Having discovered this case online, I followed along, unable to help myself. It was like a gruesome accident where you can't look away. I felt like I should be rooting for one side or the other, but I couldn't decide how to feel. Everyone applauds when you show sympathy to convicted murderers on death row but there isn't any way to have sympathy for a sex offender. None.
I had never had the slightest sympathy for any of the sex offenders I'd read about in the papers. What was the difference between Greg and those other people? A 4.0 GPA? Lovely manners? The only difference was that I'd happened to go to school with this guy and not those others.
Online, where once there might have been proud news about him, a search of Greg's name now immediately brought up court stories, and all of them began with his full name and the charge SEXUAL PERFORMANCE OF A CHILD. A search of Charlene's name brought up only that she had posted bail for her husband, who was charged with SEXUAL PERFORMANCE OF A CHILD. The words all but reached out and smacked you across the face.
A search of his name and a click on Image, and you were looking at his mug shot, something I would never have believed could exist.
The first time I saw the photo, I thought it had been retouched to try to make him look overly sinister, but after a second, closer look, I saw it was just his photo; he just looked sinister now. I tried to picture his face the way I remembered it. In my mind's eye I saw his eyes lit up, his mouth either smiling broadly or lips wrinkled with a bit of held-in amusement. Then I looked at the mugshot again. The person in the photo looked cold and hard. A lock of hair was falling down, boyishly, at his temple, but his mouth was set and grim and his eyes stared, empty, into the camera. The light in them was gone.
While Greg spent the two years fighting off the inevitable, his family kept moving forward. His eldest son got married, and one of Greg's last acts of freedom was to attend the wedding. The photos on facebook tell little. In one we see the bride and groom at the altar and Greg and Charlene sitting side by side in the front row, but there is maybe six inches of space between them. Greg appears in another photo, this one from the reception. In the photo we see the happy bride and groom on the dance floor. In the background we see Charlene talking with someone, her back to the camera. In the far right side of the picture, Greg stands, leaning against the wall, his face turned to the camera, his expression seeming to say: Yeah, I'm the asshole.
Eventually the case reached the state supreme court and they told Greg No. The very last option, the Hail Mary, was to try to get the case heard by the US Supreme Court and they told Greg No too. And then there was nowhere else to go.
Greg was sentenced to two years in federal prison, with no possibility of an early release for good behavior. Two years was going to mean two years.
There was so much I couldn't understand about what he had done. He had daughters himself. How could he view a sixteen year old as an adult? Only sixteen year olds think sixteen year olds are adults. If you have kids, a sixteen year old is a kid. In fact, you probably view eighteen and nineteen year olds as kids too. Because you're in your 40's and you know better.
I wondered about all of the women over 21 Greg could have chosen to have an affair with instead. I wondered if this had been the first time he'd cheated. I wondered if there had been other 16 year olds. Then I made myself stop wondering, because I didn't want to know.
I was glad he was getting punished. If that girl had been my daughter, two years wouldn't have been enough. Maybe twenty years wouldn't have seemed like enough.
In my mind I pictured what federal prison might be like. I imagined bars and men in orange jumpsuits and sudden fights with shivs made out of bars of soap. Maybe it isn't like that. Maybe that's just on TV. I pictured Greg, assigned a number, wearing an orange jumpsuit and lying straight as a board on a hard cot, staring blankly up at the ceiling. I wondered what he'd be thinking, or if he'd just make himself blank out, trying not to think at all.
I imagined two years of that. It hurt to imagine.
Instead I tried to imagine what it would be like when the two years were done and Charlene came to pick him up and drive him home. I wondered what it would be like, feeling two years out of step, trying to get caught up on the big things and the little things. Having to ask a lot of questions. Having the other person get frustrated and making you feel stupid for asking.
I wondered what it would be like the first time he tried to assert any kind of authority with his two kids still living at home. Would it be difficult, to say that someone else had done something wrong? Would it be tricky, his kids resisting the urge to mouth off, to say he had some nerve telling anyone anything? I wondered if his marriage, which had survived his incarceration, could survive his release.
Maybe he would be a changed Greg, too different to ever fit into his old role. Maybe he would move out and start brand new. Or as new as he could. I imagined this Greg might let his hair grow past his ears. Might learn how to wear jeans. This Greg might sometimes spill a glop of mustard on his shirt and not care. I imagined him getting an unchallenging, low paying job and not minding that either. This Greg might take up pottery, might take things one day at a time, with no mountain of expectations. No rating scale except Get up, Do your thing, Mind your business, Go to bed.
And even though I was glad he'd gone to jail, as the months went by I found myself thinking: He has one more year, he has six more months, he has two months left.
As of this writing, he has two weeks left. And then Greg will need to decide what to do next because the rest of his story is still unwritten.