By Richard Stone
Author’s Note: The following piece is entirely fictional. It is based (in some ways closely) on my direct connection with the mother of a well-publicized real-life murderer, and on insights gained by my work with inmates at a nearby state prison (many guilty of murder). But, the inner narrative of Daniels’ experiences and thoughts relies as much on Poe and Dostoyevsky as on actual events. This is a brief excerpt from a 30,000 word manuscript that attempts to place this kind of violence in a 360-degree perspective. It implicates family, social institutions, the judicial system and the media in the making of “the story”. I believe this is an important understanding and I invite anyone who’d like to see the whole manuscript to contact me (email@example.com) and arrange to see it.
Daniel’s father, as she mentioned, was her first husband. He became a devout Mormon after the marriage and he enforced strict rules of conduct around matters like the 3 D’s—dancing, dating and drinking. Daniel’s adolescence was rebellious, and he was sent to a special church camp for instilling discipline.
When he came home, he seemed a changed person. He was punctiliously polite and dutiful, but distant, as if he no longer remembered what he liked or wanted. But the moment he finished high school, he was gone. His younger brother said he’d been saving money for a bus ticket East, destination unspecified. They did get postcards now and then from what were clearly stopovers— tourist traps and small towns—usually with cryptic messages like “I won’t forget you.”
It was four years later that the story broke that Daniel had been arrested for the murder of a young girl. Belinda learned of it only on the TV news, but then she was besieged by calls from everyone from family members she hadn’t heard from in ages to reporters wanting to know how he’d been as a ten-yea old. The father had died (from his own bile, she likes to say) so she was left alone to withstand the barrage of people suddenly interested in her.
As you probably know, Daniel was killed in jail by another inmate. Because of all the grisly speculation about ritual mutilation and such, authorities knew he was at risk, but seemed to take no special precautions. Belinda thinks he took no precautions himself, not averse to ending a life that had gone so far awry.
Fortunately she had been able to get away from her obligations long enough for a week-long visit some months before his extra-legal execution. It was then that he gave her this account, which I’ll read to you.
“Not long before being sent to camp, I had gone to my father’s study to look for a book that he had confiscated the day before. On entering, I encountered someone—it took my a minute to realize it was him—in full-face make-up and the evening wear of an elegant socialite: silk dress, stockings and heels, pearls, the works. My knees buckled at the sight. Father grabbed my wrist and swore me to secrecy. But therea was no trust between us, so the camp was arranged, really for a kind of brainwashing.
“I came back almost a zombie. My only hope was to get away to a new life. I became an itinerant, going to one town for a few months, then to another, finding menial jobs—a janitor, an assembly-line meat packer, whatever. I’d live in cramped walk-up apartments with decade’s old furnishings, curtains that smelled of the last tenant’s sauerkraut, rugs with holes and stains. I welcomed the companionship of the occasional rat as I seemed to lack the capacity for human friendship.
“Always I was filled with longing for family, for intimacy. I did have some warm memories of childhood, but these became increasingly insubstantial, and I had now lost the ability even to meet people, afraid to reveal myself to them in all my wretchedness and cowardice.
“Somehow the idea of a slave-lover came to me, a girl who’d worship me and meet my every need without question; and I began to spin out elaborate fantasies: receiving erotic caresses or luxurious baths, having someone I could order to share my bed or leave me alone just as met my whim.
“It all seemed hopeless until I read a story in a horror comic about a man who operates on a woman’s brain and gains control of her. The idea seized me. I had virtually stopped eating and going out, and I fell into a kind of delirium. I came to believe I could perform this operation, I even practiced on Halloween skulls I came upon in a thrift store. But how would I find my mate? From an old film, I remembered about chloroform, and discovered I could order some easily on-line. Everything seemed in place, I grew restless and frenzied. But of course I had no real plan, and was terrified of even introducing myself to someone.
“Then this girl fell into my lap, an addict who used to shoot up in the foyer of our building. One night, late, as I was forced by hunger to sneak out to get some soup at the all-night diner down the street, I found her passed out. Fear and joy wrestled inside me. At first recollections of the hellish scenarios for sinners that Father had drilled into us restrained my hand. But then the longing, the longing—the hope of having someone to care for me, to touch and be touched by me. And then I blacked out.
I found myself, who knows how long later, with the girl on the floor of my apartment, blood gushing from the jagged wound in her head where I’d tried to enact the operation. The coldness of her skin to my hand, so different from the warmth in my fantasies, shocked me into consciousness, but I was frozen in terror and remorse. I wept, but couldn’t move.
Finally I roused myself, wrapped an overcoat over my gory clothes and stumbled down the stairs to a pay phone to call the police. The rest you know.
I want you to understand, you did not raise a monster. Your only fault was not shielding me from that vindictive, hypocritical sonuvabitch my father, who you hardly knew. Forgive me for the horror and shame I’ve made you live with.
Your loving son,
Richard Stone is on the boards of the Fresno Center for Nonviolence and Community Alliance and author of the book Hidden in Plain Sight. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.