Friday, July 27, 2012

3 little birds

I learned a new word yesterday:  filicide.  this is the act of a parent killing her child purposely.  there are apparently several possible reasons for someone to do this, from listening to the voice of god explaining that the child will be better off to a sense that the child himself is evil to an intent to have revenge on a spouse through the murder.

it's been 3 weeks since a local father here on the rim killed his 3 daughters and called his exwife, saying, "you can come home.  I've killed the kids," and we still aren't entirely sure why he did it.  beyond that cryptic telephone call he has remained steadfastly quiet on his reasons and his trial has only begun.  (I choose not to identify him, his children, or their mother; while their story is frontpage news here it's mercifully absent from most other news, and I'd like to continue that silence as much as possible, although it seems to say something unkind to me that such news happening anywhere shouldn't be frontpage everywhere.  perhaps in an age of susan smith and andrea yates we have become inured to the horror of such an action.) 

we do know this much:  the father, who has lived for a while in another state, came back to the area after having lost his job, made arrangements with his exwife to spend time alone with the 3 girls aged 11, 8, and 5 at their mother's house, and sometime between the children's babysitter leaving at 1:30 and 3:30 he slit their throats, strangling the youngest 1st, apparently because she woke and began to fight back.  then he called their mother and left the house, turning himself in without incident the next day at the local police station. 

one week ago another set of killings took place.  this one I'll identify by name as it has, through its oddity, broached yet again the questions about why automatic weapons are so easy to obtain in america.  on july 20 24 year old denver grad school student james holmes, dressed in ballistics gear, including bulletproof armor and a gasmask, and carrying a rifle and handgun, entered a theater in aurora, colorado, hosting a midnight opening of the newest batman movie, flung a gas canister and began firing indiscriminately into the crowded audience.  within minutes, a dozen people were dead or dying and another 50 were wounded.  holmes escaped but was arrested in the parking lot less than a halfhour later.  his youngest victim was 6 years old. 

this situation has become a a touchstone for people on both sides of the debate about gun control; amazingly, some argue that had audience members been armed--colorado is a conceal/carry state--they would have made short work of the threat, ignoring holmes' bulletproof armor, the darkness of the theater, the smoke of the grenade, and the chaos of the situation.  (even more incredibly, I'm aware of at least 1 person on facebook--a friend of a friend--who has argued that, had the mother in the local story above, had a weapon in her home, the 5 year old might have survived by shooting her father, as if a child woken by the sounds of her father killing her sisters and coming for her can easily shrug off her fear and waste the old man.  this is proof of the fantasy life many of the people for whom the answer to public shootings is more public weapons indulge in.)

finally, most recently, an acquaintance of mine, lee, a good friend of a good friend, shot himself this week and died yesterday.  while the other 2 incidents were horrible this hit me hardest.  it isn't the proximity or that I know him.  I've known many people who've died, of course--it seems sometimes I know almost no one except people who've died--and several who have committed suicide, but lee's suicide leaves my head spinning.  I won't publish his last name because I think he deserves that much privacy, but I suspect this will be the only public acknowledgement of his life and I want it to count.  lee was, not to put too fine a point on it, pretty fucked up by most criteria any of us would apply:  he was a drunk and an abuser of drugs, a manipulater of other people, a person to whom life happened rather than someone who tried to make something of his life.  for the past several years, he took advantage of a friend's property north of here to stay there rent-free, despite the building on the property having no electricity or running water.

but despite his many faults lee was not a bad man.  he probably committed any number of petty sins like most of the people I know have but so far as I'm aware lee never intentionally hurt anyone except himself.  if I had seen him more often we would have been friends.  when my friend, the owner of that building and property, came to visit us sometimes he and I would pick up a 6-pack and head up north to spend some time with lee and with my friend's brother, who lived about a mile further down the road than the property and who saw lee on a semi-regular basis.  lee was always sociable, in a friendly mood, and appreciated the beer and the company.  he'd joke and tell us what he'd been doing and how he was getting on.  he was a nice guy and I never heard him complain about what his life had become although he certainly had cause to (not all of it his own fault).  my friend on occasion told lee he had to leave the property, get on with his life, find his own way, but he always let him come back.  so far as I know, because we can't talk about it yet, lee killed himself on my friend's property. 

when I was thinking about the writing of this post the 3 little birds I mention in the title referred to the 3 little girls killed by their father.  but in the actual writing they have morphed into the 3 people who killed:  the father, james holmes, and lee.  like little birds their mental states were so frail they couldn't stand up to whatever it was that buffeted them, and instead of finding sanctuary on bob marley's doorstep and singing sweet songs of pure and true melodies, they released their craziness--because the actions of all 3 involve some sincere forms of crazy most of us can't even imagine--on the people nearest them:  for the father, on his daughters; for james holmes, on strangers; for lee, on himself.  and while the message we might be tempted to take away from these situations is "don't worry," because these situations are so removed from most of our experiences they can't ever touch us, the message we should take from them is we should worry, not for what people like these will do to us but for what we might be able to do for them and we simply aren't aware they're in need of it.

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