blank'/> Mirth, Melancholy, and the Mundane: July 2014

Friday, July 18, 2014

Pressed between the pages....

Lately I have been going through boxes in my attic that are full of things that I've carried from place to place over the span of my life.  They are mementos of times gone by and include everything from greeting cards and scrawly art projects to tiny clothing I once wore and ticket stubs with fading ink.  Next to the tub from which I am pulling things is an empty one where I put things I want to keep holding on to.  Some things go in there automatically - tiny shoes, my first doll, cards and letters from grandparents who are no longer here with us.  Some things I dwell on...touching the past in a tangible way and reveling in the memories once more.  Not all the memories are good, but they are all significant in some meaningful way and are part of the mosaic of who I am.  Products of my past.

A sampling...

A card given to my grandfather from my grandmother.  Inside she expressed her love for him in her elegant script and touching it brought tears to my eyes that turned to laughter.  She closed her inscription with the phrase "have a nice day" and that adorable innocence is how I remember her. I may never know if she was really cheating at Yahtzee or just forgot how many times she rolled...

Piles of letters written by my mother whenever I was away - summer camp, school trips, college, student teaching abroad.  She wrote of all the things that were happening in her world, leavings with a splash of home in the midst of whatever strange experiences in which I found myself immersed.  She signed every single one of them "Love ya, Mom" in her familiar hand.

A program for a Meatloaf concert and numerous ticket stubs.  My brother was my concert buddy - still is on a smaller scale.  We would go, for instance, to the Downtown Festival Tent every year to see REO  Speedwagon...even the year that I had just gotten out of the hospital following surgery on my jaw.  So many other concerts that it seemed only fitting that when I graduated from college, he gave me two tickets to see Boston's Walk On tour.  The Meatloaf concert was a deal - I'd go see Steve Miller with him if he'd go see Meatloaf with me. We both loved both concerts.

An envelop full of high school graduation documents showing various accomplishments in the face of what I have increasingly come to see as a very difficult time in my life.  People sometimes say that high school was the best time of their lives.  Not me.  I never felt I fit in anywhere and yet it was a formative time that laid the groundwork for all the successes that came after.  In the face of adversity (of, honestly, a very mundane kind), I made it.  That envelop represents that to me.

A book of early poems.  Oh, they are so wonderful in their juvenile awfulness. The childish scrawl, the teddy bear cover...all of it.  Painful rhymes, choppy rhythms....but there are nuggets there that, again, laid the groundwork for what I think is better, wiser, stronger poetry of which I can be proud.

These things are all special to me - and there is so much more.  I am thinning the collection some.  There are things whose importance has been lost in time and the fog of the past.  There are things of which I am ready to let go.  There are things that just seem silly now.  But all of it begs the question of what will it all mean someday when I am gone?  I think of this sometimes when I find myself shifting through a box lot at an auction with my dad.  Old letters and postcards in flowing script describing someone else's faraway home in a faraway time.  And I'm not sure we value the paper of now as we value the paper of old.  So perhaps it will all someday be recycled and pass out of time and space.   For now, though, they will stay close to me and mine, weaved into the person I am, the person I was, and the person I will someday be.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

That Which Does Not Kill Us...


Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you. – Friedrich Nietzsche

So, there is a registered sex offender living next door. All that separates our house from where he lives is a hedge and the driveway into the cemetery. I know he is there because we received the mandatory letter from the police department with most of the relevant information. I looked him up on the registry and, to get the more unpleasant details out of the way early, this is what I found out: he is a violent offender whose victim was 12 years old. He is a level 3 risk and was charged with forcible compulsion. Quick searches online revealed that he plead out, which explains why he only received five years. He will be 34 this month. He is mandated to attend anti-violent and anti-aggression counseling. He is prohibited alcohol and is not allowed to drive. He has a curfew.

This particular type of crime repulses me to no end. I would wager than any decent human finds it be one of the worst things we can imagine. The violation of a child and the utter destruction of that child’s innocence are beyond our ability to comprehend on any rational level. Regardless of how horrific his own background might have been, there seems to be no possible way to excuse his behavior. It wasn't a mistake, as a drunk driver might say. He didn't do it to feed his starving family, as a thief might say. He wasn't a mislead youth, as a vandal might say. It wasn't self-defense, as a murderer might say. His behavior is the action of a depraved human being who – at our kindest – we can say has an illness of the brain. None of the public documentation indicates this to be the case at all, but I am willing to concede that it is possible. Even that, however, is not enough for me to feel anything but disgust. As a woman living in a rape culture, as a human being with a heart, as someone who was once a child…I just cannot shake off the utter revulsion I feel when I consider what he did. I try not to.

All of this leads me to an interesting place of discussion. Our justice system is a flawed thing, no doubt. But it is the system that we have and I’m not sure I have a better system in mind to replace it with if I could. So, we have to fight it when it is unfair, and we have to make do with what it gives us. This man is on probation and living next door in a neighborhood where the school bus stops directly across the street from his residence. Young girls, female runners, and countless walkers flow through the cemetery steadily as it is a great place to get away from roads and traffic. This is frightening to me. All of it. Our justice system says that he has paid his dues. He should be, in some ways, just another citizen with a couple of extra hoops through which he must jump. But even the documentation identifies him as having a “high risk of repeat offense” and acknowledges that “a threat to public safety exists.” The recidivism rate of sex offenders has always been thought to be high. This is public information. So, what do we do?

I don’t mean on a personal level. I am always careful of my person and now will be more so. I’m fairly certain that JDB won’t actually run him over with the car. His house is easy to avoid and foreknowledge is forewarned. Not for nothing, this is why they tell us he is there. For our protection and the protection of our children. 

But, (if you are feeling up to it), spend a few moments reading the comments on this kind of story anywhere on the Internet or listening to people discussing a crime of this nature and the barbarism is truly shocking. So many terrifying things come from those who are angry and feel helpless when encountered with a story of the abuse of a child, sexual or otherwise. When society isn't victim shaming, its collective heart breaks and its blood boils to contemplate, in any way, crimes of a sexual nature.  It is a truly damaging crime that is all too prevalent and under-reported in a culture that seems steeped in factors that feed it. But the violent threats and suggestions of how to solve the problem of the rapist are rarely palatable and often are disturbing in and of themselves. That said, I also firmly believe that the people who let such suggestions enter their public discourse could never actually follow through. It is a coping mechanism. I have heard it as such, I understand it as such, I have even had such thoughts myself.

But that does leave us with the very real dilemma borne out of a general quandary regarding what we actually can and should do. On one hand, he paid his dues (regardless of whether or not I think it was enough) and as long as he continues to do what he is supposed to do, he should be allowed to continue on unmolested. That’s what makes people like us better than people like him. We can rise above our primal instincts which call for him to suffer unendingly for what he has done. We have to believe in the system of a civilized society where we understand that if we gaze too long into the abyss, we eventually become one with the abyss itself. 

But, that leaves us with the problem of what to do. He must work – but who will hire him? He has to live somewhere, but who wants him as a neighbor? And if he is repeatedly and continually ostracized by society, isn't that more likely to drive him to more criminal behavior? What about the conundrum of Broward County, Florida? In 2009, a registered sex offender was begging to be arrested again because there was absolutely nowhere for him to live that was within the confines of his probation. Protecting the public is paramount…but don’t we, as human beings with hearts, have some duty to other living creatures? No matter how reprehensible their behavior has been? When a dog is rabid, we euthanize because we cannot cure what ails him. Problem solved, albeit painfully. Where do we draw the line? Especially since, no matter what your views on capital punishment are, a death sentence has collateral damage that is often overlooked.

This is something I feel uniquely sharply because one of my greatest strengths is also one of my greatest weaknesses.  Empathy.  I kill no creatures if I can at all help it and I often find myself pulled into the emotions of others to the point where I run the risk of drowning in them. When I don’t drown, it is a good thing not only for me but for whoever has leaned on me in a time of need. When I do find myself slipping, it can be heartbreaking, exhausting, and agonizing. It also makes me feel this whole topic rather keenly. Wasps can kill me – as I said in my last blog – and yet I won’t kill one. I’ll capture it and put it outside. If it were to sting me, I would know that it was just engaging in its own nature. As long as we avoid one another, that nature can continue, unabated and unharmful for both parties.

But what about my neighbor? Is the letter from the police department the cup placed over the wasp?  Do we simply  live and let live? Hope he doesn't repeat offend? Find comfort in the litany of restrictions placed on him? Trust the system? Especially since the recidivism rates may not be quite as bad as public opinion thinks they are? Does the percentage even matter? I cannot put any other sort of cup over him and let him outside, so I have to learn to be safe.   I cannot engage in self-torture by dwelling on his crime and I cannot sentence him for one he has not yet committed.   
We must, for the moment, co-exist.  Some small voice, however, knows the guilt will sit heavily on me if that next crime should come to pass. Not because of any rational sense of wrong doing but simply because of a zone of proximity that will leave me feeling as if there must have been something I could have done.

In the meantime, I will simply say that I don’t have the answers. I just know I’m more careful and I have added another bullet to the pro column of reasons to move to the country. Which will not solve the larger problem; it will only make it not my problem. Because that is what we do when we don’t have the answers.  If there are too many wasps, we run.