Occasionally, women I know or meet will say something like, “My prom date turned out to be GAY!” And they’ll sort of giggle sheepishly and shake their heads because nobody knew! And he was such a good dresser! It was so fun! And he didn’t pressure me to have sex! And aren’t I a silly-nilly!
“That’s so funny,” I’ll say. “My first boyfriend is a squicky bad-toucher pedophile!”
Several years ago, my best friend Dara called me. “Turn on the news,” she said. “Channel 11.” And there was Tim Smith*. My first Official Boyfriend Ever. He was giving an interview that included the phrases “totally consensual” and “they weren’t raped.”
“So he’s trying to justify what he did?” I asked, incredulous.
“Yep.” Dara replied.
Eventually, Tim was convicted on 19 felony sex counts involving two teenage boys who were students at the school he worked in, in our hometown. He served five and a half years of a 16-year sentence and got out on parole.
When I met Tim, I was a child the same age as the boys he’d molested.
I had just turned 14 and started a totally new school. How completely awesome was high school -– new friends, advanced classes, an actual boyfriend!
I should interject here to say that high school was a world of wonder for me. Grade school (K-8 at a private Catholic school near my suburban home) had been horrible -– I didn’t fit in and there was some bullying that I try not to think about much. It didn’t help that I was terribly shy and bookish. A psychiatrist told me I would be fine once I got to high school.
To my utter surprise and delight, I really was fine in high school. I made friends quickly. I loved my classes. Then I met Tim at a fall dance at school. I thought he seemed really smart and cute in a nerdy way.
Our dating experience was fairly limited, as this was pre-Internet/cell phones/IM/chat/sexting. Activities included passing notes between classes, sitting together at lunch and long phone calls in the evenings. In the three weeks that we dated, I remember one actual date. His parents picked us up and dropped us at the mall where we ate at the food court, and saw “Mermaids.” (That is still one of my favorite movies to date, by the way.)
And the kiss.
The kiss was horrible! There. I said it. My first kiss was not fun, it was gross. He took my by the shoulders, firmly, closed his eyes and came at me with a tongue like a wad of hot wet washcloth. As long as I live, I might never forget that tongue coming at me.
After sweeping my front teeth clean, he gave me a quick hug and got back in his parents’ car.
One night, maybe two weeks later, I got out of the shower and my mom said Tim had called. So I called back.
“I just called to tell you that I can’t talk to you on the phone tonight.”
Mildly miffed, I asked why.
“I’m going to watch the President’s State of the Union Address.”
Slightly more miffed -– because this was newly awesome high school me, and who are you to do that to newly awesome high school me? -– I said, “Oh, so the president’s more important than me?” I was mostly joking.
“Yes,” he replied in his imperious way. “At this point in our relationship he is.”
That was it. I made plans to break up with him the next day. Wasn’t sure how, because I was so very new at this. The girls in my grade school had “boyfriends” and they were all “going out with” them and whatnot, but not me.
For the last nine years, I’d been at home with Judy Blume and Paula Danziger, reading, watching “Star Trek” and “Dr. Who” and doing Get in Shape Girl tapes. I had no idea how to do this breaking up thing.
I did what any other 14-year-old would do and I wrote him a note. It went something like this:
So hi I’m in Biology and it’s so boring but I finished all my homework and now I’m writing notes and I watched this show on TV last night it was pretty good and then I had Cheerios for breakfast and I’m sorry but I don’t think we should date anymore ok but let’s be friends ok bye.
I know, I know, it’s awful. But I was a kid! A kid with absolutely zero experience or understanding of How This Works so I did the best I could with what I had. Which wasn’t much but whatever.
Then we were broken up.
Two years and three boyfriends later, when I was a junior, I found myself in Biology II with Tim. At the same assigned table. He and a girl named Sheryl spent the semester making snarky remarks to each other about me.
The astounding thing was, I didn’t understand why a senior — who two years ago, had been my “boyfriend” for all of 21 days — even cared anymore. (Sheryl’s beef with me had to do with her affections for a boy I’d dated my sophomore year for whom she carried an epic torch. He did not, apparently, carry a similar torch for her.) Tim and Sheryl took turns making their quips, which I could ignore pretty easily, what with my growing confidence. I had best friends and a job at an ice cream parlor, and I was on the debate team and sang in a city youth choir. Things were going just fine.
After high school, I didn’t see or hear from Tim again until that afternoon eight years ago when Dara called to tell me he’d been arrested (the first time).
I saw him in person last year, after he was paroled. He was working at my vet’s office. It’s a pretty big practice and we don’t go very often so it’s possible I wouldn’t have seen him before. I told my husband who Tim was and managed to slip out without ever speaking to him. I don’t know if he saw me, and I don’t know if he’d even have recognized me.
And this week. Dara called again.
“Did you see that guy who got arrested at the library?”
“It was Tim Smith.”
This time, he was arrested in a public library. He’d allegedly brought in a thumb drive full of kiddie porn and was looking at it. In the library. On the public computers.
It’s extremely strange to look at this person on the news, in the paper, and say, “I knew him. And we were friends.” It’s not like seeing someone who’s done something really amazing like become president or won a Nobel Prize.
I’m looking at him justifying himself, at those horrid mug shots. And I wonder what the hell happened? Obviously I know I had nothing to do with any of it. I believe pedophiles are running some serious virus-ridden software and there’s just no debugging it. People have asked me if I knew he was gay back then and the answer is no. Comments about my defective gaydar aside, I just thought he was one of those bookish nerdy guys who hadn’t quite figured out hormones.
Mug shots and the video from 2004 have been popping up on various local news outlets the last few days. For this piece, I dug through my photo albums and found one of Tim’s senior pictures. He looks better in the photo, healthier for sure. His face hasn’t yet morphed into the skeletal visage of his mug shots, and his eyes haven’t yet become haunted and peculiar.
Tim’s next court date is in a week or so, and I imagine that I’ll see the mug shots and reports again then.
It’s hard to put into words the situation for me. I wasn’t that close to him then and certainly haven’t been for years, but there’s something important to me about him being my first boyfriend. I’ve had several long and enjoyable relationships since then and am currently married. I have no illusions that my brief interlude with Tim made any difference in the arc of his life, though I do consider him at least a tick mark on the timeline of my own life.
Maybe I’ll stop answering my phone during the local news hour for awhile.
*Names have been changed.