Wednesday, September 30, 2009
My latest rant on Twitter that I decided to cobble together with a little editing and post here as a semi-cohesive piece was set in motion by the murder of Derrion Albert, may he rest in peace.
I don't have stats @ my disposal so no idea if cases of police brutality nationwide dropped after Rodney King beat down & subsequent riots.
But if the number did go down due to extra spotlight on such behavior, is there hope that Derrion Albert's murder will result in less "black on black crime"?
“Black on Black crime" is what Michael from Good Times would have referred to as a “white racist term”. People of every race rob people of every race. When everybody involved is white it doesn't automatically mean Madoff is one of them.
I understand why the term is used in certain situations, but ultimately it pigeonholes. "Urban" or "inner-city" should suffice.
Examples of circumstances where term BoB is used to describe a crime: 1) When a black person is especially dismayed/shamed by a crime. 2) Someone of a different race has intent to be derogatory.
RT @edthesportsfan "It'll take a humane effort nationally 2 invest in2 the innercity, the school system, and social reform of broken families."
Those three ingredients are interrelated, but the older I get the more apparent it becomes that 3rd component is most vital.
For those raised impoverished within a terrible education system, a certain % will still give a shit about their future. But if no stability @ home, no chance.
Young project girls having kids for sport results in children with minimal chance to escape cycle of absurdity.
No simple solution to problem. Election of Obama a nice step primarily for symbolism, but root of problem still untouched.
Smart education reform would be great, but even in ideal situation if lessons are not being reinforced @ home they'll go right out the window.
We need fatherhood & motherhood classes in the church & the community center & in school, mandatory in the latter.
If you go through the adoption process with a reputable agency you need to take courses & write essays proving your worth as a parent in advance of placement.
If you get knocked up or knock somebody up, no matter how unfit you are to be parents no one asks a single question beyond can u pay doctor bills.
Becoming a parent is the single most important job you'll ever attain yet vast majority get no advance training & many clearly need it.
Obviously sex ed. needs to go beyond "wear a condom". It should extend to "no condom was worn apparently, so what do you do now".
There are very basic things about parenting that a 15 y/o girl/mother simply will not realize through no fault of her own. Start with that.
Metaphor Alert: You can't start with asking someone to write a great novel or even to simply read a bad one. First things first - the alphabet must be learned.
There are people out there who figuratively & practically literally don't know the alphabet, so how can they possibly raise a child properly?
The conservative right will complain, but the truth is that high school is too late. I had interest/opportunity for sex way before high school.
Obama caught heat for suggesting what I did in prior tweet, but since he got away with it & was elected anyway, he may as well act on belief.
Ironically, the people most against something like sex ed. for inner city pre-teens are the ones who look down their noses @ result of no sex education.
A sad, inescapable fact of life is that a tragic percentage of improperly raised children will grow up to be monsters and take the lives of innocents.
Sunday, September 27, 2009
The war between the sexes and the races will continue to be waged, and casualties are inevitable.
CASUALTIES OF WAR
My name is James. I am being called a rapist and a murderer. But the truth is, I’m a good person. Not a saint by any means. But a rapist? Not at all. A killer? Ridiculous. I am innocent, though there is blood on my hands and I am responsible for it being there. But how responsible? Any minute now I should wake up from this nightmare. Except that I am awake, this is no dream, but the end result of things getting way out of hand. My wrists are in cuffs. I am being led by police officers to a prison cell. It isn’t fair. It wasn’t my fault. Why is this happening to me?
* * *
I am Dawn. My friend is dead and I am to blame, though it cannot be truly seen as my fault. David was standing up for my honor. Perhaps I should not have said anything, but I was so angry. Not at first. My initial reaction was confusion, and yes, acceptance. If I had remained in such a state, David would still be alive. As for my good name, this was given away as much as it was taken from me. I was raped, of this I am certain. Sex was forced upon me without consent, and although circumstances caused my refusal to be less adamant than the situation demanded, I nonetheless did refuse and was ignored. It is equally true that I got into that position of my own accord. James resorted to force only after his advances were encouraged for most of the night, and David need not have been involved at all.
* * *
It all began one week ago at a fraternity party. I stood next to Dawn at the bar and made two observations. She was real pretty and real drunk. I'd never been with a black girl before, never even tried. I figured they wouldn't be interested, so why make things harder for myself? But I could tell from the start that Dawn was definitely into me, and before I knew it we were headed to her dorm room. We started kissing, touching, you know the drill. Everything was going great.
* * *
I went well over my limit, that's for sure. My intention was to get a nice buzz going, but I was trying for a bee and ended up with an entire hive. That's not to say I wasn't in control of my actions, for I was. James was cute and funny, with a decent butt for a white guy. The overabundance of beer was no more than an accomplice to my curiosity and hormones. I wasn't planning to go all the way, not with some guy I just met. But I was feeling good and inclined to feel even better. I refused the offer to go back to his room, but didn’t want the night to end just yet. So I invited him back to mine where I would feel more in control. I would get a little crazy, but just a little.
* * *
We were half naked, and I was more than ready to get busy, when Dawn started having second thoughts. You know the thoughts I’m talking about. She was willing to fool around some, but when I tried to take things to the next level, she wasn’t having it. A lot of girls are like that. They want you to put in some overtime, so you won’t think they’re sluts. They’ll usually get with the program eventually, but they want you to work for it first. I guess they think this earns them respect, or love, or something. But they have to be careful, cause once a guy has been stirred up enough, it isn’t easy for him to just stop, and it isn’t really fair to ask him to.
Since guys have no choice but to play the game, we do. She said no, I said fine. A little later I tried again, another red light, once again I was cool about it, all the while about to bust out of my jeans. The third time was different. The beer had stopped bringing her up and was quickly slamming her down. Her body language still showed resistance, but it wasn't very strong, and her mouth didn't say much of anything I could understand, even if I had been paying attention. I suppose she did say no once again, but without much conviction. The time was right, though her light was not exactly green. I saw it as yellow, and it's perfectly legal to go through a yellow light. You just speed up to make sure you can get by.
* * *
In no time, James had made it as far as I was willing to go and trying to proceed further still. I let him know it wasn't going to be like that. Not rudely, but firm. Not firm enough apparently, for minutes later he was at it again. I repeated my stance and he backed off, but after that things get kind of blurry. My high had turned into a low, my head was spinning as was my stomach, and all I wanted was for James to disappear. He started to come on strong again, and I vaguely remember trying to keep him off of me, but there wasn't much I was able to do. Next thing I knew he was putting his pants back on, while I lay spread eagle with something warm and sticky on my stomach. We looked at each other, neither of us knowing what to say, so not saying anything. I was asleep before he reached the door.
* * *
I woke up the next day with Dawn on my mind. One whiff told me that she was on my body as well. I love the smell of sex. I examined a fresh scratch on my forearm and briefly wondered if I had done anything wrong the night before. The thought passed and I dragged myself out of bed. I had classes to get to, friends to meet up with. I hopped in the shower. By the time I stepped out, Dawn and my concerns had been washed away. She had wanted it, I decided, in fact, practically begged for it. I went to class, relaxed, refreshed, without a worry in the world.
* * *
The first thing I was aware of upon awakening was the pounding in my head. The second was the state I was in. Both of these were potent reminders of the night before. Many of the details were fuzzy to downright forgotten, but one fact remained clear. I had broken my rule and had sex with someone on the first date. Hell, it hadn't even been a date. That wasn't like me, sober or not. I tried to recall the moment when I changed my mind and gave in, but nothing came to me. All I could remember was holding fast to my rule, but having it pried from my fingers.
Someone knocked at my door. It was Michelle, who lived down the hall. We were supposed to study together that afternoon. I confided to her what my previous night's activities had been, for only by confessing could I make sense of what took place. When I was done, Michelle looked shocked, then furious. I knew she didn't approve of me fooling around with a white boy, and figured this was the extent of it, until she brought up the R word. That isn't what happened, I tried feebly to protest. But the longer I thought about it, the more real that word became. Raped.
* * *
Gary saw me leave the party with Dawn, so of course wanted details. “Did you? Was it hot? Is what they say about them true?” I told him what he wanted to hear. I never suggested that she was a sweet girl in a weakened state, and that I had sort of taken advantage of her. I didn’t want to own up to the thoughts that nagged at my conscience. They would go away after awhile.
I know I can be somewhat overaggressive at times. Ever since I was little, I’ve never handled being teased very well. The kind of teasing being done by Dawn is the hardest for a guy like me to take. I guess I did get a bit out of control. But she made me get that way. I think she wanted to get me worked up. She wanted to submit, which meant she needed something to submit to. I just did my part as she directed.
This isn’t quite how I described it to Gary. I painted broader strokes. I made Dawn out to be everything I ever fantasized of. Gary may have suspected me of embellishing, but I had myself totally convinced.
* * *
First shame set in. How could I, who took such pride in both my intelligence and common sense, have allowed this to happen? Too many girls from my neighborhood had gotten knocked up while barely in their teens. They had served as a powerful warning. I would never throw my life away on account of sex. I would take my body and mind seriously, so that others would as well. I had studied diligently all throughout high school to create opportunity for myself. Now here I was, the first member of my family to go to college, one of a minuscule percentage of blacks on campus. Up until last night, I had been very proud of my achievements and intelligent choices.
The words of Michelle on the morning after got me to view matters in a much different light. Not only had my indiscretion caused me to be raped, but raped by a white boy. They respected us so little to begin with, and here I was adding to their sense of entitlement and omnipotence. I might as well have been one of those slave women forced to bear light skinned babies by their masters. Only in my case, I had a say in the matter, I had the right of choice. But I did not, Michelle reminded me. My say and my choice were forcibly taken. Then she suggested a plan of action, and I wholeheartedly endorsed it.
* * *
I was going over my chemistry assignment when a knock came at the door. Without thought I opened it to the sight of the biggest, blackest guy I had ever seen. My first thought was - Isn't he on the football team? I didn't have time for thought number two. That’s because I spent the next several minutes getting my ass kicked. In between body slams, my new friend let me in on why he was torturing me. As he put it, I had disrespected a sista and would now have to pay. When finished, he left me in a sore heap on the floor, uttered some extra threats for good measure if I even looked at another black girl, then was gone.
An hour later when the door opened again, I thought he was back for seconds. But it was my roommates and some friends. After they completed repair work on me, I told them what had happened.
* * *
I holed up in a remote corner of the library for several hours. Being with those who knew, and that seemed to be just about everybody by the time Michelle finished spreading the word, would force me to think of what I wanted to forget. In the midst of my rage was a measure of guilt over what David had done to James with my stamp of approval. James certainly deserved it. What he had endured paled in comparison to what had been done to me. But I couldn't stop feeling that had I been more responsible, none of this would have happened. I also wondered to what degree I had allowed, or even desired certain things to take place, rather than James completely taking matters into his own hands. I should have spoken to him before getting caught up in the emotions Michelle had stirred. I could have told James how I felt, given him a chance to explain or express regret. Who knows, I may even have forgiven him. Now it was too late for such a notion.
* * *
My friends were really pissed. Football star or not, how dare David Jordan walk into the room of a white student as if he and his kind were the ones calling the shots, dispensing justice as he saw fit? That's not how it was supposed to work.
I was oddly unconcerned at first. Perhaps I felt I had brought it upon myself, and should consider the matter settled. But as one slur after another was spewed, I began to get into the spirit of things. My friends were right. David needed to learn where his place was, and who better to serve as tutors? Who cared if he was a campus hero because he scored a bunch of touchdowns? This did not grant him special privileges to mess with us as he saw fit.
David was a bit more cautious about opening his door than I had been, but the five of us managed to push our way in. I just watched while my friends jumped him. But once they had him down to his knees, I was invited to finish him off.
I already considered the situation to be adequately handled, and would just as soon have left it as it was and gone home. But everybody was watching and waiting, so what was I to do? I struck David hard, then again, then again. He barely budged. He was solidly built from head to toe. It was like punching a statue. I was probably causing more pain to my knuckles than to him. Then I noticed his football helmet on the bed. I grabbed the facemask and took every ounce of my frustration out on David’s skull with the very thing meant to protect it. By the time my friends struggled to contain me, the damage had been done.
You have to believe me. I didn't mean it, just as I had not entered Dawn’s room the night before intending to make her do anything she didn’t want to. Sometimes my emotions get the best of me. Adrenaline starts pumping and common sense goes on vacation. In ordinary circumstances I’m just a regular guy, no different than anyone else. I am not what people are now calling me. Am I really to blame for regretful actions taken in the heat of the moments? The cops who picked me up later that day certainly seemed to think so.
* * *
It's over now. The chain of events has been completed. David is dead. James is in prison. And I am left to contemplate my role in their downfalls. If at any point I had acted in a manner other than which I did, it would have made all the difference in the world. It's too senseless for me to claim a lesson learned. Sure there are things I will be certain not to do again. But will that stop such events from recurring, if not to me than to someone else? The war between the sexes and the races will continue to be waged, and casualties are inevitable. My name is Dawn, and I am a victim of these never ending clashes. If you are interested, I will allow you a glimpse into my heart so that you may see my battle scars.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Several years ago a novel entitled The Bridges of Madison County burst upon the literary scene and clung to its position atop the Bestseller list with a tenacity that was the envy of barnacles everywhere. Eventually a movie adaptation was made that also became a big hit. A commonly expressed sentiment at the time was that the movie was better than the book. Considering that the film starred Meryl Streep and was directed by Clint Eastwood, this was not necessarily an insult. But in many cases it was intended as one because a great deal of people felt that the book was not very good. If you were at all pretentious about the quality of literary fiction, chances are you were on the bandwagon that jeered at the overwhelming success of Robert J. Waller's novel. I myself didn't weigh in because to date I've yet to read the book. I did watch and enjoy the film it inspired. But it was nonetheless fascinating to observe such love-it or hate-it attitudes towards a popular novel. No title becomes a Bestseller for such an extended period of time without a considerable amount of positive word of mouth. Yet in certain circles the word of mouth regarding The Bridges of Madison County was absolutely poisonous. A co-worker of mine at the time told me that she went so far as to tear the pages out one at a time and feed them to the flames in her fireplace. Yikes!
Any book that lures millions of people to purchase and read and recommend it must have its merits, and talent accompanies luck behind the creation of the lucrative beast. This doesn't mean it's a great work of art. Masterpieces usually sell respectably at best, though they continue to sell for decades or longer after first going into print. The titles that grace the top of bestseller lists each year tend not to be critic's darlings, but rather, books that for some reason or another demonstrate mass appeal. It turns out that the masses, even with the efforts of Oprah to broaden the range of bookclub selections across the land, are not in search of the Great American Novel that may prompt them to re-evaluate their lives and help broaden their minds. Many people simply long to be entertained, to be taken as far away from the drudgery of their ordinary lives as a fantastical tale can accomplish. Therefore the greatest successes in publishing fiction over the past several years have been books featuring wizards, vampires, and conspiracy theories on a monumental scale. We don't encounter characters and situations like these in our day to day experiences, so when the right story comes along at the right time and transports us, the public is anxious to devour it.
My guess is that those who once derided the success of The Bridges of Madison County would gladly welcome it back if its return meant the banishment of more recent blockbusters such as the Harry Potter series, the Stephenie Meyers Twilight books, and Dan Brown's Vatican capers. None of them are masquerading as high art, and they don't even promise to make you lose weight, yet they sold like discount Crocs and iPods. Middle schoolers appear to be the targeted demographic for these books, particularly the writing of Rowling and Meyers, and they not only managed to hit adolescent bulls eye but also pulled a great deal of adult readers along for the ride. Are we witnessing signs of the downfall of civilization? Isn't one of the main benefits of reading to become more cultured and sophisticated via the experience? Does so called serious literature have a chance to flourish in this massive wave of lit-lite? Or is it ultimately a good thing that reading novels, even if only certain titles by a small select group of obscenely fortunate authors, has become a popular trend alongside reality television and Twitter? Since the teenage years are largely about following trends, surely reading each of the Harry Potter books is a preferable habit to smoking or drug use or promiscuity. A nation of vampire obsessed teens with books in hand will presumably lead to a brighter future than will a generation rendered illiterate by hand held electronic game systems. It took a lot longer for reading books by portable electronic device to become a reality than for portable electronic video games to become commonplace, but the time did eventually come and Harry Potter no doubt played a significant role in this development.
So I say bring on the International Bestsellers, even if they tend to be books I probably won't read (for the record I did read the first Harry Potter book and each of Dan Brown's books prior to his latest, but have not read anything by Stephenie Meyers yet), even if they are rarely books that will go on to be taught in English class as examples of literature that stands the test of time. One of the unavoidable realities of the publishing industry is that the hits are largely responsible for financing the more critically acclaimed endeavors that make much smaller but perhaps farther reaching splashes. Flashy but ultimately forgettable books will continue to dominate mainstream attention spans for short runs, but so long as great novels on significant themes are still being written and published and eventually gaining recognition as classics, the greater good will be served. If not, if by the time my three year old daughter reaches high school age they are teaching Harry Potter and Twilight in English class rather than 1984, Lord of the Flies, Catcher in the Rye, and contemporary entries to the canon, then I'll know beyond the shadow of all doubt that it's time to home school.
- Roy Pickering (author of Patches of Grey)
p.s. - After writing this editorial I learned about the publication of Sarah Gray's WUTHERING BITES, a retelling of Wuthering Heights in which Heathcliff is a vampire. Perhaps the downfall of civilization has been kick started after all.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Below you'll find my most recent interview. But even though this is my blog, I don't wish to do all the talking. So please feel free to share your own thoughts on reading, and writing, and the wonderful world of books, and cheese, and whatever else comes to mind after checking out what I had to say.
x x x x x
The following is an exclusive Whispers of the Muse interview conducted by Deborah Riley-Magnus with author, Roy L. Pickering, Jr.
Muse: Roy, first of all, Whispers of the Muse welcomes you and Patches of Grey to the site. Tell us a little about yourself. What part of the world do you live in? Tell us about your background? Pickering: I was born on the idyllic island of St. Thomas, USVI and now reside with my wife and daughter in a quaint New Jersey town. In between I grew up in the Bronx, NY which I used as the setting of my novel. I knew from a pretty young age that I wanted to be a writer. The library was my favorite childhood destination. After reading my first full length novels, a couple classics by Jules Verne, I concluded that extracting stories from my mind and putting them down on paper for others to enjoy is what I eventually wanted to do with my life. My initial attempts at writing were made early on, and being quite ambitious from the start of my writing life I attempted novel length material prior to eventually getting around to short stories. Once I graduated NYU, my writing output grew increasingly prolific. Any slow period at work provided an opportunity to work on a tale, and just about anything (even a can of parmesan cheese once) provided inspiration. Next thing I knew I had completed several short stories and the earliest draft of Patches of Grey. My writing pace is no longer what it was when I first seriously caught the bug and had far fewer responsibilities, but over time quality has overtaken quantity as I’ve worked on mastering the intricate arts of rewriting and editing.
Muse: Who are your favorite authors?
Pickering: John Irving, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Toni Morrison, Cormac McCarthy, Tom Robins and John Updike top my list for consistency of amazing novels I’ve been fortunate enough to read over the years. The list keeps growing as I make new discoveries. Most recently I’ve fallen in love with the prose of Chuck Palahniuk, Junot Diaz and Richard Russo.
Muse: Why do you write?
Pickering: For the same reason I breathe, I suppose, though it takes considerably more effort. If I could think of a more fulfilling endeavor, I’d switch over to it. But so far nothing has come to mind. Immortality is also a benefit. If I leave my stories behind then I’ll never really exit this world.
To read remainder of my interview head over to Whispers of the Muse. Scroll down towards bottom of page. Be sure to check out what the other authors listed had to say as well. Also featured at this great site is my short story "Double Fault" and a 4-chapter excerpt from Patches of Grey to be serialized, with Part/Chapter 1 up now.
Monday, September 14, 2009
Whatever happened to notions like civility, decorum, self control, keeping it to yourself if "it" isn't very pleasant? In recent days we've had several public displays from people acting as if they didn't know no better when of course they did. Rep. Joe Wilson got the ball rolling by shouting out "you lie" when the President of the United States was speaking during Obama’s address to Congress. Since then he has offered a mild apology, refused to repeat it, and has yet to acknowlege that in addition to being obnoxious and incredibly disrespectful to the office of president in general and President Obama specifically, he was also dead wrong because nothing untruthful was being said.
The kindest thing I can think to say about Wilson is that at least he kept his rude language clean. This certainly can't be said of Serena Williams who lit into a line judge for calling a foot fault on her during a critical point of her semifinal match at the US Open versus Kim Clijisters. It was an awful call at a terrible time. The match should have been decided by the players, not an official. Serena Williams deserved to be allowed to fight to the last point to defend her title, as did Kim Clijisters. They, along with the fans, were robbed of match point taking place on court with the ball in play because of what I consider to be unprofessional and very unnecessary interference. But none of this excuses the response that followed from Serena. She visibly took a moment to collect herself, but instead of using it cool down apparently employed it to decide she'd rather make her point than continue fighting for the match. So she proceeded to berate the line judge using far harsher language than the patented "you cannot be serious". It would not be a far stretch to categorize her reaction as threatening, although by the time she was informed that an additional point and therefore the match was being given to her opponent as result of her unsportsmanlike conduct, she seemed resigned to the outcome. In the press conference afterward all traces of anger were gone, but this did little to erase the image of Serena's outburst. As a professional athlete she is a role model for kids whether she wishes to be or not. As a prominent African American athlete in a sport which doesn't feature a great many of them, I feels she bears a little extra responsibility to present herself with class and composure, win or lose. Extra magnification of her behavior may not be particularly fair, but I don't see it as asking for that much either. It's not as if professional athletes aren't compensated well enough to require some decorum. She can continue to be emotional and fiery. If she wants to remain dismissive of the efforts of her competition, chalking up losses to bad play on her part rather than good play on theirs, so be it. But she should be able to express her frustration with words that are acceptable to say in front of your mother...in church. Raise the volume if you must, pace and stomp if necessary, but keep the content of your rebuttal clean.
Like Rep. Joe Wilson, Serena Williams got caught up in the heat of a moment. I don't feel the same can be said for Kanye West. Was it surprising that Taylor Swift won an award for best video by a female artist rather than Beyonce? Perhaps. Highway robbery? Maybe, although the matter is subjective and by definition a matter of opinion, not fact. Was it necessary to jump onstage during the girl's moment to express this thought? Absolutely not. Perhaps Kanye has impulse control problems, or maybe he has a compulsive need to draw attention to himself whenever the spotlight happens to be directed elsewhere. Regardless, I can see getting overheated over the subject of healthcare, or on the battlefront when contending for a Major tennis championship. But to act like an ass over the chosen winner of a video award in a category you're not even nominated in is inexcusable. There are more entertaining and dignified ways to be the squeaky wheel.
Those are my opinions on these matters. I won't be budging from them anytime soon. What do you think?
Sunday, September 6, 2009
It may be true that not every virgin is destined to become a whore, but it also cannot be denied that every whore was once a virgin. The road in between is paved by circumstance.
My First Time
Copyright by By Roy L. Pickering Jr.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to do that. I just lost my head for a moment. Are you okay? Have I hurt you? Let me help you up. I’m so sorry.”
She looks up with eyes of ice. Her bloodied upper lip is already swelling, the bruise on her cheekbone starting to take form. Reflected in her horror stricken stare is the twin reflection of a monster, and that monster is me. But her eyes lie, for I am not the grotesque caricature that she is seeing. My rash act does not accurately portray the sort of man I truly am. I have never before struck a woman in my life.
“Don’t look at me like that, baby. You know I love you. You’re everything to me.”
Hidden behind my firmest convictions and the ingrained code of conduct that I live by without reflection, I suppose there are primitive instincts that can take over in times of extreme duress. There are parts of everyone’s personality that remain invisible to the most introspective view, at the ready to emerge when called upon.
“I’ll never do anything like that ever again, you must believe me. You shocked me with what you said. It hurt me so bad to hear those words, it was like I needed to lash out to protect myself. In a perverted way, I did what I did out of self-defense. It felt as if my heart was going to shatter and I would drop dead right on this spot unless I did something to make the pain go away. For one split second, the only way I could think of to stop hurting was by hurting you.”
How can I explain to her what is incomprehensible to myself? Love can become hate in the blink of an eye, can turn back into love again twice as swiftly. Claire is my world, which means she holds the power to remove the ground from beneath my feet and send me spiraling through a dark, and cold, and empty universe.
“Please give me another chance. We’ve been together for five years. Five great years. You know me better than anyone. You know that the last thing I would ever want to do is hurt you. Let me make this up to you, baby. I want to make things right between us again. I want to get things back to the way they used to be. Don’t you want that too?”
“Yes, Michael. That is what I want. I never wanted to hurt you either.”
With these words said, Claire extends her right hand so I can help her to her feet, which is what I do. Then I draw her lithe body into my embrace, stroking her hair in a soothing manner that I hope will quell the slight trembling I feel as she presses the unbeaten side of her face against my chest. My downward gaze finds a single crimson droplet on the white shag carpet. It serves as a billboard decrying the damage wrought by my hands. I try to remain in the moment, to think only of my love for Claire, to focus solely on my desire to hold her like this forever. But my brain persists in reminding me that forever is a myth, and my memory stubbornly replays what she had just said to me, words that ignited the surprisingly short fuse of my rage.
“Michael, I don’t know how to tell you this other than to just spit it out. Nothing will soften the impact or help it make sense. I’m not expecting forgiveness or understanding. I simply cannot live with this guilt on my conscience any longer. So I’m going to tell the truth because that’s what you deserve, and whatever the repercussions are, I’ll have to live with them.”
She took a deep breath between her introduction of the awful topic that was to come and its delivery. Her set up led me to expect the worst, yet I was unable to imagine that the worst would be as bad as it turned out to be.
“I’ve been having an affair with a married man for the past eight months. He said he was going to leave his wife, and once he did, I was going to leave you. A week ago he told me that his wife was pregnant and he could no longer promise that he would be leaving her any time soon, although he hoped the two of use could continue with what we had. I told him that without any real chance of a commitment from him, I had no choice but to break things off. Then I thought long and hard about you and me, about whether I should still leave you. The answer I came up with surprised me. I realized how much I really do love you. Even though I haven’t been happy with our relationship for quite some time, for the first time in a long while, I believe that I can be. It’s going to take work. I’m going to need to share my feelings with you instead of bottling them up inside. I’m going to have to stop expecting you to be a mind reader, because as much as you want me to be happy, you don’t always know what it will take. I don’t even know what I’m expecting or hoping for life to provide most of the time, so how can I expect you to figure it out for me.”
I had been made completely numb from the initial portion of Claire’s confession. Only now were her words starting to fully register. It was as if I was a paraplegic who was beginning to feel the first tingle of sensation after years spent as a living mannequin. My skin felt too tight for my body. The beating in my chest threatened to burst through the fragile enclosure of my heart. The deafening roar and incapacitating ache in my head nearly brought me to my knees.
“I know it can be great between us, because that’s just how it used to be. But in order for that to happen, I need to lay all of my cards on the table. So that’s what I’m doing now. The way I figure, if you can love me even after learning of my betrayal, then I would be a fool to want to be with anyone else. I’m not sure that came out how I meant it to. I didn’t rehearse any of this, although I knew it would be very difficult to say. But it isn’t hard to say that I love you, Michael. I hope you can still find it in your heart to love me.”
Claire may have intended to ramble for a while longer, but she didn’t get the opportunity, for that was when I struck her. When she didn’t fall immediately to the floor as expected, I reared back and struck her again. Then I looked down at what I had done and regret put a stranglehold on indignation.
Now I’m holding her in my arms, reassuring her that everything will work out for the best. I do not doubt that she wants us to begin anew, that her love for me remains unbroken in spite of her efforts to cast it aside. When I declare that I love her now more than ever, half of me believes what I say to be sincere. The other half suspects that it’s all a sad joke. Underneath both halves lies realization that what Claire has done to me once, she will be capable of repeating. And I will be capable of paying her back in the same barbaric fashion.
I am consumed by self-pity over learning that she was unfaithful to me, and worse, that she had been so because of her unhappiness. Everything I supposedly knew turns out to have been an illusion. How can I ever be certain of anything again? I don’t know. But I must try to trust again, or else there is no point to hanging on to what we have, for it will already be dead. I am also filled with fear, afraid of fully transforming into this man I never knew I was capable of being, no matter how briefly and regardless of the provocation. The image of Frankenstein’s monster was found in my mirror, and although it was gone when I closed and then re-opened my eyes, it can return at any time.
Not too long ago I was a virgin to domestic violence, to indulging the dark underbelly of my nature. It may be true that not every virgin is destined to become a whore, but it also cannot be denied that every whore was once a virgin. The road in between is paved by circumstance.
x x x x x
Afterword: Someone once said to me: "I stayed for 5 years in a mentally/emotionally turned physically abusive relationship. I was in a daze. I was so focused on proving him how amazIng I was so that he wouldn't want to hurt me anymore. There's a myriad of reasons women stay. If you understood, you would have victim mentality in some shape that makes you susceptible to abuse."
I have no response to this that would not sound trite. But I now more fully understand that one of my jobs as a father is to make absolutely certain that a "victim mentality" has no opportunity to take root in my daughter's psyche.