Friday, February 20, 2015

An Open Letter To Someone I Never Met

Friday, February 20, 2015

This past week was a very eventful one.  I am feeling much better than I was feeling on Monday of this week.  My optimism is growing.

As I mentioned in my writing yesterday I decided to write a letter to the person who once nearly murdered my father.  This event took place more than thirty-two years ago.  But I find myself still unpacking the thoughts and feelings I had and have regarding what this individual did.

I will provide only the most basic details of what happened as a means of providing context.  My father was nearly murdered in June, 1982.  I was an eight year old boy at the time.  I learned some of the details of what happened years after this traumatic incident.  There is much I still do not know.  And I suspect I will never have answers to all the questions that have gone through my mind.  I was a very young man when I learned one important detail: my father was nearly murdered by a teenage boy.  According to my father’s recounting years after the event this boy was involved in some sort of inappropriate relationship with my stepmother of the time.

What follows is my open letter to this individual.  I don’t have any substantial hope that this letter will ever be read by the person who nearly killed my father.  But I am writing this letter more for me than for him.


You may be very surprised to know that something you did over thirty years ago still causes me pain and confusion today.  I find it very painful to write this letter to you.  It’s additionally strange for me because I do not know your name.  In fact I basically know almost nothing about you.  I understand you were a teenage boy in June, 1982.  I also understand you attempted to murder my father by shooting him with a gun as he entered the very house I spent much of my childhood growing up in.  It is very weird for me to write a letter to someone I never met who nonetheless profoundly affected my life.  I want to begin by telling you a bit about myself.

I am a grown man now.  In fact, I have been an adult for about two decades now.  It’s a little sobering for me to still be working through the impact of events that took place over three decades ago.  I could give up and stop being so determined to free myself from the harmful impact of circumstances I could not escape when I was a child.  But I want my personal freedom.  I want a future unencumbered by the past.  As much as is humanely possible I want my future to be much bigger than my past ever has been.  And I believe this is indeed possible.  I wouldn’t be so committed to my own personal growth and healing if I thought such a future was not possible.

Nearly two years ago the trauma of my early life history was ignited by stressful events.  I will spare you the details of those events as they have nothing to do with you.  And yet the dormant, unhealed trauma within my psyche does have something to do with you.  You contributed to it by attempting to kill my father.

I became very sick in the summer of 2013.  I was very fortunate to have health insurance.  This gift provided me the means to climb out of what seemed to be an inescapable abyss.  I began seeing a therapist because my mental health left something to be desired.  Shortly after my initial consultation I received a diagnosis.  I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Throughout much of that summer I felt furious.  I was furious because I had already gone to treatment earlier in my life.  And yet somehow, despite all my past efforts, it became very clear that I would benefit from additional therapy.  In fact, I needed therapy.  Even now it’s painful for me to acknowledge just how much help I needed at the time.  I wasn’t exceedingly responsible in caring for myself earlier in my life history.  This became painfully obvious that summer.

Several months passed before I began to feel better.  At first it seemed all I could and did feel was anger.  I needed more support than I ultimately received from my family of origin.  I would understand later that my anger was a veneer for other feelings.  I carried an immense reservoir of sadness underneath the anger.  I am still swimming through the currents of my sadness now.  But I do feel much better.

I have many mixed feelings about you.  As I said at the beginning of my letter I find it very strange to write to someone I never met in person.  I suppose it’s possible our paths crossed in some way in which we were in the same place at the same time.  Maybe I even saw you with my own eyes.  But I don’t know your name.  And I don’t believe I ever will know your name.  You might be dead now.  I feel as if I am writing to a phantom.  But I am going to keep writing anyway.

I struggle to understand how you could do what you did.  I don’t understand how a teenage boy could attempt to murder an adult man.  But then again maybe there are other details that would help me to make sense of what you did.  But I would have to know these details to be able to do that.  I suppose it’s possible that my father harmed you in some way and was never held accountable for it in a formal, legal way.  I do not trust my father to consistently tell me the truth so I am not inclined to ask him to tell me more details about you. 

I also have wondered about your connection to my former stepmother.  I do not know details about your relationship with her either.  Perhaps she abused you.  Perhaps she made promises to do things for you in return for the “little favor” of helping her to try to murder my father.  Perhaps she manipulated you in such subtle ways that you could not comprehend the nature of what she was doing.  Perhaps you came to understand victimization as love.  Maybe you had a horrible home life and tried to escape it by finding other adults whom you thought would treat you better.  Maybe you were a runaway and were secretly living with one of my stepmother’s friends.  There are so many possible explanations for how you crossed paths with my stepmother and father.  What I do understand is that you shot my father at the behest of my stepmother.  You committed this grave act due to her influence.  But I don’t know what the nature of this influence was.  Perhaps she threatened to harm you if you did not cooperate.  I don’t know.

What happened on that early June night so many years ago hurt so many people.  And by “so many” I mean more than zero people.  That event caused extraordinary damage to my capacity to trust.  I lost my faith in my paternal family of origin, the Catholic Church and the field of law enforcement.  It was a trauma that compounded upon itself repeatedly.  I developed an incredible amount of cynicism, bitterness and suspiciousness as a result of what happened that June night.  And you were somehow a part of it.  But the nature of your involvement eludes me.

Do you know that I have spent my precious time and energy trying to imagine what your life might be like now?  I have wondered if you are still alive.  If you are alive I wonder what your life is like.  So many questions have gone through my mind in this last week.  Do you have a family of your own?  Are you working?  If you are working do you enjoy the work that you do?  Did you ultimately get an education beyond high school?  Are you gay?  Are you straight?  Do you live a law-abiding life now?  Have you ever thought about me?  Do you know I even exist?  Perhaps you never even knew I existed.  Perhaps you thought my stepmother’s two daughters were all the children my father and stepmother had between them.  Do you even know the full consequences of your actions on that single night?  Would you even care to know them if you learned of my existence?  Did your attempt to murder my father mark the beginning of your descent into a life of crime?  Did you try to kill other people?  Did you commit other criminal acts?  If you have committed other criminal acts were you ever held accountable in some way?  If you were held accountable for such acts what was the nature of the response?  Were you imprisoned?  Did you pay a fine?  Are you an angry and violent person now?

I will write it again.  It is very strange for me to write to you.  Perhaps you no longer exist.  Maybe your life is no more real than some of the memories in my own mind.

As I have thought about you I have tried to have empathy for you.  Despite everything I endured and survived I have tried to be a good, law abiding, reliable, kind, compassionate, fun person.  But it has often been difficult.  I have tried to do for you what I try to do for other people each and every day.  I have tried to give you what I call the benefit of the doubt.  Perhaps you had a horrible childhood.  Perhaps nobody was really there for you in a consistent way.  Perhaps love was as foreign a word to you as the words of a truly foreign language.  Perhaps you thought committing an act of murder somehow seemed good to you.  Maybe my former stepmother lied to you in an effort to brainwash you into believing my father was someone who deserved to be murdered.  I can only hypothesize.  Just sitting and writing to you is, in my opinion, an act of kindness and generosity on my part.

Perhaps you were a little boy who didn’t have enough friends to play with.  Maybe you were lonely a lot.  Maybe you were a latch key kid (like I was) who would go home after school and have nothing but your television set to keep you company.  Maybe your home life felt something like a prison.

Having compassion and empathy for others can be exhausting.  But I try to offer this to others anyhow.  I have some compassion for you.  But sometimes I feel you do not deserve it because you tried to murder a grown man.  In fact sometimes I have felt you didn’t deserve to live another day beyond June 3, 1982.  Why should you feel the sun on your face, eat good food, smile and do any of the countless other enjoyable things in life after committing such a heinous act?

Despite what you did and how it affected me I would actually be willing to sit down with you over a coffee and speak with you.  If you are still alive would you want to do that?

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