Julia called on Saturday. Cynnie felt a twinge of guilt, for she knew she had been neglecting her friend recently because of Darko. She had not been ignoring her; she just had not been spending as much time with her as she used to. Julia had seemed to understand this, though she did not sound happy about it.
Cynnie made an effort to clean up her room before she came over. There was an uneasiness in her stomach that would not go away. She could feel darkness shadowing her heart. She was still angry at her brother for what he was doing. They had not had a civilized discussion since he had confronted her.
Julia had sounded anxious on the phone. Cynnie guessed she had news to talk about. She was right. Julia rushed into the room and closed the door. Her eyes were wild and her hair was out of place. Loose bracelets hung from her wrists. “Can you believe it about Darko?” she cried.
Dread suddenly filled Cynnie. Her friend was assuming she had not known. Why would she think anything else? Cynnie had not shunned Darko like everyone else. She was not normal. Everyone would think there was something wrong with her.
Julia frowned. “Cynnie? John told me Darko is a rapist. Is that true?” Her eyes shown with concern.
Cynnie sucked in a sharp breath. It was now or never. “He was a rapist, Julia, but that was a long time ago.”
Julia’s eyes grew huge. “You mean you knew?” She seemed horrified at the possibility.
Cynnie bit her lip and glanced down. “Well, yes,” she admitted. “It’s been awhile.” She looked up and added quickly, “But I thought about it a lot and talked to him about it. It was in the past. I know I can trust him.”
Julia narrowed her eyes. A hard look overcame her face. “Didn’t I tell you to be careful? You can’t keep doing this, Cynnie.” She groaned. “You’re just going to get yourself into trouble again.”
Cynnie knew her friend was just trying to help her, so she spoke gently. “Thanks for your concern, but I can make my own decisions.”
“Not if they get you raped!” Julia exclaimed as she threw her arms into the air.
Cynnie pushed down her annoyance. Her friend was ignorant; that was all. “Julia, let me explain. Darko was hardly an adult when it happened. He was stressed, drunk, and hormone-crazy. He made a mistake.”
“I know guys,” Julia said sharply. “If he did it once, he could do it again. Stay away from him, Cynnie. Boys in general are bad news. This one is especially bad.”
Cynnie gritted her teeth. She did not want to argue. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Julia gasped. She looked offended. “I thought you respected my opinion!”
“I do,” Cynnie said calmly. “But it’s just an opinion. I’ll think about what you said, but it won’t change my decision.”
Julia’s face hardened again. “Cynnie, do not do this. You’re making a big mistake.”
“We’re not even going to see each other for awhile!” Cynnie exclaimed. Her anger and frustration was beginning to seep through. Why was everyone against her? ‘He doesn’t want to come between me and my family.”
Julia rolled her eyes. “Oh please. I’ve heard that before. It’s a trick.”
“Maybe you should just get out of here,” Cynnie retorted.
Julia gasped again. “Well, fine! If that’s the way you want it! Have fun with your sex offender.” She stomped off with her head held high.
Cynnie’s anger disappeared when her friend left. She sighed, letting her shoulders slump. What was she going to so now? She wondered if defending Darko would cost her everyone she loved.
Life had once again become torture for Darko. It did not seem to matter that he was wearing a Packers wind breaker. He pulled the hood over his head. Perhaps that would stop people from recognizing him. It did not work.
Darko thought he had gotten used to the cold stares and harsh words. He had not. Part of him wanted to become numb. To have the words wash off of him like rain. But another part of him knew it was dangerous. It was dangerous to not feel anything. His emotions were what kept him human. He was afraid that if he lost that part of himself, he would actually become the monster they thought he was.
Funny how they were turning him into the exact thing they were afraid of. If they had any sense at all, they would try to prevent it from happening. That would be easy. To be safe from him like they wanted, all they had to do was accept him into society. What was so hard about that?
Right. Logic did not apply. One rare, emotional story and the whole country thought stricter laws would solve the problem.
Ha. Had they ever heard of self-fulfilling prophecies?
Darko could not even find solace in the park. Actually, it was worse. Mothers gave him death glares and pulled their children into their chests. He fought the urge to roll his eyes in annoyance. He had never in his life hurt a child, especially sexually. Why would he start now? If anything, it was women his age who should have been afraid of him. Everyone else was safe.
People shouted foul words at him. He was called many derogatory terms. He received some death threats. He knew they would go through with them if they could. He was glad he lived in apartment. He had heard stories of people doing things to sex offenders, like throwing objects at their houses, leaving feces, and even killing them. Vigilantism against sex offenders seemed to be socially acceptable. They were glad they had done it. They thought it was a gift to everyone. It made Darko sick. No human being deserved to be treated this way, no matter what they had done.
That was just it, wasn’t it? No one saw him as a human being. He was some disgusting, deformed creature in their eyes. How could one act do that to a person? How could any? Did no one believe in natural rights anymore?
Darko walked into a coffee shop. One person seemed to recognize him and whispered something to his friend. Soon, everyone in the shop was murmuring and casting him wary glances. As he walked up to the counter to order, the worker glared at him. “What do you want?” he asked in anger.
Darko sucked in a sharp breath. “I would like to order a small coffee, please.”
The man crossed his arms but otherwise did not move. “We don’t serve sex offenders here.”
Darko’s eyes tighten. “That’s discrimination. I can report you.”
The worker raised his eyebrows in a disbelieving manner. “The law talks about discriminating based on race, gender, and sexual orientation. It says nothing about your type.”
“Give him the coffee I forgot to throw out last night,” another worker chided.
The first employee grinned. “Good idea, George.”
Darko gritted his teeth. “Never mind.” He wanted to yell at them and give him a piece of his mind, but he had to stay calm. He had to act perfect. He could not make a mistake. Because even then, they would still find fault in him. He did not need to give them a legitimate reason to hate him. He needed to be the righteous one. At least then he would still love himself and God would still love him.
“Yeah, get out, you no good rapist!” a women yelled at him as he left.
A man snorted. “Why don’t we just execute them all?”
Darko pretended the comments did not hurt. Actually, a few years ago, Louisiana had tried to implement the death penalty for those who committed sexual crimes against children. Thankfully, the courts had ruled it unconstitutional if there was no murder involved. But that did not erase the sinking feeling Darko had that sex offenders would soon become the target of such a genocide or witch hunt. History showed that when a group of people were dehumanized, such an act of tyranny soon followed. The destruction of society would not be far behind.
Ted was there to greet Darko at work Monday morning. There was a frown on the manager’s face and his brow was furrowed. Darko tried to push back his uneasiness as he greeted his boss. “Good morning, Ted.”
Ted let out a small sigh. “Darko. Everyone knows, don’t they?” His eyes were sad and almost regretful.
Darko nodded. “Pretty much.” If they did not, the word would spread soon. The city was not that big. He knew what was coming. He had experienced it way too many times in the past. No one wanted to go to a store where a sex offender worked. It did not matter that keeping an offender employed reduced the chance of further criminal activity.
Ted ran a hand through his brown hair. “I don’t want to let you go. You’re a hard worker. But I don’t want to lose business.” He shook his head. “I don’t know if it’s worth it.”
Darko saw his chance. “Perhaps you could use me in a less public area,” he suggested. “Keep me back from the cash register. Just have me stocking or something. Maybe people will get used to the idea.”
Ted stared at him for awhile. Finally, he nodded. “Alright, I’ll give it a shot. Just don’t get too comfortable.”
“Thank you,” Darko said in relief. He could not believe his luck. He was grateful he actually had a reasonable boss.
All of the customers pretty much ignored Darko at work. It was almost worse than the insults. At least the hatred was an emotion aimed towards him. He still mattered to them. They cared. But avoiding him made him feel as if he did not exist. Apathy was what killed him.
He contemplated moving to another city. Or state. Minnesota seemed to accept castaways from Green Bay. He shook off the thought. He was not ready to give up yet. He was not ready to leave Cynnie.
Cynnie had never been to city hall. She had never had a reason. But her state representative in Congress Michael Hugo was there for the day. She had a bone to pick with him. Her black hair was messy and blowing in the wind; she had forgotten to put on makeup. There was a look of hard determination in her eyes.
The girl had done her own research on sex offender registration and community notification laws in the country and the state. She was horrified at what she found. There were stories even more terrible than Darko’s. People who had made mistakes in their past and were trying to make up for them were unable to do so because of the ostracism that occurred from society’s judgment of them.
Cynnie could understand people wanting to know who the dangerous sex offenders were, but why ruin the lives of people who had repented and were likely to never harm anyone in that way again? And many of these offenders were kids. Were not kids the ones they were supposed to be protecting? And if they were under the age of consent, how could they possibly force it on another kid? It seemed like they were victims themselves. They needed treatment, not punishment for the rest of their lives.
Something had to be done. This was not justice. A lot of it was probably due to ignorance. After all, Cynnie herself had not known about any of this before she met Darko. She had simply assumed the laws were protecting them. If people were educated, then maybe real change could occur. Was that not what their representatives were for?
Representative Hugo was a tall, slender man with smooth brown hair and green eyes. He wore a black business suit. An American flag pin sat on his right pocket. He stood up to greet Cynnie in the small office room. “Hello, I’m Representative Michael Hugo.” He held out his hand. “And who are you?”
“Cynnie Perrino,” she said with a small smile as she shook his hand.
“It’s nice to meet you.” Hugo walked around the desk and sat down in the chair. He folded his hands and looked up at Cynnie. “Now, what can I do for you?”
Cynnie pushed down her nervousness. She had never spoken to one of her leaders before. But this was their job, was it not? They were supposed to listen to their constituents. That was why he was there. “I have some concerns about a few laws hat supposedly protect the community.”
Hugo raised his eyebrows. “I’m listening.”
“It’s the public sex offender registries,” Cynnie blurted out before she could stop herself. She blushed and glanced down at the floor.
“Miss Perrino, the registries are there for a reason,” Hugo said in a gentle tone.
Cynnie looked up at him. “I know. But they aren’t working. Many non-dangerous offenders are being put on the list. No one knows who the real dangerous ones are. It’s useless. And it causes people to hate and scorn those who have made one mistake and are now unable to live normal lives.”
“You’re talking about Darko Stroud,” Hugo said with raised eyebrows. His face did not betray any emotion.
Cynnie bit her lip and nodded. “He’s my friend,” she said feebly.
A look of pity crossed Hugo’s face. “I understand your concerns, but I do not see what I can do.”
“You can repeal the law that created the registries!” Cynnie exclaimed, slapping her hands on the desk.
Hugo frowned and shook his head. “Congress would never approve. Neither would my constituents. It would be political suicide. The need is not great enough.”
Cynnie gritted her teeth. “But it is!”
Hugo gave her a long, serious look. “There is nothing I can do. Go start a sex offenders’ rights organization if you care so much.” He stood up. “We are through here.”
Cynnie bit back a sarcastic remark. The representative had made himself clear enough. She grumbled as she made her way out of the building. So much for protecting the rights of minorities from the majority. What had become of their republic?