When I woke up this morning, I was wondering once again how it would go at the wedding. Melissa, my niece, had decided that her wedding should be on Halloween. She was going to dress in black with red shoes – as a witch – an unusual attire for the bride at a wedding. Melissa was my favorite niece. I liked her flamboyant style and her propensity for doing the unconventional and unexpected. Her outfit was radical enough – but to invite a registered sex offender – as I was – to her wedding. . . that was pushing the envelope.

It was about a week ago when my older sister, Donna, told me that Melissa planned to have me at her wedding. She assured me that arrangements would be made to get me there. This was one of those times when it would have been good to have a driver’s license. When they took my license because of my inability to pay some eight thousand dollars in child support, I realized that the purpose of hitting me with all that child support was not to get money for my child. My ex had more than enough to care for herself in an upper-class style without my contribution. She made sure of that when she married a wealthy person shortly after our divorce was final. The purpose of the totally unrealistic and unnecessary payment that was demanded of me was to make sure that, now that I was down, I would never be able to get back up.

Melissa and her fiance lived in New Hampshire, but they were getting married in the K.C Hall in Lincoln Maine. To get there they had to come through Bangor, where I lived. Donna told me that Melissa planned to pick me up on the way to Lincoln.

Granted that the incident that put me in prison for three years happened almost 20 years ago, and was an isolated incident – still, to invite a registered sex-offender to her wedding was a daring move. In my mind it pegged her as one of the true individuals I have ever met – a person who thought her own thoughts and plotted her own course in life.

I reflected again on the crime that led to a lifetime of punishment that extended far beyond the prison sentence. I was babysitting for a friend of mine who was married with one child – a five year old boy, Conrad. Conrad called me to the bathroom where he was finishing up his bath. He stood up in the bathtub and raised his arms, asking to be picked up. When I did, he wrapped his legs and arms around me and gave me a hug. I placed him on the closed toilet seat. Hanging on to him with one hand, I reached for a towel with the other. Then, on am impulse, I bent over and kissed him on his penis in a playful way. He laughed and I went ahead and dried him off. That was it. But he told his mother. He thought it was funny. I guess he thought she would see the humor in it as well.

As might be expected, one thing led to another and soon I found myself in prison. I was convicted by my own confession. They told me that things would go better for me if I told them the truth. Whether three years in prison was “better,” I don’t know. In any case, that was almost two decades ago. So, I thought, people are finally forgetting and forgiving.

I went to some trouble trying to find just the right shirt for the occasion. I finally spotted it in the Second Time Around Shop. It was a black shirt with red trim, made from a silky material. It was perfect for a Halloween wedding – a little gaudy, but that was fine. In its prime, it was worn by someone with money who had good taste, but wanted to stand out. And now that it was in a secondhand shop, I could afford it on my dishwasher’s salary.

Shopping for clothes brought back memories of when I used to care what I looked like. Of course in those days I shopped in clothing stores where they sold new clothes. But clothes are clothes. If I am careful to select something with no rips or tears in it, I thought, who is going to know the difference?

I was a bit anxious. This was by far the biggest social event I had been invited to since my incarceration. The registry is a very effective way of notifying the public as to who should be shunned. Perhaps that public had decided that I had been shunned for long enough. The “public” that I was most concerned about, of course, was my family and a few friends. These were the people who knew me. They must have known I was not the sort of person who raped and killed children and left them in shallow graves in the woods. Still, someone might make a comment about the registry. I didn’t want a scene. Or suppose some of the children who had not been warned about me smiled at me and made friendly overtures. Children seemed to recognize me as a friendly adult, and before the incarceration, they often sought my friendship. How was I to respond now? These and similar concerns occupied my mind while I waited for the car that was to take me to the wedding.

I didn’t know whether they were bringing Melissa’s car, or her fiance’s, nor what either car looked like. So I didn’t know what I was looking for. But I could see the street in front of my apartment building from my window, and I watched for a car that might be occupied by people looking for an address.

The wedding was scheduled for 11:00 in the morning. It was about an hour’s drive from my apartment to the K.C. hall. So as the clock approached 10:00 I began to get nervous. My main concern had been how I could manage any awkward scene at the wedding – but now I was beginning to wonder whether anybody was actually going to pick me up. So, at 9:50, I called Donna.

The phone rang for quite a while before Donna picked it up.

Michael?” she said.


Listen, I’m sorry. I should have called you. Melissa realized at the last minute that there is a 50-person limit at the K.C. Hall. It’s a carry-over from the covid panic.”

I didn’t answer, so we shared several seconds of telephone silence. Finally she said, “Really. I’m sorry, but somebody had to be uninvited. Melissa didn’t feel that she knew you as well as some of the others.”

She’s my niece, I thought. We were close as she was growing up. But she has 50 friends and relations she knows better than me? Fat chance.

I hung up.

In a few seconds the phone started ringing. I ignored it. Eventually it stopped.

A text message arrived. I ignored that too.

I went to my bedroom and flopped down on my bed.

How could I have made such a fool of myself?

Did I not remember how family and friends melted away when they heard of my conviction and incarceration – how they followed the same rules of shunning that everybody else did?

Shunning is a four-level system.

Level one: Death. They kill you. Capital punishment, or they set you up to be killed in your cell. Fairly rare these days.

Level two: Absolute physical separation. Banishment in the old city states. Imprisonment today.

Level three: Social withdrawal. You are free to walk around the city, but all meaningful communication is withheld from you. Socially you cease to exist.

Level four took me a bit longer to understand. I call it fragmented shunning for want of a better term. Here the violator is free to come and go physically with others and to communicate with them on some topics. However, certain places are off-grounds for the violator: Schools, most churches, beaches, parks etc.. And the offender is not welcome at a lot of events: school sports events, plays, events that are sacred or attended by lots of kids. That sort of thing. Also, real communication about whatever the violation was about is not permitted. Since a sex-offender’s life is dominated by society’s reaction to his “crime,” a very large portion of his concerns cannot be shared.

Beyond the four levels of shunning, there is real acceptance. It’s been a long time since I experienced that.

I had mistaken fragmented shunning with real acceptance.

After a while I got up and took a beer out of the refrigerator. I took off my black and red shirt and hung it on the hook that serves as a closet. Then I sat down on the bed, leaned back against the wall, and began sipping at the beer.

It’s a classy shirt, I thought. Maybe some other event will come along where I’ll be able to use it.

But I knew that was unlikely.

To mistake fragmented shunning for real acceptance – how stupid of me.


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