Janitor

I didn’t even understand what we were doing was wrong. I figured, if I tell my mom, hey,I’m going up to the school (the school I attended) to have a smoke with 7th grader groper and she let me, either she was cool with it, or I must be that grown up, that it wasn’t wrong. Back then no one was getting classroom speeches about molesters or inappropriate touching- years later I heard his house, fell off a cliff into the ocean. I remember what he looked like, I remember his real name- it rhymed with a bad word.

The next year, 8th grade, it was late spring- it was storming and he was clearing the storm drain next to my parents house and was pissed off because he thought this was out of his job description. I would have thought he would have been friendlier and nice to my parents for some reason-but he wasn’t. What was weird was my parents were totally friendly and nice to him, but that was probably because they didn’t want a mudslide coming down the hill on their house than anything having to do with me. I wonder if he thought that if my parents got mad at him if he didn’t clear the drain, that I was so loyal and adoring of my parents that I might be all, ‘yeah, he sucks, he did this and that..’ But no, I was too busy feeling bad for him that the school wasn’t paying him to do that, back when we used to have torrential rains here and the drains would flood, stairs to the school would become waterfalls…

He had a red truck, not fire engine red, more like a faded red, closer to the bricks of the school. I didn’t pay much attention then to makes and models of cars but I knew it had writing across the back, light colored letters and they were much longer than four letters so I’m thinking it was a Chevrolet and not a Ford. I remember one of his front teeth kind of went to the side a little, and how he sunburned very badly, and that parts of his hair were yellow and parts were sun-bleached white.

I remember seeing him years later at a local outdoor mall, I said hi to him like everything was fine, Because I hadn’t actually gone all the way with him, I supposed I couldn’t be that upset about what did happen, even after I figured out that it’s not normal for 30 year old’s to want to make out, smoke cigarettes, get high with and confide and cry to 12 year old’s. I know I was this age because of when it started and because I started school early at 4 going on 5 and my birthday is late in the year so when I left that school, I was going on 14 that fall entering high school. How did I not know it wasn’t normal? I guess I thought I was sort of his girlfriend. Did I look older? Probably, I know it was after all the puberty stuff had kicked in but not much after. I don’t remember him being there at the school before all this, there was some old black dude who was older than my parents and didn’t talk to anyone.

The worst questions I ask myself now are about how my parents, well my mother for sure knew I was up there and didn’t think there was something weird going on. He could have done worse to me physically, so I’m grateful he didn’t- but it was almost every single day and it was a lot of listening to his life and problems, the wife who left him, that he had a little boy that was like 2 or 3. It’s weird to think that kid is like 10 years younger than me now. I saw the kid’s photo.

My one other friend knew about this, maybe not every little detail but she knew the general thing that was going on. This wasn’t the one with the parents who hated each other and the weird skin disease thing, this was the one whose parents never fought and watched Lawrence Welk. Occasionally she would also hang out with us up there too. She was a year older than I and taller than I-we were like opposite hourglasses, for me it was always morning/afternoon and her it was always afternoon/evening. I liked to read, she would rather listen to heavy metal. She hated writing reports and English homework; I could do it in my sleep. She was good at artsy-craftsy things, I was good at breaking things. She liked to drink, I was the one who wanted to go home early. I liked to cook, she would burn boiling water…etc.

He would sometimes put things through the air vents in the front of my locker, sometimes I could tell they were things he found around the school, like a kid’s valentine card from one of the kindergarten or first graders. Or weird things like a stamp torn off an envelope, or one of those old pennies with the leaves on the sides. Sometimes there would be a cigarette. He smoked a common brand so maybe he didn’t think it would be automatically assumed it was him if they searched lockers, but they never did search your locker there unless you were a Known Bad Kid and Had Already Done Something. If he couldn’t be there that day or there would be other teachers still around or his schedule was different we had a code for when I shouldn’t come up there. Occasionally he would forget to do the code or I would come up anyway or sometimes I wouldn’t be able to make it but we had an understanding no one got mad about it.

I thought initially he would have liked my friend better- as I used to think men liked blondes better, but he actually told me he liked brunettes. I didn’t believe him at the time even though it was me who was up there alone with him every day until I saw his ex at the school once- she didn’t see me-she looked sort of like an older and cooler rock-chick with perfectly blow-dried straight hair worn Manson-girl style. I could tell even by the way she walked that she might be angry, or that she was kind of a tough chick or both. I wondered which parts he said about her was maybe exaggerated and which not. I thought some might actually be true, because he would have beer up there at the school, and I at least knew even though teachers could and did smoke at the school and sometimes during class, no one drank openly at a school. So they probably both drank together and smoked pot. Apparently he didn’t get that it was weird that he would bitch about her drinking and fighting with him, while he was telling me this, while he was drinking at his job.

There were times when, even at this young age when I was still relatively innocent, I knew enough crazy shit from listening to my parents and their friends that I knew when a story sounded off, how it sounded when there was this plaintive ring to the voice that started someone was either telling stuff that was true initially and then started adding to it to get extra ‘oh you poor thing, that’s too bad, you didn’t deserve that’ or to get people on their side and against the other person- the way a liar will tell more than is necessary, not feeling confident in their own bs, the way a salesman will keep pressuring or copying small things you say and do… and while I didn’t know if I would even like him or his ex as people if I were their age and could hang out as Official Adults, I started to feel a little bit bad for this woman- but I never said that. I also started to feel bad for the kid. I only half-assedly believed him when he would talk about how he missed his kid, because he seemed to hate his ex more than he loved his kid. I also started to feel a tiny bit afraid of this guy because I noticed he was different when he was high or had a few beers.

I wondered if he had a Problem With Alcohol. My mother was different when she had been drinking- it was one of the few times she would get all mushy and sappy with my sister and I. We could tell, we could smell it and it made the sentiment feel sloppy and insincere. Maybe she did mean it but couldn’t express it when she wasn’t loaded. Point being, she was ‘different’ when loaded, and so was he. I saw other people drink and they weren’t really that different from their regular selves, just more obnoxiously themselves.

I can’t remember if or how we officially ‘broke up’. I remember him trying to go too far and stopping him- He did stop, but the next time I saw him, he was mostly worried that I had told someone about the last time I had seen him, about how long I had been going up there after school, about all of it.. I reassured him I had not. He then started semi-crying and talking about how he went to confession. By this little show of his, it seemed to cheapen the confidences, the friendship I thought we had, and also make it wrong. What was he this sad about- just because I stopped him? He didn’t need to be this sorry, I thought.

Funny, he had not mentioned church at all before this. I wasn’t even sure what ‘confession ‘ was other than I knew it had something to do with church and of course, confessing something. I was scared that he had told someone now that he was scared that I had. I was upset that he was this upset, in my 13 year old brain I was confused and sad that he was this upset, that he seemed for the first time, not like the co-conspirator he had always been, but guilty. Which made me feel as if I had made him do something bad, which made me also feel guilty- as if I had led him into stealing candy bars and then one day he had an attack of conscience even if I hadn’t. That our being together in some way was bad, that invalidated the whole thing- my parents and their friends had tons of secrets, but secrets weren’t always a bad thing, were they?

I listened more than I spoke with him, wanting to hear his tales of adventure, places he had seen, what his parents were like- I let him talk way more than I talked to him about my life- not because I had not much to tell, but because I thought it wouldn’t look well on me if I told him the truth. He probably knew something was wrong at home simply because I could be up there and eventually I think he knew my mother knew I was there. Actually I’m not sure he did know she knew until the second year- he asked me where I said I was, as if I would have had to lie. I had lied to him following his lead but I had told my mother the truth initially- then somehow he started kidding with me sarcastically about what story I had told today, as if he knew I hadn’t made up one- the school was very close to our house and at times I wondered if he wandered over to the fence and had seen or heard things . I wasn’t understanding why I would have to lie, and figured that myself and my parents were just so mature that I was trusted to do whatever- they acted like I was an adult- that must be why he liked me as well.

I got that he didn’t want to lose his job, but he made it sound like he would get fired because it would look like he wasn’t working and he was slacking off if he was talking to me after school-but not because of things we did. Several years back there was some political scandal about something even weirder than this and it got me thinking about that 2-year period and it made me really mad at the time. Mostly now I’m glad it wasn’t worse but I kind of think him pathetic. I guess this whole episode got kind of buried or rewritten, like when files on a computer are renamed 000001000 even though the actual file is still there- when worse things happened later with someone else. Don’t get me wrong, this guy is still a perv for going after a 12-year-old.

Occasionally I still think I see him at the grocery but I’m not sure if it’s him, because he is only a few years younger than my parents. What would it even matter now to say anything to him? I did see him for sure once after I had graduated high school and was going to the bank or something at a local outdoor mall. He was friendly but seemed a little freaked out. It made me feel bad that he looked around to see who was around. I didn’t fully get what that meant at the time but I thought it strange. I still sort of wished he seemed at least happy to see me on some level, but as he talked he kept backing up and we didn’t say too much before he drove off. I bet he moved at some point because I still live in the same area and people pass each other here all the time because of the way the roads are laid out, where the grocery is and so on and I didn’t see him after that, unless that man that I saw in the grocery months ago really was him and he kept his head down.

At the time, I was more upset that I had lost someone to talk to, someone who would talk to me- someone to whom I thought I mattered much more than the ‘breaking up’ part-and somewhere to escape to. He didn’t get that I knew I was going away to high school and would leave him behind, but what about the friendship part of it?

Worse, the main concern seemed to be getting in trouble, and that was totally like being a kid, I thought. Being scared about getting in trouble or just plain scared is also a kid thing. Another strike at adulthood. Man did this all seem so skeevy.

This made us both like kids instead of making me more grown up. All this time I was reading my parent’s books and years of hearing all this hellish and endless fighting/random drama/more stuff than I ever wanted to know from them and their friends and all their beatnik poetry and weirdo astrology stuff (My dad on the janitor ‘he’s an Aries- an Aries is the baby of the zodiac..’) and my 30 year old ‘boyfriend’ is ‘dumping’ me because he is going to get in trouble. Great. There is no real freedom, even when you’re an adult.

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