It has frequently struck me as odd how circuitously news travels. I had a rather disturbing example of this occur yesterday, and it has led my mind onto a fairly grim track. But let me begin at the beginning.
Readers of this blog may remember that one of my interests is family history. I've been collecting names of dead relatives for over thirty years, and have an online genealogical database I maintain that now has over 85,000 names of relatives. As I began this research while I was still married to my first wife, I have also kept a fairly detailed record of her family, and yesterday I received an email asking me about some information regarding one of her relatives.
Wishing to check the data I had, I did a quick online search. Google, faithful as always, popped up a link to my ex's relative's obituary in the city newspaper. But it popped up something else, too.
My ex's relative (whom I am not naming for reasons which will be apparent momentarily) had a fairly unusual married name. I only know of one other person with that name -- a fellow I'll call Frank, who went to my high school. He was two years older than me, but I knew him because he was in my church's youth group. Frank was the all-American boy; handsome, athletic, outgoing. He was devout but not in a pushy way, and became the ad hoc leader of the youth group without even trying. The girls were wowed by his smile, the boys by his magnetic personality. I knew no one who disliked Frank -- although I'll bet that a lot of us were pretty jealous of him.
The second link -- the one right beneath my ex's aunt's obit -- was a link that identified Frank as a registered sex offender in Florida.
My mouth hanging open a bit, I clicked the link, wondering if there could possibly be two people with that name. But no, there was a photograph of Frank, his face set and grim, his eyes without their customary sparkle. In 1989, the link said, Frank had been convicted of lewd and/or lascivious conduct with a minor. He would have been 31 or 32 at the time.
No other details were listed.
Out of a combination of morbid curiosity and sheer astonishment, I tried to find out more details. Fortunately or unfortunately, the fact that the event occurred prior to the Internet seems to have prevented the details of the case from making their way online, at least as far as a fifteen minute search could show. So I was left, still in shock, with no further information, and simply an image of his transformed face burned into my mind, and nothing other than that besides questions.
Of course, the first one was, what on earth could have driven that smiling boy, that natural born leader who had it all, to do something like that? I know people say that pedophilia is a disease, and as such is no respecter of personality and upbringing. I don't know enough psychology to argue that point, but it is so difficult for me to reconcile my image of Frank as a teenager, and the photograph of him as a graying, grim looking man of 53 that I can't even begin to figure out how to do it.
It's brought up other memories, too. Because Frank isn't the first pedophile I've met. Some of you who are old enough may recognize the name Gilbert Gauthé. Gauthé was the first Catholic priest convicted and jailed for pedophilia in the United States. He was from southern Louisiana, and during his early career he was the assistant pastor in Broussard, Louisiana, where I spent much of my childhood. He, like Frank, was charming, handsome, and charismatic -- and, apparently, a predator on young boys. I have to interject that he never once approached me in anything but an appropriate fashion, but during the time that I knew him he molested over 20 children under the age of 15. By the time he was caught and convicted I was already in my twenties, living in Seattle, Washington, and I found out about it when I saw his face in Time magazine. I asked my parents why they hadn't told me -- my mom, in a mournful voice, said, "I'm sorry, Gordon. We knew you thought highly of him, and we thought it was better not to mention it, better if you didn't know."
Once again, I won't debate that point; my mom, I know, withheld the information because she was trying to protect me from the heartache of having to reconcile what I had thought a person was, and what he truly turned out to be. She did it because she knew, having gone through it herself, that it is a painful process, and one that can leave you disillusioned. And now, once again, I'm having to come to terms with the question of how someone's façade and someone's reality can be so drastically different. I don't have any answers. I'm simply left with looking into the face of the darkest side of human nature -- a face that this time wears the visage of a smiling, clear-eyed, handsome boy I knew in school.