Criminals and Innocents

Charles Jones had just turned 18 the night he attacked me.  I was 20, and incautiously walking alone after midnight, through a construction tunnel built next to Washington’s M Street.  I had seen him on the corner before I entered the tunnel, a big but harmless-looking black kid listening to a Walkman, and I’d given him a distracted smile.  I heard him walking behind me, coughing intermittently.  About halfway down the one-block length of the tunnel, he jumped in front of me and simultaneously punched me in the face.  I found out later that he was holding a heavy metal jackknife in his fist to give it weight, but he could not have been very strong for his size because the punch itself did not do much damage.  My first thought was that he had confused me with someone else, someone he had a quarrel with.  He punched me again and then kicked me hard in the groin.

It was not, in fact, the first time I had been the victim of a serious crime. For a year or so in my teens, I was molested on a semi-regular basis.

“Molested” of course is a technical term.  My own experience of it was rather different than the word would suggest.   I first met… well, let me call her Tammy because her real name is distinctive enough that my family and probably hers might otherwise recognize her.  I first met Tammy in the parking lot of the New Carrollton (Maryland) Cinema 12. I was 15; she was the best friend of Paige, the older sister of my best friend Adam.  Adam and I happened to run into Paige and Tammy and Tammy’s boyfriend as we were coming out of a movie.

Paige always had a very high opinion of me—it may have reached the level of a crush, but as a best friend’s sister is off-limits and she was not my type anyway, I never investigated—so I wasn’t surprised when Tammy said, in lieu of hello, “I’ve heard a lot about you.”

I might have been imagining it, but I thought I heard a subtle innuendo there. I certainly had not imagined Paige’s stories about her wild, reckless friend. Maybe it was Tammy’s tone of voice, maybe it was the stories, maybe it was just the allure of an older woman (she was an unimaginable seven years older). For whatever reason, I—shy, bookish, reserved Michael—grabbed Tammy and kissed her on the mouth.

Tammy laughed, not the reaction I was hoping for.  “He kisses like a squirrel!” she told Paige, who was still open-mouthed, stunned by my bold advance on her friend.

The immediate reaction was not what I was hoping for, but it worked out: a few weeks later, Tammy and I went to the Pizza Hut for dinner and afterwards, we made out in her car—actually, in her boyfriend’s car, a 1968 Beetle.  She was having some sort of trouble with the relationship, and I guess giving a hand-job to a high-school sophomore in the cramped front seat of the boyfriend’s car made her feel better about it.  It certainly made me feel better.  It was the first time I’d ever reached orgasm with the participation of another person, an important milestone by my lights, and she was the ideal partner, cheerfully and unreservedly sexual, unashamedly mentoring me on the subject, telling me where I should put my hands on her body and how.

At 22, she was a woman, a grown-up, not a child like the girls in my school, and a pretty woman—no one would say she was beautiful, but she was undeniably pretty—and she was eccentric and artistic and wild.  Most important, she liked having sex with me; that was the vital thing.

Our affair, if you could call it that, continued off and on for five years.  I went off to college, she and the boyfriend got engaged, but we still managed to hook up every so often.  The summer I turned 18 and could buy alcohol, I got a bottle of wine, a sweet German white called Liebfraumilch, strapped it to the seat of my ridiculous little motorcycle, and rode back to see her.  She owned an inflatable dinghy, barely more than a pool toy, and we floated around Lake Kittamaqundi, the postage-stamp artificial lake across from the mall, drinking the wine and feeling each other up.

Mr. Jones, the would-be mugger, never got a dime from me.  I’d like to say I fought him off, but all that happened was that I scampered away.  I don’t know if he even tried to chase me, but I got safely back to the entrance of the tunnel and the comparative safety of M Street.  I found a pay-phone (no cell-phones in those days), and in my panic, I called 411, who recommended that I call 911.  911 said they would send the police.  I stood trembling by the phone for an hour, waiting for the police to arrive.  I tried calling back, twice.  The first time, they were “on their way.”  The second time, according to the dispatcher, they were at the crime scene, looking for me.

I could still see the mouth of the tunnel from where I stood; no cops.  I looked the other direction.  Three blocks away, there was a parked patrol-car.  I hurried over to find the two policemen in idle conversation with… my mugger.  I stammeringly explained the situation and, to my surprise, was believed.  The mugger, Mr. Jones, was handcuffed and charged with ADW, assault with a deadly weapon: the jackknife.

By coincidence, the last time I ever saw Tammy was a week later.  She drove down to DC to spend the night with me in the scruffy English basement I rented in Georgetown.  My face was still bruised and the cut on my lip had not yet healed.  I had to be careful when I kissed her.  I don’t know if she ever ended up marrying the boyfriend.

As I say, Jones was arrested at the scene and when the prosecutor offered, over my own vituperative objections, to knock the charges down to simple assault, since it was his first arrest in the 24 hours he had been an “adult”, he took the plea and a sentence of two years’ probation.

Tammy, by Maryland law, was guilty of statutory rape.  Had the police ever arrested her, she would have faced a far more severe sentence for touching me nicely exactly where Mr. Jones had kicked me so rudely.  Jones would eventually be eligible to have the conviction expunged; if it had come to a conviction, Tammy would be marked as a child molester, a “registered sex-offender”, for life.

I often think about Tammy, quite fondly of course, as almost every man does about his first lover.  In particular, I think of her whenever I read of a woman being arrested for sleeping with an adolescent boy.  It seems to happen at least weekly nowadays, often a teacher and usually attractive, and the comments section of whatever site reports the story will generally fill up with two kinds of comments.

One is from men: “Where was she when I was 15?” they ask, rather plaintively.  I can sympathize with the sentiment, although less so with the impulse to express it in public.

The other comment can come from either sex, a bitter complaint about the leniency of the sentence she will likely face.  “If she were a man…” the comment will start.  If she were a man, she would be excoriated, she’d be persecuted.  If she were a man, she would die in prison.

If things were different, they wouldn’t be the same.

If Tammy had been a man, and I had been a 15-year-old girl, things would have been very, very different.  I slept with Tammy because I wanted to, because I wanted her.  To put it bluntly, I wanted sex.  If a girl or a woman was willing to have sex with me, she was a gift, a God-send.

Tammy was trying to work out, rather self-destructively, her issues with her boyfriend.  Not my problem.  If it hadn’t been me, it would have been someone else, possibly my friend Adam, who wanted her like mad.  I just got lucky.  Yay me.

It is no longer politic to say it, but it is different for a girl. A 15-year-old girl would have needed more.  She would need a relationship, love, meaning.  To seduce her, the adult male would have to make promises, tell her she was special, tell her the two of them would always be together.  If she even suspected that the promises were lies, as they certainly would be, she would be crushed.  The deceit would haunt her life.

But I was not a girl. Things were not different.  I was a boy, with drives and the desires that entails.

Tammy did not have to seduce me; she only had to let me.

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