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I was 11 years old and a burning cigarette was pushed out on my arm. Even though I could smell my flesh burn, I didn't feel anything. My gaze was intensely locked with a young man's standing about ten feet from me. He was the reason I was in this situation. It was to be the last chapter of his yearlong projection that was to end in my death. Anyone with whom he identified, had to die. 

A year earlier, I had spotted him at an orgy. It had been his very first time there, and he had come with his father. At 20 years old, he was not there to be trafficked. Tall and thin, with white-blond shoulder length hair, he walked with a slight limp. As if to make up for his disadvantage, his vigorous energy exploded through the room. My heart raced. He struck me as a fierce survivor with impossible hurdles, too sensitive, too intelligent and too hurt. He turned his head, noticed me and abruptly changed his course in my direction. I jumped out of my seat and advanced to meet him. Adrenaline pumped through my body. I seemed to take on the glow and proportions of a glorious goddess, but my face, strangely, was just my own, as if I could finally be me. When he stood before me I smiled.

“So you like your job, do you, you little whore?” he said softly, quickly.

“You think I like it here?” I fumed.

He stared at me in shock. The ferocity of my reaction had surprised me too. As the young blond man continued to stare, the surroundings, the room and all the people in it ceased to exist. His eyes transmitted an entire universe of emotion. I saw all the feelings that were ever experienced by humans throughout the ages, all together and at once. The myriad of feelings coagulated into one; all others existed but in relation to the presence or the absence of the one: his eyes became a mellow, bright blue ocean of love.

This was the beginning of the most intense year of my life. I would be protected by him for the first six months, and violently abused afterwards. In spite of this, he gave me more than my parents ever did, more than I had ever had. 

In a romantic attempt to leave me something permanent to remember him by, he stabbed the back of my knee with a pen knife, and nearly killed me. He rushed me to the South of France where we stayed in a house on the Mediterranean as I recovered.   

After a week or so, heading to the harbor, I asked him to let me try to walk by myself. I concentrated on not limping, and succeeded. I gave him a look: There, I’m not limping. You didn’t get me to be like you. He nodded.

Sitting in the sun on a terrace overlooking the quiet harbor, he sipped an anise liquor.

 “Your eyes are like those of Annie in the song, the color of anise, of the sea,” I observed. “But when Gainsbourg sings they’re ‘the color of happy days,’ those days seem to be in the past.”

“You want a taste?” He offered me his drink and I tried it. 

“This, too, will be in the past,” he stated, indicating our set up with a sweeping hand motion.

“This, yes. Some of it, of course,” I affirmed.

He smiled a slightly sour, sad smile, like here we were, faced once again with this thing that I wouldn't understand.

“You know,” he ventured, “there is one element that will definitely be different in the future. You know what that is?”

“No, what is that," I echoed.

“The element of choice. Now, because of your age, this is not your choice,” he stated. 

 I asked: “Isn’t that why you didn’t touch me for so long?”

“Yes, I thought I’d leave it up to you, and I believed that would make the choice yours, but I was wrong," he responded. "I don’t know why you decided to get physical with me, but I know you well enough to know that it wasn’t just because you felt like it.”

I bowed my head in acute shame. He was right, but I didn't want him to know.

“Oh, it’s all right,” he continued. “It’s your duty, in a way, to always think of your survival first. You can’t really do anything freely. Freedom of choice is reserved for adults.”

“I love you,” I said.

He looked disarmed and frowned like he wanted to say something he might not have sufficiently thought through: “It’s that when I look at you, I see this incredible pride in your eyes…” he began.

His remark threw me in a state of confusion and panic. 

“No, no, it’s a good thing," he assured me. "It’s the quality that gives you all your strength. It’s defiance, yes. But with pride. It’s because of that, I doubt once you’ll be a grown woman, once you’ll have the choice, you will choose to be with me, because I’m no good.”

“I know that. But I love you anyway," I argued. "It’s not going to go away.”

“I’m a crook," he said matter-of-factly. "I rob banks, money transports, post offices, anything. Sometimes I kill people. I like it. You’d make a great Bonnie, because you’re a killer too – don’t kid yourself – but when I see this fierce pride in your eyes, like just then when you were walking, without a limp, and the way you look at me, it makes me know that you’ll never want to be sidekick to any Clyde. Or Rockefeller for that matter.”

I asked: “Why do you like to kill?” 

He leaned back on his chair to calmly ponder the question, clasping his hands behind his head: “You know, most of life, everything we see on the surface; it’s all lies. When you confront somebody with their death, then you see the truth about them. You have no idea what I’ve seen. Best friends try to get each other killed, just to save their own skin, and that’s just the beginning.”

 “And what makes you pull the trigger?” I asked.

“Weakness," he said without hesitation.  "Not just weakness, but cowardice, like in the form of disloyalty. Like those guys, as soon as you put a gun to their heads they try to bargain with you, and the stuff that comes out of their mouths…”

He shook his head in disgust.

“I hold the gun against their forehead. That’s the moment they reveal themselves. And when I have myself a real piece of s**t , and he’s pretty damn pleased with himself because he thinks I’m going to kill his best friend and not him, and then I shoot his brains out, the quiet that follows the blast, it fills me with a sense of… deep… well-being. Peace.”

Maybe it was his sense of peace, or the gentle lapping waves against the sailboats, but while I thought what he said sounded crazy, I was not horrified, only curious:

 “So you wipe out the lies… and the dirt underneath the lies?” I asked.

“Yes, it’s exactly that," he confirmed, "because this sense afterwards… I feel clean, like the dirt has been cleansed. It’s specific. And it feels good.”

I nodded: “And you do this out of free choice?” 

He regarded me with a flicker of distrust, then answered: “I don’t know. I guess it’s something that I have to do, because there’s this… desire in me.”

“You said that being with me gives you peace,” I tried.

“That’s true. I do feel it with you. There’s something real about you, and being together. And in fact, I haven’t done anything lately, because I haven’t really had the need,” he said, lightening up.

“You know, I’ve felt, with you sometimes, I’ve suddenly felt clean also," I revealed. "Cleansed. Sort of like the feeling you were describing. Do you think that, if we could be together in the future, as a couple, that you might not want to kill? Or rob?”

He smiled:  “If anyone can change me, I’m sure it’s you. But you’re putting the cart before the horse. You can’t be with me just to change me, and you probably won’t want to be with me before I’ll change, so…”

 “So we don’t know," I chimed in. 

“Right, we can’t know," he agreed. "Anyway, having a regular relationship, that’s if you’d want one, living together, is very different from what we have now. I would have to provide for you somehow, and I’m really good at just one thing. But also, there’s the excitement now, because it’s illegal. You’re the forbidden fruit.”

“So maybe you don’t really love me,” I said.

“You know," he retorted, "there’s a lot of little girls at the parties and I can have all of them if I want, like your friend, she’s been trying, believe me, but I don’t love her or anybody else. Yeah, I guess it’s not a choice, I love you: who the hell knows why?”

I blushed and stared into the table. He put a consoling arm around me and pulled me closer, whispering: “Don’t worry, you’ll always be exciting to me. No one’s ever put me in a state of arousal that lasted six months straight. That’s what happened. I was aroused thinking about you, but I think about you all the time. I can’t believe that I had this much self-control. I didn’t think I had it in me. Your beauty just turns me on; it’s something incredible.”

It was after our time in the South of France that the abuse escalated for six months, leading to my impending death by torture. I noticed his figure at about ten feet distance.  He stood alone, casually observing the beginning of my end. My executioner grabbed me by the wrist and pulled it, twisted it, so the arm folded back painfully. He pointed his burning cigarette at my forearm, a few inches from the elbow crease. The gangster laughed sarcastically, making it very clear: ‘Don’t expect any sympathy from me.’ My executioner dug the burning cigarette into the flesh of my arm. I smelled the hairs and the flesh burning. My being concentrated into a single thought, which flew out of my body straight to the gangster:

I don’t need you! I’ll survive without you!

The burn on my arm failed to register. His wide-open eyes held me, merged with me. Just like when I first met him, the surroundings, the room and all the people in it ceased to exist. The energetic flow between our eyes revealed another universe, consisting of pure feeling, all of it passing through his crystal clear eyes, as if the iris had receded, its hard color given way for emotional clarity. Other children around me, extremely agitated, moved about me and blocked him from view. My executioner said something I couldn't make out, and I was grabbed by the shoulders and forced to walk. While I was tortured, the gangster negotiated for my life and rescued me from the network, a deal he eventually paid for with his life.

Later that night, as he drove me home, he gave me precise, detailed instructions by which to live, that included moving to New York City. He told me about his own extremely traumatic childhood which revealed that everything he had done to me had been an exact repetition of what had been done to him as a child. His killings symbolized the death of his child self. He cried, asking me for forgiveness. In the silence that followed the fearful child in him came to life as he seemed to whither, certain I hated him. I told him that I loved him. He sent me off with his innocence, giving it for me to cherish. Perhaps one day I could explain to the world that some psychopaths could heal, could find their innocence back, if only they could be given unconditional love by someone who is old enough to make that choice. 

I have spent my entire life defying certain men who triggered some aspect about this gangster. They usually are authority figures, as he was to me, and maybe they share his body type or hairstyle as he did, or they wear their shirt in the same way.  It happened a few days ago. I criticized a man publicly. This was my eleven year old girl in action, creating a perfect storm symbolizing the utter chaos of my last day in the network. My ability for astute observation was crucial for survival in the network, but it makes my challenges tough. Painful truths are hard enough to accept in the gentlest of ways, but if someone shoves them in your face like a pie at the circus, it becomes close to impossible. There have been a few men who were able to get beyond my attack. They respected my strength and insight, and wanted truth for their own growth. After they recovered from my blows we reunited in friendship, and I shared my side. The eleven year-old girl is still looking for the strongest connection she ever knew from the man who loved her defiance. I am learning that I can choose to love that girl, unconditionally