The Lives of the Dead

Some of the most interesting people I meet are dead…

I Know What Girls Like…

Henry Darger from "In the Realms of the Unreal"


My life was just shame. The shame of who I was and of what I did.

The shame of who I was led me to do what I did. The shame of what I did led me further into the shame of who I was.

Where do I begin to explain? My sin is something few humans can comprehend. They can understand murder and rape, thuggery and genocide better than they can comprehend my particular crime. This is not to say they accept or sympathize with such crimes against humanity, but they can make sense of the perhaps irrational motivations – the need to destroy, the need for power, the need for money, the need for freedom or supremacy especially after a lifetime of repression. Perhaps even misguided religious fervor. The human mind can understand how such malignancies can develop because they can make sense of the root cause.

Not so for me.   Even here, looking back, I can’t say I totally understand it myself.  It was just a need, a drive I had. It was an attraction that I could not control. I suppose if I were different, stronger, I might have been able to control my behavior, but my feelings? No. Impossible.

The first time I felt it, I was still young, but old enough to recognize how wrong it was. This is when the shame began.

For most people, sexual and romantic attraction are age-appropriate.   A kindergartner might have a sweet first crush on another child in the class. A twelve-year old boy might try to steal a kiss from a another twelve year old.   Teenagers lust after other teenagers. And adults generally mate amongst themselves.  Certainly children develop crushes on teachers or older persons of authority, but most adults understand what the child has yet to learn:   any sexual relationship would be completely inappropriate and out of balance.

I, however, never grew out of my grade-school sexuality.   By the time I reached my teens, girls my own age frightened me. I felt too much a child, myself.   I sensed they could see right through me. I feared they could see things in me that I didn’t want them to see; things which needed to remain hidden but which I had no ability to conceal.  I suspected they would demand things of me – sexually, emotionally – which I knew I could not satisfy. I feared they would consume me whole or mock me.

I kept my distance.   I spent a lot of time alone. I eventually learned how to fit in. I wasn’t stupid, just emotionally immature with a tragic lack of impulse control.

At first, I’d just fantasize. There were times when my loving gaze fell too long on a beautiful little girl. The accompanying parent would quickly hustle the child out of my sight, while casting back a warning glare over his or her shoulder.

I learned to be more discreet. Not to leer or stare.

I used to masturbate to catalogs of children’s clothing, filled with adorable models. Even as I did it, I recognized how pathetic I was. I went to a couple of those junior beauty pageants, but they were too creepy even for me.   I recognized in the audience, other men with the same feelings as mine and it frightened me. I saw my future, older and just like them. I didn’t want to end up like that, even though I feared I would.

One day, when I was in my late twenties, a new family moved into my apartment complex. They had a beautiful little daughter, maybe 10 or 11. I fell instantly in love with her. I was obsessed.

I bought a puppy to attract her attention, which was the perfect ruse. She would come over to pet him. I’d give her little snacks to feed him. Then, I got her to help me teach him tricks. That gave me an opportunity to be around her longer, with her feeling happy and relaxed.

Her pure joy! Her unsullied innocence! Her translucent skin that allowed her inner light to shine through! The way she looked at me with those huge blue eyes when she asked me a question, and awaited my response as if having an audience with the Buddha! Truly, I was in love. It was as real and deep and meaningful to me as any kind of love is to anyone.

It did not feel shameful. It felt pure. I felt that if she could love me too, it would redeem me.

I was as nervous and afraid as any inexperienced young man might be about approaching a girl he likes. I didn’t want to frighten her. I wanted her to understand things as I did.

I complemented her. Told her how pretty, how smart, how good with animals she was. I gave her small gifts.  I invited her in for snacks. (Her single mother worked, and she was mostly on her own in the afternoons.)   We’d watch TV on the sofa, and eventually, we cuddled.

For her, it was no different than it might have been cuddling with her own father, who had all but abandoned her and whose male attention she obviously missed. But for me, it was absolutely romantic. I was in heaven, just to have her near me, just to smell her hair, to hear her laugh.

And then, one day, we got on the subject of boys. She wanted to know certain things about the facts of life, about male anatomy.   From where I am now, I recognize that she was just a normally curious kid. Her father was absent and her mother was barely there. I was a trusted adult. Who else would she ask?

I understood it as a seduction.  A black curtain inside of me blocked out all normal human emotional logic.  In my immaturity, I imagined that she wanted me, as I wanted her. I believed that this was her way of making the first move. It meant she loved me!

I started so slowly and gently, just touching and telling her how beautiful she was, and how sexy, and how much I liked her and how she could drive a man mad. And she liked it. She did. But she liked it because she was just a child and she had nobody else to tell her these things that she desperately wanted to hear. In her own way, she was as needy and lost in the world as I was.

Of course, she was just a child and I was the adult;  I should have known better. But it didn’t feel that way to me at the time. Emotionally, we were the same age. In fact, to me, she felt older. She seemed confident but in fact, she was just trusting and naïve, and was thus not nervous. She had no reason to be.

Eventually, we had sex. At the time, in my delusional state, it seemed she desired me as much as I desired her. I realize now that I forced myself too quickly on her. She was not ready — not physically and not emotionally. Even if I’d gone more slowly, she still wouldn’t have understood.

For a young girl who is just beginning to recognize her potential as a woman, to sense she has power over an older man, is a heady feeling,.  but is emotion that a ten year old mind cannot process in its full scope. She could not have understood all the ramifications. For her, it was a game: to have a man do whatever she asked; give her whatever she wanted. That was as far as she thought about it. She might well have played this power game with her own father against her mother if he’d been around more.   It was not a sexual thing. She was just a child, only just beginning to understand her power as a female. She was testing her wings.

She didn’t even understand, really, what sex was. She didn’t comprehend the brutality of it on her small body. She didn’t anticipate the pain. Or the terror of having a grown man upon her, essentially holding her prisoner.

When I imagine her face now, I know she was terrified. But I didn’t stop. I couldn’t. I was oblivious to her panic.

And when it was over, she cried. I tried to comfort her but she wanted no part of me. I will never forget the look in her eyes: they screamed “Betrayal!”   Her innocence was gone and it was all my fault. I had totally misjudged the situation (because truly, there was some part of me that was missing, and this rendered me incapable of understanding any of the dynamic in what had just transpired.)

She left and never came back.

I understood after the fact that I’d hurt her but I didn’t understand how I had so badly misjudged. Maybe I was also angry because I felt we were in it together, that our feelings for each other were mutual, that we both wanted it, and it wasn’t fair that she blamed me after she changed her mind. But again, this was a result of my immature thinking.

And in the weeks following, whenever I’d see her around, she would quickly walk the other way. There was a complete change in her demeanor. She had closed in on herself. She was no longer that open, trusting, carefree little girl. The joy had gone out of her eyes, replaced by shock, sadness, fear, mistrust. I’d selfishly stolen her innocence.

I was consumed by guilt.   I knew I’d done a horrific thing. I knew I had destroyed something in her, and that she would not get over it for a long time, if ever. And yet, I could not stop my desire. The worse I felt about myself, the more I needed the love of an innocent to justify my feelings, to restore my sense of self-worth.

It was not logical. I don’t expect anyone else to make sense of it.

She never said anything to anyone, at least not that I ever knew. Her shame and guilt were as great as mine.

I couldn’t bear to see her. I couldn’t bear to have her look at me like that.   I moved far away, to another city. Eventually, I went through something similar with another girl, age twelve. It, too, ended badly. And she also never told. I moved away, again.

The third time, the girl told her parents. I ended up in jail.

This was the right place for me. I fully felt I deserved it. It was a relief not have to worry about further temptation, because I knew if I were still out there, it would only happen again. There was something broken in me, but I couldn’t change it and I couldn’t stop it and with my limited emotional depth, I couldn’t even understand it.

Being in jail for this kind of crime is probably one of the most difficult sentences a man can serve. Even other prisoners are repulsed by such urges.   I did not last long in there, which was for the best. I was long out of choices.


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Henry Darger

artwork: Henry Darger from “In the Realms of the Unreal”

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