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The Keepers

t-the-keepers-netflixAfter finishing up a final readthrough on Shadows of Our Fathers and sending it to a beta reader, I decided that I wanted to relax for a bit and watch some Netflix. I love true crime dramas, and I had started The Keepers last week. But after two episodes, I realized it was going to be far darker than I could deal with at that time, and I put it off. When I logged into Netflix last night, there it was. I could have moved away from it, but I didn’t. I told myself I would watch one episode, and maybe start a new story or pick one up. I never got to another story. I watched all remaining episodes in one sitting.

You would think that is a strong endorsement. Perhaps, it is, but not for the reasons I would normally recommend something to watch. This is a documentary series that illuminates a whole tier of problems in our society and the natural tendency for human beings to sweep things under a rug, tell people to pick themselves up by their bootstraps and deal with the realities of the world, and in general, take advantage of other people.

I can’t tell you what specifically about this drama caused me to tear up all night. There’s a lot of my own experiences comforting friends and even my first wife about things that happened to them, from family members. Almost always an uncle. But sometimes, it was a babysitter, and not always male. When I was growing up, even then, as a teenager, I was shocked by how widespread the problem seemed to be in a small suburb of Nashville. Watching the women in this documentary going through the shame of revelation was just too close to home.

My first wife dealt with the abuse and memory of the abuse in a way very different than the women in the documentary. She became hypersexualized. Ultimately, it ended our marriage.  She had a need for chaos and a self-destructive wish for herself. She attempted suicide with pills. She slept with my friends, and she sometimes even begged me to hit her. Ultimately, I realized that I was not the right person to help her get through this. I think the shock of our divorce, that after all those years I would no longer participate in this destructive behavior, may have helped her find some peace. She married my old best friend, and they started having kids. She seems happy, or as happy as I think she can be. Watching the documentary, you can see how long disassociation can last and how hard it can hit when the rush of memories comes back. And the effects of shame.

Watching this documentary, a lot of old thoughts and emotions came flooding back to me. I thought about how one of my old best friends from high school, who had been abused by his uncle, dealt with sexual assaults by not only that man but also some of his friends who did the weirdest things to him because he was strange. I remember confronting their whole pack in the hallway after they started spreading rumors that I was gay because they believed he had shared his story with me. And he had, but they underestimated me.

I had been on the varsity football team, and at the time, I was a very fit guy. And when I found them there, smirking next to the principal’s office, I slammed my fist into a door beside the ringleader’s head, while he was standing next to his girlfriend and crew, and I told him, in no uncertain terms, that if I ever heard him say another word about me, I would beat him so badly that his girlfriend wouldn’t recognize him. I eyed his entire circle of friends, daring them to say something.

My friend was there. He was so proud. He had told me the ringleader would fold like a flan, and I had worked myself up for a couple of days. He had egged me on, and I remember that he looked so triumphant watching me do this to them. Threaten a bunch of frightened morons. And then I let him down. I started feeling like he had manipulated me into my intense anger–that I might have lost my chances at scholarship if I ever did something like that again and got caught. I would have beaten the kid down if he had said anything to me, instead of sitting there whimpering in front of his girlfriend and friends. I stopped dropping by my friend. I stopped hanging out. I withdrew. I had stood up for him in my own, extremely angry way, and then I had dropped it. I was ashamed. I reminded myself of my father. His rage. How infrequently he controlled it. I didn’t want to be that guy.

So, I let him down. He didn’t have me to confide in. I went on to graduate and eventually, I found my way through college and grad school. He went on to be a psychiatrist. He became gay. I know there is an argument that says all gay people are born that way, but I’m not sure he was born that way. I think he was molested by multiple males, and I know how he internalized his shame. I remember it. He wore dark clothing. He had very low self esteem. I wanted to help him. And my ex wife. And one of her friends who was molested by her uncle. And on and on. I had found so many people who had gone through things like this. And now, all of them are out of my life.

I hang out with my wife Jenny, and she’s my best friend. I ask myself sometimes if all of this is selfish. By cutting ties to these people, after knowing their problems, if that makes me part of this system. Maybe it does. It probably does. There’s only so much darkness I can consume though. I’ve been through plenty of things in my life, and I’ve made choices to try to see the best side. To move forward. To treat the past like the past. But for some people, especially people who have been molested, I don’t think that’s easy to do. I think it especially marks people of extreme faith in the worst way. A dark blemish on a good person, one that they feel responsible for.

Why did I not say anything? How did I allow myself to be molested the second time? What is wrong with me? These are the kinds of questions my friends would ask. And all I could say was “You’re a good person. They’re a bad person.” Because of my life, I’m very good at shutting things down. Compartmentalizing. Putting bad things in a box and looking toward the future. I’m not the best friend to have, and I know that. Writing is an outlet for me. It’s cathartic. In a way, maybe it’s helping me to avoid my past and enjoy the abstract and fictional scenarios. I try to write things that have meaning. I could write paranormal romance or something else like that, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. I’d rather have something to say.

And that’s what The Keepers creators are doing. They are allowing these women to have something to say. They are saying something about the Catholic church and the policemen who aided them in these coverups. They are talking about the statute of limitations laws and how they benefit the offenders and not the victims. They have something to say. I can only hope that one day I have something this powerful to say to readers.

The Keepers is not fiction. It’s not hopeful. It’s not going to make you feel better. But it’s a powerful show, and from my experience with molestation survivors, it feels real. If this is fake, then they know their source material. This show brought back a lot of bad memories, but it’s so important that people are aware of the problems that this show talks about. This will always be a problem with humanity. I believe there is an innate problem, especially in men, that creates this kind of molestation culture by itself in isolation. It doesn’t require a special stimulus. In some men, there are just broken parts. And these broken parts cause those men to break others.

I’m reminded of a line from The Perks of Being a Wallflower. “Welcome to the island of misfit toys.” That movie too dealt with molestation. And that’s what I remember about spending time with molestation survivors throughout my teens. That they saw themselves as broken toys. Rarely feeling like they deserved love. Frequently seeking out other malfunctioning toys. That’s how they found me. If you’re broken, for whatever reason, you generally can recognize it in others. And if you’re a good person, and you’re a mended or functioning toy, you’ll see these people and say “I wish I could help fix you.”

And I kind of imagined myself as a robot toy, finding another toy that had lost an arm, and trying desperately to help them put it back on. But after what the broken toy had been through, the arm just wasn’t right for them anymore. For whatever reason, the arm would never fit. Like their shoulder had changed and would no longer accept it at the joint. But still, we fumbled with the broken pieces for a while, trying to make them whole again.

That’s how you’re probably going to feel watching this series. You’ll want to help fix the victims. You’ll want to help fix the system. You’ll want to help find them justice. I’m not sure if such a happy ending is possible. Even if the system resolves this particular case in some way, there will always be victims. As sad as that is, I think there’s something inherently wrong in some people, and it will likely always be true. The defect in humanity will always be there. The best parents can do is just be vigilant. Don’t leave your children alone with relatives or “friends” and especially not priests who must abstain from sex for their religion. I highly recommend the series.

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