There’s a story I have often imagined. It is set on a summer beach in New Zealand sometime in the late 70s. There are four young married couples out there, all with kids in tow, hair sunbleached and skin sunbrowned, nicks and cuts on their feet from the ubiquitous oyster-shells, the nightly ritual of cleaning sand from cuts and taking a needle to the prickles that find their way even into the hardest, calloused soles. There are tents, and fishing rods, and cans of Double Brown cooling in a shaded pool in the stream that runs into the estuary, and one day a couple of those brown-skinned, blonde-haired boys say to their mums that one of the dads has been fiddling with their diddles and bums in a way that doesn’t seem right.
So the mums are a bit panicked and the dads want to know what is going on – and the fourth dad, the one who has apparently been touching the boys, feels the conversation in the air like a sudden draft of icy air on a hot day, and he doesn’t know what the fuck to do…
And now there is another conversation, the one where they come over and talk with him and his wife. And he promises things. And they promise things. And now it’s time to pack up his kids and his tent and get the tins of Watties baked beans out of the communal larder, grab the old Thermette he uses to heat the water for everyone’s tea, maybe collect a couple of the gnomes he was carving out of old wood he found in the dunes, load up the packs and hike back along the beach to the cars when all the while there are three couples (friends up until half an hour ago) watching him; friends who now know that he likes to fiddle with little boys. Their little boys.
And how angry you must be if you’re the wife, herding the kids, loading the bags, silently, pursed-lipped, livid, driving back to Papatoetoe, to Dingwall, with your arsehole husband in your fucking red ford cortina, waiting for the day when the money kicks in as his surgery practice kicks off, and you will pay off the mortgage and put in a para-pool by the barbecue, and buy a better car, with the kids fighting in the backseat and the youngest one already developing that pout she’ll put to great use in her teens… and not only is he a pompous dickhead sometimes but now he has to make a fool of you in the cafes of Parnell with his hands down some kid’s stubbies. But they promised they wouldn’t tell anyone about it. They promised, and we’ll find new friends, there’s that nice couple with the four kids who live out in Manukau… their youngest, Jonno, is only a little younger than ours…
And although I can reason with myself that they didn’t know what we know now about paedophiles, that it was a different time, I have at times been poisoned with a hot, unreasoning hatred toward the people who never said anything, who never warned my parents. I have wanted to kill them, to smear my shit all over their front doors, to smash their windows or faces, to ram large blunt wooden things into their body cavities… (and don’t get me started on how I feel about Patricia, his wife)
When the police discovered that El Pedo’s indiscretions went back that early; that adults who could have protected and saved me and the other boys did not do so; the anger I felt was so huge that it turned inwards, and drove me the closest I ever came to killing myself.
I can understand a pedo. I understand urges. I understand sickness, or manipulation, or even malevolence.
I can almost forgive them. Almost.
But I cannot understand an adult who stands by and lets it happen.
I’m going to paraphrase the Laches here – but Fear is a component of Bravery. A person who rushes into battle with no fear is foolhardy. A person who is ruled by fear, and runs from the fight, is a coward. Only someone who knows fear, who feels it and acknowledges the potential consequences of their actions and still goes in to fight can be called brave.
So – to bring this post around to the what I’m really writing about: what was Joe Paterno afraid of? Was his image of godliness so important? Did the Cult of Joe allow no possibility of mortal weakness in it’s temple? Was the image of purity so important that you would allow one of your apostles to stick around even when you know he raped at least one boy in your team shower? What is the metric of bravery there? What is the fear? What is the battle? What sort of coward runs away from such a fight?
I was brave this week. After reading Freeh’s report, I was riding wife-wards on my motorcycle, racing for her shelter against the tears in my eyes and the leaping, furious beast of anger in my chest. Just as it did, many years before, the beast was doing all it could to annihilate me, to steer me out of my lane at 70 miles per hour, to express it’s anger in a final act of burning rage on the grille of an oncoming truck. As I have done many times before, I fought the fucker down.
I’m still here. I’m writing. I’m working on set. My life is a daily reminder to the Patricias and Paternos of the world: look at me, coward. I’m alive. I’m the guy who’s fighting the battle you pissed yourself and ran away from. Have a nice day.