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Last night I had a little dinner party. After the food, my kid got out his guitar, at my urging, to play for the guests. One guest, a friend of a friend Iíd not met before, asked if he could see the guitar. My son obliged and before too long, Lex began "tuning."

When I saw what he was doing, my gut reaction was, "Thatís odd -- Henry has a guitar tuner and knows how to use it." Iím embarrassed to say that, I squelched that observation in favor of the dreadful adult-default: "Obviously, because Lex is an adult, he knows what heís doing. Henry probably tuned to guitar wrong."

When all the guests had gone, Henry came to me in tears. They were the steamy tears of anger and he fought to hold them in. Lex had so tightened the strings that when Henry tried to retune correctly, a string snapped.

I have been curious for a long time to see what the childís passion would be, having known myself I was a writer since second grade. But Henry, while very good at lots of things, had not seem particularly drawn to any one activity. Not until last Christmas when his dad got him an electric guitar and I got him an amp and an acoustic. Now the child plays all day every day, burning with a passion that thrills me.

So that snapped string might as well have been a crushed bone or a broken heart.

I doubt Lexís tuning was malicious, that he purposely screwed up the guitar. I do wish Iíd paid better attention, noticed Henry was being dominated, intervened, made up a lie about him having to go to bed early or something -- anything to both save face and change the situation. I am no fan of New Age lexicon but there are tenets of the philosophy that I agree with strongly, a main one of those being the careful honoring of othersí boundaries.

I learned that one the hard way, finding myself a stalking victim after years of lesser infractions where, no matter how uncomfortable it made me, I let others way too far into my own space. Sometimes, I laid right down and invited them to walk all over me. No more. After traditional and alternative therapy, years of martial arts and yoga, lots of meditation and learning to be ever alert, I am hyper-sensitive to people getting in my space uninvited. I wish Iíd been as sensitive for my son. Likewise, I wish as a child someone had watched out better for me, and taught me to watch out for myself.

But how can parents always know what improper forces we are exposing our kids too? The guitar tuning incident came at the end of a week where Iíd been thinking a lot about a now-dead second cousin of mine. I met him when he was probably in his thirties and I was seventeen.

During my teens, my otherwise achingly strict, overprotective parents let me spend summers at shore house in South Jersey. I was unchaperoned except on weekends when they came down to check on me. I think the idea was to get me out of their hair and give me a chance to work and earn my own keep given how tight our family budget was. I saw it as a chance to go out, get drunk and heavy pet with skanky carnies. Which I did, often, laying the groundwork for a couple of decades of getting loaded and fucking whoever landed on the barstool next to me.

But this particular summer, as I was approaching my last week of glory before having to return to high school, my folks called to inform me that my heretofore unmet cousin Ed would be coming to stay with me. And, oh yeah, he was a priest.

Furious hardly defines how I felt at this news. My last week and Iíd be living with a priest for Christís sake?

So when Fred, as he was called (as in Fr. Ed), arrived with a carload of boys my age and cases of beer, and started doling out piles of cash which he encouraged us to use to go to the bars and get underage loaded...  to say I was surprised is a bit of an understatement.

I quickly grew to love Fred, who had one eye, a wicked sense of humor and seemed to really enjoy my company. He took me to restaurants, ordered me drinks, taught me the finer points of Kahlua and cream, and seemed to share my interest in attractive young boys.

You can see where this is going, canít you? Time passed and I went off to college, putting an end to those afternoon lunches where people would glance sideways at the priest and the teenage girl out at lunch. I lost track of Fred until the news came that he was being charged with molestation. It made the papers so even though the charges didnít stick the memory of the charges did and his career was mostly finished. The Catholic hierarchy sent Fred off to care for sick priests, the alcoholics and nutcases.

When he got sick himself with terminal cancer, I wrote a note asking him, before he died, if he could help me understand my fatherís abuse, if my memory of this abuse was correct, if he would help shed some light based on his perspective when he was an adult and I was a child. I thought maybe heíd seen things I hadnít and might help me get through the father-linked depressions that drove me to decades of addiction and triggered paralyzing bouts of wishing I was dead. He sent back a card with something trite in it like "Pray to Jesus." And while I know he was probably busy working out things for his own pending death, and perhaps allegations of abuse cut too close to the bone, it never stopped bothering me that he couldnít give me a little more.

I forgot about Fred again. Then the whole Catholic Church blew open with the scandal of the multiple molesting priests. And I recalled the time I got in Fredís car only to sit down on his hand, which heíd slid over to the passenger side, waiting to goose me. I laughed with him then. He was an adult. And a priest. And he laughed when I screamed. So that had to make it okay, right? He was just being funny.

Sometimes I wonder about this one kid he hung out with the most -- took him to the Worldís Fair in Knoxville, wanted to spend every minute with him. That kid is my age now. Whatís he thinking? I canít ask him. Maybe heís hoping everyone forgot about his friendship with my cousin.

Itís curious to me the people we allow our children to hang out with, always giving the benefit of the doubt to the older person, ready to dismiss a childís word against an adultís. I remember my godfather, Uncle Jake, my motherís cousin, screaming at me for spilling a bucket of water on his beach blanket when I was probably five. Back then it didnít occur to me -- Hey, weíre at the beach, thatís a fucking OCEAN out there. Weíre here to get wet. Donít scream at little kids.

But back then there was no contest and kids were the losers and you didnít even need a priest costume to get away with mean shit. Adults were always, always right.

I apologized to Henry for not intervening during the "tuning" process. I told him sometimes adults feel entitlement especially when it comes to kids. I told him next time, Iím not sure how weíll handle it, but Iíll watch closer and together, weíll think of something.
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About the author:
Spike Gillespie is the author of All the Wrong Men and One Perfect Boy: A Memoir, and the dotnovel thebelljar.net.  Her next book, a collection of essays entitled, Surrender (but don't give yourself away): Old Cars, Found Hope and Other Cheap Tricks will be out in September 2003. Gillespie is a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist and her work has appeared in, among other places, The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, National Geographic Traveler, GQ, Playboy and Elle, and online at Salon, Nerve, Oxygen, Underwire and AustinMama. She is a reformed circus poodle, a retired stripper (Crazy Lady, 1978-81) and mother to three spawn-of-satan mutts and one freakin' hilarious and very tall almost-twelve-year-old ("But remember, son, I'll always be wider than you...").  She is currently working on a novel about how utterly fucked up love can be (How novel indeed...). 

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