I didn’t know the boy he sexually assaulted—the one he was arrested for assaulting. I’d
grown up and left town by then, was only home to visit family. The paper said the boy was staying the night at his house and the two of them were going fishing early the next morning. But the boy woke to being sodomized. He ran home and told his mother, who called the police. No word on the father’s whereabouts or why the mother had let her son go on an overnight trip with a grown man.
I didn’t know the boy but I knew the abuser. Let’s call him Pete. He worked third-shift
at a factory, and after work would come home and sleep and then—right as school let
out—show up with his basketball at the playground courts. He drove a white Trans-Am with a black and red firebird hood decal. He would leave the door open and blast the radio. Skynyrd. Tom Petty. The Stones.
This was in Indiana, my hometown of 900. There wasn’t much else to do. We had a
liquor store and two small churches. A funeral parlor. A ball field with weeds laced in the chain link fence of the outfield. Basketball was a second religion, every pickup game like a prayer circle for men and boys who didn’t want to go home and face their families, a place where you could nurse the dusk with one more three-pointer from the top of the key. Not that I’d have thought about it like that then. I had a mother and father who loved and looked out for me. I’d catch a smack from time to time but they didn’t drink. They didn’t struggle with mental illness or money. For me, those pickup games were just games, a way to pass the time. And down through the years of my childhood, Pete was always there. I can still see him swishing jumpers in the rusting chains—the ease of his smile as he backpedaled to get back on D.
My best friend Ronny—let’s call him Ronny—often played in those pickup games.
Ronny had a father with a temper, a mother who worked at K-Mart, a house that (the
handful of times I was invited inside) smelled like cat piss and Beechnut. Ronny was two
years older than me. I idolized him. He was left-handed. Blonde. In the summers I’d call him every morning at 10 a.m. on the dot to invite him over. We’d read the newspaper and talk current events. Take our bb guns out to shoot birds. Invite the neighbor girls next door to play softball in the field behind my house.
I remember once in a little league baseball game an errant throw hit him hard in the ribs and like a madman I ran out onto the field after him. He was the only person outside of my family I loved like family.
But in high school something changed. “Come play basketball with us tonight,” he said
to me in the hall one day. For whatever reason, I didn’t want to. He kept badgering me until finally I said, “I don’t fucking want to!” And he slammed me against a locker. Friday night after the football game, he tried to run my brother and me off the road—his headlights swerving behind us in the dust.
We never talked again—not one time—after that night. I never understood his rage,
only that it hurt me deeply.
For years it was an open sore.
Then one day I opened my hometown paper and saw Pete’s mugshot and read about
the boy he’d abused—and an ordinary summer morning returned to me in picture-perfect
clarity. I was maybe eight or ten. My brother and I were catching black crickets and tossing them into a pond for bluegill to gobble up. The pond was by a path to the creek. Here came Ronny and Pete, fishing poles slung over their shoulders. I called them over and we laughed as the crickets raced for their lives. The frantic jittering pulse of their jointed legs. The ripples glinting on the pond’s surface in ever-widening circles. The dark shapes of bluegill, hovering and hungry, in the water below.