At the end of our first physical meeting, after almost two years of public conversations, he said, I’m worried you’ll think I’m an internet predator.
I laughed. Affable, intelligent, thoughtful, humorous, protective, affectionate, encouraging and gently critical, none of these traits caused ripples in my reservoir of wariness. Of course, a predator isn’t going to get far if they present themselves in a manner that announces their intentions, but that is the kind of realisation one usually attains only after the fact.
We’ve been done a disservice with the cultural emphasis on stranger danger. It’s the ones under your nose you have to watch.
It’s our own fault. We don’t want to think about it. Far easier to believe the predator is an aberration.
At our first meeting, when his wife rings to ask if he’s ready to be picked up, he says, Yes, I think Jennifer has had enough of me now. I laugh. He’s endearingly self-deprecating. Reassuring me (and her?) there is no cause for concern in this encounter while unknown to both of us he is thinking (as he later confesses to me) shit, she is lovely I will never see her again, shit, shit, what can I do? How can I touch her?
Months later his wife shouts at me, I knew I should never have let him meet you on his own! I knew I should have gone with him!
I still don’t know what this outburst means. I still don’t know what knowledge she possesses that led her to this alarming conclusion. What had he done?
I laughed that day because his concern seemed so engagingly fanciful. I laughed because I was confident I’d know a predator when I saw one.
In the dream I was in an unknown street with a boy child of six or seven by my side. I turned from him for a moment to talk to a woman friend, and when I turned back, he was gone.
I searched the streets, my fear and desolation increasing with every dead-end. I’d lost him. I would never find him. I would never know his fate. There was nothing left to do. He was gone.
The implacable nature of finality. That’s what I was up against.
When I was studying these things I learned that everything in a dream, animate and inanimate, is an aspect of the dreamer. To understand the dream or to attain some insight, it’s helpful to imagine oneself as the boy child, as the street, as the friend, and take note of the emotions that accompany each imagining.
There exists in most of us, to some degree, a certain innocence, a certain trustfulness, without which society could not function, without which we would be uncivilised, feral, murderous. In the child, that innocent trustfulness can be undiscriminating. Maturity teaches us the necessity to temper those qualities with judgement. Yet, for all kinds of reasons, in certain situations that judgement can desert us and we regress to childlike faith, blind trust, abandonment. And then we see the foolishness of it, and then we see that innocence is no longer a part of us and then we see that trustingness has no place in an adult world and suddenly the child is gone, lost to us, we will never find him, we will never know his fate, we are facing the implacable nature of finality.
Innocence trumped by experience. Paradise lost. The getting of wisdom.
I am saying to the doctor I visit each week, this is what he took from me. This is what my dream is about. That trustingness. That innocence. I told my lover once, I say to the doctor, I told him I will never trust anyone after this and my lover replied, you are strong. You have survived so much more than I ever could. You will be all right.
Do not, I snarled at my lover in a voice I did not recognise, do not dare to use my strength against me. Do not dare to use my life’s story as a comfort for yourself, to make what you have done to me less because you think I have withstood more. How dare you.
Who says such things, I ask the doctor. If I see someone who has suffered do I think, no matter what I do it can’t be worse than what has already happened so I can be sure that whatever I do, she will survive? Who thinks in such ways, I demand, and the doctor has no answer.
I sang the six-year-old back home. I sang and sang until he peeped out at me from around a corner and I said, come back, I will take care of you, I will never let such things happen to you again, come back because without you I am fractured and without me, who knows what strife you will encounter, ill-equipped as you are to recognise the true from the false, indiscriminately as you love.
Innocence nestles with experience. Paradise is regained, enriched. The lessons are learned. The woman ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge and when she had recovered from its poison she cried out in her new and full-found voice :
Let it be known: I did not fall from grace.
to freedom. †
† Ansel Elkins Autobiography of Eve