About a year ago I was in a show, and I met this guy, a fellow actor. Let's call him Paul. Paul and I really hit it off. We shared a similar sense of humor, and we had some common interests. Paul was also extremely likeable and charming, and I enjoyed getting to know him better. He had a great voice and was fun to be around. I genuinely liked him, and we got along really well. He was also one of my puzzle buddies (although not the one described in this post).
Paul was from an LDS background, although I got the impression he wasn't active. He had also been married, but was now divorced (for how long I can't remember, but it seems it had only been a year or two since he and his wife had divorced. He also had kids and you could tell they were a source of pride for him. Paul seemed pretty open about his life and experiences, and I enjoyed getting to know him better. In any case, we were pretty chummy.
Anyway, Paul and I did that show and then went our separate ways. Four months later I was excited to be reunited with him in another show. I had enjoyed working with him so much the first time around, it was fun to see that we'd be working together again. We still got along well, but for some reason his personality got more on my nerves this time around. We were still friendly, but not as friendly as we had been during our first show together. We was dating a new girl at the time, and that's all he seemed to talk about, and while I was happy for him, it got a little tiring at times. I also felt this sort of "trying-to-hard" vibe from him. It's hard to explain.
Regardless, we were still friendly, and I still liked him quite a bit.
Flash forward to last week. While in rehearsals for my current show, somehow Paul's name came up, and an actress (we'll call her Debbie) who had been in the last show Paul and I did together asked if we had heard the latest about him. Another actor and I (who had both been in the two shows with Paul that I've already mentioned) replied that we hadn't.
She then started telling us a story that seemed to have nothing to do with Paul. She said that in January of 2010 she had started rehearsals of a show that turned out to be a bad experience for her. The director, whose name was Peter Holmstead, made a lot of sexual innuendo during the rehearsal process, and Debbie found working with him very uncomfortable.
In May of that same year, Debbie said that it had been discovered that Peter, who was also a drama teacher at a local high school, had been having an ongoing sexual relationship with one of his seventeen year-old students. This all came out after the girl's parents came home from a vacation to find Peter in their home sitting on a couch with their daughter. When this happened, Peter quickly grabbed his stuff and left the house, simply saying, "I'm sorry."
Peter was eventually charged with rape because he was in a position of authority over the girl, and by law, and because of the girl's age, she was in no position to give consent.
So Debbie is telling us this seemingly unrelated story and says that when she was cast in the last production that we all did together, she was distressed when she saw that Peter, this director who had made her feel uncomfortable and who had been charged with this crime, was in the cast as well. Only he had now changed his name to Paul.
The other actor and I who were listening to her tale in utter amazement were shocked. My first thought was, I can't believe that this guy I like and have trusted did such a thing.
When I went home that night, I looked for all the news stories on Paul Holmstead (not his real name, by the way) I could find, and sure enough, there is a mug shot of the guy I consider my friend, charged with the rape of one of the students he was entrusted with.
Debbie had told us that he sentencing was supposed to be on November 10th of this year (although as part of a plea bargain, he now has pled guilty to the lesser charge of aggravated sexual abuse), but I have not been able to find out whether he has actually been sentenced or what his sentence was. However, news stories say he faces two separate prison terms of 1 to 15 years.
I am flabbergasted, quite frankly. I also want to shake my friend and say, "What were you thinking?!" I don't blame him for changing his name or concealing what he did from me. Who wants to drudge that up, especially with someone you don't know that well?
From what I gather, the relationship was consensual. That doesn't make it right. I don't think the 17 year-old girl has the maturity to enter into a relationship of that nature, and I certainly think a 31 year-old teacher should know better than to take advantage of one of his students and should be responsible enough to say no to such a temptation.
Paul has taken responsibility for his actions and is bound to serve some serious jail time (as well he should). I'm just so mad at him for making the choices he made that brought him here. He should have known better. And I'm annoyed that he has made me see him in a light that taints who I thought he was.
Here's a guy I like and trusted, and now I think if I had a daughter, there's no way I would trust him to be alone with her, and it makes me me sad.
As I've received this new information about my friend, I have had to decide how I feel about him, and it's been a lot of strange emotions. Part of me wants to reach out to him and say, "I still love you and care about you even though you're a bonehead" and part of me is, in fact, disgusted by what he did and thinks, "How can I ever trust you again?"
I don't have all the facts. I don't know what sort of emotional states either he or the girl were in when they embarked on this path, nor do I know or not whether that even matters. It still seems inexcusable. I don't know Paul's true heart, and perhaps that is what is most troubling to me about this whole thing: I'm not sure I even know who Paul is or what I can trust as truth or not.
And yet, I also know we are taught to forgive. Everyone.
I have a very good friend in prison right now. For manslaughter. And while the family of the man he killed may never forgive him, I know this friend's heart. I know what he has tried to do to make amends for something he can never fully make amends. In spite of a series of bad life choices leading up to one very bad mistake that caused his victim to lose his life at my friend's hands, I know that my friend is a good person; I know that he is truly sorry for what he did; I know that regrets every day his actions, and I know that he has worked ever since to be a better person, and I can see that he is a better person than that broken man who killed another human being.
Can't I also forgive Paul? Cannot Paul also have a truly contrite heart? Cannot Paul also try to make the best possible amends he can for a possibly amend-less situation?
Is Paul truly sorry? Does he truly recognize that his actions were wrong? I don't know. But I do know that I'm supposed to forgive and love him, and I am trying to do that.
I remember seeing a movie starring Kevin Bacon called The Woodsman about a convicted child molester (perhaps one of the hardest crimes to forgive (for me, at least)) who has served his sentence and attempts to start life anew. The character is flawed and still has challenges associated with his crimes, but is portrayed sympathetically and ultimately, seems like he will rise above his past mistakes. I remember watching the film and feeling that I was seeing the true heart of a man I might otherwise see as a monster, and I appreciated that.
I'm not saying the character's crimes weren't reprehensible or that he didn't need to somehow pay for the lost innocence of the children he robbed. I'm saying that it helped me see a human soul in a way I might never have seen.
There are some crimes that seem unforgivable. Some things seem so dastardly that you can't imagine forgiving someone for them. But I know I have been commanded to love and forgive; that I am supposed to see a human soul's inner heart the way God sees them. It's so much harder in mortality to not be judgmental and condemning, but I truly believe in the eternal realm, God loves us for who we are and unconditionally.
That doesn't mean we won't have to atone for the sins for which we are unrepentant, but for the ones we truly repent of, Christ has promised that his atonement will cover anything for which we lack, and I believe that.
I don't know what is in my friend Paul's heart or how he views his current situation. Nor do I know if I really know the friend I thought I knew. But I am trying to approach this from a loving, non-judgmental, forgiving, open-minded point-of-view. It remains to be seen what will happen next, but I am trying to have a loving and understanding heart toward my friend. I guess that's all I can do for now.