You take one look at the ruler-straight posture, starched shirt, and the perfectly perpendicular tie bar on the guy in the corner of the Starbucks on this casual Sunday morning and you know you have your man.
The private investigator shakes your hand firmly, thanks you for your time, and acknowledges how difficult this line of questioning will likely be for you. He opens his leather clad notebook and writes your name and date on the next blank page in precise block letters.
Each question draws back the memory curtains. The investigator is most interested in your relationship with this man of the cloth so woven into the fabric of your childhood that he made it into your last extended family portrait.
“How many times and in what locations did you find yourself alone in a hotel room with him?”
“How much alcohol was involved?”
“So, he asked you to take off your shirt before you start wrestling on the bed again--then what happened?”
He leans in and says, “say more about that” from time to time, and you do. Each answer you give shines fog lights through these murky roads of your past.
You are confronted by the depth of your family’s betrayal at the hands of this alleged “man of God,” this collared one, and your stomach tightens. You excuse yourself, dry heave into the toilet, and return to your chair.
You mentioned that you had written a book to help you process these feelings about what happened to you and in that time it took you to go to the bathroom, he has downloaded "Collared," the novel of suspense set in the church sex scandals you wrote back in 2004. You ask him if he downloaded the book for pleasure reading or for evidence; he smiles tightly and says nothing.
A question like “were you ever in the car with him alone?” brings back a memory you hadn’t had in thirty years. You remember your excitement of getting your driver’s license and being all too happy to drive over to your high school and take The Collared One out for pizza. Your father gives you money for gas, money for dinner, and “a little extra money for himself, since the poor fella took the vow of poverty and all.” You think of the amount of overtime your father had to work for the twenties he peeled from his wallet and your rage seethes within you.
Another line of questioning reminds you of the time you saw a naked woman for the first time; there was this topless donut shop with blackened windows in a nondescript strip mall near the resort you were staying in West Palm Beach. The Collared One took you there as part of a weekend celebrating your 16th birthday. Your eyes weren’t on the donuts and coffee that she served but his eyes were on the clock. He was calculating how long it would take you to get aroused and how much more wrestling could happen up in the room before you met his parents for dinner reservations.
How could you have been so stupid?
You are numb on your way home and barely have time to park the car in the driveway before the phone rings again. The private investigator sheepishly asks if there are any pictures placing yourself and the collared one in these hotels?
You flip through yellowed pages of one of the photo albums stacked in the basement. Lies. Lies! LIES!! The broad grin on the Collared One’s face is now a crocodile’s smile as you put these pictures in their new frame. The weight on this sticky, layered muck of deceit bends you until you find yourself on the floor, sobbing uncontrollably.
The writing of "Collared," along with the editing process and a number of personal empowerment courses you’ve taken over the years have put most of this in the rearview mirror. But the tangle with the private investigator this week reveals that there is more work to do. But where to start?
You’re Irish and Freud said our race is impervious to psychoanalysis, so that’s out.
Your first breakthrough occurs as you ask your daughter over dinner one night if there will be any cute boys at the high school dance she’s attending that evening. Her back stiffens. She is unsure about what to do with the torrent of strange hormones and the new feelings about the opposite sex that comes with it. You see yourself and the way you were as a teen in her face. You were about her age when all this happened, before the internet and three decades before any of the church scandals came to light. The unformed sexuality. The questions that had no answers at the time. The lack of experience. You were hardly in a position to know what was going on yourself, let alone protect anyone else around you. You’re sick and tired of the guilt and shame; isn’t it time to forgive yourself for just being a naive teen? Isn't it just that easy?
The more difficult step is to forgive The Collared One himself. You were always inspired by the strength Pope John Paul II showed when he made the pilgrimage to forgive Mehmet Ali AgcaI, the jailed man that made an attempt on the pope’s life. But John Paul II is aiming to be a saint--and you ain’t. That level of strength and courage seems beyond you, yet you see the wisdom in it all the same.
In flipping through the research you amassed for your book all those years ago, you come across many research papers that pointed to a pattern of sex abuse in a pedophile’s own past.
Other research you consumed speculated on whether or not a traumatic brain injury could cause this deviant behavior. Perhaps The Collared One was pushed to act out physical or emotional pain from his childhood on you and the other children? That might not be the truth and it certainly doesn’t excuse this behavior. Yet you find this story useful as you wrap your head around the possibility of forgiving him and in doing so, letting go of your own anger and regret.
Whatever the truth may be, this truth helps you put a fractured human face on this monstrous behavior. That's a start.
As you walk your dogs in silence on this cold autumn night, you speculate how forgiveness of yourself as well as The Collared One are the last two big steps you take in transforming yourself from a victim of abuse to a victor over your past hurt. As if on cue, your dog squats, unloads her bowels, flails her back legs, kicks up grass to leave the mess in the dust, and walks away without another thought.
You conclude then and there that you can learn a lot from your dog.
Here’s a promotional video for Mike Farragher’s book “Collared”: