It has been an extremely interesting week, one of highs and lows. I had a wonderful professional and personal high that is still playing itself out, a circumstance where I was able to help a kind and decent person at a time when they needed it. You can read about that elsewhere http://www.dispatch.com/live/content/life/stories/2011/02/04/you-and-me-writer-identified.html?sid=101 if you wish. But let’s talk about the “low” here, at length. I have sometimes forgotten in the course of my postings that this blog is called The Kill Zone, so I will get back on track here and now.

I read crime fiction because I am fascinated with the battle between good and evil. I know that the lines are often blurred, but not necessarily to the extent that they are indistinguishable. Yet every bad guy, if you will, represents a failure on some level, perhaps unavoidable, perhaps otherwise, but a failure and a tragedy still. We all know a number of folks who for one reason or another — or for perhaps no discernable reason at all — fall off of the rails.

My younger son, who is now in his late 20s, had a childhood friend who I will call “Todd” for purposes of this discussion. Todd, when he was attending grade school with my son, gave little indication that he would have troubles later in life. He was raised in an intact family with loving parents, and if he occasionally experienced some impulse control problems, they never reached the stage that would portend the disaster his adult life has become. My son and Todd lost touch when we moved to a different school district in the area, even though I kept in contact with Todd’s parents as they intermittently relayed tales of what was turning into a slow-motion train wreck. Todd was barely into his teens when he was arrested for shoplifting. Other troubles followed. He began to have trouble with drug use; his folks placed him a tough rehab program which, to all outward appearances, he successfully completed. They took him to South Carolina over a Christmas weekend to celebrate his success. They had been there for two days when Todd‘s father called me, almost hysterical. Todd had gone out with some friends to walk the beach and within a half-hour had been arrested for armed robbery. Charged as an adult, he spent six months in a jail awaiting trial. By the time Todd finally returned home, his course seemed to be set. Trouble seemed to dip and swirl around him. When Todd’s father died of cancer, Todd could not attend the funeral because he was sitting in an Ohio prison, having been convicted of yet another offense. His mother, a sweet and kind person who devoted her life to her son and husband, had the appearance and demeanor of someone who had been shell-shocked. Just so.

Todd was in the news again this week. The area had been plagued by a period of gas station robberies and Todd was charged as the alleged perpetrator. In his booking photo, wearing a dirty wife beater and a scripted tattoo across his left arm and chest, he bears but a faint resemblance to the little boy who with my younger son played with Transformers and shared respective bedrooms like brothers. In the picture it is Todd who looks shell-shocked this time, vaguely dazed, perhaps by the state of his life at this point, perhaps wondering how and why he wound up on the downhill road he is on. Or perhaps I am projecting my own questions, wondering why him, and not my own son, since they were so alike in so many ways. The chill I have felt since seeing his picture, however, has nothing to do with the weather. And I doubt that there is a book that I could read that would conclusively answer my questions.

7 thoughts on “Why?

  1. It is sad, yes, but the fact is that we are all morally deficient. Some of us hide it better than others. Without Jesus Christ, there is no hope for any of us.

  2. One good book I’ve read is “Augusta, Gone,” a true story of a parent trying to salvage a wayward child. It didn’t have a fairy-tale ending–it seemed very realistic.

  3. Joe,
    My middle son had a dead-eyed friend we used to call, Eddie Haskel because he looked like an angel and always said what he thought parents wanted to hear. Any time my son was in trouble Eddie was there with him, denying everything no matter the evidence or witnesses. One day he got angry at another of their friends over something insignificant and (at the age of fifteen) shot him in the head, killing him instantly. The dead boy’s mother heard the shot, looked out the window and saw Eddie in her yard, gun in hand, looking down at her son’s body. Haskel didn’t deny it and was never remorseful, just saying the kid shouldn’t have made him mad. He gets out of prison in 2014 after doing fifteen years, and I’d bet a dollar against a lemon slice he will do something very bad in short order. Had decent parents. Boy was just a psychopath and he could have taken other kids down with him. Some kids are just put together wrong.

  4. The inner workings of our humanity are endlessly variable, tragic, heroic, fascinating, fearsome, fragile. It’s why we as writers cannot be excused for offering up two dimensions only.

  5. Joe, for an answer to your question, I think you can look to that point in your post where you said Todd experienced “some impulse control problems,” despite coming from a stable, two-parent family. This tells me he was born with this problem. And I don’t mean just impulse control. But that’s certainly where it all started.

    Did you ever see the movie THE BAD SEED? It was a harrowing account of a little girl who is evil through and through, fully capable of committing murder without any remorse. As in Todd’s case, she came from a loving family.

    Some people, I believe, are truly born of this bad seed, and all the love and stability in the world will not prevent them from drifting in that direction if their urges are strong enough. Whatever twisted thought process had engulfed Todd was a natural one, one he was apparently unable to resist.

  6. A good friend of mine once told me “Free agency is a hard thing to watch.” I’ve learned he is right.

  7. Sad story. I have to second Timothy Fish’s comment.

    Joe, I watched an RSA video recently that talks about various Time Perspectives that we all live in. It sounds like “Todd” lives in the present and has trouble imagining the future consequences of his actions. As a US high school teacher, this video is the best (only?) explanation I’ve ever heard for the disconnect between students and risky behavior. Thus, it’s also fantastic information for writers who are trying to create realistic characters.

    I think you and the others here would benefit from watching the video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A3oIiH7BLmg
    The Secret Powers of Time by Philip Zimbardo

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