Thursday, August 18, 2016

My Cousin's Half-Brother Was Murdered

My cousin Ellie's parents divorced before I was born.  Her father was my uncle who got his high school sweetheart pregnant and then dropped out of high school at age sixteen to get married and take a steady union job (the only job he ever had, as far as I know) at the local steel mill like his father before him.  He had a cocaine problem as an adult and ultimately died of a heart attack in his fifties, a few years after the steel mill laid him off.  Her mother was my uncle's high school sweetheart who got pregnant with Ellie at age seventeen.  We all went to the same shitty high school in the same small town where we all grew up, albeit decades apart.

Ellie's mother went on to remarry, and that marriage lasted for the rest of her husband's life.  I didn't know this until recently.  She had another child too -- a son -- several years older than me but a decade younger than Ellie.  I hadn't known this either.  I only know this now because Ellie started posting on Facebook last week that he was missing.  She said he was 40 but, due to a car accident and traumatic brain injury, mentally closer to 12.

His body was found in the woods yesterday; he had been murdered.  I don't know the details, but apparently someone does because the police have already arrested two young men for the crime.  Their photos are in the news.  Their faces look like they were made for punching, and I hope they get everything they deserve.  I hope they are scared.  That's the worst thing I can imagine personally -- being scared and cut off from anyone who might be able to save or comfort me.  It's what I imagine most people would experience while being murdered.  I hope they feel it through a lengthy trial and a multiyear prison sentence.  I hope they can't live with themselves but have to for a really long time.  I've looked them up on Facebook, and they're both very much poor, uneducated white trash, so at least they shouldn't be able to buy their way out.  I don't think the currency of being a white male extends far when your victim is an equally white male.

It was when I was thinking all these thoughts that I realized I did know my cousin had a younger brother.  We went to elementary school together.  I met him once, but I had forgotten.  It was the time my mother and I were watching Ellie's daughter, Wendy, for a few days.  I remembered bringing her to school one morning while my mother was dropping me off.  I remembered being approached by an older boy and girl who inexplicably knew baby Wendy.  My mother told me they were Wendy's uncle and cousin.  When I asked if they were my family too, my mother told me no.  I was confused and disappointed.  I always remembered the cousin's name because it was the same as my own, but it occurred to me today that I remembered the uncle's name too.  I think he had been in fifth grade when I was in kindergarten.  If I could go back in time and watch events unfold, these are the sorts of mundane things I'd want to see again.  I'd want to know what else I missed, who else I met without realizing.  It was an awfully small world I used to live in.

His mother doesn't know yet that he's dead.  She's in the ICU recovering from surgery.  I met her once too when I was younger.  She was really nice.  She worked as a stagehand in the costume department for the US tour of Phantom of the Opera, and she showed me around backstage as a favor to my mother, even though we weren't technically family anymore.  I hope she's okay.  Ellie is having a hell of a time.

I don't understand murdering people.  I understand the allure of committing violence -- I've been made powerless too many times not to want to do it to someone in return -- but if your life is going badly and you feel worthless, I expect you either to learn to cope or simply to internalize it as a quiet shame like the rest of us.  You don't get to kill someone just because you feel bad.  And reading these murderers' Facebook pages, one of them appears pathetic and self-pitying to the point that -- had he not been a violent criminal -- I would have simply felt sorry for him.  He battles his weight, he doesn't have many friends, and his own father doesn't seem to care much for him.  The more I learn about someone, the more I tend to relate to them and the less I can be angry, but this piece of garbage person also killed someone who could not defend himself and whose family now has to live with the fallout.  He should kill himself.  If he were to kill himself, my only regret would be that he didn't do it before murdering someone who actually had friends and family who loved him.  (I kind of want to write that to him in a letter.)  The other murderer just sounds like a really stupid sociopath who is bad at not getting caught.  I understand feeling violent and wanting to hurt someone else.  It's what I feel about these murderers, for instance.  It's what I've felt when people have physically hurt or restrained me and made me feel powerless.  It's a horrible feeling.  I get it, and it doesn't ever go away completely.  And I have zero empathy for the people who act out their violence on others.  There are too many other options for that one ever to be acceptable.  Violence is the act of a despicable coward who cannot sit with his own feelings.

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