30 December 2009

Lives Begin And End With The Old And New Years

Today, over lunch, Bruce pointed out, "This will be your first year in your new life."

As he's been in my life for longer than any other friend I have, it was especially gratifying to hear from him. And Charlie, the proprietor of Bicycle Habitat (where I bought my two Mercians as well as a bunch of parts and accessories) said the same thing, almost verbatim, when I stopped in his shop.

On the penultimate day of this year, it's difficult not to think about the upcoming year--or the one that's passing, or the ones that have passed. In some small but odd and interesting ways, they all intersected today.

I've known Charlie and Hal, his ace mechanic for only a couple of years less than I've known Bruce. I used to work for American Youth Hostels, when it was located on Spring Street: just around the corner from their shop on Lafayette Street.

Today, when I went into Habitat, I saw Esta, Charlie's wife, for the first time in about twenty years. She concurred with my perception of time: Our last meeting was shortly after the elder of her two sons was born, and he's twenty-three years old now, if I'm not mistaken.

Of course, the last time she saw me, I was essentially a different person. She said as much. Actually, she said that she doesn't recall me, as I was then, so well. I didn't mind that, actually. But then she also said that even though she couldn't recall my male incarnation that well, something was "familiar" about me when she saw me today.

She's not the first person to say that upon seeing me again after a long absence. I didn't ask what she meant. It might have been my speech, my body language or any number of other things.

I've encounters with people I hadn't seen in some time and even though I couldn't very well visualize the way those people were in earlier times, they were also "familiar" in some way.

I don't know what she was picking up on. But I know that I tend to remember people by something more essential, if I do remember them. It could be some glimpse I had into their characters, or even their souls.

Getting a glimpse of somebody's soul, however, isn't always as wonderful as it sounds. Indeed, nothing can be more terrifying sometimes--especially, it almost goes without saying, when you see darkness there but have no language for expressing it or any other means of defending against, or fighting, it. That is what sometimes happens to children.

And it happened to me more than a few times as I was growing up. Perhaps the most extreme example came with a longtime family friend. Something about him had always given me the creeps; I knew, for reasons that I could not explain, that neither I nor any other member of my family was safe around him.

Tonight my mother explained at least part of that man's dark essence: "He was manipulative. That's something you had to understand if you were going to spend any time around him." Yes, that was something I felt when I was a very young child, even though that word wasn't yet in my vocabulary, much as the language of self-help books and pop psychology wasn't part of most people's everyday parlance at that time.

He always managed to get people to do things that were not in the interests in their well-being. That's how he was on a good day. On a bad day, he'd wreck something in your life without your seeing (at least not immediately) his hand in it. Then he would offer his hand to help.

By now, you might have guessed what he did to me. Yes, he sexually forced himself on me. I'm still not exactly sure of when was the first or last time he did it. I know that the first incidence of his forcing himself on me that I would recall--when I was thirty-four years old--took place when I was about nine years old. Though it was his first sexual exploitation of me that I would recall, I know it wasn't the first or last I experienced with him.

When he "finished with" me that day, he made me swear I wouldn't tell anyone. I kept that promise for about twenty-five years. The truth was, for many years afterward, I wouldn't have known what to say, or how to say it, even if I didn't have any fear of what he "might do to" me.

So why am I mentioning him now? Well, I was talking to Mom a little while ago, and she told me she found out, the other day, that he died in February. She learned of this from someone else he manipulated and took advantage of, though in very different ways from the way he abused me.

In one sense, I am more fortunate than that person who gave my mother the news: I haven't seen the man in more than thirty years; he was in her life until near the end of his.

So how do I feel about his death? Well--as terrible as this is to say--not a whole lot. Not having seen him in so long, I am past hating, and even fearing, him. Whatever rage I felt over what he did to the child I was is gone now: That child, by necessity, has become me. He cannot harm that child again, just as he cannot harm me now, or anyone else who came into contact with him.

I am not being hyperbolic when I say that he didn't improve the life of anyone he met. In fact, I'd say he wrecked a few lives and derailed a few more. But, at least now he can no longer hurt anyone.

I can't say I feel relief or an urge to sing, "Ding dong, the witch is dead," or anything like that. All I know is that another chapter of my past is done, on this penultimate day of the year that started in one life and ended in another.