As my ex-boyfriend moves his boxes back into my place, against my wishes, my toddler climbs up the stairs, tears streaming down his face. He is trailed by my husband, who explains that our Kung Fu Panda is scared of his double. Before I can ask, "What double?" the second version of KFP arrives at the top of the steps, walking extremely fast and grinning mischievously. While his cherubic face and loose blonde curls are usually charming, when matched with that smile, it is unnerving. I can see why it's scaring KFP.
I hug KFP close while I explain to him, "That is just your dream double. We all have them. He acts scary, but he can't hurt you." I point out his father's dream double, who like his father, The Gryphon, looks shorter than usual. In fact, I'm fairly certain he's an actor from "Modern Family." We walk down the street, and I point out other people's doubles. They all have them, and they are all somewhat terrifying: moving far too fast and grinning devilish smiles.
The police officer is either invisible or just in my head, but I don't think about this, because all I can think about is the horrible thing he's telling me. "They found a hand print on your son's bottom," he said. "And evidence of a foreign object in his rectum. They are checking for DNA."
I don't know how or when it happened. I don't know who did it. All I know is that I feel like a failure for not protecting my child. He is crying, and I hug him close.
My son is crying; I wake up and check his diaper. He is experiencing terrible diarrhea, and for a brief, dream-deluded moment, I fear that it has something to do with the assault. Then I exhale, and relief floods my bones. He was not assaulted. He has no terrifying double. It was a dream.
These dreams polluted my mind the night after I learned about the child sex abuse scandal at Penn State. If you aren't familiar with the situation, simply go to Google News and type in "Jerry Sandusky."
It's an ugly saga: a Penn State assistant coach (Sandusky) taking advantage of his position with a children's charity to assault young boys, sometimes on Penn State property. Then, once discovered, an alarming cover-up, with only superficial discipline for Sandusky, who should have been reported to police. In the fallout now, 9 years since he was reportedly caught in the act in a Penn State shower, both head football coach and local legend Joe Paterno, and the university president have been summarily fired.
It's a dicey time to be a Penn State alumna, but it wasn't until I deciphered my dream that I realized how much it's affected me. While describing the dream to a friend the next day, I began to unravel it.
My ex-boyfriend, who was emotionally abusive, has been dubbed Leechboy in my journals, and for good reason. He sucked out my self-esteem with his perpetual efforts to mold me into his image of perfection, much like the porcelain dolls his mother repaired in her doll hospital. I'd dated him from my sophomore year of college until my first year of grad school (I earned two degrees at Penn State: a B.A. in Broadcast/Cable and a MFA in Poetry), and during that time, he alienated me from most of my friends and criticized every aspect of my life until I found myself desperately trying to meet his ridiculous expectations. I was, apparently, supposed to become a younger version of his perfect mother, who doted upon him and told him endlessly how wonderful he was.
Those memories still haunt me, underlying all my good memories, of working at the college radio station and writing comedy skits with fellow Monty Python fans. In my mind, Leechboy remains a monster: a person who infiltrates into your life, bringing you pumpkin bread and wildflowers, and then rewrites your brain, cuts your hair, and tries to turn you into a Stepford Girlfriend. Certainly, he represented both my Penn State days and the sad truth that people you trust may turn out to be nothing but abusers in disguise.
The "dream doubles" were much easier to grasp. The hardest aspect of this ugly case for most Penn State alumni is dealing with the fact that the public face of those involved in the alleged cover-up was so different from their true natures. In the case of Sandusky, he clearly wore two faces: an angel and a devil. But in the case of the others, they wore masks, as well.
What kept them from reporting this depravity to the police? How could they simply ask Sandusky to turn in his keys and ban him from Penn State property? Were they impervious to the pain of the victims? How could they be so willfully oblivious to the urgent need for justice? Is it true that they cared only for themselves, fearing the ugly fallout would hurt the school? Perhaps they would have acted differently, if they'd only known what would happen in 2011.
Of course, the last portion of the dream needs no interpretation. I can only imagine what the families of those children must be experiencing. Their sons were molested, abused, even raped, by a man who claimed he was helping them. How can a parent ever get past that? How, indeed, can the children?
The whole thing is a nightmare.