Having already returned to the house where these abuses took place for the interview that kicked off production of Coached into Silence, I fancied myself difficult to unnerve, yet that picture hit me hard.
Prior to that interview, I had not stepped foot in 822 for at least a dozen years. As I toured the house, camera in hand, my visceral reaction to the sights and smells and the memories that these brought back surprisingly took a back seat to the new information that I was discovering. As I tried to calmly process both separate streams of stimuli, a framed photograph froze me in place.
On a bedside table stood a cardboard frame holding my own high school graduation photo, nearly two decades old. More disturbing than seeing my younger face two feet from a where a pedophile slept, was the revelation that the photograph was not alone. Behind mine, in layers, were other photographs of yet another boy, and another. One proud but distant at his Confirmation. Another with a forced smile & dead eyes in a school photo. Another boy’s graduation photo bore witness from high atop the dresser. The collection was a collision of Norman Rockwell and Norman Bates. Pedophiles; unable to connect in any real way, insteadcollect. Trophies. Milestone moments; graduations & confirmations, captured in pictures while boys were captured in the teeth of this meticulously laid trap. Just as Norman Bates added the Crane, Marion, to his collection of stuffed birds, the photographs of these boys were the collected notches on the belt of a serial child sexual molester. Dead, still life. Never aging, frozen forever at precisely the age he wanted us. The burden of what my own eyes in that photograph may have seen in all of these years will always weigh heavily on me. Framed, I was right there, bearing photographic witness to countless crimes against the other boys in his collection of “proteges.”
Seeing the graduation photo of his youngest son online today had me mourning something altogether different as I remembered all of the images that I saw in that house. It had me thinking of what was nowhere to be seen in that house. There were no pictures of his own sons anywhere. This man, unable to connect to his own sons, collected other people’s sons. Incapable of fulfilling his most important role in life as a father; he role-played as (in his own words) “a father figure in disguise.” Fatherhood, in it’s only pure & genuine form was available to him; a rare thing in his life that was not fully taken advantage of. We boys who crossed his path suffered for this, but we are not the only ones.
Upon seeing the graduation photograph of his youngest son, a photograph that has no place in the home where that young man grew up, a wholly new reaction surfaced:
Compassion for the son robbed by circumstance of the only father he will ever have.