One morning last winter, I listened on repeat to a Paul Simon song I used to listen to with the man who raped me for about a decade. He played it as we drove winding winter roads, snowfall on the surrounding evergreens, he in easy control and his Cadillac’s leather seats warmed by a button he always pushed for me when it was cold.
Another day, doing dishes, “Crimson and Clover” popped into my head, and I smiled to think of the way he used to vibrate his Adam’s apple with his fingers while singing along to that weird, warbly breakdown in the middle, overexaggerating it to make me laugh. I’ve written before about missing him. Missing him like people can’t cope when they get out of prison. But also missing his warmth, the literal and metaphorical kinds, because people who rape children are people, too.
It’s the hardest thing about them, in my opinion. Most of the other adult men who raped me when I was a child did so at his behest, this charmer, who was so avidly affable except when he wasn’t. But not all of them. One of those, another relative, seemed liked by the people around him, which I didn’t understand—aside from what I knew he’d done, I didn’t witness his being particularly engaged or lending much to interactions with them. The other, someone else’s dad who took advantage of a victimhood he could sniff out (when I tracked him down and confronted him decades later, he said he’d been raped as a kid, too, and we do seem to recognize each other, consciously or not)—he did not seem liked. He was charmless and awkward. Maybe even creepy. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that in the thousands of flashbacks I’ve had as an adult, the ones about the night he carried me out of a sleepover bed and pressed me under his weight on a dark living room floor are the only ones in which I ever think: I’m telling.
I did tell. Unfortunately, I told my dad, who I’d been made to understand was the only one allowed to use and sublet my body like that, and it was more important to him to deny all rape (That sounds like a dream) than to care about one extra incursion amid his own full-scale war against my softest parts. It was, as far as I remember, the last time I tried to tell as a child. If even the unlikable guy wasn’t believable as a perpetrator, I couldn’t imagine anyone else was. And my chief perpetrator, he was likable. The first time I tried to talk about him in print as an adult, lawyers told me I couldn’t, after the fact-checker on the GQ piece told both them and me that he’d called my dad and he seemed like a pretty good dude.
He was liked by everyone he met. He probably is still. More importantly: He was liked by me. This morning, I woke up before dawn working through feelings about a relationship dynamic I entered recently not despite but partly because I knew it wouldn’t meet my needs for interpersonal accountability. There were many other reasons; the person is amazing in a long list of ways. The day after they yelled at me, I walked into a forest of tall cedars, distraught, and the trees said: You got exactly what you wanted.
You wanted, the cedars said, to eat someone else’s bullshit as a break from eating your own.