“Matt,” he said, walking to the door, where he looked out the window for a couple seconds, nodded to someone, and then turned back to face me, “can we talk now?” He leaned against the doorjamb, eased his hands into his pockets, and then stood there with his legs crossed at the ankles, waiting for me to respond.
“Sure, Reverend,” I responded, still reclining against the yellowed, brick wall. Crossing my arms, I looked over to the nightstand where I noticed that he had placed the book face-down on the nightstand. Leaning over to right it, I continued, “Yeah, we can talk now,” I said, after clearing my throat. “Where’d you like to start?”
Without even pausing to think, he said, “Why don’t we start with why ya shot that man.”
“I thought you came here to talk about God?” I tossed back.
“Well, I did, but I tried that already and it didn’t work out too well,” he said, shifting onto his other foot, looking past me at the wall, “so this time, I wanna start with why you shot the guy…and then maybe we’ll try to bring God into it again.”
“Ok,” I started, “Why did I shoot him? Because he needed to be shot, that’s why. He was a murderer and he deserved it. And besides…I just snapped…remember? The witnesses and the newspapers and the shrinks all agreed that I just snapped. So, I must have ‘just snapped.’” I smiled at him, fixing his blue-gray eyes until he slid them from mine and sought the inanimate comfort of the nightstand and the red chair.
“I don’t believe ya,” he said, while he walked over to his seat, drew it a foot closer to the wall behind him, and then sat down. Adjusting his shirt, and then his belt, he leaned closer to me and said, almost in a whisper, “I just don’t believe ya, that’s all.”
“And that’s your prerogative,” I snapped, sitting upright again, quickly, “You don’t have to believe me.”
“The way you’ve been talkin’ here makes me wonder if ya really ‘just snapped.’ You’re mad and ragin’ one minute, sad and almost cryin’ the next minute, and then mad again…I wonder if ya didn’t do it on purpose. Anyway… will ya tell me how ya knew him…yes, or no?”
“I don’t know if I should,” I said, as I got up and walked to the door. “You’re certified as a counselor by the state, aren’t you? I mean, in order to be employed by the department as a counselor, you’ve got to be certified, right?” Looking out the window, I saw the deputy in the control room and hoped that he’d be coming to the door to tell the Reverend that he needed to leave soon.
“Well, yeah,” he said, leaning back in the chair. “I have something called a CPC certification with the state that says I’m a professional counselor.”
“In addition to being a minister, or a reverend,” I said to the window, “right?”
“So everything we talk about stays right here… and you can’t talk about it with anyone else, right?” I turned to face him and fixed his eyes again.
“Right,” he almost stammered, “Why do ya ask?”
“Because I need to talk about it…I need to be able to purge what’s inside…unburden my soul…let it all out…right?” I said, smiling at him, “Isn’t that what you said?”
“Well, fine then…I’ll talk with you…and it doesn’t go anywhere.”
I walked the few steps back to the bunk, kicked-off the pink flip-flops, slid up next to the wall and crossed my legs Indian-style. I folded my hands and leaned forward to place my forearms on my knees, and staring straight into his eyes again, I started to talk. “Alright…I knew the guy from a call I went out on last March. It was a domestic violence call and things were pretty messed-up in the house when we got there. The place looked like shit, garbage everywhere – holes in the walls, the light fixtures had been ripped from the living room ceiling, and the bedroom doors had been torn from their hinges. Crappy diapers and dirty dishes were laying everywhere. The guy had been beating his girlfriend and throwing the kids around…three kids in the house and none of them were his. This fucker was about five-eleven and weighed close to one-seventy-five…not really big, but wiry and strong in a dangerous kinda way. He’d been gone for three days doing meth and came home to get some money from the girlfriend and she was givin’ him shit for being gone so long. Like I said, the kids weren’t his and they were yelling and screaming…scared of him…you know? He’s pissed-off and starts destroying the place. The neighbors said he was yelling that ‘the fuckin’ kids are always screaming and can’t she make them shut up’…an’ it never seems to end with them. Anyway, we got there and tried to calm everyone down…my partner took the guy outside and one of the other officers took the girlfriend and a couple of the kids into the family-room and tried to get the girlfriend’s side of the story. I was sitting in the living-room with the youngest one watching Tele-tubbies and Barnie videos…the baby was about eighteen-months-old…didn’t deserve to live in shit like that….”
“So, it upsetcha….”
“Yeah, it upset me,” I said, as I stared at the yellowed bricks behind the Reverend’s head, “…but it was ok…things would be alright there. We’d take the guy away and maybe things would turn out ok…it didn’t usually happen that way…but maybe this time it would.”
“Why this time?” the old man said, leaning his head sideways, trying to connect with my eyes.
“Because maybe it was due. Maybe it was over-due,” I said, scooting off the bunk and standing-up again. “It can’t be shitty all the time, so maybe this time it would turn-out alright.” I walked to the door and looked out the window again. “Maybe your God would see fit to have the girlfriend press charges this time and we’d be able to lock the guy up and she and the kids would be safe.”
“And…?” he asked, looking down at the ring he was spinning around his finger again.
“She just wanted him to leave the house…first she was mad that he wasn’t there and then she just wanted him to leave…for the night. So we took him to a friend’s house, didn’t make a report, didn’t file any charges…just took him away,” I said, still looking out the window.
Looking at the back of my head, the minister asked, “And whadya think about that?”
“I figured we’d be back again anyway, in spite of what I hoped…” I said, turning around, but looking past him, “I thought…”
“I thought it was going to be the same as it always is…this shit never ends…it’s all fucked-up,” I whispered, “…and we’ll be back.”
“And were ya?” he asked, looking for my eyes again.
“Oh yeah…about a week later…” I stared at him, “this time he was hitting the kids…and literally throwing the little one across the room. Said it would never shut-up…always crying…following the girlfriend around the house crying…and it just wouldn’t stop. We took him to the station this time and booked him for child abuse…but since the kid’s injuries weren’t life threatening, the bond wasn’t set very high and he managed to make bail within a couple days. And then we were called out there again….
“Ya don’t have to go on if ya don’t want to,” the older man said, getting up and standing next to the nightstand.
“Right,” I glared, “…and it was Sunday. I was off-duty and doing a five-oh-eight detail for the church around the corner from their house….”
“A five-oh-eight detail?”
“Yeah, you know, traffic control,” I snapped, “…anyway, I’m waiting for church to let out and my radio goes off with the hot-tone and dispatch says there’s a drowning at an address right around the corner…yeah,” I said, staring at the space between the old man’s eyes, “…at their house. I’m the first one there and no-one else knows CPR…so I start it…on this same eighteen-month-old baby that I was watching Tele-Tubbies with a couple weeks earlier…doing fuckin’ CPR on him….”
“And where was the mom and her boyfriend?”
“Mom was there freakin’ out, almost fell into the pool herself, and the boyfriend was standing in the background with a beer in his hand trying to look all sad and shit. He would watch me and then look toward the back of the yard. I glanced up at him a couple times, standing there in his thin, worn-out t-shirt that had yellow rings under the arms, wearing tight, faded blue- jeans that had holes in the knees and were frayed at the bottom, holding his goddamned beer, tapping the side of the can with his middle finger as I was hunched over this baby trying to make him breathe…I hated the guy…I FUCKING HATED HIM!,” I yelled. “I blew two times into the baby’s mouth…and then did five chest compressions…and two breaths…and five compressions…and Fire got there pretty soon and I was able to stop…and I was hating that mother-fucker with every ounce of my being…and crying…and clenching my fists…and wanting with all my soul to shoot that fucker in the face for killing the baby…and hating YOUR God in his FUCKING heaven for being a lousy, piece-of-shit protector for this baby…where was the baby’s goddamned guardian angel? They said nobody had been in the back yard for months…the guy wandered out there to look at how green the pool was and the baby must have followed him out there…RIGHT! The baby is going to follow him out into the back yard…and the plastic toys in the pool? ‘Oh, they were left there from the summer.’ “BULL-FUCKING-SHIT!” I screamed, “…there were no algae marks on them from where they had been floating there for months…they weren’t faded and cracked from the fucking sun, and there were fucking beer cans all alongside the pool…with beer in them…the same kind that mother-fucker was holding as he stood there watching me do CPR on the baby….”
“Matt,” the old man said, trying to soothe me, “…God is in control of everything….” Walking over to me, reaching out a tentative hand, he said, “He isn’t going to allow…”
“You are SO full of shit!” I said, turning away, “God isn’t in control of a FUCKING thing! Are you blind…are you fucking stupid…are you even listening to anything I’ve been saying to you!!?? Shut the fuck up and get out of here!”
“But, Matt…,” he said, pleading, “Matt…please….”
“Get the FUCK out of here and take your FREAKING God with you!
“So, you didn’t just snap…you meant to kill him all along…Matt…?”
I turned around, walked over to him and got right into his face, “You’re goddamned right!” I whispered. “I meant to do it! I wanted to scream with joy as the bullets tore through his chest! ‘There, mother-fucker,” I still whispered, “how do you like that?!’”
“But…but, the Bible tells us in Romans that…‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord’…”
“Yeah…well God is DEAD…so vengeance is MINE!”
I returned to my bunk, sliding my pink flip-flops across the black- speckled, white, linoleum floor and sat down to the accompaniment of the complaining bedsprings. I leaned against the wall and folded my arms, pausing mentally to process his words and formulate my response. There would have been a certain pleasure in unleashing my rabid thoughts like a crazed hound and letting them bite the old guy…hoping that they would infect him with my disillusion and disgust for the God that he apparently loved.
Still leaning, almost haughtily, against the yellowed wall, I responded, “You know something, Reverend…I don’t think you and I know each other well enough for you to broach the subject of God in the context of my life and the situation that I’m in…it just doesn’t seem right…I mean…in this regard, you don’t even know me, and it’s presumptuous of you to assume that we’re on the same page where God is concerned….” I paused again to let the words hang there like loosed dog-hair in a faltering breeze.
Thinking this was an opening, he started, “But I thought….”
I wasn’t ready for what he thought, and this was one topic that I didn’t need to discuss with someone who was nearly a stranger to me…angry at everything, I didn’t want to listen…it was still my turn…the acid thoughts that I had been brewing for the last several months still needed airing…I didn’t have any patience…so I interrupted…after looking up at the mismatched fluorescent light tubes in the ceiling, I leaned over and grabbed my ankles, trying to hold-on to myself, trying to keep my confined, yet racing mind under control; and then, with my chest pressing against my legs and my hands, white-knuckled, squeezing my ankles, I elbowed my way into his words…it was unexpected…I was embarrassed and scared of myself, but I couldn’t stop…red faced and with my pulse pounding in my temples, I nearly growled, “What if I told you that GOD had commanded me to kill that man…that mother-fucker…what would you think about that?” Staring at the black speck in the floor that was directly in front of his left shoe, I rushed on…“Or what would you think if I told you that your God is DEAD and that’s evident by how fucked-up the world is…what would you say THEN?!” I yelled… “WHAT WOULD YOU FUCKING SAY THEN?!” The words echoed, and bounced, and ripped through the air, thrashing the currents of rage and inconsideration and pretence and posturing and falsehood and all the other evil and imagined shadows and ghosts that plundered and dashed in the black silence between us. The taste of algal mold flashed in my mind as my aching jaw and lips pressed together, restraining my urgent, pulsing tongue…baby flesh coated in verdant bubbles and slime and his diaper soggy with green water that was running across the dirty pool-deck…making little rivers of thickly flowing mud that redirected themselves around beer cans and the dirty tennis-shoes of the man standing there…. “Yeah,” I growled through clamped teeth, “you thought we had talked before so I must be ok with God and all of that, right? Well…I’m not.” My raging, fiery-brown, tear-filled eyes slung themselves back up at him, daring him to respond…I whispered, “So, do you really want to talk, Reverend?”
His huge eyes were staring at me and I could see the delicate tip of his fat, pink tongue running back and forth across the edges of his top and then bottom teeth. The light glistened on his scalp through his thinning hair and I noticed again the bulge that hung over his belt. The minister had his hands resting in his lap and the middle finger and thumb of his right hand absently spun the gold ring that was on his left hand. He swallowed hard and licked the thick cotton from the corners of his mouth and looked around the room like he had forgotten where he’d put the iced-tea that he didn’t have but desperately wanted at that moment. He cleared his dry throat and hesitantly began, “But…but you’ve got to think about God…” he said unsteadily, “you’ve killed a man…and…things aren’t going to be the same…never again.” His bewildered eyes sought the remote ends of the ceiling, and then the bedpost, and then the wall behind me, and finally, reached nervously over to my own eyes. The man swallowed again, then licked the corners of his mouth again, with his eyes still timidly on mine…waiting….
“You’re right, Reverend,” I leaned forward again, “they aren’t ever going to be the same. So what?” I snapped, “We’ll all go on living. You’ll live your life and I’ll live mine. I’ll deal with whatever comes my way and you’ll deal with whatever comes your way.”
“But what about your soul?” His words stumbled as he swallowed thickly, still spinning the ring on his left hand, “What about your eternity?” he asked urgently. “Aren’t you concerned with that?” Now I was looking around the room like I’d lost something. I know I had thrown the words out there…they were still echoing in my own ears.
Exasperated, I said, “Haven’t you been listening to me?” I looked sideways, eyes wide with searching, first one way and then the other, like the words might have landed somewhere on the floor, or maybe on the bed or nightstand, and I could pick them up and throw them at him again. “Haven’t you heard a word I’ve said? LISTEN! I don’t believe in your God, therefore, there’s no SOUL to consider and my ETERNITY is going to consist of rotting in the ground…you know…worm food, just like YOU!”
Again the silence became tangible in the cell. The minister sat there on his red chair, looking at me and then looking away. His eyes sought the corners of the ceiling again, as though they could provide him some sort of comfort…or maybe he was looking up there to find reassurance from his God, I don’t know…but after several long moments, when I thought he was going to excuse himself, possibly offering to return at some later date, he stood and walked the two steps over to the night-stand and picked up one of the books.
“You know anything about Cormack McCarthy?” he asked, looking sideways at me. Not waiting for a response, he continued…looking at the back of the book, “Mostly western stuff, huh? You like his work?”
“I do like his work,” I said, leaning back into the wall, trying to decompress a little, “and, no, it’s not all ‘western stuff.’ His stories are beautiful written, and violent, and real to life, yet they help me disengage from my own life for a while, that’s all.”
Turning to me again, he offered, “And become involved with what’s rotten in someone else’s life, huh?”
A little smile touched his mouth and I wondered for an instant if he had been putting on an act earlier…there was a little too much intelligence in his eye as it caught mine in that smile’s moment.
I leaned forward to rub my eyes, not wanting to start-up with him again. “Yeah, you could say that,” I answered into my hands, “I can become involved with what’s rotten in someone else’s life without actually becoming involved. It’s safer that way” I mumbled, while pressing the heels of my hands into my eyes.
Replacing the book on the night-stand, he turned to me, “What’d ya say? ‘Bout bein’ safer?”
I removed my hands from my face and said, “It’s safer that way…becoming involved in someone’s life without actually becoming involved. Stars swirled in my eyes as I turned to look at the man. The department insignia on his shirt was dancing with the stars in my brain and I had to close my eyes to answer him. “You can care about what happens and know that you don’t have to do anything about it because it’s just a story. It’s from inside someone’s imagination. Yeah, I can read about their shitty life and then put the book down and they go away. It’s that easy,” I said, almost choking, wiping my blurring, tear-filled eyes, “…it’s that safe…inside the book.”
To be continued….
The cold eyes of the courtroom cameras didn’t blink or flinch in alarm as I un-holstered my department-issued sidearm, rose from my seat and emptied the magazine into the chest of the man on the witness stand. The spectators and court officials, silently watching in absolute confusion and disbelief, sprang from their seats and respective positions and either ran from the room, hit the floor looking for cover, or did what their official duties required of them. Two of the sheriff’s deputies tackled me from behind as I stood there like the crucified Christ with my arms outstretched and my head thrown back looking into a heaven that I no longer believed in. My knees were jammed into the floor as I felt the deputy’s shoulder crash into the small of my back. My head slammed into a dark, wooden bench and stars burst into my eyes like nighttime sparklers on the Fourth of July. The gun that had been dangling from my right hand had fallen to the carpeted floor and lay there, spent and empty and trembling in my eyes as if it were the violent beast itself who had executed this tragedy. “It’s Code 4!” I yelled into the carpet. Blood and lint and dust found my tongue as I yelled again “It’s Code 4!” The burning and peeling of scraped-off skin from my cheek was numbed by the pressure the other deputy applied to my back as he drove his knee into my spine and pushed my head into the floor as his partner pulled my arms behind my back and grabbed my own hand-cuffs from the black leather pouch attached to my utility belt and secured my trembling hands…. “It’s Code 4,” I whispered to the floor, “It’s Code 4….”
No doubt you’ve heard reports or watched the news and seen stories about people who have just snapped and gone ballistic on someone. It is usually a complete surprise, otherwise the person wouldn’t have been said to have ‘snapped.’ The people around me that day might have believed that I snapped. If there had been someone privy to my thoughts for the past several months, they would have seen this as completely premeditated, calculated, and intentional. But there were no such people. There was no other person who knew what had been mulling over in my mind since March of last year. They were thoughts that I tried to hide even from myself. I was embarrassed when I looked in the mirror. It was difficult to meet my own eye. Other times, I just ignored the storm that was brewing inside and tried to conduct myself as normally as possible. I caught my wife looking at me a few times with an almost puzzled look on her face. She said that I looked like I was somewhere else and the looks on my face kept changing, contorting as I had whatever imaginary conversation with myself. I would quickly smile and ask her what was wrong and she would give some bland answer like, “I thought you said something,” or “Are you alright?” This only happened a few times in these months, so I think the recent events probably caught her off guard too.
I’ve seen three psychologists and a couple psychiatrists since the shooting. It was kind of bland psycho-talk, asking questions about my childhood, my parents, the job, my marriage, and the relationship I have with my kids, etc. They concluded, somehow, that I must have broken-down from the pressure of the job and the disparity of life…and on and on. The last psychologist said that a condition of temporary insanity was definitely a strong defense…again – he went on and on.
And, of course, there was the department chaplain. Reverend Ron, as everyone called him, came to see me and offer his counsel, words of wisdom, prayers, understanding…or whatever. He and I had talked in the past so he must have thought we had some commonality of thought or experience and that I would enjoy talking with him, or be able to derive some kind of peace from the words and testimony that he would share with me. He came to see me after I’d been in jail for about a week…had to see me in my cell because they didn’t want to let me out of PC, or Protective Custody; an officer who was now a prisoner wasn’t safe among the general population.
Reverend Ron had entered my cell with a less-than-confident look on his face; it was almost sheepish, somehow. The dark blue polo-shirt with the Department emblem over his heart was stretched tight across his over-sized belly and he had to adjust his belt as he sighed and sat across from me on one of the red plastic chairs that had been brought in from the control room. I had stood as he entered and greeted me, and then sat again on the metal-framed bunk that was bolted to the wall on the far side of my cell. There were a few awkward seconds in which we both looked at our surroundings and wondered if we could each feel more uncomfortable in the others’ presence.
“Ya doin’ ok in here, Matt…are they treatin’ ya alright?”
“Yeah, I’m doing alright, Reverend, and aside from the occasional green bologna, I don’t think the food is any worse than I was used to eating before I came in here.” After a brief chuckle, I added, “It could definitely be worse, though…I mean…I could have a big, hairy cell-mate who thought I was cute, or something, heh, heh, heh….”
The older man just smiled, and looking at my crisply made bed and the gray, metal nightstand, he said, “Ya got anything good to read in here?”
“Got a couple magazines, some Cormack McCarthy, Tim O’Brien…and a Bible…of course.”
“Ya doin’ any reading in that Bible?” he asked me, with hope, raising his shaggy eyebrows.
Shifting a little on the bunk, I responded, “No…not much…can’t seem to get into it lately. Somehow the material doesn’t go with my environment, if you know what I mean.”
“Yeah, I understand. Your mind’s kinda boggled-up with everything that’s goin’ on?”
“Yeah…kinda boggled-up,” I mimicked, smiling at his country tone.
“Well, that’s kinda what I come up here to talk with ya about, Matt. Thought ya might want to just open-up…ya know…kinda like purgin’ yourself of what’s inside. Ya know what I mean?”
“Oh…I don’t know, Reverend. I don’t know that I should be talking with anybody about what’s goin’-on inside my mind. I already talked to the psychologists and psychiatrists…they came to see me within the first couple days…said things would probably be rather unsettled for a while…you know…adjusting to my situation and the new surroundings.”
Reverend Ron sat there, nodding his large head…looking at one side of the cell, and then the other, finally looking at me again, “Yeah, I figured they’d a been here already, that’s kinda why I waited as long as I did to come and see ya.” Leaning forward now, the older man effected a genuine look of compassion and said, “And how are ya really doin,’ Matt? How are ya doin’ way deep inside…ya know what I mean…way down in that quiet, private place that we don’t often go?”
I stood and turned away from the man, faced the glossy, yellow-white of the brick wall and responded, “I’m doin’ just shitty, if you really want to know.”
The older man sighed and adjusted his belt. “Oh…I imagine ya are…and have ya talked to God at all while you’ve been in here?” I turned to meet his beckoning eyes, and with a quizzical, sardonic lilt to my voice, I said, “Have I talked with God?” Piercing his eyes now… “Yeah, I talked to God…but…” pausing, wondering for a moment if I should embark on this endless train ride… “but I don’t know what the hell good it would do. He’s not going to answer me….”
And now, near angrily, I said, “Because I’ve tried talking with Him before and He didn’t have anything to say back to me…that’s why.”
The guy leaned forward and, donning his practiced, sympathetic air, he countered, “I know it’s probably hard to see through any of this right now…probably hard to hear Him talkin’ with ya…but He’s there… just waitin’ for ya.” He leaned back again and gave me his yearning, thoughtful attention; now it was him, and not his God ‘just waitin’ for me.
To be continued….