The James family walked along the beach, young Emma James between her parents, her hands each held in one of theirs.
Emma rushed ahead, letting go of her parents' hands and laughing. Barefoot, she took a big jump, letting her little feet plop into the water. This made her giggle. She enjoyed the feel of her feet hitting the soft, wet sand. She loved the sound of the water rolling up the beach. She could feel the wet sand push up between her toes. She wiggled her toes because it felt like the only thing to do at that exact moment.
She looked back at her parents who both watched her with approving eyes. She gave them a big smile. Emma was only just old enough to understand the concept of a family vacation, but she was enjoying every minute of it.
She couldn't imagine being sad right then. She wanted to live on the beach, even though she knew she couldn't. If she could, she would have a big house, so huge that she could have a gazillion parties in it, not just her birthday party, but a birthday celebration for everyone that she knew, and hopefully they could have a party every day. They would just fill the empty days when there weren’t enough birthdays to go around. They could all go to the beach and run around after cake and presents. It would be amazing.
Oh, well, she thought. She would enjoy the beach while it lasted. She would enjoy being in one of the most beautiful places in the world. Or at least that she'd seen for all of her six years. Nothing could go wrong on a perfect family vacation.
* * *
“Please don't cry,” he says to the young girl. He moves to sit next to her on the bed, but she sits absolutely still. She tries to go to find a happy place in her mind. She tries to remember what the beach sounded like. She loves the sound of waves and water. She likes the size of the ocean, how much space it had.
She wishes he would turn the faucet off completely. The sound makes her fear worse.
He puts his hand on her shoulder and she wants to throw up. She wants to scream, but doesn't. She wants to call for mommy and daddy but they aren't close enough to her to save her. No one can save her.
She’s confused because she knows all of this is wrong. But she doesn’t know how to act.
* * *
His name was Piggy. His actual name was Paul Peterson, but no one remembered where the name Piggy came from. The thought was that, in high school, someone started calling him Piggy and it stuck. His only memory of this was that it might have had something to do with Lord of the Flies. Piggy was overweight like his namesake in the book, so he figured for the better part of his adult life there might have been a connection.
* * *
“I brought you this book. It'll make you feel better. It'll make you feel much better.” But she doesn't believe him. She just wants to leave.
He decides he's going to read it to her. He realizes she's not listening.
* * *
Of course, he had a hard time imagining any of his high school class actually reading any of the assigned books in English. Most of them engaged in the sort of activity and behavior that he himself was never able to do during that stage of his life, even if he'd wanted to. But Piggy never watched his fellow students with any need or desire to join in their youthful depravities. He'd save his own problems for later in life.
* * *
“We can be friends. Good friends. Don't you trust me?” She shakes her head.
He looks angry for a moment, but he doesn't yell. Instead, in this small room that seems too small for a man as fat as him, he gets up and walks to a different wall. He puts his hand on the wall and looks down at the floor.
Is he crying?
She still doesn't look at him. She doesn't want to. Because she knows everything that has happened was horrible.
* * *
Piggy had a daughter named Justice. There were pictures of he and baby Justice, along with his wife, and from all accounts they must have been a happy family. He and his first wife, Annabelle, were married only a short time before he'd commit a horrible act that led to their divorce, when Justice was still very young.
Much later, he'd start seeing a woman named Suzanne. There was a point, while with Suzanne, that Piggy would work hard to try and fix his life. But it never worked. His life would end when he put the barrel of a gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger.
* * *
“You're such a pretty, little girl.”
He keeps saying it like he’s he trying to remind her to make her feel better.
“You didn't do anything wrong, you know? You're so full of life and so amazing. So you shouldn't cry. You should be happy.” He keeps talking, but she doesn't stop crying. She is scared of him and hurt and scared of what just happened. She wants to leave so very badly.
* * *
Piggy was once convicted of child molestation, an act that far outweighed the moral failings of any of the sins of his peers when they attended high school. But he was convicted in a state where the state legislator was eager to try out more compassionate laws, laws that would try to rehabilitate the damaged criminal mind. Piggy was amongst the first test “subjects” for this little program. In lieu of jail time, he was able to undergo therapy.
He immediately opted for the therapy, hoping that one day he would be able to see his daughter again and legitimately become a better person. He spent long nights during the course of therapy dreaming of the day when he could become a good father, someone to raise Justice without fear of his darker side.
Upon completion of his therapy, he was heralded as a great success story. All parties involved made sure that the media was aware of his success. It was big, at least on a local and state scale, and the political machine involved was eager to make sure everyone knew what happened with this man. This brand new man.
This was when he met Suzanne. And the connection was instant. She was a believer in his salvation, in his becoming a better person. They had a great relationship for several months.
At a party featuring many political types, polemicists, and others eager to rub shoulders with important people, Piggy was invited to be shown off to all the eager eyes who joined in the chorus of singing for compassion over punishment.
“Paul Peterson. Brave for taking this chance. A remarkable story of redemption amidst a horrible tragedy.” There would be those at the party that remembered state senator Jackson Willis' words, and would remember even then that his words almost sounded like he had no idea what Piggy had actually done, but was happy to take credit for Piggy's recovery since Willis' name was on the bill he co-sponsored.
The Willis family, an institution in their town, loved being a part of the spotlight, already heavily entrenched in everything going on, and in all levels of government in town and state level politics. Jackson Willis wore the smile of a man who had achieved a great victory. Compassion was the buzz word of that political cycle.
Politicians always use compassion as a magnet for the votes of constituents. But politicians rarely know what it is that they fight for, even when their advisors hand them bullet point lists of the things their constituents would like them to say.
Hollow words were spoken that night, hollow words spoken through clean, smiling teeth.
Willis' own young daughter, Henrita, was there. And Piggy couldn't keep his eyes off of her the entire night. He put it out of his mind, as often as he could, but her image was in his eyes even when he wasn't looking at her. At one point in the course of the evening, he broke into horrible sweats as he kept staring at her.
He knew it was wrong. He knew he shouldn't be thinking the horrible thoughts going through his head. But he couldn't stop himself from imagining.
Would it be so wrong? He knew the answer to that thought. And yet…
Henrita was precocious for a ten year old. She was open-minded and very curious about the world. She approached Piggy when he was standing away on the other side of the room. He nearly jumped when he saw her standing before him, her deep blue eyes staring into his.
“You're the one everyone's celebrating, aren't you?”
Piggy never answered her. He gave a few head shakes and nods at her deluge of questions. Eventually, he pardoned himself.
He found himself in the guest restroom of this massive house. He wept uncontrollably. He prayed. He pleaded. He found himself talking to no one, asking for that invisible entity's advice. Then, he wrote a note to his daughter, with the letter titled “To Justice.” He found the senator's gun room, found a gun that felt right in his hands, and ended his life, as well as the party.
The note was a very honest one, telling his daughter that people have to be held accountable for their actions and that he knew she could grow up to be a better person than he ever was. And it also destroyed the horribly flawed system of supposed compassion that Willis had been building.
It was argued, by those who opposed the law and had found new voice, that little compassion was shown for those victims that were irreparably harmed by Piggy's actions. It was argued that there had been no justice at all until he ended his own life. Thank goodness, many proclaimed, that no one else got hurt.
Rhoda James was a person who celebrated Piggy's death. She watched as the system in place, the system that was supposed to protect the innocent, failed the innocent, protecting him when her young daughter had been his last victim. Her rage was unmatched in her fight against the Willis law. Though there were many on her side, no one really matched her fervor, her passion, her hatred of Piggy and the people in power for the failure of the government to do what it was supposed to do.
When Piggy killed himself and left that damning note, Rhoda was given the stage like never before. She was given a voice and she chose to use that voice as a tool to empower the system to protect her daughter and other young children from this sort of predatory act. She gave many speeches and addressed many people, telling them of the things she was thankful for.
She was thankful that after the justice system couldn't deliver, the monster saw fit to do it himself. The fact that even he seemed to understand how horrible his actions were was very indicative that we all needed to embrace that same realization.
“Quite frankly, I'm offended that people would even think to try and defend such a deplorable action.” She couldn't be more right, with there never really being much public support for the bill in the first place. But with a real life event that affected many lives sitting heavily on the public mind, there was no stopping what Rhoda was going to do to establish her cause.
And she wouldn't start small, either. The support for her and her push was instant and incredible. Opposing politicians and normal, everyday citizens jumped aboard her push, and she found herself heading an organization that would push these ideals forward. Rhoda’s message to all was to protect the innocent victims. Her person message was something else entirely.
It was the message she thought about every time she heard the name Piggy.
“People don't really change. People just don't change.”
* * *
He had asked her, “One more time?” He was pleading.
She didn't answer, and now she sits very still. She waits for him to do something. She hopes he doesn't. He's crying now. He lays down behind her as she sits on the edge of the bed.
The final one hits and she's suddenly filled with an urge that takes her.
She runs. She gets to the door of the small trailer. She swings the door open and runs outside of the trailer, tears running down her cheeks, fear filling her chest.
She hears him scream out for her.
She doesn't turn.
Don't turn around.
She hears him stumble and curse. But she doesn't stop until she finds herself outside of the trailer park and into a residential neighborhood.
There are no cars. There are no people walking around. No one to scream to. But she's not sure she can scream. She hurts, not just in her throat but all over her body. She tries not to think of why.
Instead, she keeps running, hoping for something that will help her. She can't hear that man behind her anymore, but she's too scared to stop. To even turn and see.
But eventually, she can't help herself. Her breathing is burning her insides. She's tired. She can't run anymore.
She finds a dry ditch and curls up in it. She cries until she can't anymore. She can't sleep, so she just lies down until a bit of the sun starts to peak its face over the edge of the horizon. But it's still dark enough that she doesn't really notice anything going on around her.
She doesn't see the police officer until his flashlight beam hits her. She doesn’t feel him pick her up and carry her to the police car as he calls in for an ambulance.
* * *
“People can change. But they usually don't.” He’s whimpering to himself, all alone now.
©Copyright 2012 by Brit C. Tullis.