There’s a member of my family who often makes me wonder how I will feel when they die. The last time I saw him, he told me that I shared his blood. It was in jest. I wanted to be sick. To think that I am in any way similar to a man who could do such horrendous, unjustifiable things, terrifies me. How could I share anything in common with a man who abused little girls, a man who ruined his own family, a man who has done the unthinkable, and acts like it never crosses his mind? Will I cry at news of his death? Will I let out a sigh of the deepest relief?
Of my relation to the man, it is not my story to tell, not my oppressor to shame. My story is the loss of a hero, not the loss of the right to a childhood.
For the majority of my life, I had no idea of the evil actions this man had committed. I’d go so far as to say I loved him dearly. Memories I once treasured are aberrations to me now. Memories of him teaching me how to play a drop shot in tennis are coupled with a new nausea replacing what was once nostalgia. Did he touch me inappropriately? It is only clear to me now why my parents insisted to my sister and I that we only kiss family members on the cheek, and never the lips. It only now makes sense why I have a complete inability to remember any time I spent alone with him. Why he spent a peculiarly little amount of time at our house during my sister and my childhood. Only now do I see the evil that was lurking in my family tree.
I don’t recall ever being told directly what he had done. Implications over my teenage years led me to the heartbreaking revelation which led to the hardest question I’ve ever asked . ‘Ok,’ I replied to the answer. I had previously described the Easter Bunny walking into my room at 7.00am as the moment my childhood ended, but now I can confidently say it was many years later. Sitting on a public bench next to a girlfriend I was learning to trust, I broke down. The reality only rendering itself true when I tried to talk to someone about it for the first time. One of my childhood heroes was the furthest thing from it, and on that night, with clenched fists, shaking and covered in tears, my childhood was irrevocably over.
In a weird, almost pre-emptive sense, I have always seen a distinction between paedophilia and a sex offence. The former is a condition, the latter a crime. I doubt whether anyone would wish to be attracted to pre-adolescents. It is in this same belief that I condemn only more strongly the acting upon – of what is almost undoubtedly a natural occurrence – to be objectively evil. I can’t imagine the suffering of a paedophile who knows intrinsically what they feel is so, so wrong. The inclination to hate oneself for who one is. But the naturalness of the disorder does not override the autonomy of the victim; the essence of acting on paedophilia requires a victim. There can never be the justification of consent for a sex offender – never. It is not permissible to ‘get by’ on child pornography and perpetuate suffering by proxy. It is not permissible to groom a child to the point that they think it is what they want. It is simply not permissible to act at all on the feelings, no matter how unfortunately natural they may be.
But I don’t think my relative is burdened by what he has done. I don’t think he accepts the wrongness of acting on his feelings. I’ve never seen the sadness in his eyes that I’ve seen in those of his victims.
So, when he does die, I can’t predict what my eyes will show. Some days I shudder to think that whether he is buried or cremated, he will become an active member of the carbon cycle. Seeping evil through the ground, into the water supply and then into the stomachs, lungs, skin, and bones of thousands of people, infecting them with his abhorrence so their blood, like mine, is poisoned.. Some days I think I will cry once more like I did on that park bench, half infuriated, half shattered, as again I see a former hero retire the vilest of villains forever more. Other days I think, perhaps, that night actually marked his death for me and I will feel nothing whatsoever at the passing of a stranger who did the unthinkable and tore his own family apart.
Perhaps I’ll smile.