The events detailed here have taken place over the last few weeks. It has shocked me to very foundations- what I believed was safe, what I thought I knew, and how much trust I should place in my own instincts. I think this post is an attempt to untangle the threads as to why this has had such an effect on me.
We live in a safe, quiet neighborhood. Everyone knows everyone. Pushbikes are left out on the front lawn, day and night, with no fear that they’ll be stolen.
Everyone knows everyone’s children here, by sight if not by name. We keep an eye out for each others kids. We chat to our neighbors, over fences and bottles and beer, barbecues in the summer.
My illusion of safety has been exploded, shattered like glass.
This does not feel like a safe place anymore.
Four years ago, we first moved into our Purple House. I remember this tableaux, paused as a gritty still frame in my mind. Our Neighbor. Mid thirties, clean shaven, respectable house, good job. No girlfriend, not then, she came later. Children, boys, the kids of the neighborhood, coming, going, from his house.
“Maybe he’s a pedophile?”
Was it my husband or I, who said that, weakly, joking, but with a frown gently creasing our face? Was it my husband, or I, who dismissed the fears of the other, tutted at the tastelessness of that half-joke?
I don’t know. It doesn’t matter now.
It’s a small community.
By some law of short separation, our Neighbor is- was?- a close friend of the family who run the playgroup my children and I attend every week. We laughed, when we learnt our Neighbor was to play Santa at the Christmas party. I snapped a picture of him, on my phone, to show my husband.
I had imagined my son being apprehensive, clinging to me, as he had the week before when meeting another Santa in the our local shopping center. He didn’t, not this time. Many other children did. My son ran straight up and sat on Santa’s lap. As a joke, for a photo, I sat there with them. I’m sure we have a copy of that photo, somewhere, in one of the albums we have scattered about, piecemeal chronicles of our lives. It occurs to me, just now, as I write this- I should find that picture, destroy it. Lest I come across it one day, and it scare me.
Was there something different about him,our Neighbor, in a costume, something extroverted where he was an introvert, something dangerous,something frightening? Did I dismiss it, knowing the liberating power of a costume, the lightness it can bring?
Or is that just hindsight, whispering to me?
When had the children stopped coming to our Neighbor’s house? Was it when his girlfriend suddenly materialised, took up residence in his house, began running her business from his garage…? I think it was. Our Neighbor’s lovely girlfriend. Who looked at my children so wistfully, and smiled that she wanted children of her own, and soon.
She is still there, at our Neighbor’s house, three weeks after the Fact. I verge between wondering if she knew, if she turned one eye blind and the other to the ceiling; and being disgusted with myself for thinking that, because surely that is what everyone is thinking, and she must feel the heat of those thoughts.
She has not worked, has not had anyone visit her, since this happened. She has barely left the house.
I don’t want to, but I can’t help it. My heart is breaking for her.
The day the police came, and raided our Neighbor’s house, we speculated, my husband and I. Had their house been broken into? Tax fraud? Some kind of problem with her business? What could possibly be going on in the home of our respectable, clean living Neighbor?
How long, before things began to fall into place, before facts and intuitions and guesswork began to click and turn and grind against one another?
How long before we realised that he hadn’t come home? Hadn’t been back to the house at all?
Was it the same time we read the newspaper article, the one that stated a man, from our suburb, had been arrested after simultaneous raids on his home and workplace?
Yes, I think it was.
Five counts of sexual assault of a child, aged between 10-16, with circumstances of aggravation. Two counts of producing child pornography. Six counts of distributing it.
All those children at his house.
The intimidating, extroverted man in the Santa suit.
And a Google search, that showed police footage, unmistakeably the man who has lived next door to us for the last four years, in handcuffs, his head being ducked into the back of a paddy wagon.
Click, click, click.
Words can’t even begin to describe… I feel disgusted. Sick. Violated. Angry. He has never sinned against me, nor my children. It does not matter.
I’m so angry. Angry at him, for what he has done. Angry at myself, for not having enough instinct to see this man for what he was.
The empathy I feel for his girlfriend pales in comparison to the thousand salty, wretched tears my heart is sobbing for the children this monster has hurt. For the mothers of these children. For the pain he has inflicted, that will echo to a thousand unfathomable places.
Sick. Shaking with relief, that my children are so small, small enough that I kept them protected. Shocked, disgusted by the knowledge that had my son been ten, eleven years old, and said “Mum, I’m going to the Neighbor’s house to play pool in his garage”, I would not have stopped him. I may have encouraged it.
I would have sent my children into the den of the lion.
Our Neighbor was such a nice man, after all.
On the alcove of our Neighbor’s house, molded into the brickwork, there is the sad face of a lion, surrounded by a mighty, plaster mane.
Just recently, late at night, when I can’t sleep, that image haunts me.
I wonder just how many children that lion’s sad face is haunting too.