Saturday, June 2, 2007

What I Learned By Listening

I've forgotten so many of the finer details. It's understandable, given that I have striven to not think about it. Striven, and failed, but succeeded enough for what was sharp to become dull. I suppose that's what alcohol is good for. Give strong drink to those who are dying. Well, we're all dying. But I don't drink. I must have found some other anodyne. They come back, sometimes, the details, blunt now, more cudgel than blade -- but this is progress, since the bleeding has stopped and any blows might be merely glancing, if I'm fast enough. And there are lessons in it, by which others may profit.

Take, for instance, B. You recall B. Big Mama B, like a great Neolithic venus, mother and lover and goddess to all who come before her? Of course you do. I was thinking about some details, today, some further details, and thought you might enjoy hearing them. A few moments of pleasure reading, and perhaps a bit of wisdom along the way. It is good for us to share with each other our insights, don't you think so too?

One of the details that time has blurred, is how the subject even came up. But I remember standing in the living room and asking young J, "Then who are you having sex with?" Odd, isn't it, that I don't remember the context. I don't think it was a reference to his mother-provided girlfriend. I seem to recall that there was a girl who went to his non-public school, whose safety and virtue I was concerned about. Why was I so sure there was something going on? I just don't know anymore. I can't say I'm highly intuitive, although I think I am -- maybe I'm like the Delphic Oracle -- when things are bad enough, any horrifying statement is bound somehow to be true.

It had gotten to the point, it seems -- in this conversation -- when it was clear to me that sex was being had. That seems to have been, somehow, established. Do I remember it? -- had he just said, "Not with her"? I think yes. So I asked the next logical question. "Then who are you having sex with?" To which J -- after a guilty I'm-trapped-he-already-knows pause -- responded by pointing to the floor. Incredulity. It took me a full two seconds, then incredulity. "B?" B lived directly beneath. "Yes."

Well. That explained why he wanted to do his math homework with her. "Oh, she helps me." It seemed an odd friendship, and I will admit that I felt some undercurrent of misgiving, but there was a fourth grader and a husband living there, and she was a truly not-attractive woman, and not just because of the weight. She looked like Rembrandt in drag. And I'd had many conversations with her, trying to help her with behavior mod techniques for her obnoxious little boy. Who loved me because I was firm but gentle and set boundaries for him while at the same time making sure that he felt respected when he was in my home. You know -- I was healthy with him. He was an unlovely child that I was kind to. He was a mess. That should have been a clue.

I don't remember the timeline, but sometime I would have asked how this circumstance had come about. "Well, we were sitting on the couch, just talking and joking around, and I said 'Fuck you,' and she said 'Fuck you' back, and, well, it kind of grew into that." I must have missed that ploy when I read my brother's copy of How To Score With Chicks back in 1973. But I've filed it away. Maybe I'll meet the woman of my dreams someday, and now I'll have the verbal judo to break the ice.

Once he'd come clean, J seemed to enjoy the honesty. I suppose that's a good thing. As you will know by now, I am Mister Integrity, so we descended the stairs, myself with J in tow, and rapped upon her door. "B, we've got a little problem that maybe you can help us with. J here has given me the surprising news that you and he are having sex." A little sideways smile, and a quick laugh, and she was really quite pleasant. "That's ridiculous. J, why would you say such a thing." "B, don't lie. You know it's true."

And we sat on the stairs in the courtyard taking in the fresh summer afternoon air. A nice little conversation, lasting about ten minutes, B, and J, and myself. I didn't say anything. I just listened. Because I didn't know what the truth was. J was a habitual liar, making an almost unthinkable charge. If it was malicious, it could be ruinous. So I just sat there, listening to them reason it through. I didn't know. I waited until I did know.

Here's what told me. This is why I'm telling you. After many evidences and objections, she said, finally, "Why would I do that?" Her tone was so reasonable. It was such a rational question. But it convinced me that she was lying. And I said, interrupting, "Well, thanks for your time, B. That's all. I have to tell you, now, that I do believe J." "But he's lying." "I don't believe you. I'm sorry. Come on, J. Let's go." And we went up the stairs and into our home.

It just rang untrue. It wasn't a genuine, an honest way to respond. That's not how falsely accused people defend themselves. Not in that context. It was playacting. It took ten minutes of silent observation for it to click in that one statement. That's how intuition and insight and inspiration work. A little slow, a little too late, but there it is.

Yes, the police became involved. J and B denied it all. I kept my mouth shut, never lying, never misleading -- the detective just didn't ask me much. I told him that Jason had made this claim, and I shook my head helplessly. He told me it was what they call a go-nowhere case. It came out, somehow, that B was pregnant. She said she'd keep it. But it would look nothing like her poor betrayed very dark skinned Filipino husband. She became very depressed, with much silent weeping. I felt no pity for her. I never did speak to her husband about it. Then they moved.

Why did I protect B? Well, first, I didn't know yet that she was slandering me. But that doesn't answer the question. I suppose it has to do with my view of punishment. Will it do any good? If I think it will, then I'm for it. But it hardly ever does. Maybe mercy hardly does any good either. Maybe hardly anything does any good. But all jail does is increase the bureaucracy. And criminal records just ruin lives. There should be justice. There should be some appropriate response that balances the scales. Fuck a twisted teenager and go to jail? It is punishment, true. Betray a husband, and a neighbor, and get a criminal record? Would that ensure future virtuous conduct, more than what did happen? Nothing can ever balance the scales. There is no justice.

Well, there are two justices. Flogging, which nowadays is only theoretical -- oh, and executions. And then there's God's justice. That's not theoretical, but it isn't time-sensitive. What is sown in spring is reaped in the fall, but a thousand years is as a day to the Lord. His ways are not our ways. Yada yada, for our purposes. Hell isn't soon enough. One might suppose that if the innocent can torment themselves for being innocent, perhaps the guilty must find some way to inflict justice upon themselves. I don't think God has a sense of irony, though, to have made us that way.

I believe that's it then. The story of the love affair of J and B, and how it ended. If it did end. Maybe they ran away together, eventually, if they found each other again, and if they're still alive. I wouldn't know.


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