THE WATER’S EDGE
/Ifter his metamorphosis, roy sat, one morning each week, in a windowless room It had a blue industrial carpet, a blackboard, a circle of brown cushioned office chairs. A faint hum came from the air ducts. To reach the roomfromthe waiting area, on the second floor of the probation building, Roy and the other men walked down a series of corridors and around a series of turns that felt like a path through a maze. The room was wedged in a back corner.
Roy burrowed through his mind relentlessly, trying to unbury an explanation for his being here, in the circle of twelve chairs. It seemed to him that he’d been, just yesterday, a normal man, approaching forty. “I was typical,” he told me plaintively. “Typical. With the same fantasies generally that general men have.”
He’d run a crew of computer technicians, repairing telecommunications equipment for Wall Street trading firms. In his off hours he’d led a wedding band that played the Plaza. He sang Frank Sinatra and Barry White with such agility, such precise and layered mimicry, that to listen to his CDs, the recordings he’d once mailed out to the couples thinking of booking him, was to mistake his versions for the real thing.
You ’ll never find As long as you live Someone who loves you Tender like I do
Barry White’s low, late-night croon slid from Roy’s lips as though the black balladeer inhabited him Roy was, in a sense, a failed musician. His career had peaked when he was a teenager; a song he’d written and recorded, an antidrug anthem with a disco beat, was played a few times on one of New York City’s major radio stations. For his own music, that had been the beginning and the end. But his imitative talent was so extreme as to be original. He was somehow not a failure at all. His replications held an ineffable richness that belonged to the known singers but that he, magically, owned. Something otherworldly, a kind of emotional, artistic channeling, happened when he sang.
In what time work and music allowed, Roy flew kites—kites bigger than most living rooms. One was an airborne acoustic guitar in bright yellow. Another was a floating box of Cray-ola crayons. At night he launched a kite outfitted with strobe lights that pulsed the colors of the rainbow over the earth below. To the gargantuan bodies he attached streamers and spinners, spiked balls and “watermelon tails,” jellyfish tentacles and “space socks” that trailed more than a hundred feet behind. His kites could perform ballets with him holding the lines.
In the aftermath of his metamorphosis, he could recall no history of longing for young girls. He’d had no criminal record of any kind. “Not even a speeding ticket,” he said. His transformation, it seemed to him, had begun abruptly one summer, on vacation at the beach. His second wife had pointed out her eleven-year-old daughter’s body. Roy and his wife were standing on the sand; his stepdaughter, Faith, and her best friend, Elizabeth, played several yards in front of them at the edge of the surf. “Look at those girls,” Roy remembered his wife saying. “They’re changing already. You can see their bodies changing.” like Nabokov’s Humbert, he sometimes felt that his adult entrancement had its seed in childhood desire. Everyone knows Humbert’s Lolita but few remember his Annabelle, though she enters on page one, introduced to explain, at least partially, his later crimes. “In point of fact,” Humbert says, linking his craving for Lolita to the infatuation he’d felt, decades earlier, on the cusp of adolescence, “there might have been no Lolita at all had I not loved, one summer, a certain initial girl-child.” The memory of his pubescent love, the still-palpable recollection of urgent, exquisite fondling in the garden while Annabelle’s parents were inside playing cards, leaves him with a lifelong yearning to recapture that sweetness, that desperation, that intensity, and to consummate what youth had thwarted. Lolita, whom Humbert pursues in his late thirties, is the incarnation of erotic nostalgia.
Roy’s Annabelle was his aunt, his mother’s much younger sister, thirteen when Roy was eleven. One summer night, on vacation with his mother’s family, while the adults played cards in the kitchen, his aunt asked him to come into the sun room And there, evening by evening, they progressed from displaying to touching to her straddling him, their groins bare. She slid and rubbed herself across his cock. “I think that’s what was always in my head with Faith,” he said. He’d longed to have again that trembling childhood thrill.
But the explanation didn’t come close to satisfying him His soft, smooth face and easy, band leader’s smile often collapsed in confusion. He was round in the middle and broad in the shoulders— bearish in a way that was more panda-like than threatening. In the back room at the end of the maze, near him along the circle of chairs, sat an elderly man with a graceful wave of white hair combed back from his forehead. There was a well-scrubbed man in his mid-thirties, his forehead shiny, the pale blue check in his button-down shirt matching the blue of his eyes.
They were there for group counseling as part of their probation. They had spent time in jail or prison: a few weeks; several years. The man with the wave of white hair had fondled the vagina of his grandniece again and again when the girl was seven, eight. He’d kissed her chest, had her hold his penis. As an adult, David, the man in the checked shirt, had given a blow job to his eleven-year-old brother. Later, he’d taken his six-year-old daughter to a motel room along with his brother, who was by then sixteen. He’d grown obsessed by a fantasy. Now he started to make it real. He persuaded them both to undress. David urged his brother to have sex with his daughter, only desisting “seconds away from something really, really bad happening,” when his brother began to cry.
“What possessed me?” Roy demanded over and over in the group sessions and alone with himself. The question churned through the minds of most of the men David, a published poet, said he felt like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
“Could anybody end up getting into this mess?” Roy asked.
“begin breathing slowly and deeply,” Patrick Liddle, the group’s therapist, its leader, instructed the men. It was the way he often started. They sat with their hands on their thighs, their eyes closed. “Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth.” He taught them to meditate. He spoke in a soothing monotone, the voice he used with them always, no matter how disquieted, how uneasily self – aware their crimes made him feel. “Pay attention to your breath. Is each breath reaching down to your upper chest? Your lower chest? Your abdomen? Let the breathing deepen.”
He was silent a long while, then resumed. “Focus your awareness in your feet. Just be aware of how they feel.” Part of his job was to give the men ways to keep their lives under control, to keep themselves from transgressing again. The meditation was one method. “Now center your attention on the steady beating of your heart.” Liddle wore fashionably tailored suits and shoes polished to a soft gloss. The clothes were part of the program. His boss set the dress code, to lend some measure of esteem to those in treatment, to elevate men who could hardly have fallen lower. For the therapists themselves, the clothes helped to lessen the taint of what they were dealing with.
“Picture in your mind a large open field covered in deep grass up to your waist. A light, warm breeze is blowing. Feel the breeze on your skin. Each thought that enters your mind becomes a brightly colored balloon; watch them float; just let them go.” Roy and the others sat perfectly still. Their fingers curled gently. Their jaws were slack, their mouths slightly open. They seemed almost to be sleeping, and like sleeping men anywhere, they looked almost like children.