"Are you a pedophile?" Laura asked me, her round brown eyes poring into my grey-greens like X-rays.
Are you a pedophile? is probably the most uncomfortable question to ask of a 40 year-old man who is living with his 18 year-old girlfriend. Certainly, it is the most uncomfortable question I have ever been asked by my 18 year-old girlfriend.
I was momentarily silent, while Laura watched me close, and as I contemplated an answer. To simply say, "Well no, I'm not," seemed less than adequate.
We were seated at a patio on the north side of Bloor Street, somewhere between Dufferin and Ossington, not far from where I lived until some 7 years ago, during which time I had my last affairs with a woman my age and another, with one 8 years my senior. Since then, I have been alone or involved with women significantly younger, though none reached the 22 years that separate Laura and myself.
We weren't supposed to be there, but Laura had had a very bad day and needed a drink. No details – those are for Laura to to tell (or not). Suffice it to say that, on pretext of meeting her father Thursday afternoon, she was instead confronted by Mom, Dad and her nearest sister, 25 year-old Natasha.
I have met Dad a number of times and liked him as much as one can a man with whom one shares only love for his daughter. He seemed to understand that in Laura he has sired a most remarkable person and, due to that, I felt a kinship.
I’ve shared meals at his former home, dined him at my own and rented a car to drive him to visit one of his sons outside of Peterborough only this past Father’s Day.
Natasha, who, upon learning of my existence and of my place in her life, had declared a desire that she see me “beaten to a bloody pulp”, had lately seemed to have changed her mind. A couple of weeks back, we were both invited to a party at ‘Tasha’s and she treated me only as Laura’s boyfriend, not a monster.
Mom I’ve seen, but never met. Last winter, Mom and I both attended a performance by Laura’s drama class and Laura had made it clear I must be invisible to the Old Lady. She was not likely to approve of Laura’s choice in men.
Recently, another sister spilled the beans and Mom had proclaimed me an Evil Pedophile and made it clear to Laura that she must make a choice between Family and Monster.
I and – I think – Laura had thought Laura’s rejection of the ultimatum was it, at least for the time being.
I had been more than a little impressed by Laura’s phlegmatic acceptance that her mother had closed the door on her.
But on Thursday afternoon, it opened again. Instead of only her father, it disgorged not only her father, but her mother and sister Natasha as well, an angry (and concerned) triumvirate speaking with a single voice.
The four of them went to a park, not far from Mom’s home. (“I should have known something was up,” Laura said later.)
“It was an intervention,” she said, such as people are known to do for drug addicts and alcoholics.
We’ll put you through university!
Geoff is a pedophile!
Geoff is taking advantage of you!
If you stay with him, you’re no longer one of the family.
After an hour or so of “discussion”, Laura simply walked off. It was clear that nothing she said was heard, let alone listened to.
She met me right at our appointed time at Dufferin Grove Park, where we had planned to explore the organic farmer’s market at Dufferin Grove Park.
She briefed me, briefly, on her day and neither of us felt much like shopping.
Laura needed a drink and I was more than willing to join her.
And so we found ourselves, pints in hand, eyes locked on one another’s.
“Are you a pedophile?” she asked me.
She was 17, I 39, when we met, the same gap between us when we first shared my bed, now nearly a year and a half ago. My two previous girlfriends are both still a few years shy of 30. It’s been a decade since I’ve been involved with someone my own age, let alone older.
There can be no denying that I tend to be attracted to women younger than I am.
Am I a pedophile?
“No,” I said, “I’m not.”
Laura waited for more. I didn’t believe she thought that I was, but it was a question she needed to ask. She needed more evidence than a mere denial could provide.
We met (of course) over the internet. “Did I lie to you about my age? Did I tell you that I am anything that I’m not?”
Laura shook her head. “I told them you didn’t,” she said, and I let flow a massive breath I hadn’t even known I was holding.
We were silent for a while, hands intertwined, thoughts perhaps not so close together. My mind was a chaos of relief, of self-doubt, of concern.
Laura’s? I can only guess.
Disowned by family, from anyone else I would have expected tears, or roaring rage,
Instead came a question. “Do you think I made the right decision?”
I was silent for a while. How could I even pretend an honest answer?
But she wanted one, and I did the best I could.
“I think so,” I said. “But take my words with a pound of salt – I am far from a disinterested party in this.”
“I know,” said Laura.
“Tossing aside my prejudice as best I can, I think you’re dealing with blackmail, no matter that the motives spring from love and concern.
“I think that going back home would be to walk into a trap – would be trade your freedom as a human being for the slave’s comfort of childhood.
“You can leave me any time you want.”
“What would you say if I agreed to try it? To move into my mother’s, maybe for a while ...?”
I nearly swallowed my cigarette, but tried hard to stay cool.
Laura’s mother is wealthy, I am not; I can offer her love, subsistence and the promise that we will deal with post-secondary education when the time comes. Mom has on her side a big house, free room, board and tuition, and probably a car in the very near future.
I am short, balding and more than old enough to be Laura’s father. My dreams of artistic wealth and fame are not far removed from those I harbored when I was Laura’s age.
For a moment – for two moments – I wondered, Why wouldn’t she choose comfort over risk?
Maybe she sensed my panic; maybe we actually are as sympatico as it so often seems.
She squeezed my hand. “I’m not going to do it,” she said, and squeezed me again. “I’m not.”
And mostly, though in part I wanted to dig deeper into her psyche – where were her tears, where the anger? - for the most part we spoke of other things through the rest of the evening. The Harry Potter books, our failed attempt to quit smoking, our near-disastrous financial situation, the problematic division of house-hold labour.
I don’t understand Laura’s ability to be so calm in the face of what would cause in most of us an emotional crisis (at best), but I am both grateful – because that is what I want – and proud of her – because her choice is the hard one, the “road less travelled” - that she has taken the decision she has.
From some perspectives, our life isn’t easy. Our financial straights are not dire, but neither are they easy. We live in a one-bedroom apartment and she is used to the ease of spacious homes. We both want a balcony and a yard for our cats. Paying for her post-secondary education promises to be difficult. And we are both too easily put off to tomorrow, what should concern us today.
But she has chosen the rocky path and I am (more than) glad she has done so, because I have, too.
We’ll work it out (or not – forever is a very long time). And meanwhile, we will share that mysterious whatever-it-is that we have, and live our lives today, thinking of tomorrow, remembering yesterday, and refusing the bondage of what-might-have-been.