For the first time since we all found out that the man whom everyone should have known was a pedophile, is in fact a pedophile, I am allowing myself to be true to my memories. He was, of all the wealthy white men in the community where I spent my adolescence, one of the nicest.
When I first heard I guess my memories were buried deep & the shock of considering the abuse from the victim’s perspective kept me from remembering what I do, in fact, remember. The man was mildly interested in my life, far more interested in the lives of the teenage boys in my peer group, but never unkind to me. I remember that he was fun to be around, for the most part, & eccentric. One time when we were on a “mission trip” to Jamaica a little deaf girl was prancing about in front of him, mouthing words to an unknown song or the storyline to a drama played out in her head. Her flip-flopped feet kicked up dust in front of his perch on a concrete curb. Eventually he sat up, brushed off his bum, and said, clipping the end of each word, “this girl is beginning to annoy me.”
I don’t know why but that memory has surfaced & resurfaced in my mind since we heard the news of the sexual (I’m not sure exactly what they are) charges against him. Some part of me wants all my memories to serve as road signs that point to his perversion. I think it might be my ego, striving to reduce him to a sin, an other, rather than a complex human. But that memory is simple, clear, & could have been anyone. Plus, when I look through the photos from that trip, I see him there, talking to a chicken (Henrietta) with a bad leg in one image, holding a large insect & smiling in another.
I went to Jamaica three times as a teenager & each time was enlightening, & impacted me emotionally & spiritually. The second time I went there was a young boy named Ramoye with whom I formed a relationship (children with open hearts can form bonds surprisingly quickly–especially with adults–or almost adults, as I was–whose hearts are equally open). He was probably 11, with a broad nose, heavy brow, &, at the time I was there, a deep scar on his forehead. Just the look of him told me he was one of those beautiful boys who has yet maintained the emotions that society will soon convince him to bury & numb: compassion, shame, surprise, empathy, happiness, etc. (the full spectrum of human experience which males are not socially allowed to display, at least not publicly, after a certain age). We spent hours together, silently, as he was hard of hearing (if not deaf–I can’t remember which). We communicated via wordless yells, chalk drawings, & verbal cues. Our bond was sweet, deep, as were many of the bonds that I formed with students each time I went there (we visited the same school for deaf children 2 consecutive Januarys, & then returned two years after, for another week trip).
The last day of my second trip to Jamaica, those bonds felt like grappling hooks in my heart. I felt that there was more to learn, more connection to feel, more hugs & laughter to share. I was devastated that I had to leave.
The man who we now know is a pedophile–a man who has destroyed years of boys’ lives with exposure to unspeakable inappropriate things, creating wounds of festering shame & pain in them–was the last adult to linger with me near the children before we left. His wife wasn’t far ahead. The bus full of the other white travelers was at the top of the hill that separated the school facilities from the visitor’s quarters. I imagine them all watching me make my way up that hill, my eyes noticeably red. Halfway up I remembered Ramoye, the boy with the scar, & turned around to find him. I hadn’t said goodbye.
There in the school courtyard, he was perched on a metal step, his legs wide, his elbows on his knees, head hung low, great tears falling into the dust. I don’t remember now what I signed or maybe said to him. I’m sure it was “good bye”, “I love you”, “I’ll miss you”, or some combination. We embraced & I ran up the hill behind the man whom we now know has done unspeakable things to young boys.
When I boarded the bus, no one said anything. I felt embarassed by my emotion, but also proud. Proud that my heart was alive. Proud that I felt seen by these children & that they felt seen by me. I felt the treasure of connection in my heart & did not take it for granted.
I remember that the man looked at me & said something truly empathetic. I think it was, “Oh, Lydia,” with a sad face. I can’t remember exactly, yet I knew it was sincere. He acknowledged my emotion, which is more than anyone else did, then, or numerous other times when feelings poured down my cheeks around that group of people. It made me feel connected.
A red-headed man from this same group of people once gave me a warm embrace, the hearty, Santa Claus-esque kind, when I was feeling sad about leaving the children there in Jamaica. That is a sweet memory for me, even though I do not speak to that man or his family anymore. Those gestures of support shown toward me were few & far between. The man on the bus that day, the man we all now know is a pedophile who had lied to his community to cover up his pedophilia for decades, showed me compassion in a way that made me feel just as connected as the hug from the red-headed man had. They were both genuine beacons of support & acknowledgement. Both meant a lot to me.
I miss the children from Jamaica, but I do not wonder about their lives so much as I wonder about the swirl of good & evil that can exist in a man. I wonder whether anyone is all the way bad, or all the way good. I wonder if we have all been victims & abusers, or if abusers are a certain group of people that should be kept away from society’s children. I wonder how long it takes a child who has been abused to become the abuser. I wonder if anything can ever undo the evil that a man can do inside of one life.
We all seem to have darkness & light inside of us.
Isn’t it a breathtaking responsibility to live in this twilight?