Turning the Mirror in the Right Direction

“Pigs are extremely smart, sociable creatures, and this forced assembly-line intimacy makes the nursing sows want to die. Which, as soon as they dry up, they do….Even the idea of this practice I find repulsive. But the sight of it actually does something to you, makes you less human. Like watching a rape and saying nothing.” – Gillian Flynn, ‘Sharp Objects’

I shudder at the thought of what I am about to write. I am about to make myself vulnerable, and I know that vulnerability is not a norm in most societies, and yet, many of us encourage others to participate in this dance. Through the years, I have periodically reflected upon the story I’m about to share, but never to the depth at which I am sharing now, and when one allows observation and truth to be exposed openly and unbiased the results often look different than the favoritism of memory. What causes me to cringe is my confession, (and gradual acceptance): I am not always the agent for positive change.

This essay is about my role as part of the problem, many years later when almost all is forgotten, but still remembered by me, the voyeur. And this is how the recollection works: in stillness. So, be still, and experience this horror tale I’m about to retell. For me, candor is often churned in warm, morning showers when honesty can no longer be coated with the grime of disingenuous reconstructions, but instead must be scrubbed and moisturized with unblinking surveillance.

The story took place at a parent-absent party. This is what I recall: darkness, a bed, a tall boy, a blonde girl. I snuck in the room, stayed low to the ground, and listened to their fumbling noises of alcohol-infused sex. I was 15, a sophomore in high school. And for the purposes of anonymity, I will call the boy, Vlad, and the girl, Kelsey.

Upon completing his perfunctory performance, Vlad stumbled out of the bedroom, glazy-eyed and spent, goofily re-entering the main circus, where whistles, flips, and hoots were given by other clowns. The room was still dark, and I was too afraid to move, in fear that Kelsey would either hear or see me. Before I could plan my escape route, in walked another boy. His name, ironically, was Vlad, as well. Both boys were of similar stature, and Kelsey, because of darkness and drunkenness, could not clearly make out the figure who entered the room. She questioned, “Vlad, is that you?” And this second Vlad, being truthful to his name, but false to his identity, responded, “Yeah, it’s me, Vlad.” He removed his clothes, and crawled underneath the sheets with her. He raped her by having sex with her, knowing full well that he was not the Vlad she referenced. And what was done, was done, and I was left with the sounds and scents of after-sex replaying in my head.

On the following Monday, there was football practice, and I got to listen to Vlad 2 retelling his mistaken-identity-conquest. Laughter erupted, high fives were exchanged, and testosterone fueled pats were bestowed upon Vlad. And I, sheepish, quietly smiled, as I recalled my role in this tragedy. Though, at the time, I did not see my role as anything but as an innocent bystander; a voyeur who witnessed a rape.

For many years, in replaying that story, I avoided focusing on my involvement. My internal monologue went something like this: “How could Vlad, in good conscience, do that? Did he not realize he was an active participant in the violation of Kelsey? Does he think about it as often as it upsets me? I hope that someday he makes amends for what he did.”

But what about me? What about my role? I was 15 when it happened — old enough to know what took place, but not wise enough to understand what really took place. Do I hold that 15 year old self accountable for what happened in that room that night? Partially, I suppose, though the evolution of my self-actualization had barely sprouted at this point. It is easy for my 42 year old self to sit in critical judgment of an impulsive, self-destructive boy. But what of the 42 year old man? Is he culpable for the actions of a 15 year old boy?

I am not sure.

In the past few years, I have drawn my best source of growth in acknowledging that my evolution into self-actualization is predicated upon current behaviors as well as my reflection upon past decisions. Healing happens by owning, (without the need of self-aggrandizing guilt), my deeds, without giving partiality to those actions that cast me into a propitious light. My past is a part of my present, as is solid rock a product between the collaboration of sand, water, and time. Any of my solidity today was long ago incurred from my antiquity, the melding of both the glorious and the ignoble tales. By disowning any part of my story, I deny my entire narrative; I sever that which is me.

I do not know what became of Vlad 1 or Kelsey. I have had no contact with either one since my high school days. I see Vlad 2 through the byproduct of social media, (i.e., google searches), and his even rarer appearances at reunions. In truth, this story has many players: two Vlads, one Kelsey, a room full of party people, a football team, and a silent observer. But I am concerned about that last character, the muted extra. The 15 year old boy who had a pastime of voyeuristic exploits, who judged Vlad 2 for his actions, but, (until now), remained silent about his own inaction. The 15 year old boy who grew up into the 42 year old man. The 42 year old man who can no longer remain hushed, nor shun his part in the script.

My mother is a big believer in the following statement: deeds done in the dark will one day be brought to the light. My mother is right.

I am sorry Kelsey. Sorry for all those gender wars you fought because of your beauty. I am sorry that you were raped by Vlad 2 on that evening so long ago. And I am sorry for my part in the calamity. I am sorry for raping you…with my silence.