I've been thinking about doubt. It started with the movie. It makes you think, because it doesn't wrap the story up in a nice neat package. You're left wondering if he did or didn't; why did she do that? You're left, for lack of a better word, doubting.
And that made me think about something that happened to some guys I knew back in California. I was tending bar at a restaurant along the town's Restaurant Row; there were four restaurants right there together, and several more a few doors down in each direction. And, as people who work in the food biz do, we all got to know each other from one place to another. We'd hit one place up for after shift drinks; another place was for brunch....one for dancing....another for karaoke. And the people who worked at those places came to where I worked for some of those same reasons.
One Easter morning, I woke, ready to work Sunday brunch with a Saturday night hangover. Groggy I showered; head pounding I drank some coffee; then off to work I went. I set up the bar with champagne and orange juice, Bloody Mary mix, celery....hair of the dog. Just before opening I walked to the curb to buy a copy of the Sunday Sacramento Bee to leave out for guests to read.
The top story on that Sunday, on Easter Sunday, of all days, was of a child molestation ring that had been busted. Apparently one of the men was the father of the children being molested, and he brought several of his friends along to have their way with his children.
Disgusting story, especially on Easter.
More disgusting, however, was the fact that I knew these men. They were bartenders and servers at a nearby place. One of them lived in my apartment building. I'd served all these guys food and drink, and had been served by all of them. I was in shock. Even more shocking was the fact that they showed up at my bar that Easter Sunday; all of them having been fired from their jobs. Fired because of the story. They didn't sit at the bar this time, but in a back booth, looking down at the table and not saying much. Drinking quietly and talking amongst themselves.
Those of us working that day knew the story, so we couldn't help but watch these guys and how they were acting. There were no photos of them in the paper, so our guests didn't know who they were, but we did. We looked at them and wondered; we doubted.
The guys didn't come in much after that, and the story grew. It was all a plot, someone said, created by one man's ex-wife who wanted sole custody of the children. She made up the story, I heard, of molestation; she coerced her own children into telling the story.
It dragged on for months, this story, with more lurid tales of what was done, and how they'd done it; what the children had said, how the mother was devastated. It seemed a week didn't go by without another story in the Sunday paper with graphic details of men sexually molesting children.
And the guys; they'd lost their jobs; they'd lost their homes, because they couldn't afford the rent or mortgage. Unable to find work because of the story, they drifted around, staying with a friend who didn't believe the news stories, until it became unbearable for them to have these guys around.
They came into the bar every so often, always at the quiet times when there weren't many people around; there were no jokes; it was just a quick drink, a short hello and then out the door. They couldn't, or wouldn't talk about the story, and although we tried, I tried, it was hard not to whisper, what if? It became easier to think the worst of people because of stories in the paper, quips on the nightly news. More people came forward to say what they had seen and heard; what they knew.
But then as quickly as it happened, it was over.
The mother confessed. It was a plot to gain full custody, to get more support money. It was a lie, all of it. She'd told her children what to say. Not one of those men had ever touched those children, yet each of them lost something. Houses, Cars. Jobs. Friends.
I remember one guy, Augustine, who had lived in my apartment building. I saw him about a year later at another restaurant. He looked different, older, subdued, less friendly. This was man who was always smiling and laughing and hugging everyone; he knew all the bar jokes,and the bar tricks; he was a friend to every one.
Now he looked unsure.