sex terrified me for a long time. The body rendered a geography foreign to me. Invisible scars that I bore, from which I would find ways to recoil when someone stumbled upon them. I made those choices, and those choices led to other choices, and to still others.
It’s not all your fault, either. My choices were mine.
Sometimes I fantasized about tracking you down, killing you. Some kind of bargain I could win with a pistol and a lack of better better ideas.
Sometimes I forgot about you all together.
Mostly I minimized you. If I convinced myself most of all that you hadn’t hurt me, then you wouldn’t have. That I could go back in time, undo the things you did to me.
I was fine.
But was I ever?
Tennessee Williams once wrote that time is the furthest distance between two places. As I write this, I am no more than ten miles from where our paths crossed — and yet, if that was on Earth, then here I write. Dispatches from Mars.
Did you move away? Are you still here?
Are you happy?
Do you have a family that cares for you?
A job that fulfills you?
A God who loves you?
I hope that you do.
Did you hurt anyone else?
Did your father do to you the things you did to me?
I hope you wonder about me, in the same way I wonder about you.
You set this thing in motion. My life. Pain and beauty and heartache. Wins and losses. Dumb luck. Strange as it sounds, I wonder if you’d be proud of me.
Do I call you a rapist? A child molester? Am I a victim? Or a survivor? What have I survived? What am I surviving?
I’ll call you by your name. Like you called me by mine.
Do you still think about me?
Life is rich with paradox.
For years that came next, the things I reached for to save me were really the things that were killing me. What I thought would bring me pleasure, really brought me pain.
A fellow prisoner once observed, an ocean apart and hundred years prior, that it was the actions of the common day which made or unmade character.
And I had been unmaking mine for a long time.
In the stillness of pre-dawn hours, the electric light from the control center, as it washed over my cell, was familiar to me.
Not unlike the many nights I sat in front of a screen, looking for ways to get numb. Image after image, believing the next one would be perfect. That the next one would save me. But more was never enough. Faces I’ll never forget. Pain I will always be a part of. If sex terrified me, pornography offered me safety and control. So it seemed to me, at the time, anyway.
I was told once, that prayer can sometimes just be an action. I came to bed one night, laid next to my girlfriend who was fast asleep, and sobbed. I wanted out, but didn’t know how. Too afraid, or cowardly.
God, whatever that might be, heard me. I’ve heard tale that sometimes your prayers get answered with a boat, or a fire. Sometimes, a half-dozen police officers.
We walked from my apartment down the block to the station. I contemplated bolting into traffic, rather than face whatever was coming. They must have read it on me, two of them moving to take up the sidewalk between me, and the street.
Through the doorway we approached, yet more paradox: things I was so afraid would kill me, turned out to be the things that would save me.
The freest I ever felt was in a pair of handcuffs, in a windowless room, answering the detectives’ questions.
I wish I could have feigned ignorance.
But that would have been a lie.
And I was so tired of lying.
Words carry with them enormous power. I remember the rooms full of men and women and shame that hung in clouds, people who could not bring themselves to utter it. S.O. was the preferred nomenclature.
I was one of them.
I am one of them.
Not unlike a job title, sex offender is supposed to be something that you do. It connotes a present tense. Something that you are, unchangeable. That you shower in the morning, and get dressed, and head out into the world to commit crimes.
That was years ago.
This summer, my wife and I clutched one another, atop our battered couch. She was fired from her job for her choice of husband. Paying the price for the things that I did, long before we ever met.
Am I supposed to be a husband? A father? I cannot take my child to the park, or pick her up from school. She’s not yet old enough for that conversation. But that time is coming, and soon.
Children cannot choose their parents.
For that, I will always be sorry.
And so, you’re a part of my story. Me, a part of yours. And us, we’re a part of many others.
Even writing this, I know, treads onto a minefield. We exist in an era of #metoo, but does that extend to me? Can I find a way to have space to express the things done to me, and to account for the harm that I have done? Can both of those things live in me, at the same time? To coexist?
They have to.
There is no other way.
We seek to reduce humanity, in all its complexity, into moments in time. Crystallized. Heroes we put on pedestals, or monsters we condemn to die. Felons and presidents. Sex offenders and teachers.
I’ve met my heroes, and I’ve met many monsters. The truth is neither of those things. The truth is yet more paradox.
I’ve been called a lot of things since we last met. Some kind. Some not. None of them, or rather, very few of them, true.
It would be easy, I think, for me to just lay all this at your feet. To make you the one responsible. Except that wouldn’t be true, either.
We all go through life with damage, and hurt, and pain — and then we all decide what to do with that pain. I made my choices, and in so doing, I passed my pain onto others.
You called me by my name.
The judge, too, called me by my name.
I’ll call you by yours.
Do you still think about me?