I was unsure whether I should be here today or not, but of this I am absolutely certain: this woman should not be here for me to marvel at.
The courage that is on display should never have needed to be exhibited. I shouldn’t be able to pick her out from among the dozens of others who are milling about this hallway. Yet I recognize her instantly, even with my bad eyes. I recognize her from that very picture in thenewspaper that you see above.
We have never met before this moment, yet she offers and accepts a hug from the stranger who is typing this to you right now. A hug that reminded me just how deceiving looks can be. The photograph from the newspaper, filtered through my own biases and sympathies, left me with the impression of a wounded bird, delicate. To be near her is to experience an altogether different energy. You are in proximity to electrified high tension wire. Demonstrably unbreakable, for life has tried and failed.
That I should be here telling her that her strength is an inspiration to so many feels almost like trespassing, though this story has been quite public for nearly two years. Worst of all, I am here offering condolences for her loss. Her son. Hushed tones should not be needed to say his name, if someone—even a well-intentioned fool like me—dares to say it at all. Andrew.
Andrew should be here.
Bullshit. Andrew should be anywhere but here, in this crowded hallway of a generic municipal building, waiting for the bailiff to open those courtroom doors. Andrew should be somewhere else.
But Andrew is nowhere else.
He should be doing what 20 year old young men do. Everything or nothing at all. But he never saw 20. Or 19. His 18th year was too much to endure.
One man’s manipulations created Andrew Clark Jr.‘s hell. Calculated and incremental. One comment, one text message, one instant message at a time. One payment for one piece of information at a time. Perversion masquerading as ‘help’. ‘Advice’, one guy to another, corrupted and transformed into paying boys cold cash payments to fuel his fantasies.
I imagine this man, Coach Bart, walking the halls of St. Rose High School with a pocket full of sweaty five dollar bills. Peeling off one paper portrait of a mortified Abraham Lincoln at a time, peeling away the last shreds of his own decency, while pressuring young men to give him what he wanted.
This day, imagining this ‘man’ would be as close as I would get. This Coach, favorite son of Freehold, New Jersey, best man at the wedding of the Mayor himself. Bartholomew McInerny, who spent 13 years exploiting his access to children for his own sordid purposes. A bastardization of the word mentor. This man, on this day, could not be bothered to show up at his own sentencing, facing ten separate ten-year charges of child endangerment. With all mention of ‘Victim No. 13’, Andrew Clark, whitewashed from the proceedings, those charges do not come close to summarizing the damage done, yet on these minimal charges; Bart McInerney is both found guilty, and nowhere to be found.
Why should I waste my mental energy imagining this man ,who on this day wouldn’t make the 5 minute trip from his home to court? A man who would not show up today to face the facts, face the judge, face these families? To hear what can pass as earthly justice served? My energy serves me better elsewhere.
Instead I imagine Andrew, based only on the pictures I have seen, the articles I have read, the descriptions I’ve heard, and I feel the loss all the more. Looking at Mrs. Clark, one is aware that the true measure of loss is unknowable by anyone but her and family. The loss that I feel is as a member of family of humanity. I know that we have been denied Andrew’s incredible light, and his limitless potential by the overwhelming darkness that Bart McInereny brought into his life. With Mrs. Clark sitting to my right on the front row bench she has occupied throughout the entire trial, I imagine that she has both of her sons with her. She gave birth to, nurtured, protected and loved two sons, to the greatest extent of human capability. One of her sons played for Coach Bart and now the number of her children that she will see grow to adulthood has been halved. I imagine Andrew Clark, sitting beside his mother and brother, and I shouldn’t have to. I shouldn’t even know this name but I do, and now so do you.
His is a name I will never forget for as long as I live.