Sometimes, I forget that I’m a sex offender. No, I don’t forget that I committed a sex offense. That reality is indelibly burned into the shame of my brain. But as I go about my daily life, going to work, going to school, shopping, getting my hair cut, checking my mail, I sometimes feel almost normal, just the average Joe citizen living an existence like any of the mass of people I pass every day.
But then I remember. Something reminds me, or some thought process takes me there, and I remember. It might be a police car in front of my house, reminding me that they’re supposed to check on me at least once a year. Check to make sure I’m living where I say I live. Check to make sure I don’t have any children stashed away behind my couch. Check to make sure I’m not sex offending.
Or it might be an encounter with someone I know who DOESN’T know I’m a sex offender. That is, they don’t know that I am on the sex offender registration, listed as a predator because some law passed that changed
my designation capriciously. So I stop to chat with the person-unaware, talking like two regular people, talking as though one of us does not have a huge burdensome secret of shame. And I remember. I think, would this person still be talking to me if he or she knew? Would they still like me? Would they still be my friend?
Sometimes, it’s the excitement of an opportunity that forces reality into the forefront of my mind. An innocuous opportunity, one for which I should be eternally grateful, one that I should jump at, one that no one else would even have to think about. But me, I wonder. Will this opportunity fall through if someone discovers my ignominious listing on the registry? Is it worth the risk? Am I selling myself short by not at least entertaining the opportunity? Mind you, it’s not like an opportunity to teach at an elementary school, or to become a Scout leader. It could be just a promotion at work, a chance to direct an “all adult” show at a community theater, or the chance to join a Gay Men’s chorus. An opportunity totally unrelated to the sins of my past, totally unrelated to being on the sex offender registry, and yet an opportunity that, in my mind at least, could totally evaporate if I’m discovered. Then I remember, yes, I am in fact, a registered sex offender.
My friends—well, at least one anyway—berates me, tells me to stop worrying about all the “what ifs” and start living my life. That was his exact words, “start living your life.” What the does that even mean? Throw caution to the wind and take any opportunity I can? Give an apathetic shrug to whatever anyone else thinks? I don’t know. How does one go about “living life?” Still, I envy how easy it must seem from an outside perspective. And I find I have a love-hate relationship for their sage, if dismissive, advice. I love that they care enough to encourage me, despite knowing my hidden shame. And I hate that I cannot figure out for the life of me how to implement their advice in my own reality. Come on. I’m not a dumb person. Why can’t I figure this out?
Sometimes I forget that I’m listed as a predator on the sex offender registry. But I don’t forget that I committed a sex offense. And when I think about that, I struggle to reconcile the me that did something so horrific, with the person I want so desperately to be today, the person who could never do such a thing, someone who cares too much for others to ever hurt them like that. I know my past and my present are inextricably linked. I cannot be who I am today without the life I have lived that brought me to now. But do I have to be forever the person I was?
Sometimes I forget.