This will be one of those fast and ugly posts, just something I need to get out there without craft or thought. It happens sometimes. Perfection cracks and turns to dust you wipe off yourself.
I’ve been a bit wonky lately. Haven’t been able to keep things straight, ordinary actions lost their meaning, and 10 a.m. became a mighty fine time for going to bed. For the day. For the next 20 hours until morning came again. Writing stopped. I kept meaning to call my doctor for an appointment, but that, along with everything else, kept slipping from my mind, another thing left undone as days melted into a shapeless puddle.
I had one good day on the road, heading along a familiar highway, and asking myself what I had planned for myself that day. The answer was “we” were going on a binge, and I’d best shut up and not ask questions. At least it was after 10 a.m. and I wasn’t deep under the blankets of my bed with dogs cuddled up and anchoring me in place.
The binge turned out to be an irrational zolt of coffee (quad venti mocha after a pot of coffee consumed at home) and a screeching turn into a shopping center that held a Books A Million. Without question I let myself buy over $200 in books. It was a smash-n-grab. On my way home I cried because I’d put back Zadie Smith’s NW. I’d spent my money on books written by men, betraying a sister. What was wrong with me?
Nobody and nothing answered my questions, but the binge was enough of a dopamine brain bang to pull me a few inches back into this world with a modicum of awareness.
And just in time for the next day’s events: The shootings at Newtown.
As I watched the news coverage, my cell phone rang. It was a blocked number and I knew it was him. He was letting me know.
I was snapped back into the world, and everything made sense in the midst of chaos we all struggled to understand.
Daniel is my half-brother, and very much like the young shooter in Newton. He does have an assortment of mental illnesses and an I.Q. of 163, but neither of those caused him to spend his adolescence in prison for attempted murder. He was 14 on the day our mother was cleaning the house and humming, and he told her to stop humming because it bothered him. She didn’t, and he snapped, and as our mother was rushed to the hospital, he was subdued by police and taken away.
I always liked my mother’s humming. It was a soft and comforting sound common amongst women of her generation who didn’t have iPods or surround sound or DVDs. It’s possible to come upon a lingering woman of that generation and hear her humming a favorite tune to herself, sending vibrations of their vocal folds out towards others in a soothing, feminine pitch. Stop and listen if you come upon such a woman. She’s humming songs from the Big Band era, the World Wars, and sometimes Elvis Presley. Once that sound is gone, it won’t ever come back.
Daniel grew up to be a slaughterhouse-sized man with quick reflexes. I didn’t know a man that big could move so fast until I said something that made him snap. In an instant too small for me to see, he’d moved from across the room and had my neck pinned across the hard edge of our Danish modern couch and bearing down in an effort to break my neck. My mother was a little roll-poly thing but just as fast as he when it came to protecting her children. Just as the pressure on my neck was about to give, Mother dropped on my body and wrapped her arms around my neck, pulling in the opposite direction of Daniel’s fury.
He didn’t like that much, so he grabbed my hair and pulled me from under our mother’s considerable weight, held me in front of him and slugged me so hard it knocked me off my feet and across the room. His aim was bad, sending me flying towards the front door, which I was able to open and exit at an Olympic-record-breaking speed as I called out for help.
By the time I reached the end of the alley, there were three police cars and two emergency medical vehicles waiting. I rounded the corner and ran into the arms of a policeman who held me as I collapsed. He eased me to the ground and cradled me. My father died when I was two. It was the first time I can remember being held by a man of authority who was on my side for no particular reason, other than protection and caring.
I survived, Daniel moved on, and the years passed with Mother calling from time to time, saying, “Lock the doors. He’s gone off and has a gun this time. Too late to run. Hide.”
As my friend E.L. Farris so beautifully points out on Facebook and her blog, violent acts like this have very little to do with mental illness. In fact, those with mental illness are more likely to be victims than create victims. Daniel has a profound and as-yet unnamed malfunction of the brain, no different from a heart born without valves that function properly. As an infant, I’m told he continually banged his head against the side of the crib. It’s tempting to say this repetitive behavior caused damage to the pre-frontal lobe of his brain, but his violent tendencies were present and accounted for in his father (luckily, not my gene pool). There is no way of knowing what causes people like this to snap, when they’ll snap, or what they’ll do when the wiring breaks down.
People around those like Daniel learn to pray.
Ten years ago, after our mother’s death, Daniel fell off the grid. It was just as irrational and unpredictable as every other action in his life, but this one was welcome.
Several months ago a stranger called me, asking about a piece of property our mother had given Daniel. She bought it then quick claimed the property into his name. All he had to do was file the papers and he owned it free and clear. The last year of my mother’s life she repeatedly asked me if Daniel had done as he was supposed to do, and reluctantly I called him to ask. He assured me everything had been done as needed.
He hadn’t. The stranger calling had gotten my number from public records connected with the property, which was still in our mother’s name with all her contact information connected to me. It seems Daniel abandoned the property when he fell off the grid, and it’s now sitting with thousands of dollars owed in back taxes and a house cracked in two by fallen trees. The stranger was interested in the abandoned vintage cars overgrown with brush and brambles.
Writing is my passion, but there are other things I love equally. I blog about those under another name, and I’m much more competent in those areas than I am in writing. I even know what the hell I’m doing, which made it easy to tell the stranger the property, its ownership, the items on the property were all in limbo and I had no legal, personal, or financial interest in any of it. Don’t call again.
He didn’t, but a friend of his did. He called repeatedly with a lust for that land. No matter how many times I told him I had no control or interest in gaining control of the property, he wouldn’t let it go. He kept digging. And then I heard from neighbors that Daniel had been seen in the area, wearing the same straw cowboy hat he’s been wearing for nearly 20 years, and cruising slowly by the property. I also learned of the unspeakable cruelty he dished out to his wife with advanced MS.
This other man called several times with “news” of the property and his plans for getting it one way or another. Fine. Go for it. He called again, asking my blessing on his actions because he answered to a Higher Power. Great! But stop calling, stop digging, don’t wake up the sleeping beast that is Daniel. Please. Stop. It’s over.
Ten years in the clear.
I sometimes think denial is often mistaken for courage. I did feel courage as triggers of past encounters with Daniel came back during these phone calls, but I wasn’t consciously bothered by it. Ten years gone. Not to worry.
But when the cell phone rang as the official body count in Newton was released, and I knew it was Daniel letting me know he was out there somewhere and had my number, neither courage nor denial were an option.
Clarity was the only hope.
I’d stopped writing because the most pressing WIP centers around a child. Her name is Violet, but I couldn’t spend time with this little girl I’ve grown to love, aged six, without seeing those children in Newtown. I couldn’t continue with my other writing because all the projects were incomplete–Daniel was not in them, yet he was a tremendous part of the stories.
I went from confused to surreal, from sleeping 20 hours in 24 to sleeping hardly at all. That doesn’t sound terrific, but it beat the hell out of the numb fog I’d been fumbling through leading up until Newtown and wondering what was happening to me. Wondering how one woman could be so distracted she set her oven on fire three times in one week. I’d checked out for a bit, but that day and that phone call brought me back.
It was not pleasant. Those children. My God, those children.
Is it true that when the student is ready the teacher appears? Or do we hear what we need to hear when we’re ready to hear it? I don’t know, but as my own panic mingled with the grief of Newtown, I started hearing, really hearing, exchanges between prominent bloggers and writers I admire about fearlessness. Not courage, fearlessness. I favor courage over fearlessness because being without fear seems a bit stupid. Courage in the face of fear sounds more valiant and bursting with strength of character.
But settling down with my own paralyzing fear and listening to the story of Newtown evolve, I realized there is not now, nor will there ever be, an answer to what happened in Newtown or inside Daniel’s destroyed brain.
There is nothing I can do to protect myself. There is nothing I can do to protect my family. There is nothing I can do to heal Daniel. There is nothing I can do that will help me guard the future. I can not participate in a witch hunt for the mentally ill or those with whatever labels the media pins on the Newtown shooter so we can rest easy because the beast is named. I can do nothing to change the dark side of the freedom of ambition we have in this country. I can do nothing to remove the guns used for shredding the bodies of children. At least not today. Not tomorrow or even within the next couple of years. If we do ban those guns, batten down the hatches. There are other more lethal and easily hidden means of evil expressing itself.
There is no circuitry of the brain or corruption of a culture than can explain my very first memory in this life. It was a day of rain and thunder that caught me playing in the yard of our poultry farm. I was a toddler. As I ran for the door of the house, the curtain on the door’s window was pulled aside by Daniel as he locked the door. I remember the sky bearing down on me, ripping with light I did not understand as I felt myself drowning in water thrown at me from every direction, running to every window and door of our house and seeing Daniel standing there and laughing, latching doors, latching windows, and laughing.
That is evil, and it walks this earth.
There is a powerful weapon we can hold up against such evil. It’s called fearlessness.
Fearless is loose and doesn’t give a flying rat’s ass. Fearlessness is unbounded and reactive with resources unknown to the one wrapped in that cloak.
Fearlessness is as blind and devastatingly powerful as evil. It wears none of the trappings of courage to weigh it down.
Fearless is knowing you are vulnerable and there’s nothing you can do about it, there is no cure, and it is knowing there is danger but so what.
Fearless is a naked power with no traceable source of power, it simply is.
Fearless is the safest place to be, without reason, without anything that can be dissected in a lab.
Fearless is opening Final Draft and Scrivener and going to work, knowing Daniel has sent you a silent message, but you don’t care.
Fearless is the sovereignty under which evil cowers.