I used to pride myself on being an understanding kind of single father to Matthew. When he admitted to trying weed, I thanked him for his honesty before expressing my disappointment as rationally as possible. When I found a used condom in his room, I said, “At least you’re being safe, but this shit won’t fly under my roof.” I felt like I had this reasonable parenting thing down…until I saw what was on his browser history. Then I lost it.
I was planning a flight to San Francisco for a business meeting when my printer ran out of ink. I never thought to check Matthew’s online presence before, so I just expected to print the tickets out and be on my way. But he had left several tabs open in Chrome. “Rape porn,” and “too drunk to say no,” and “necrophilia,” were the only searches I could stomach to see before pushing away from his computer. I felt nauseous. Was this even legal?
Some quick researching in a new tab revealed that yes, it is legal because it’s all supposedly staged. Like how horror films are about murder, but no death actually happens. The logic was there, but I still felt my entire perception of him changed. I was seriously worried about his state of mind, so I did something I promised myself I never would: I started scouring through his files.
I didn’t have to look far because his email was set to auto-login as soon as the screen popped up. All of my trust in him at least afforded me this bit of access. Apparently he had started a correspondence with a small group of people online. His inbox was completely clear, so I shamelessly started searching through his outbox.
The first email I found had a subject line reading, “review.” I can’t remember everything contained in it, but I remember him expressing how disappointed he was with a particular home invasion clip from one of those websites. He said it wasn’t real enough. He said the girl wasn’t screaming enough, she wasn’t resisting enough. He said what the genre really needs is an authentic, real rape film, disguised as a staged simulation. He said the genre needs someone like himself to pioneer it.
It took a while for the full weight of the message to sink in. This is my son writing this. And he knew I was supposed to be gone on my business trip tomorrow. I was grasping for straws at this point, but the terrifying thought had gripped me…could he be planning something? Is he capable of that?
There was a big part of me that refused to believe he would try to act on his words while I was gone. It was such a thin conjecture in the first place. Sixteen-year-olds always try talking bigger than they can act. But not all of them. I made it a point to raise him to remember the importance of never giving empty words to anyone. It was ironic to think that those principles I instilled in him were what I now feared the most.
I decided to put all reason aside this time. I called my boss and wriggled out of the trip so that I could stay home. But I left a note for Matthew saying I would be back Sunday morning. I was determined to tell him frankly what I had seen, and to ask what it all meant. Though I felt wrong for being deceptive, I knew I first had to surprise him on Saturday to make sure that he couldn’t actually go through with it. I figured if I caught him in the act, there was no way he could deny it.
I expected the next 24 hours to be long, but I didn’t expect them to be so hard to get through. The entire time, all I could think about was the fact that I was setting a trap in order to try and catch my son in the act of raping someone. I got a hotel room in town and did everything I could to keep my mind off it — but nothing worked. Movies wouldn’t hold my attention and the words fell right off the pages of the books I tried to read. I couldn’t even get any food down.
After a long, sleepless night, I was faced with the dilemma of when to spring the trap that morning. I figured I should wait at least until the afternoon. Rape doesn’t seem like something someone does early in the morning. The more I reasoned around that, the more ridiculous I felt. I was starting to feel silly for even thinking the plan through as far as I had. All because of what? Because I found some really bad types of porn in his browser history? Obviously there’s a market for it because not a few people are willing to watch. They couldn’t all be rapists.
When 3:00 PM rolled around, I had talked myself down on the issue enough to call it all off. I was overreacting. So I checked out of the hotel and had forgone any further attempt to wonder when the best time was to spring the trap. I already knew exactly what I was going to say. I was ready to walk through the door, answer his surprise with the truth about everything I had thought, and hopefully share some awkward laughter at my own expense.
But when I pulled up to the house, I found all of the blinds drawn. The house was completely shut off from view from the street. That worried feeling started trickling back in. I came through the door and was faced with Matthew, in only his underwear, with a crazed, incredulous look in his eyes.
“She’s dead, dad!” he wailed. “Fuck, dad, she’s dead. She wasn’t supposed to die. She wasn’t….”
I grabbed hold of his shoulders and shook him until he went quiet. His face was pale and moist.