On this date, six years ago, I was sent to prison.
Never in my life have I ever had a reason to look forward to November 2nd. In 2012, November 2nd was the date of my sentencing. In 2012, November 2nd was the day I was taken away in handcuffs. In 2012, November 2nd was the day I was escorted away from freedom and into prison. Before 2012, November 2nd was still a sad day — the anniversary of my grandmother’s death. So as far as I have been concerned, November 2nd has been an anniversary I have mourned every year since 1994.
Oddly, however, I have been looking forward to today — November 2, 2018. On the six-year anniversary of my condemnation to prison, a film I’ve been waiting months to see was released.
And when I found the opportunity to see the film the night before its release, I jumped at it! Last night, my wife and I went and saw Bohemian Rhapsody.
As a kid, growing up in the 1980s, I was first introduced to Queen via the soundtrack of the classic 80s film, Flash Gordon. In fact, the Flash Gordon Soundtrack was one of the first albums I ever owned. From then on, I was a Queen fan.
And then, on November 24, 1991, Freddie Mercury — the lead singer (and face) of Queen — passed away as a result of complications from AIDS.
I remember his death the same way I remember the death of Kurt Cobain — it just didn’t seem real since his immortal voice existed in the music he left behind. So I didn’t particularly mourn his death because I still had his music, and to me, his music was the entirety of his existence.
As I was growing up in the early 90s, I became a fan of the film Wayne’s World, which more-or-less reintroduced me to the full musical catalog of Queen through the scene when the characters of the film listen to “Bohemian Rhapsody” in the car.
Something simply drove me back to the music of Queen. Before I knew it, I was listening to their entire Greatest Hits album, start-to-finish, loving the sounds and artistry of Freddie Mercury, Brian May, John Deacon, and Roger Taylor — Queen.
And to top it all off, on April 20, 1992, at Wembley Stadium in London, England, the Freddie Mercury Concert for AIDS Awareness was held. At this point, I was a full-fledged Queen fan. This concert was truly unique. The first half of the concert was packed with the biggest mainstream rock musicians of the time — Guns N’ Roses, Metallica, U2, Def Leppard, and others.
There was a time when wondered why I bonded with the music of Queen so much. I mean, they’re clearly a band who peaked far before my generation began to embrace music. I liked their music in the 90s, but I really like their music now — especially “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
So why is “Bohemian Rhapsody” now a song I can listen to and find comfort?
Well, now I underhand why.
And the reason is simple: I liked the music of Queen before my sexual assault — before I was raped.
So it is as if somehow the music of Queen (and “Bohemian Rhapsody” especially) can take me back to a time when life was normal. So I find myself grasping onto this music like it is some ephemeral link between who I am now and who I was then.
Closing my eyes and listening to songs like “Bohemian Rhapsody” takes me back to a time when life may not have been ideal, but life made sense — and there is tremendous comfort in that.
When I was 13-years-old, my parents divorced. As a result of this divorce, my dad got a one-bedroom apartment. I remained living in our house. After a short while, they literally swapped — my mom moved into that same apartment and my dad moved back into the house.
Therefore, I would regularly visit my mother in her one-bedroom apartment every-other-weekend; I think this was an agreement in the divorce decree, but I have no idea.
But here’s the thing: No matter who lived in that one-bedroom apartment, I did the same thing; I went into the bedroom’s large walk-in closet with my Walkman and my backpack full of cassette singles and listened to music. It was all I could do to build an emotional wall between myself and the strife of my parents’ separation. I listened to tapes — mostly cassette singles.
This was 1992/1993 — I still have many of the cassette tapes, including “Bohemian Rhapsody” (which, oddly, was the B-Side of “The Show Must Go On,” another great Queen song).
I remember many of those days, sitting on the floor of the closet of that 2nd-floor apartment, listening to those tapes, closing my eyes and escaping the bitterness of losing my parents’ marriage.
I honestly think married people with children who divorce not only end their marriage, they also take their marriage away from their children.
Granted, I don’t “blame” either of my parents for their divorce — it is what it is. But there is no denying the impact it had on me.
But in all honesty, I was 13-years-old. I needed married monogamous parents. I needed a model for what relationships should be. At the most impressionable stage of my adolescence, I needed a pillar of certainty regarding relationships.
But that’s not what I got.
What I got was an example of accusatory unfaithfulness from both sides of the battle-worn trenches of my parents’ divorce. In fact, my therapist has suggested that my parents’ infidelities contributed to a mindset which led to my own infidelities because that was the “norm” instilled upon me as an impressionable teenager.
So, psychoanalytically, marital infidelity became a subconscious “norm,” which contributed to my tendency toward my serial affairs and perhaps even my eventual crime. I’m not sure I believe all that, but it seems like a reasonable theory.
But still, I only blame me.
So anyway, last night, my wife and I went to see the film, Bohemian Rhapsody. And even through the amazing music, the incredible acting, and the engaging storyline, I found myself connecting with one of the film’s major overall themes, and it hit me hard.
During the late 70s and early 80s, Freddie Mercury lived a very self-destructive lifestyle — sex, drugs, alcohol — and in 1985, he learned he’d contracted AIDS.
During the late 2000s and 2010s, I lived a very self-destructive lifestyle — sex, drugs, alcohol — and in 2012, I was sent to prison for having a relationship I’d had with a former student 2010.
Freddie Mercury eventually realized that his out-of-control and self-destructive behavior was, indeed, rock-bottom.
I had the exact same revelation in 2010.
For Freddie, his past caught up to him when he learned that he’d contracted AIDS as a result of his behavior in the early 80s. My past caught up to me as a result of my behavior in 2010 when I was arrested in 2012 for the relationship I’d had with my former student in 2010.
Sitting in that movie theatre, I connected with this thematic parallel immediately, and it literally gripped my soul. It was as though I was watching my own downfall, played out on a grand scale. During the film, there is a moment when Freddie Mercury (portrayed amazingly by Rami Malek) realizes all-at-once that his life has been completely out-of-control; he came to the realization that he was, at that moment — standing in the rain — at rock-bottom. That’s when I saw his eyes; the utter pain and anguish in his eyes. I knew exactly what those eyes meant because I’d seen those eyes before; I saw those eyes in 2010 as I looked at myself in the rearview mirror of my car following the fourth (and final) “instance” with my former student. I know I will always be thankful that we never had sex (even though we certainly crossed the physical line), but that seemed immaterial at the time. The pain and anguish in my own eyes was the realization that I’d deteriorated, as a person, to such a depth that I thought it was permissible to have a physical relationship with her. That moment — for me — was my rock-bottom.
Following that moment, I confessed everything to my wife — including the affairs I’d been having with other teachers and the relationship with the former student — and I told her I didn’t want to be that person anymore. And she has been my foundation and support ever since. However, even though I’d vowed to her and God that I would live a better life, that did not stop my past from catching up to me two years later.
I was arrested on March 9, 2012.
And on this date in 2012 — November 2nd — I was sent to prison. I spent 763 days in prison. The consequences I paid for my past are not nearly as severe as the consequences Freddie Mercury had to endure, and perhaps I should be thankful for that — and I suppose I am. But regardless, as I sat through that movie last night, it felt like I was seeing my own personal downfall being portrayed in a grand metaphor featuring one of my all-time favorite musicians. It was such an emotional rollercoaster. throughout the film, tears rolled down my face. And I even cried a little in the car after the movie was over.
People who know me well know I’m a “film buff.” I mean, seriously, in three of the four books in The Noir Series, every chapter is named after a movie title and includes a quote from the movie. Just as I love the art of literature, I love the art of cinema. So needless to say, I connected to this film on a deeply emotional level.
The pain and anguish which accompanied my realization in 2010 that I’d truly hit rock-bottom in my life was a pain nearly incomparable to anything I’ve ever experienced. It is my prayer that no one ever has to experience that pain and anguish; and yet, I know it is what was needed for me to realize how out-of-control my life was at the time.
Today, on this 6th anniversary of my imprisonment, I’m still living with the lasting impact of the out-of-control life I lived — alcohol, drugs, serial affairs, and crossing the worst possible line as a teacher. I still live with the pain of knowing how much I hurt so many people, including the ones I love; I would willingly live in more pain if it meant lessening theirs.
I read a quote once which said, “The best apology is changed behavior.” There is nothing I can do to alter the past, nor can I escape the consequences of my destructive choices. However, I can move forward in a way which is not only exemplified by positive choices, but also contributes to the fight against what I did as a teacher. That is why I wrote After 3PM. That is why I’m willing to give speeches. That is why I am willing to be a target for pessimists who think I should be hanged on the schoolyard lawn or just find a dark corner and die (both of which, I’ve literally been told).
I can’t just do nothing. So just as Freddie Mercury’s death prompted further awareness and research into the HIV virus (starting with the tribute concert), I too am trying to find something positive and constructive from my own bad decisions and self-destruction.
As Freddie sang, “The Show Must Go On.”