The following post is the first in a series of occasional posts that will help me process all the crap that happened to me during my time in South Florida. I know I was a much kinder person before living there (where the ugliness of America seems heavily concentrated).
The first life-changing event of my adult life took place early in 2004. I was out walking Murphy early one evening when I saw a group of kids playing in a parking lot off the main drive. Some of them I didn't recognize, and a few I did. In particular, there were two boys I'd talked to before.
But on this particular day, I didn't talk to them. Murph and I were walking along the sidewalk, on the far side of the main drive, and we stopped to watch for a few seconds. All I remember was having a silent chuckle at their youthful innocence when I hear a woman yelling at me from my right.
"Hey. I'd better never see you do that again," she said.
"Excuse me?" My reply was not aggressive. For the first few seconds, I really didn't know what she was talking about, or even if she was talking to me. But when I saw the insinuation in her eyes, I got angry in a hurry. "What did you say?"
"I know what you were thinking,' she added.
Well, then she must've looked right through my own innocence in that moment, and focused on my dark, troll-like features, because there could be no explanation in between for her.
I began a heated march toward her car. I forgot almost entirely that there were kids nearby as I let the swear words loose at her. To be quite honest, I don't know how I restrained myself from putting a massive dent in the hood of her car. And there I stood at the front of her car, demanding to know what she meant. She was a true coward, willing to make the worst of accusations, but unwilling to stand behind it to my face.
Poor Murph. He was just out for a walk with me, and all of a sudden I'm dragging him all over the apartment complex. As that toxic bitch drove away at low speed, I chased her everywhere. I never really figured out why she drove all over the complex like she did. Maybe she felt compelled to engage in some personal crusade to save the neighborhood from the evil-looking man and his bait-dog. What she probably didn't count on was me following her the whole way, yelling as loud as I deemed necessary. I wanted to hear her say what she had only insinuateed so far. Fucking coward.
When she did finally accuse me of being a pedophile, I told her I lived in the apartment complex with my girlfriend, and asked if she wanted to come up and meet her. Her reply was, of course, that all child molesters have girlfriends. I don't remember her reply when I told her I used to do volunteer work as a tutor and mentor for elementary school children while I was an undergrad. But I'm sure it didn't matter anyway. You can't argue with ignorant Americans, because for them, the alternative is admitting they might be wrong.
Eventually she drove off and out of the complex, and I was left more furious that nothing had been resolved. Immediately, I went to the apartment where the boys I knew lived, and I asked to talk to their mom. I explained what had happened, and that the whole thing was bullshit. I was just standing, watching them play. The boys' mom seemed surprised at the whole thing, especially the behavior of the old woman, because apparently she knew the crotchety old sack that lived across the parking lot. Still, the mother seemed to believe me at the time, or she put on a good act.
But pedophilia isn't something a parent is willing to give the benefit of the doubt on. This is why I got so angry at the accusation. The boys' mom never looked at me the same. If her boys were out playing when I walked Murphy down that side of the complex, she'd call them in. Never mind that I lived in their fucking building.
Even the police did nothing. I called an officer out the next morning to file a report. He said maybe the woman had thought I looked like someone on a sex offender bulletin, as if that would somehow make everything okay for me. (Of course, this was the Davie Police--that outfit ready to protect and serve--from which I actually had an officer say as I was reporting my bicycle stolen: "What do you want me to do about it?")
This accusation was was the eye opener for me in life in America. What does that say about our society when a grown man can't look at children playing without being seen as a pervert? Are we really that ready to see sex in everything? I know I'm more likely to question myself now, and how others see me. That wretched woman's reaction to me was so totally unexpected and off-base that I now know any accusation is possible. I have since had two people who were once friends bring this event up as an accusation (the first, less than a year after it happened, and the second, more than five years later). It's an open wound in my life, and one that will remain open for some time yet.
But that's the power of accusation (especially on someone like me who takes personal attacks very personally). I know I can't ever mentor children again, because I won't let myself take the chance of having my life overturned by rumor, even for the sake of a troubled kid. See, that's the thing about accusing someone of child molestation. It's the most vicious rumor that can stick to a person. Guilt or innocence isn't even up for discussion.
When it comes to any behavior that society despises, there is no stalemate. Uncertainty is a guilty verdict. And that wretched bitch, with one loss of restraint between her brain and her mouth, made guilt out of an innocent man. For that I may never forgive her.
I did make eye contact with her once more. Murph and I ran past her apartment one morning. I was still a somewhat forgiving person at the time, so I tossed her a quick hi. I can still picture her up there, surrounded in cigarette smoke, glaring down at me with nothing but the unbridled contempt of her hollow soul. She never even considered that she'd made a mistake. For that, I will not forgive her.