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Beta: Fantastically, encouragingly and speedily beta-ed by Dorilon. Thanks!
Copyright: Edgar C. Gambodge, Elizabeth Lightbody and Martha Grosbeak are mine. Sadly so are Father Michael and Gruner.
Warning: In my Oz universe, many of the events from the last two episodes of Season Six are fictitious.
Settling the Bill: Elizabeth Says (13/17)
I didn't send this before, because I didn't think Schillinger's fucks would let it through the mailroom at Oz. I wrote you there, but I guess you never got the letters. One good thing about Lardner - no prisoners control the mailroom. Never have. But you'll see why I'm sending this through Sr. Pete.
I writing you now to tell you I've been seeing a therapist called Elizabeth Lightbody and we've been talking about some stuff that happened when I was a kid. She said I should tell someone I trusted about it, so I thought of you, `cos I know you'd understand. It's kinda hard and I don't know where to begin. I thought I'd send you some of the recordings of the sessions I've had with her.
Elizabeth says that's not why she wanted me to tell someone. Not just so they'd know, but so I'd have to verbalize it. But I can't do that again. It was bad enough living through it and then having to go back there to tell her about it. So I guess sending you these tapes is kinda like cheating, but it's better than nothing. Other than Bonnie and Elizabeth, I haven't told anyone this stuff. I'm telling you, because I know you'll love me, no matter what, Toby.
We're still working through what happened before Lardner. I haven't thought of this shit in years. It's slow and I don't really want to do it, but Elizabeth says it's like removing shrapnel. When pieces start bothering you, you gotta get them out. There's a hell of a lot of pieces and digging them out has left me feeling sort of broken.
I know in my file at Sr. Pete's, it says I'm a "sexual predator" and a "sexual sociopath". I've looked. But I've never fucked anyone who didn't want me to. You know that, right? I swore to myself after what happened to me that I'd never do that to anyone else. I thought that I'd dealt with it all, but it always seems to come back. I'm over 40 and I still feel damned like that little kid did. I still feel helpless around Schillinger. Like I did when I was seventeen. Like I can't escape. Maybe I felt I had a second chance at salvation with Vern - if I let him be my daddy, I would somehow be saved. Sick, huh?
I can't forgive Fr. Michael and Vern Schillinger for what they did to me. Sr. Pete would try to arrange an interaction with them so I could. But Elizabeth says it's more important that I forgive myself. I think now that a lot of the shit that happened afterwards was the result of this. It's not an excuse. It's an explanation or a confession. You do got a choice in Life, no matter what, and I made a lot of fuck ups. I want to stop fucking things up. And most of all, I want you to trust me again.
Toby, you've seen what I'm capable of and I know you still love me. You said so, right? Maybe you can love me still, after what you hear on the tapes. If you can forgive me after that and still love me, maybe I can learn to forgive and love myself.
"What's on the tapes?" asked Toby, putting Chris's letter down, with a renewed feeling of trepidation.
"Largely his attempt to come to terms with some traumatic events from his childhood and adolescence. It's going to take years for him to make peace with what happened, even with therapy," said Sister Pete sadly. "Maybe if you at least know the background, you might be able to help him work through it eventually."
Toby wasn't sure that he had the wherewithal to cope with Chris's problems as well as his own, but he reserved his opinion on that for the time being and pressed "play".
In the hours that followed, Toby learned more about Chris than he had in all the years in Oz. Chris had never talked about his childhood or his family and Toby had often been struck by the fact that Chris never had any relatives visiting him. Virtually every other inmate had some family member who cared. Once Toby had asked Chris why his only visitors were his ex-wives or his lawyers and Chris had replied that his family had given up on him, suggesting with a self-deprecating smile that he was the black sheep and they were ashamed of him. At the time Toby had simply taken that at face value. After all Chris's prison record showed him to be incorrigible. Years ago, when he first started to feel interested in Chris, Toby had sneaked a peek in Chris's file at Sister Pete's.
Toby had imagined that Chris had been a wild teen and young man. A handful that might have exhausted his well-meaning parents eventually. Or that maybe he'd cut himself off from them to be able to do as he pleased. Chris's complete silence about his parents never struck Toby as odd. Chris always was a law unto himself. Listening to the tapes, Toby was increasingly dismayed by what he heard.
He was also discomforted to find out how Chris had really experienced his first sojourn with Schillinger in Lardner, although Chris had always made out that he'd played along and that it hadn't really mattered to him. Throughout the tapes, Chris kept on insisting that what Schillinger did to him in Lardner wasn't rape. Toby guessed otherwise from his own experience of Schillinger.
"I had a choice" Chris told Elizabeth. "I was stronger than him. Well, fitter anyway."
"You were a seventeen-year-old kid and he was a thirty-year-old hardened criminal," Elizabeth said. "How could you have fought back?"
She had a reflective, cultured-sounding voice. Very New England. She sounded as if she was in her sixties or seventies. Toby imagined her wearing pale silks and new wool and playing with a long string of pearls.
"I...I bent over for him because if I didn't it would have been worse and he'd have taken what he wanted anyway," Chris sounded strangely hesitant. "I guess Toby would know that better than anyone. It's smarter not to fight sometimes."
"Do you blame Toby for what happened to him?" Elizabeth asked.
"I think Toby did right," said Chris staunchly. "Ya don't wanta get on the wrong side of Vern Schillinger."
"So what you and Toby did allowed you both to survive in prison?" Elizabeth said gently.
"I should've put up more of a fight," Chris insisted. "I hated it and I hated him. I still do. I can't believe the cocksucker was out of the mailroom when it got hit. Anyway, it's not as if bending over for Schillinger was the first time I'd had to do it and it wouldn't be the last. It was worse before, when I was younger. And, unlike Toby, I knew what I was in for."
"Isn't it possible that you didn't fight Vern precisely because you knew what would happen if you resisted? Isn't that self-preservation, Chris?" Elizabeth pressed.
"Yeah, maybe," Chris sounded unconvinced.
"We've discussed your feelings of shame about what happened with Vern Schillinger," said Elizabeth, later on the tape, "and I know that you still think you did something to deserve it. It wasn't your fault, but you need to see that for yourself. Right now though, I want you to make connections between that and what happened when you were ten."
Chris didn't answer for a while.
"It's real hard to talk about...I thought it was God punishing me because I didn't love Him enough. Then I thought it was because I was different, that there was something wrong with me that only perverts could see..."
Most of the rest of that particular cassette concerned the painful piecing together of a story of childhood sexual abuse that Toby, as a lawyer, knew was all too common. It had started when Chris was about eight or nine. His parents were very religious. He spoke of them with a curious detachment as if he were an outsider describing the customs of an ancient culture and not his own parents. The church was their life and everything they did centered on it. They were on all the committees, in all the social groups and went to all the main services, even Wednesday morning Mass. They used to do a lot for charity too, were involved in literacy drives and had exchange students to stay. They'd often invite local priests back to the house for meals.
There was one priest who used to come around all the time. Father Michael. He took a special interest in Chris, which Chris's mother really liked. Chris described "a real creepy feeling" he got from the priest and that he didn't want to spend time with him, but his parents insisted. They wanted Father Michael to teach Chris catechism and train him to be an altar boy. Toby felt his eyebrows rise at the thought of a little Chris Keller in a white surplice.
The abuse started in small ways. It took Father Michael more than a year to work his way up to molesting Chris.
"Funny," said Chris in a strangely distant-sounding voice. "When it happens to children it's called molestation. When it happens to grown-ups, it's rape. I tried to tell my folks, all the way along, but they kept sending me back to him. I used to lie to get out of catechism classes, but my folks'd catch me out. One time, Father Michael caught me out and threatened to tell my Mom I was lying if I didn't do what he said. Then he started telling me I'd go to Hell if I didn't obey him because he was a priest and it was God's will. I was real scared, so I shut up and did what he said."
Elizabeth told him to try to describe in as much detail as he could what happened.
Toby pushed the "stop" button.
"I don't want to hear this," he said.
"Tobias, Chris wants you to hear," said Sister Pete.
And so he listened.
At first, Chris's voice was uncharacteristically uncertain and reluctant as he described what had happened with Father Michael. The details he gave of the priest's escalating sexual abuse were scant and basic. All the way along, Elizabeth's voice calmly affirmed him and reassured him, reminding him that he was safe now and Father Michael couldn't hurt him any more. Toby cringed less at the terrible story than at the shame and self-disgust he started to hear in Chris's voice. And then, abruptly, Chris's voice assumed a flat, unemotional quality as he began to relate with startling precision what the priest had done to him when he had stepped up his activities from inappropriate touching to greater violations.
"What's going on?" demanded Toby, looking at Sister Pete. "He makes it sound as if it happened to somebody else."
"It's a coping mechanism that children seem very good at, called dissociation. It protects them psychologically from events that are too much for them to cope with," said Sister Pete. "Elizabeth is trying to get him to break through that and to feel what he really felt, so that he can move on."
"Shit," said Toby.
"Chris," said Elizabeth's voice eventually, after the litany of horror had finished, "if you could confront your attacker now as an adult what would you say to him?"
Without a pause, Chris replied, "I would ask why he chose me, what made me different from the other kids."
He sounded very young and vulnerable and Toby could imagine what Chris might have been like as a child, long ago. Neither Elizabeth nor Chris spoke for a while. In the silence Toby could hear a slight background noise and he realized, horrified, that Chris was weeping.
Toby rubbed his face with his hands, as if trying to wash something away.
"Many prisoners have a history of childhood abuse, Tobias, and I have to say I have suspected this might be the case with Chris," Sister Pete told him. "But it's not an excuse for the decisions he's made as an adult."
"He never told me," said Toby.
"So where were his parents in all of this?" Toby asked, thinking of how his father would never have let anyone hurt his boys like that.
Sister Pete just looked at him.
"There's more," she said eventually.
Toby looked at her.
"It gets worse, doesn't it?" he said.
"I think so," said Sister Pete.
Toby ejected the cassette and put in the next one.
"Eventually I did tell my folks," Chris was saying, "but they were very angry with me and accused me of lying and having dirty thoughts. They complained to Father Michael about me and he confirmed that I was a liar. After that he told me he could not save my soul because I was a child of the devil. I begged him to forgive me, but he wouldn't. Then he was transferred to another parish.
"The priest after that - don't remember his name - was very strict and very old. He thought I was real lazy and never did any preparation for him, because whenever he asked me any questions in catechism class, I was so scared I just went blank and couldn't answer. One time I threw up on him when he made me stay after class for not doing my homework."
Chris gave a small laugh at that point and the laugh was so Chris-like, that Toby couldn't help a small smile of his own.
"He was very angry with me about it and complained to my folks. But at least he never touched me. By that time, though, I thought he was ignoring me because I was damned."
"So you believed you were damned when Father Michael told you that you were going to go to Hell. He was doing wrong things to you, things that scared and disgusted you. Why did you believe him?" Elizabeth asked Chris.
"He was a man of God, chosen by God. He said I was breaking God's Commandments by disobeying my parents' wishes," Chris explained.
He sounded as if he still believed that.
"Do you really think as an adult that a ten year old child could do anything so terrible that he would deserve to be sent to Hell?" Elizabeth asked. "What that priest did to you was wrong. He abused his position and he abused you, a defenseless little boy. I want you to go to a park and watch the children there. I want you to find a little boy of about the age you were when you were being abused and look at him. See how small he is and how young. How much he needs to be looked after. And then I want you to imagine that he suffered what you did. Write down how that makes you feel."
So, as Toby discovered on subsequent cassettes, because Chris thought he was damned, he started behaving as if what he did didn't matter. His parents were always mad at him. Elizabeth described it as attention-seeking and self-punishing behavior that abused children often display. It started with shoplifting, smoking, ditching school. Then drinking, "`cos it was a bad thing to do, but also `cos it made things not hurt so much". The drugs came later. His parents began to withdraw attention from him, when anger no longer worked. Chris started getting into fights. He won them usually. Once he ran away from home for a week. Another time he turned up drunk to class. He was thirteen.
As he got older, he started hanging with the tough guys, being tough with them. Show he didn't need dick. He'd been a loner as a kid, never quite fitting in, but he found he fit right in with the tough guys. He met more of them in Juvenile Detention. He'd never excelled at anything, but he learned that he could excel at being tough. In fact, he was so tough that when he and his gang were arrested for grand theft auto, he graduated to Lardner, while they went back to Juvie.
"Never saw them again," said Chris ironically, "but I guess I won that round."
"When we were in court," he continued, "my folks told me that to teach me a lesson they'd decided not to appeal against me getting sent to Lardner. They never visited me or wrote me while I was there. They cut themselves off from me. Once I got out, I decided not to go back or look them up. I've never seen them since in more than 20 years. If they'd stayed in touch with me in Lardner, maybe they could've done something to get me away from Vern. `Course they never did get me away from Father Michael.
"O yeah, I did eventually track down Father Michael a couple of years after being paroled. Being with Vern and seeing what some of the offenders who'd been busted for kiddy-diddling had been up to had kinda put some things in perspective for me. I read up about child abuse too. But Father Michael wouldn't answer my questions. Instead, he laughed in my face and told me that he didn't know what I was talking about. I beat him up and went back to Lardner for it. By the time I got out again, he'd moved on."
"It's a pity the statute of limitations ran out years ago for Chris," said Toby at last. "You can still pursue childhood abuse cases in court if you press charges within five years of turning eighteen. Maybe that would've helped. That sick fuck of a priest deserves to be put away for good."
He caught himself too late. Sister Pete only said, "I agree."
Chris never did go to find a small boy to watch. He explained that he didn't want to look like a pervert, hanging around school yards. Elizabeth tried a different tack.
"I want you to analyze how you feel about the abuse and your parents' treatment of you as a result. How did you feel when this was happening?"
"Bad..." said Chris slowly, "because I was bad...if I'd been good I wouldn't have been punished."
"Were you frightened?" Elizabeth asked.
"...yeah..." Chris said so softly that Toby almost missed it.
"How do you feel about it now as a grown man?"
"I should be over it by now," said Chris. "It was long ago and other people have had much worse. Toby's son, Gary..."
"Chris, I want to know how you feel, not how you think and we're talking about you, not Toby."
"Schillinger deserves to die," said Chris, in a voice shaking with fury and something else indefinable. "Nobody should ever do to a kid what he did to that little boy. Nobody should ever get away with that."
Toby found he managed Gary's death best by not thinking about it, not imagining what unspeakable terror and pain his young son must have experienced before dying, not thinking about him lying in a box underground, never thinking about the life Gary wouldn't have and all the things he wouldn't do. Sometimes, Toby would catch himself in a moment of Kelleresque irony, realizing he'd consigned his child's memories to a sealed box in his mind. But today, he needed to leave them there. Instead he wondered which little boy Chris was talking about and whether Vern Schillinger was the only violator Chris was so angry with.
A certain piece of the final session echoed in Toby's mind long after he'd switched off the cassette player and left the room:
"Toby loves me."
"Yes, yes, I believe he does, Chris. But do you love yourself?"
There was only silence. And it almost broke Toby's heart.
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