People who know me well will tell you that I need a keeper. It’s partly my own refusal to stop adding things to my plate (guess who has 2 thumbs & 20 projects), & partly the invisible sign over my head that invites people to tell me things. Complete strangers have told me stories about abortions they regret, relationships they need to end, and on one memorable occasion a very nice old lady told me a story about the time she tried to poison her husband. So I’m used to the things that happen around me. Mostly. Today I met a guy who was clean cut, with a nice smile, super friendly & very much a gentleman in terms of door opening and stepping aside to let me board first.
The first few minutes of our conversation while we were waiting for the bus were the kind of pleasant chit chat you get when people establish that they have military service in common. Some ribbing about our respective branches, a little chatter about the weather, you know just the basics. Then we got on the bus, he sat next to me (I really have to stop using window seats), and kept on talking. He mentioned that his discharge was other than honorable, and when I guessed that it was for fighting he started to nod along, then he shook his head. I think I asked him what it was for, or at least alluded to being curious and he got really quiet.
Now let me say that at no point in this conversation did I feel threatened. He led with smiles and handshakes, he was polite, never once invaded my space, and in fact didn’t even give me a bad feeling. So when he started talking about the party he went to and how embarrassed he was about why he got out I was expecting something like infidelity. Or participating in a really stupid prank while he was in uniform, and winding up on Facebook or in the paper. It turns out he went to a party at a college kid’s apartment. There was a drunk underage girl, and he “let himself” be talked into spending time in a room with her. And two other dudes.
He didn’t go into great detail, but someone caught them during the act. There was screaming, some non military dudes who were happy to restrain them, and the cops were called in fairly short order. He plead guilty in order to avoid a full fledged court martial, and did a brief stint in jail before being released back into the world. He told me all about his remorse, his guilt, and his sisters who don’t know what he did. He’s let everyone who knows him believe he was just drunk and passed out in the room before the assault. But for whatever reason he really wanted to tell someone the truth.
There was a minimal glimmer of understanding that he was making me uncomfortable, but mostly his focus seemed to be on purging his pain. So, 20 minutes of not quite blubbering (his eyes were damp, he wasn’t smiling, didn’t seem to be enjoying the recounting, & his face was flushed but there were no actual tears), and then once we got to the right stop (we got off at the same place, but were headed to two different places) he jumped up to help a couple of elderly people off the bus & generally acted like a gentleman. Again.It was actually really jarring.
Once we were outside he thanked me for listening, invited me to friend him on Facebook (that would be a no), shook my hand again and went on his way. I went to the grocery store, sent a couple of tweets about it & then decided I need to lay it out all for some kind of analysis. Because I have so many questions. Not just about his urge to tell a complete stranger, but also about the way he did it. When I tell y’all we were having the most mundane pass the time on public transit conversation? I mean it. It wasn’t like we even really exchanged names before he told me. Hell the Facebook thing seemed to be an afterthought because I didn’t start screaming, & there was no indication that he thought about whether or not I’d ever want to see or speak to him again.
I know no one can explain what happens to bring these things to my life, but can anyone explain this dude’s mindset to me? The possibility that he was actually traumatizing me didn’t seem to register. And to be honest I’m not sold that the girl they assaulted was real to him either. He said some things about how he couldn’t tell his sisters because they’d never look at him the same way so I assume they are real people to him. But even that was flat, he showed the most emotion when he talked about what it did to him. And yeah, I can guess some answers but if we’re not really people then why the grand confession?