Sunday, March 01, 2009

randy

It's a tough thing to wind up in prison, the result of too much alcohol and a run of bad luck with the cops. In Oklahoma, though, where prisons are chock full of dopers and drunks, getting out on pre-release is fast and easy. Just mind your manners and get to some of those AA meetings inside. The concept of born again in this state isn't limited to the church folk.

When I met Randy, he was a born again drunk, fired up about AA, excited to be able to go to "real" meetings, non-con meetings, in the real world at Mt. Zion Baptist Church. The Mt. Zion meeting was for hard cases and our rooms were always filled with folks needing a signature on the judge's slip, not wanting to quit, but in trouble with the law and looking for the easy way out.

Randy was different. He was bright eyed, engaged, he paid attention. He got to meetings early from the pre-release prison a few blocks from the church. He reached out his hand to others. He separated himself from the back rows, where his compatriots huddled in resentful masses, their anger directed at us, the AA folks, as if we'd sent them there.

He started following me in the various rooms, this man. When I chaired the beginner's meeting, he was there. When I spoke at Friday night open meeting, he got a special pass to come. He talked to me between meetings, he asked me to be his sponsor. I introduced him to Mike instead.

Randy was my ever present shadow. He was so happy, so excited, so full of hope about his life, and he regularly told me how my story inspired him, how much it meant to him to hear of someone not drinking and happy about it. Like most folks, I am not immune to compliments and I am drawn to people who think well of me. Lord knows, I've spent half of my adult life dealing with hostility and anger dumped squarely in my lap as a representative of authoritarian unpleasantness: child welfare, juvenile parole. And so I appreciate it when people like me. I liked him back and was happy that he was finding hope in the rooms of AA.

I was on fire with AA back then, living each moment in the glowing warmth of spiritual awareness. I'd worked the steps with such intensity and so many times that I felt as if they buoyed me up, floating through life on a wonderful raft of joy and love, friendship and spiritual connection. I told myself that was what Randy was hearing: a message of hope, that he was finding inspiration in meeting people who were sober and happy about it. He seemed to really want it for the entire year that he was in pre-release. He joined our group, he attended every meeting, he was, as we say, "doing the deal."

And then he vanished. I heard from the other inmates that he'd been paroled, that he left the prison and was free out in the world. Every week, I expected to see him standing at the door, hand outstretched, welcoming people to the group. I was disappointed when he didn't show up, but it happens. I wished him well.

* * * * * *

The case on my desk at the justice center came in just before 5:00 on a Thursday afternoon. Two children, a 5 year old boy and a 7 year old girl, in the shelter with severe bruises and possible sexual abuse. I ran by the shelter on my way home to talk to the kids, to make contact, because ending up there is a frightening thing for most kids.

These little ones, though, they were different. The first thing the boy said was "Do I have to go home?" and the little girl's eyes grew huge as she looked at me and whispered "Do we?" No, not home today. I told them about the center where I worked, how we'd have a doctor take a look at them to be sure everything's okay, that I'd be talking to them some more the next day and they would sleep at the shelter this night and probably the next, at least. Their relief was evident in their smiles. Unusual. Most children are afraid of the shelter, even if home is a horror.

I picked them up the next day and we went for exams, for interviews. The physical abuse ~ the bruising, the scars ~ it was the least of what these kids had been going through. "Pawpaw" had been touching them, more than touching them. Pawpaw put his "thing" in her mouth, in his bottom. He tied her hands and left her in the closet alone for hours. He beat the boy with the buckle end of a belt because the five year old could not stop weeping the first time he was raped. These children were scarred, inside and out. Like many chronically abused children, they detailed the horrors visited upon their small bodies with little emotion, in monotone, as if recounting what they'd seen on television the night before.

It was no TV program, though, that gave these babies an adult's knowledge of sex, of the damage that can be done by a hard cock and no conscience. Their descriptions of Pawpaw's physical characteristics were detailed and both mentioned a mole on the side of his penis, the fact that his pubic hair was gray, that he had a scar on his lower belly. In separate interviews, they described the man in such vivid terms I could almost see him myself: enraged, inflamed with lust, thoughtlessly wounding with no thought for the pain of those tiny bodies.

It was Friday night late before we got done and it was apparent these kids were staying with us. There was a mom in the picture, according to the kids, but she was "afraid of PawPaw too."

I met her Monday morning, a petite, dark haired, lovely young woman with frightened eyes. She wanted her children back. She had gone through a divorce and moved back home with her mother. Everything went okay until her stepdad moved in. At that point, the abuse she had suffered at his hands, abuse for which he had gone to prison, started again.

He had begun molesting her when she was eight. He waited until the day after her 18th birthday to rape her, telling her as he forced her to fuck him that she was an adult now and nothing could happen to him.

Something did, though. She actually told someone, the cops got involved and he wound up doing time for a rape, but not for the 10 years of hell that preceded it. Sherry got married, had two babies, thought she was safe. She never thought he'd do it again. She never thought he'd do it to her children.

In the parlance of child welfare, the stepfather is a third party perpetrator if he doesn't live with the children. In those instances, the police take over the perpetrator interviews. If he is living with the kids, though, then he's a caretaker and subject to child welfare intervention.

He was mine. I called him up. Oh, he was charming, this man named R.L. He missed his babies so much, didn't know what that girl was saying about him, she was resentful and always had been about her mother marrying him. He'd just tried to do right by all the kids and she'd tell the most terrible lies, that girl, terrible.

Our appointment was at 2:00 and I was called from the front desk when he arrived. There are a thousand ways to say "Imagine my surprise," "Not in my wildest dreams," "Who would have thought," "Would you ever have believed" and none come close to the feeling I experienced when my 2:00 appointment ~ R.L. ~ was my Randy.

My Randy. The man I believed in, the one I had such hopes for, the one I laughed with, prayed with, invited into our lives. Randy the drunk. Randy the child rapist. Randy the persistent, repetitive, violent sex offender. After almost two years, Randy again.

I have never claimed to be an excellent judge of character as I've heard so many people proudly insist about themselves. In fact, the grave doubts I've held about the judgment of others have usually arisen out of someone's insistence that I am this great thing or another. Utterly convinced they could ferret out the truth about me, they've no room for doubt.

Those ferreting abilities, though? They've never been a match for my skill in deception, in covering up, in hiding the truth about me, especially when I was using and drinking. I do have character strengths, more evident in the last 25 years, but I would never claim the excellent character others have attributed to me, and I've never really imagined myself a top notch judge of others. I'm pretty good at hiding, it's a skill I've perfected.

And still . . . still, knowing what I know about myself, still I thought I could know someone, could see through the outside just a bit, into the truth of a man's soul. I thought he was a good man. I believed it. I would have told you then that I knew he was a good man.

I'm not sure what that all means or even why I've written this. It just strikes me anew sometimes how we can never really know another, not entirely, not 100%. My sweet man, my Mike, I'd tell you would never, could never do certain things and I believe it, I know it.

I know it.

And then there's Randy. Charming, happy, child fucking, woman raping, ex-con, alcoholic-in-recovery one-day-at-a-time Randy. I think of Randy and I realize I know nothing. I know no one. Not really, not 100%. It's just not possible. And that not knowing, that separation, it feels a little lonesome sometimes.

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20 Comments:

Blogger Greg said...

A stunning story wonderfully written, as always. At the end of the AA section I was actually worrying that this would be the story of Randy's demise. The second section was an exercise in dread and denial for me, as I read on hoping that the idea dawning on me was incorrect.

And yes, I agree about not knowing people. It's something that horrifies me even with less extreme examples than Randy. The House Manager at my Mother's previous (sheltered) apartment building was THE most dependable and solicitous and decent-seeming guy I've ever met and he's now going to jail for stealing vast sums of money from trusting old ladies.

I am a loner by nature, almost a hermit, so I'm always struggling to make an effort to include more people in my life against my inclinations, but stories like this make me want to lift the draw-bridge and hide away in my stronghold. The inexplicable thinking going on inside other people's heads, at the best of times, frightens the shit out of me. If people can think in such completely alien ways it makes me question all I know about the world.

But someone like Randy - the horror and disgust are overwhelming.

I truly want that cabin in the woods far far away from the world.

March 10, 2009 7:17 AM  
Blogger Willym said...

I wasn't sleeping well last night and got up at around 3 am and started to read this post. I began to weep as I read it. I realized that I was weeping for so many reasons: for those sad, damaged children, for their violated mother, for people struggling with addiction, for the times when my own judgement has gone awry and for the many things I have learned to hide from even those I love. And for the sad realization that we never really know each other.

As always with your words you have moved me and you've given me much to think about.

March 10, 2009 8:02 AM  
Blogger NewMe said...

Belle,

You are an artist of the word--even if that word speaks horror.

Thanks for this beautiful, difficult, thought-provoking piece.

March 10, 2009 2:10 PM  
Blogger BigAssBelle said...

Greg, you've had that same disappointment in someone you believed in. It's so shocking to have that happen, isn't it? But I know that most people are decent and don't hide who they are. I believe that (don't know it, necessarily, but that's a different matter). I think we have to believe it or else go mad trying to figure out the truth about those around us. Don't pull up the drawbridge yet, the vast majority of people are good and honorable and true.

Willym, it's a complete bummer, isn't it? Why such a rotten post today, so sorry. Never really knowing each other is a painful truth. But what you've got with your sweet man is surely as close as it's possible to come?

NewMe . . . thanks for dropping by. I am going to rethink throwing this out there. Maybe some things are too ugly and it's my truth, which certainly isn't everyone's.

I think I've been in such a negative place in my life that I'm focusing on the ugly. AA taught me the exact opposite and I've found that focusing on what's good in the world increases my own happiness. I just can't seem to do it lately. I still really, really, really hate George Bush. I thought I'd get over it but the wreckage of his past has turned the world into such a shitpile, it's hard to get over him.

March 10, 2009 2:42 PM  
Blogger jenX67 said...

*listened to every word you wrote*

March 10, 2009 10:30 PM  
Anonymous ewe said...

Breathe. Consciousness. Alive. Presence. Noisy thinking. Fantasy of future. Light. NOW. Primary purpose. Universe conspiracy. Experience. Alignment. Interference. Phantom. Suffering. Disfunction. Insanity. Safety. Trauma. Fragility. Tears. Protection. Timeless. Labeling. Commenting. Structures. Ego. Goodness. Love. Awareness. Nothing. Feeling. Being. Problem? Challenges. Attention. React. Action. Intelligence. Burden. Alert. Erosion. Karma. Conditioning. Mistaken identity. Form. Manifestation. Struggle. Stress. Pointless. Success. Knowledge. Neediness. Maneuver. Eliminate. Surface reality. Happiness. Fullfillment. Stillness. Being. Life. Satisfaction. ONE. Spirit. History. Totality. Outward. Beyond. Itself. Essential. Nature. Unlimited. Peace. Dream. Recognition. Essence. Sacred. Transformation. Density. Reflection. Psychological. Physical. Threat. Alien. Conceptualization. Other. Violence. Dead. Harmony. Expectation. Fear. Enjoyment. Humanity. Difference. Beautiful. Illusion. Judgement. Space. Special. Attachment. Mind. Sense. Relate. Opinion. Joy. Moment. Liberation. Rising above. Arrival. Whole. Expression. Entrust. Develop. Person. Perform. Use. Support. Claim. Connectedness. Helpful. Happen. Amazing. Becoming. Antagonistic. Movement. Retire. Time. Doing. Opening. Language. Separation. World. Illumination. Freedom. Awakening. Madness. Grateful.

Thank you Lynette.

March 11, 2009 1:22 AM  
Blogger Greg said...

Please don't remove the post, Lynette, if that's what you were saying to NewMe - it's a terrific piece of writing and, I think, something worth bearing in mind. Yes, it's an extreme case and, as you say, people are, in general, good.

I am, to a lesser degree, horrified also by the alien thinking I witness with people on the roads, or in the supermarket, even at crowded galleries, but posting about those frustrations would seem trivial and not get anyone's attention like your story here.

In my small experience of blogging, it's precisely the posts that I'm unsure about, that trouble me, that are the most rewarding in the end. Please know how much I appreciated reading it.

March 11, 2009 7:00 AM  
Blogger Lily's Mommy said...

Sigh. I want my cabin in the woods too. Lately "humanity" has been depressing me. I try too, to believe that most people are good. But I hear these stories. Thank you for sharing yours.

I've spent a lot of time lately trying to understand why people do such horrible things to each other. If you have any ideas, I'd love to hear them.

March 11, 2009 10:26 AM  
Blogger Jeff said...

Lynette,

It's a complex and important piece, beautifully constructed as always, and a reminder of what a complex thing humanity is- how there is "good" in "evil" people and "evil" in "good" ones.

I think we're all on a continum, and that we can swing to either side based on situation and opportunity.

Thanks for such a powerful insight.

March 11, 2009 2:03 PM  
Anonymous Michele said...

Please don't move it Ms. Lynette. Good work piercing right to where it matters. What happened to the children?

March 12, 2009 12:58 PM  
Anonymous formerlyAnon said...

I visit here infrequently, but I am so glad when I do. You write powerfully, I hope the writing lessens your own burdens.

What strengthens me is the (indirect) portrayal of a woman who has not given up, who still can care, who is still doing what she can in this hard, beautiful, ugly world. Because, as I am certain you know, all of us, at some time or other, are enabled to continue on under our own burden because of something offered - sometimes a tiny thing, a tone of voice or smile - by another human being. And even if it is scraped up from the bottom of a soul nearly dry, it still helps.

March 12, 2009 1:30 PM  
Blogger Doralong said...

I think what you saw was hope, perhaps even within the most evil soul there is still some small spark of good. Given the fact that the job you did forced you to witness the most wretched and horrifying aspects of human nature, I'm not the least bit surprised you tried to see goodness in this person.

March 13, 2009 7:37 AM  
Blogger more cowbell said...

Oh Lynette. I can't even imagine.

As far as the post, you know, life is ugly sometimes, it just is. But your writings about those sometimes ugly aspects, I think it helps counter the tendency to become desensitized to the constant influx of ugly thrown at us from the news media. Writing like this, yes, it brings the horror forward, but not writing about it doesn't make that disappear.

Writings like this wrench our guts and slap us out of the desensitized numbness of this world. That's not necessarily a bad thing...

Keep writing Lynette. You've been told many times that you have a gift. There's a reason for that, girl.

March 14, 2009 6:10 PM  
Blogger Linda said...

Such a sad, sad post but if I were one of the victims, I would be at least a little glad that someone let the world know what that monster did to me.

March 15, 2009 3:52 PM  
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March 16, 2009 2:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

interesting.

hugs not drugs,
chubby hubby

March 16, 2009 7:04 AM  
Anonymous Keith said...

From Springsteen's "Nebraska" about Charles Starkweather:

They declared me unfit to live; said into that great void my soul'd
be hurled
They wanted to know why I did what I did
Well sir I guess there's just a meanness in this world


You wrote:

I've found that focusing on what's good in the world increases my own happiness. I just can't seem to do it lately.

I can't do it at all anymore. I wish I could.

March 17, 2009 6:56 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

Ugly is as much a part of life as beauty...thank you for so eloquently reminding us. Sometimes the ugly is what shakes us up, and helps us grow........

March 17, 2009 4:54 PM  
OpenID boxcarokie.com said...

Riveting. You are such a wordsmith, and it held my attention to the very end, incredible piece of work.

BCO

March 18, 2009 1:12 AM  
Blogger Other Mother said...

I have a fresh hole in my heart for those kids. We can never know another person's soul. But for myself, I can only be as honest as I know how and humble. Thank you, Lynette.

March 18, 2009 5:10 PM  

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