Bad Influence


This is a monologue version of another longer story from Suburban Misfits



 This time, I think I'll kill him.

 It's cheaper than picking up lot, stock and barrel again, and even moving wouldn't help. He'd follow me like a disease or a dirty little secret.

 Murder is the only answer.

 We're talking about my daughter's future here, as well as my peace of mind.

 And I do love my daughter.

 We wouldn't have pulled up stakes in Little Falls and moved here if I didn't.

 I saw everything unfolding before me, only back then I didn't quite understand it all, and why she had changed from a warm and obedient 15-year-old girl into a high and mighty little bitch making demands on me, wearing outrageous clothing and positively libidinous cosmetics. She was turning into a hippie right before my eyes, and would have if I hadn't put my foot down and told her, "No!"

 And then she acts as if I'm the criminal.

 "I'm sick and tired of people telling me how to life my life," she said, followed the kind of language I never taught her, and this from a nice suburban child, someone I'd sent to all the proper schools to learn all the proper things, me hoping she would come out at the end wanting the right kind of life. Her words appalled me. I had heard as much coming out of the mouths of long-haired brats on TV who protested the war, part of that madness that included riots in Newark, and riots in Chicago, and riots in the nation's capital, radicals like Martin Luther King and Abbie Hoffman. I half expected her to wave a Cuban flag under my nose, screaming for revolution.

 How did she come to get the ideas? Certainly not in school --where the administration was very careful to keep such crazy ideas as "free speech" and "racial equality" out of their curriculum, tailoring their lessons to breed father in good of fashioned American values, not skepticism. I knew she'd been hanging around town lately, becoming much more sociable than she had in the past. But Little Falls had always been solid Republican and did not inspire street-corner communists the way cities like Paterson did. Nobody climbed up on a soap box on Main Street in this town or spewed anti-establishment rhetoric without the police hauling them all to jail. Besides, I taught my daughter to stay away from such characters, making it perfectly clear just how crazy they were, and how listening to their idea would invite insanity upon herself.  And don't think her loss of sanity failed to occur to me. Such a change! I felt as if she had stuck a knife in my back. After grilling her for hours, I finally got some information out of her, how she'd been seeing a lot of one particular boy from town. But the impact of her statement didn't strike horror in me until she gave his name.

 "Paul Garley!" I screamed. "You've been associating with that demon?"

 For demon was the word most used in describing that boy to me, as if he had sprung up in the midst of our nice, safe community for the express purpose of luring our children away, perverting values we so patiently instilled in them with dreams and visions of a better and fairer world. I was not the first parent in Little Falls to wake up and find that devil's fingers implanted in the brain of my child. Others often complained about him at the PTA or to the town council or during a meeting of the VFW. Why wasn't somebody doing something about this Garley character? How could he be allowed to lure our children into sin with his rock & roll and drugs, and from what I've heard, by having sex in the park.  But this character wasn't going to who my daughter away from me so easily as all that. I wasn't about to find her marching in front of town hall with no protest sign like the sons and daughters of so many other parents had. I told her straight out.

 "I don't want you to see the Garley character anymore," I said.  "Pauly? You don't want me to see Pauly?"

 "He's nothing but a bad influence on you, Sweety," I said, softening my tone a little when I saw how devastated she looked. "You can't see it now. But in a few years you'll understand better."

 Of course, she didn't like it, and seemed as put out as she had been when the dentist said she had to have a tooth pulled. She may even have thought she hated me for a while. But that's what comes with being a good parent, keeping my child away from disreputable characters, even when she can't see it herself.

 Meanwhile, I took action against the trouble marker, Garley. I knew it wasn't enough just to forbid my daughter from seeking the boy's company; I needed to end that boy's reign of terror. I didn't go to the principal or the mayor, I went to the police. I demanded they do something about this character.

 "If he's using drugs, arrest him," I said. "Then throw him the hell into jail."

 A few day later, the police called and said they had done what I'd asked, only...

 "Only what?" I asked.

 "You're daughter was with him," the officer said.


 "I'm sorry."

 Not as sorry as I was. The lawyer I hired cost a fortune, and in getting my daughter untangled from the webs of the legal system, he inadvertently freed Garley as well. Some technically forced the police to drop charges, and this raised the reputation of Garley in the neighborhood. The town's children seemed to think of him as some kind of messiah, one who could rise again and again from the dead.

 The silent rage of my neighbors haunted me, yet I could have put up with that, I could have bolted the doors and glared through the windows at them as easily as they did me. But Garley haunted my days and nights. I saw him on the street and imagined him luring my daughter even deeper into trouble. As long as we lived in that town, he would pose a threat to her. In fact, one night, I heard someone climbing up the trellis towards her room. I grabbed up my shotgun and ran into the yard, but like a wraith, he faded into the shadows before I could pull the trigger.

 I had but one option. If I could not rid the town of such a character, I had to move my daughter beyond that character's reach. I thought of sending her to a boarding school, but even then I could not he be certain of his reach, would he he be able to sneak there to see her without my knowing? No, we all had to go. I wouldn't let him ruin our lives, forcing us to separate. If my daughter had to go into exile, then the whole family would go into exile with her. I changed jobs. She changed schools. We found a small town in Connecticut which was just as Republican as the one we'd left. We felt happy, I felt safe, and for a few years we found peace. Then, one day, the door bell rang, and there he was with his friends, standing on my doorstep.

 "High there," he said. "Is Carol home?"


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