Hit Happens

Here’s a story about six young people from not so long ago who lived in a town called Freeport.

Paul Henry was 12 years-old, a dreamy, quick-footed kid from a large family of all sisters and no father. He was walking home one evening in October from a friend’s house. It was dark already, the trees bare, the streets shiny black from the cold drizzle and swept clean by the wind but for a few patches of radical swirling leaves. Paul decided to take a short cut through the alley behind the cannery. Suddenly out from behind a loading dock appeared Joe Klein.

Joe Klein was 15, a loner, a wannabe greaser, a bastard child who lived with his sad old mother on the same street as Paul Henry, though closer to town in the lower rent area. For a reason he didn’t quite understand, Joe thought a lot about Paul Henry, was drawn to him, stalked him sometimes stealthily, sometimes openly.

Joe had caught Paul alone and off guard a couple of times in the past, once in the vacant lot behind the sub shop, another time down by the creek under the Main Street bridge. Both times, Joe had approached from the shadows, pushed him in the chest, called him a fucking pussy, and challenged him to fight.  Paul cowered, ran away frightened. He would not tell anyone about the incidents.

On this night, it seemed that Joe had captured his quarry there in the unlit dirt alley by the railroad tracks behind the cannery. He grabbed Paul by the collar, pulling him face to face, so close that Paul could smell his hair cream and aftershave lotion. Desperately, Paul flung his arms upward, breaking Joe’s grip, and escaped again. Speeding away toward a faint light on Main Street, Paul could hear Joe alternately laughing, cursing, and taunting him. Paul would not tell anyone about the incident.

One sultry summer night two years later, Paul was at the county fair. The restrooms were down a pathway behind the 4H barn, away from the phantasmagoria of the rides and games. There at the dimly lit urinal, amid the stench of un-flushed human and animal excretion, Paul found himself surrounded by two older boys. One was Joe Klein. The other was a farm boy and linebacker on the high school football team, Larry Sadack.  “Look what we got here, Joe,” said Larry. “It’s little Pauly Boy. Don’t he have a cute butt?” Things might have gone badly for Paul, but an adult happened to enter at that moment, and Joe and Larry made their exit.

Linebacker Larry Sadack’s father was a very mean man when he was drunk, and he was drunk most of the time. Larry had big swollen hands, like his father, whose frequent beat downs on his son fed into Larry’s passion for hitting, on or off the field. He was big, and he was moody like his father. After his father hung himself in the loft of his barn outside of town, Larry did not go to the funeral.

Two years later, when Paul was a sophomore, he got caught again. It was after an evening stroll with a pretty classmate who had just broken up with a senior baseball player. Larry Sadack was a loyal friend of the baseball player, and took it into his own capable hands to make sure Paul received a lesson. As Paul was riding his bike home, Larry and Joe Klein (who had attached himself as a friend of Larry) intercepted him, forced him into the Baseball player’s car. They drove to an abandoned school where Larry used his big fist to knock out two of Paul’s front teeth. Paul told his mother that he had fallen off his bike.

A year later, Larry beat to death a young man in a fight at a beer party. This took place on top of Archer Hill near a popular parking spot that overlooked a glistening Freeport. Larry was convicted of second degree manslaughter and sentenced to 15 years in prison. He got off in seven, and seven years after that returned to his hometown as a reformed man.

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Karen Ferramo was a small, shapely young woman with a round face and flat nose. She had divorced twice, giving birth to a daughter, Josie, when she was 17 and married to a guy who prided himself on being a “player.” Her second husband refused to work, choosing to watch TV all day long. Now she had a live-in boyfriend named Rod in her apartment on Main Street downtown.

Rod was a big, strong guy who worked at the cannery and played in baseball, football, and basketball adult leagues around town. He was very competitive, and though he never hit Karen, he enjoyed insulting her, especially regarding her appearance. He called her Monkey Face, Munchkin, Midget. He was creative that way. Sometimes it got to the point where Karen would come at him, which amused Rod greatly because she was only five feet tall. When Rod was not around, sometimes Karen would take her frustrations out on Josie.

Josie was nine, and very shy. She had become somewhat immune to her mother’s mood swings and could anticipate, to some degree, when the little whippings would come. She loved the sanctuary of her bedroom, which was adorned with the stuffed animals and knick-knacks her mother had bought when she felt guilty. Josie never told anyone.

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Much of these stories is true. The represent the kind of silent tragedy that happens anywhere, in sleepy towns, farm communities, suburbs, and cities across America. As depicted here, the victims may never tell, which ensures that they will become victims again in one way or another. And the abusers will go unpunished. The stories will never be told.

Unless, of course, the abusers are famous celebrities, such as professional athletes or actors or rock stars. Suddenly, because the names have recognizable faces, we all can stand up and be indignant and self-righteous and demand justice.

But there is something out of orbit here if we compare the two kinds of victims. The ones in the story are innocent; they did not have the life experience or awareness to understand their predicaments. They had no means of anticipating or preventing the brutality they would suffer.

A grown woman who gets involved with a celebrity should know going into the relationship that rich and famous people live very different lives than those of regular people. They are both revered and demonized. They have come to expect to get what they want—such is their “swag.” They are on the road away from home half their lives. They are, in essence, performers who, while living in a kind of bubble, anticipate being judged and are highly defensive by necessity. That is the nature of this beast. It is a super competitive world they live, and to commit to an intimate relationship with one of them demands a level of tolerance and, I suppose, forgiveness that is not typical.

Moreover, we may question the motives of some of these women. Might they be pursuing their own celebrity status through celebrity? In the world of the Kardashians, Kendra, and so many other “reality” shows that blur the line between publicity and privacy, is it possible that some celebrities and their partners feel compelled to dramatize their relationship for the entertainment of others? If that were the case, is it surprising that something ugly and violent will manifest itself?

Of course this is not to excuse or justify any acts of real domestic abuse. It is to illustrate that we are not serving the greater good if we get caught up framing these incidents as gender/race/class issues and publicizing them as such. Scholars and talk-show pundits are self-serving by exposing theories and solutions that are not respectful of the individual nature of these violent acts.

Maybe I too am guilty of over-complicating the issue. Some celebrities, like so many regular people, may simply have very nasty tempers and react violently to certain stimuli, especially when drunk or on pain pills or amphetamines. When they act out, they should receive the same kind of due process as a regular person gets. They certainly will have no problem paying for a good lawyer.

If we leave those cases to the courts of law instead of public opinion, then maybe we can focus more on what’s happening to the children of Freeport.