Crossing a bridge

(Tonight’s writing juice: Tanqueray and tonic. Ironically, and hilariously, it is resting on a brochure a friend snagged  as a joke for me from the most obnoxious church in Indiana. I wrote about a teenage encounter with them here.)

For the past six months, a pistol-grip Mossberg 500A shotgun (loaded) named Abigail has stood next to my bed, right by where I put my head.

I wish I could tell you it isn’t necessary. But I guess it is.  To tell this story, I have to be kind of careful because this is one of those awkward moments where the professional and personal intertwine a bit uncomfortably. And it makes it all the more ridiculous, this notion of objectivity from my higher-ups who have never had such bedroom decorations. Ah, this is my life.

There’s this guy, an actual bad guy. He went to prison in the late 80’s for a vicious, completely random, rape and attempted murder of some poor woman who crossed his path. He did every single minute of his sentence, which NEVER happens in the state of Indiana, because he was so horrible in prison. And even after all that, his sentence was overturned because of a 21-year-old judicial miscue. So he was released, with just a suspended sentence left to serve on probation.

In all the hearings he had before one of my judges, this guy creeped me out like no other human being ever has (and I have seen a lot of strange and dangerous souls). One particular moment stands out. It was late summer, hot, and I was wearing a skirt to work. He sat at the defense table, shackled, hands on the table. I came in the back door and he proceeded to leer at me like I have never been leered at before. If I had been naked on Main Street, it wouldn’t have been any less uncomfortable.  He moved his hands to his lap. And a deputy moved between him and me, breaking his awful gaze.  It made the hair on my neck stand up and I knew immediately how a rabbit feels when watched by a hawk.

Over the months, he had more hearings and I tried particularly hard not to attract too much attention. The county prosecutor, who handled his case back in the day, suggested that I should take this one particularly seriously if he got out.

Well, he did get out, about a week or so before Christmas. As I left church one night after a vesperal Liturgy, I saw two or three messages on my work phone. One was my friend/boss telling me to call her. The other was my boss/boss telling me to call him. I called him and he told me not to panic, but the rapist showed up at the newspaper and tried to get in the building.

I got home and called my boyfriend, a cop in another jurisdiction. He told me to secure the fortress, which resulted in an absolutely riotous story I’ll have to tell you about at another time. I called a city cop for some assistance. He too told me I sure as hell better take it seriously and arranged for an extra sweep or two by my house.

Long story a tad shorter, the rapist ended up at the newsroom the next day where he was arrested. But because of the nature of the sentence he had, he was released again a few days later. However before that happened, my man showed up at my house with Abigail and about seven shells in his hand. We practiced loading it and unloading it, putting the safety on and off. He promised to take me shooting in a few days time, but until that happened just point it in the general direction, take the safety off and shoot whatever it was all to hell.

But, he said, do NOT pull it out unless you absolutely believe in your heart you can pull that trigger. If you can’t pull that trigger, well, leave it by the bed as a conversation piece.  You better know you’re going to cross that bridge before you get to it, he said. And that is not a decision that is easy to make, he said, but you better make it before you load it. There is a big hairy difference between shooting at the range and shooting in your bedroom.

I came to that conclusion about a week later (the guy was in jail for a few days, so I thankfully had some time). And I was absolutely sick to my stomach about it.

In Orthodoxy, if you take a life, there are consequences. You remove yourself from partaking of the sacraments for a time. You spend a lot of time with your priest. And that’s if it’s justified. That played in my head when I thought about what I might have to do. The reasoning behind this is because our actions have consequences, not punitive, but these situations are so serious, they require some spiritual recovery and review. I like that about my church.

There was really no question in this situation. If he came here, I would have to kill him. Crazy, isn’t it. It’s weird to even type that.  Here’s me, a person, and him, a person.  I had someone make an actual attempt on my life once. That’s a story for another blog.  And I’m not unsympathetic, as a journalist or personally, to the problems that have plagued this man’s mind for his entire life.

But I know that while I am sympathetic, whatever is broken in him is so broken that he cannot seem to live among us. He cannot interact with his fellow humans as fellow humans, only as prey, something to be used or destroyed.  That makes me sad.

It makes me sad that we live in this place where people like that exist, where the choices made by us and others, or some strange genetic anomaly, make life with him impossible.

So sometimes, when I reach for my alarm clock and my arm brushes against the cold steel of that shotgun’s barrel, leaning on my nightstand which houses the iPod, the cell phone and books, I think about this. This –this choice to be ready to kill, the need to defend against our fellow humans, the need to keep the community safe, to build cages to house people, to pay men and women to carry guns to make that choice on our behalf — this is part of that “knowledge of good and evil.”

My life is altered because of just the presence of the possibility of what he could do. I am a different person than I was before he showed up at my work, twice. I am a different girl, one who sleeps with a loaded shotgun by her bed and knows how to use it, and is prepared to use it.

There are other things, of course, that have altered me and us and all that is. But this is what I was thinking about tonight. He’s got a hearing coming up. He could be out again. I’m not terribly worried, really, I’m not. It just makes me sad.


Author: Rebecca

Orthodox Christian. Journalist. SAR K9 handler. All three of those are deeply related.

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