“You know the prophet Mohammad married his wife when she was six years old, and they consummated when she was nine.” The guy in my backseat was a real gold mine. Not only was I going to receive a boatload of money for bringing his sorry butt in, but I got the pleasure of listening to him justify his crimes for the whole trip in.
“Do I look like a Muslim to you?” I asked. “Take my word for it, I’m not; so anything Mohammad may or may not have done has no bearing on what you did, sicko.”“I’m just sayin’,” he continued, “not every society has the same standards. In the US in Appalachia, it was not uncommon for girls in their early teens to be taken as brides.”
“You didn’t marry anyone,” I pointed out.
“I might have,” he said, “if society would allow it.”“So you’re blaming society for what you did?”
“Well, yeah, think about it. From the time that we’re old enough to understand that girls are different from boys, we’re conditioned to find young girls to be sexually attractive. We’re told that it’s okay to think the little girl in the next desk is pretty. Then by the time we’re sexually mature enough to appreciate them, we’re told that it’s wrong to find them attractive now. How does any of that make sense?”
“It makes sense because when the time comes that you are sexually mature enough to appreciate them, the ones you were finding pretty at the time are also sexually mature enough. Back then not only were you sexually immature, but so were they. And so are the ones who are that age now.”
“That’s not true,” he said. “Girls mature faster than boys.”“Not that much faster,” I said. “You’re thirty-seven. She said she was — what — eleven?”
“Jerry Lee Lewis was in his twenties when he married his thirteen-year-old cousin.”
“Once again, you didn’t marry anyone, and Jerry Lee Lewis was kicked out of England when they learned of it.”
“But nobody from his hometown thought anything of it.”
“Right, that’s true. Nobody in Louisiana in the ‘50s thought anything of it. Unfortunately for you, this isn’t Louisiana and it’s not 1957.” He was quiet for a minute, so I thought the conversation was over. It wasn’t.
“I almost made it to Louisiana.”
“You made it to Georgia,” I said, “and now you’re going back to Pennsylvania to face charges. Besides, it wouldn’t matter if you had made it to Louisiana. I’d still have found you, and you’d still be in my backseat headed for justice.”
“Justice? How is it justice? She was willing.”
“She was an undercover cop.”
“But I didn’t know that. It’s not like I jumped her from the bushes. We had been talking online. We had a relationship. She told me she wanted to.”
“She told you she was eleven. That means you thought she was eleven, and an eleven-year-old cannot give legal consent.”
“Mohammad had consensual sex with Aisha when she was nine.”
“Is that the only example you can give?”
“The first recorded age of consent statute was twelve years old in England.”
“When was that?”
“I don’t know. Around 800 years ago.”
“So even 800 years ago they thought eleven was too young.”
“In Colonial Virginia, families often married off their nine-year-olds.”
“To other nine-year-olds,” I said, having no idea whether that was true.
“I’m just saying it’s arbitrary. When I was eighteen it would have been just as illegal for me to have sex with my sixteen-year-old girlfriend. But if some guy knocked her up at seventeen and if she had a daughter, that girl would be eighteen today, and I could legally have sex with her — no problem.”
“Yes, because eighteen is sexually mature and over the age of consent.”
“It’s not strictly arbitrary. It’s based on societal norms and psychiatric studies.”
“That doesn’t mean it’s not arbitrary. There are statistical exceptions in all studies. Some girls aren’t sexually mature until they are in their twenties, but nobody calls Hugh Hefner a pedophile do they?”
“Yes,” I said. “Some people do.”
“But society doesn’t.”
“Maybe they should,” I said.
“You realize you just contradicted yourself?”
“No, I didn’t.” I wasn’t really so sure.
“Yes, you did. A minute ago you said there would be nothing wrong with me having sex with an eighteen-year-old because she’d be sexually mature. Now you’re saying Hef should be considered a pedophile for having sex with eighteen-year-old girls if they aren’t as mature as the average eighteen-year-old.”
“That’s not what I said.”
“Yes it is,” he insisted. “Now you’re just trying to justify it and avoid the cognitive dissonance. Why? Because you know it’s all arbitrary.”
“Well,” I said, “arbitrary or not, it was illegal and you knew it was illegal.”
“You never heard of civil disobedience?”
“So you’re saying it’s a civil rights issue?”
“I am who I am. I prefer what I prefer. I can’t help it. Nature or nurture, it’s what I am. So I try to find ladies …”
“Girls,” I corrected him.
“Girls,” he agreed.
“Children,” I interjected.
“Females,” he hissed, “whose tastes line up with mine. In another place and time, nobody would have thought twice about it. The taboo is cultural, not natural. I did nothing wrong.”
“You broke the law.”
“So did Gandhi. So did Rosa Parks.”
“So you are saying it’s about civil rights?”
“Of course it’s about civil rights.”
“Then why don’t you join NAMBLA?”
“Those guys are creepy. Don’t associate me with them.”
“How are you different?”
“I’m not a fag. They like boys. I like girls.”
“You argue that you’re being discriminated against; so do they. You’re arguing that in different cultures what you like is accepted; so do they. You’re arguing that it can be consensual; so do they.”
He leaned forward, and I could feel his hot breath on my neck. “But I’m not a fag.”
“Why are we having this discussion anyway?” I asked. “What do you hope to accomplish here? You don’t have to convince me that you’re innocent of any wrongdoing. And you’ll never convince a judge or a jury. The only ones you have to convince are yourself and your god.”
“I don’t like anyone thinking I did something wrong,” he said. “We’ve got a long night of driving ahead of us. I just wanted you to understand my position.”
“I’m not convinced,” I said. “Lots of people have sat in that seat and tried to make me see things their way. None has ever succeeded.”
“Have any ever come close?”
I considered the question. “Yeah,” I said finally. “A guy named Eric almost had me sold once.”
“What made his pitch so special?”
“Just his sincerity,” I said.
“Well, what did he say exactly?”
When I first met Eric Dadjov he was thin and his eyes, set back in his skull, were rimmed in dark rings. His hair was overgrown and unkempt. His pants were dirty and his hands shook. If I hadn’t known why he was being taken into custody, I might have assumed it was drug related. As it was, he had simply missed a court date on a charge of vandalism.
I walked up on the porch and knocked on the door. Eric said, “Hello,” when he saw me with none of the usual suspicion that normally greeted my presence.
“Yes,” he said.
“I’ll need you to come with me. You missed your court date, and I’ve been contracted to make sure you appear before the judge this afternoon.” I turned so that he could see the weapon I had holstered on my hip.
“Are you going to handcuff me?”
“You may as well. That way my humiliation will be just about complete.”
We drove in relative silence for the first several blocks. It was not until we had left his neighborhood that he began loosening up. “I know you probably don’t care, but I didn’t skip court because I was trying to run.”
“That’s pretty obvious,” I said. “I assume you were just too embarrassed to go in. That happens a lot.”
“It just bothers me that I am going to have to make restitutions to that asshole.”
“You smashed his car window, right?”
“Then why shouldn’t you have to make restitutions?”
“Because I have no legal recourse to demand the restitutions he owes me.”
“Sure you do. I mean if he destroyed something of yours …”
“He destroyed everything of mine.” Eric said as tears filled his sunken eyes. “He destroyed my life. He broke my future, so I broke his windshield. I shouldn’t have to pay for that.”
“This is beginning to sound like a domestic …”
“That’s exactly what it is. Let me ask you something, if somebody stole your wife, wouldn’t you feel justified in smashing his car window?”
“I’d probably feel justified in smashing his knees, but the law …”
“Of course the law; I understand that. But if I’m justified in smashing his window, shouldn’t he just man up and pay for it?”
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