The only thought scarier than that of facing my childhood bully in the halls of Morrisville High School was that of facing him again 25 years later. We were meeting at my request. Why was I doing this? His imprint stayed with me years after the bruises faded. I needed some sort of resolution. I needed to know why he singled me out. Actually, I wasn't completely sure what I needed. But I needed to see him.
I had written Frankie a letter and, amazingly, he had agreed to the meeting. I traveled across two states to his current residence in Pennsylvania, about an hour west of where we grew up, just over the New Jersey border. There, in a maximum-security prison, he is serving a life sentence for killing a man who was gay. I am gay.
Before leaving for the prison, I packed my contact lenses as a contingency measure. You see, it turns out that at the State Correctional Institute at Graterford, visitors are not separated by bulletproof glass like in the movies. We would be meeting in a small room, the guard outside with his back to the door. I figured if Frankie jumped me, the eyeglasses were likely to be the first casualty. How, then, would I be able to see the road to make the long drive home? In advance of my visit, prison officials told me that brief hugs were permitted at the beginning and end of each visit. I wanted to tell them, "If you see what looks like a hug, summon the guards. Please!"
When I was finally brought to meet Frankie, I did not recognize him. He was always bigger than me, but he is now 350 lb. and, as I would discover, set a state prison record in power lifting. That made the thought of conflict even more frightening. But there would be no violence.
The rage that once contorted his teenage face had given way to a broad, if hesitant, smile. We shook hands and awkwardly made our way to our private booth to take our seats and make small talk, each feeling the other out in the manner of two old friends who had drifted apart and were now trying to rediscover common ground and recapture our rhythms. What finally broke the ice was my trademark lack of diplomacy. I just dove right in and asked if he was guilty of the crime for which he was imprisoned. "Oh, I did it," he said, shocking me with his forthrightness. He proceeded to open up about the crime and his life before and after.
When I finally confronted him with his crimes against me, he apologized profusely. But he had no memory of me, which I found stunning given the ferocity of his attacks. Only after four prison visits and an exchange of more than 50 letters did he finally recall a confrontation where he pinned some poor guy against the gym wall. I lit up. "That guy was me!" That proved to be a revelation to me. While Frankie's words and actions in high school had seemed intensely personal, it turns out they clearly were not. I was just a convenient target.
Next Mean Girls (2004)