Pandora

3

 

Pandora

 

Once, Bundy removed a woman’s head and perched it atop a stool, facing it directly at the sliding glass doors.  This was later interpreted as a message to his father – a cop – saying, see dad you can’t protect them all.

            Sheeple never learn.  The whole Bundy thing – sliding glass doors are such easy access, especially these older homes without the track guards.  Even the slightest lift, and plop, you’re holding twenty pounds of glass trimmed in ten ounces of aluminum.  Barnum loves people like these.  They actually spent the extra green for storm-safe glass doors, but the damn fools had them installed on the old tracks.  Seven hundred bucks spent on doors that can withstand hurricane winds, but pop for prepubescent pranksters, (let alone a determined collegiate with a budding interest in violence without consequence).

            The frat brothers would have the pledges hunt up abandoned housing with sliding glass doors.  Keg parties without the hassle of beating the barf-caked, hungover pledges into cleaning up the place made for a more enjoyable time for all.  We pledges were all-too-grateful for the freedom from cleaning to care about some snowbird’s winter home. 

            Saturday mornings were hunting days during our pledge semester.  We could easily drive slowly through neighborhoods looking for abandoned homes, while pretending to garage sale.  As pledge class President, I was responsible for turning over the list of homes to the frat President.  Being chronically over-organized, I typed the weekly report complete with directions to each address, general layouts of each house, and an estimated capacity.  The last was relevant only in determining which sister sorority to partner for each event.  As always, I impressed. 

            About six weeks into the routine, I withheld one address, one I had scoped myself.  It was a concrete block house with that rock-on-stucco look.  Everything outside was earth-tone.  It had a standard tar shingle roof and a single-story.  A solid concrete driveway led up to the one-car garage.  The lawn was slightly overgrown, and the mail forwarding tag was hanging from the outgoing mail flag.  Perfect, less than a mile from campus.  I jotted the address on the last page of my notebook, and went about my day. 

            Three keggers a week, plus the pop up parties in between, made classes a little challenging (to get to).  Luckily, by the mid nineties, state universities had become a debtploma society.  As long as you attended class, and piled on the student loans, instructors made sure you received your degree in four years.  The coursework required a moderate amount of skill in paraphrasing and bullshit for the papers, tests were mere regurgitation of the lectures.  High School 2.0.  It’s far worse now. 

            The frat brothers knew the routine well and had started “herding” a few years before my attendance.  Herders were first year members of the frat whose job was to make sure you were awake and your ass was in your seat for morning classes.  Some of them were a little over zealous in their efforts.  Rumors of pledges literally being prodded with electric cattle wands whispered their way through the pledge class.  A few took your cell number and told you to put it on vibrate in your underwear before going to sleep.  Then they’d call in the morning to “rouse” you from slumber.  At least they had a sense of humor. 

            The herder assigned to our dorm building was Sprigs.  Sprigs got his name from a styling accident.  He took great pride in his hair and had it streaked and styled every two weeks.  On one particular visit, the story goes, he was getting his normal streak-n-style.  The girl put the clear plastic cap on his head and teased the needed hair through the holes.  Then she applied the bleach-reeking glop to the hair that would soon be platinum blonde.  Sprigs (previously Danny McElwain) fell asleep in the seat while waiting through his half hour setting.  The stylist then busied herself with an elderly Jewish woman who rambled about every family member’s fall from faith, pointed out each neighbor’s violations of the Home Owners’ Association policies, griped about the price of the color and perm.  Finally, after two and a half hours of old Boca-Jew rant, the stylist shooed the woman from the store and returned to Sprigs.  The chemicals had set too long, chemically burning his scalp and as the woman rinsed his scalp, his beautiful platinum hair filled the sink.  It left a chessboard of white scalp and dirty blond tufts.  Remember those defining moments I mentioned earlier?  This was one of Sprigs’. 

He enjoyed his job as an herder and was fairly good at it.  If you were on campus, he’d find you before first classes.  Prior to his follicular disaster, his hair, good looks, and suave manner had built him quite the social network.  Everyone knew Sprigs, and he knew everyone.  He’d start the day with his contact list of Resident Assistants on each floor as necessary.  If you weren’t there, he’d ask the desk clerks (usually the hottest girls from each dorm) if any pledges wearing the green sigma had come in last night.  If you hadn’t been identified by then, he’d tap his contacts in Campus Security.  Sprigs usually had your location before you woke up and realized you hadn’t made it home.  Short of jamming a GPS chip up your ass, Sprigs was on point.

So I made every class, maintaining the 4.0 Dad would have expected – and doing so with relative ease.  Man, I missed the challenge of our chess games.  Classes bored me.  Biology was rudimentary.  The Graduate Assistants were so dedicated to ensuring that everyone passed that the intricacies of selective pressures, mitosis, myosis, and electrophoresis were left to independent study.  Statistics barely progressed beyond bivariate data.  The English Comp professor was satisfied with regurgitation and paraphrasing in the required writings.  Like I said, High School 2.0. 

Dad would have been loathed knowing he was paying for such drivel.  He’d probably harangue my professors with a discourse on Socratic method – how students should be questioned and pushed into learning through independent experience, not spoon fed the trivialities of the profession. 

 

I gained plenty of experiential knowledge later.  While I’m not sure Dad would have approved of my hobby, but he certainly could have appreciated my methods.  Hate the what, love the how. 

 

Friday nights, of course, were the biggest keggers.  With two days to recover, the brothers and pledges were free to get as smashed as they wanted.  The kegger of October 28, 1994 was set to be the biggest of the year.  It was homecoming week.  The parade, and carnival events had everyone running on Vivarin and NoDoz.  It was also the kickoff to Halloween weekend.  Combine that with the completion of midterms and all the pieces were in place for a three-day hangover.  The Deltas were on tap for the Monster Mash Mixer, a huge costume affair that had been shared between the two Greek organizations for at least a dozen years.  Costumes, alcohol, and loose morals, what college freshman could ask for anything more?

The bash began around six.  Chuck was out on the lawn grilling burgers and brats behind the frat house on one of those huge wood burning grills.  Some all-too-rich alumni brought it by for all the big events.  The damn thing was fifteen feet long with two racks, and a smoker on one end.  Tonight corn on the cob and baked potatoes, carefully wrapped in foil with butter and salt, were slow roasting their way to perfection.  Chuck was a master griller, hence his nickname.  His real name wasn’t even Charlie, but Chuck was all anyone could remember. 

Tyler ran his own DJ business on the side and always ran the tables for the frat parties.  He would juice up on NoDoz and Jolt cola, and spin til six in the morning.  He even got the fraternity to purchase lights for him: strobes, disco globes, laser arrays.  In his three years, he’d built up quite the inventory.   Tyler had his finger on the pulse of everything hot.  He spent the early hours of every morning bouncing from club to club, noting the latest in hip hop, house, trance, dance, and booty shake joints.  Whatever he couldn’t download free, he’d cop from a buddy of his at the FYE in the local mall. 

Susan, President of the Delta Delta Delta sorority, trained her girls in proper party etiquette.  The eldest girls arrived first, juniors and seniors in their glam costumes.  Then the first-years and pledges.  All the frosh girls in some demeaning costumes.  Any costume you could prefix with the word sexy and a hyphen was there.  Sexy-mermaid, sexy-french maid, sexy-nurse, the list went twenty-seven deep. 

Three kegs outside, four inside, the frat bar completely stocked with rums, tequilas, and vodkas.  There wasn’t a soda to be found in the house on party nights – part of the unwritten, yet clearly understood, code that everyone drank to excess during a frat party.  Especially a mixer with the Deltas.  Susan’s girls knew how to party, and how to completely release their inhibitions. 

By ten, many of the pledges were upstairs engaged in various extra-curricular activities with Delta pledges.  Sometimes more than three to a room.  It got so crowded that several of the upper classmen took their dates (if that’s really what you’d call them), back to the Delta house, despite campus rules against males being allowed on Sorority Row.  Some never made it inside anyway, either hooking up on the lawn or passing out there.  By twelve the alcohol was getting the better of the less-engaged fraternity brothers.  A few of the guys lit up a home-rolled blunt and practiced that most-ancient of rituals, Puff-Puff-Pass.  Drew and Steve tumbled into a rambling, half-coherent discussion about the meaning of life.  This quickly deteriorated into a low-energy debate about the value of people’s lives.  Something Drew said caught my attention as I was passing through the foyer on my way outside.  “Moliere said, ‘Things only have the value that we give them.’”

 

Spark. 

 

Drew, “’There is no value in life except what you choose to place upon it and no happiness in any place except what you bring to it yourself.’ That’s Thoreau.”  The logic was flawless. 

 

So began the internal moral cogitation.  What lives had I known to be valuable? Mom, Dad, Tani, myself.  I had been willing to fight for Mom and Dad, despite the futility of my actions.  Were there others that truly mattered to me?  I couldn’t think of one.  If completely honest, I couldn’t think of another valuable life.  Try as I may, four valuable lives… What of the greater good?  What of the social contract?  How does this grand understanding affect morality or, on a more practical scale, law?  If the founding fathers had developed a similar acumen, how would laws differ? 

 

The stoners corner was camped out in the living room, ground level.  An L-shaped sofa fit perfectly into the corner of the room forming a pincer shape around a small television.  The eleven o’clock news burped to life.  The lead story was of a shooting that had taken place in a poorer section of town.  Apparently, a local business owner had been arguing with his neighbor.  He pulled out his shotgun and the neighbor dared him to shoot.  The man obliged, killing the neighbor with birdshot to the face, neck and shoulders.  Drew and his stone-crew giggled at the newscast making comments about the two men’s intelligence, or lack thereof.  They showed no signs of concern for the dead man or his family.

 

Twinge. Did the dead man’s life have value?  Apparently his life was of entertainment value only to the fraternity brothers watching the news.  His only value to them came in the manner of his death.  How many people had to place a value on your life before you became valuable to society as a whole?  When River Phoenix died last year, how many television specials portrayed his life?  Did that alone give his life value? 

 

I had to know. 

 

A hermit with no friends, family, or social contact, would that define a life least-valuable?  Or could the value of a life only be defined by the individual’s own opinion of self worth?

 

I had to know.

 

Knowledge through experience, right Dad?  Socratic method, questions inspiring deeper questions. 

 

There, by the sofa in the corner, with the snippet headlines capturing the fading attention spans of Drew and his burners, a seed germinated within my mind.  Is this what Eve felt when tempted with the knowledge of good and evil?  Is this the cognitive morass Pandora faced with the sealed box?  The great existential question: What is the meaning and purpose of life?  In the cacophony of Moby, inter-Greek relations, herb-induced puzzling, and drunken frat challenges, my mind drifted to a single pulsating idea: What is the value of life? 

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Shaping…

2

Shaping…

The drive home was uneventful.  The drunken party-goers zipping this way and that.  The jocks leaving rubber skid marks in asphalt underwear at every traffic light and turn.  I’m so satisfied that I just coast along from intersection to intersection, everything blurring into monotonous repetition.

Anyone looking in through my window saw a heavily medicated geezer, the glazed smile of some poor mental patient doped up on thorazine or haldol.

I crept along the streets of the neighborhood, savoring the happy glow.  Eventually our driveway swung into view.  The headlights striking dad’s perfectly laid pavers.  Not a single brick out of parallel, nor a single blade of grass creeping between the tight joints formed by the alternating rows of hexagons and squares.

Dad’s OCD has served me so very, very well over the years.

I eased into my usual place to the right side of the driveway.  Dad always left early for work.  By early, I mean 4:30, before even the palest hues of the sunrise wrapped their fingers over the horizon. Mom and Dad’s cars safely tucked away inside the garage, mine secluded in the driveway expansion – as Dad called it.  I walked along those perfect pavers toward the front door, unaware of anything in the world other than Tani’s beautiful face, her warm kisses, and the muscles in my body still tingling.

The door was cracked open, just a bit.

I should have known then.

No light escaped the house.  It was dark inside.  Dad insisted on the lights being turned off at night.  Fiscal responsibility, ecological awareness, whatever, it was just done.  The door being locked was just as routine.  Maybe Mom was worried about me.  She still couldn’t stop treating me like her baby boy.  I shook my head as I pulled on the handle of the front door.  I walked in completely oblivious of my surroundings, unaware of the cataclysmic changes my life was about to undergo.

There are events in life that shape who we become – mold our beliefs – alter the paths our lives will take. For most people, it’s something simple: one particular ass-beating by a bully, a teacher (whether remarkably compassionate or obstinate and overbearing), an accident, or being lost in a department store.  This was my moment, my shaping.

The house was quiet, as expected.  Neither mom nor dad snored, and leaving anything running, like a radio or television, was simply not done.  I headed for the kitchen to grab a glass of water before crashing out for the night.  My rental shoes made a soft grunting croak with every step, the rubber soles against the glossy black tile with silver swirls that ran throughout the house.  More perfectly laid columns and rows.  (I admire Dad’s attention to detail.  That’s what made him so successful in medicine.)  Opening the cabinet, I grabbed a glass and went to the fridge.  One-third of the glass with ice, then filled the glass near-full with spring water, just as it should be.  The crackle of the ice expanding in the cool, but not freezing, water seemed to echo off the tile floor.

The clink of a spring water ice cube in a glass has a higher pitch than a tap water ice cube.  It also has a sharper crack when it expands, in comparison.  I know this because Dad’s OCD was a little, well, more than typical.  He had a spring water keg plumbed to the refrigerator’s ice maker and water dispenser.  I still can’t drink city water.

I headed across the living room to the stairs when my foot half-slid, half-stuck on the floor.  The shimmer on the floor seemed normal, but the tiles appeared to be missing the silver swirls.  A few of the grout lines vanished between the tiles, forming lager than usual patterns along the floor.  The pattern extended from the base of the stairs down the hallway toward my parents’ room and Dad’s office.  At the end of the hall where the doors of those rooms faced each other, the grout lines and swirls ceased to exist.  The doors were open, wide open.

How abso-fucking-lutely naïve was I?  How did I not know by now?

Now came the sounds, seeping into my consciousness.  Entirely amorphous at first, oozing deep tones.  As my mind grappled with them, (grunts and the creaking of Dad’s oak desk), those mechanical waves of undeniable auditory sensation came – sliding, slipping.  Ever so slowly, those sounds oozed their way through, like the Blob in that old Steve McQueen movie.  How it seemed to first trickle tiny tendrils under a door or through a grate, that’s how the grunts first came to me, how I first understood them for what they were.  The thick joints of that old oak desk groaned under some sort of strain.  Involuntarily, I turned to enter Dad’s office instead of their bedroom.  The mass of that Blob of sounds creating a pressure in my ears, and just as the force reached the breaking point of the grate or door or whatever kept the deluge of recognition at bay, I peeked around the corner.

Now, I’ve mentioned the shaping people undergo during specific events in their lives, right?  I had no idea the total shit-storm I was about to enter.  We’ve also discussed the standard psychological profile that keeps the sheeple from panic.  If the masses ever realized that enjoyment, not psychosis, was reason enough to kill – that normal people, with stable families and positive upbringings, could not only rationalize, but enjoy killing – fear and panic would become the norm to all but the predators. Fuck, I’m rambling.  You want the rest of my shaping by now, but you can’t have it just yet.  You need an understanding of what brought me to this point to prevent you from believing some traumatic experience splintered my psyche.   And dump your little bitchfest.  It’s my goddamn story and I’ll tell it my way.


Family

            Dad was a third generation anesthesiologist, and a damn good one at that.  He worked hard, but not too hard.  Dad would regularly take time off from the hospital for school events, football and baseball games, award presentations at school.  Mom dabbled in hobbies and volunteer efforts.  She and Dad agreed that her job was taking care of me and running the house.

He always put family over work.  Vacations were never interrupted, he never excused himself from dinner to take a call.  Countless calls would ring from his office, where he left his work cell, helplessly ringing, without any hope of being answered until after family time.  Dad was very particular about spending time with those he loved, and reminded me frequently that our relationships in life far exceed the value of possessions or esteem.

Dad enjoyed chess.  He always won, but always taught as we played.  He talked through our games, explaining each move, its purpose, and its ultimate end.  English opening, Sicilian, Dutch, and French defenses, King’s and Queen’s Gambits and variations of all.  He taught, I listened.

I remember playing once and there must have been some emergency at the hospital.  His cell phone was blowing up on the desk.  Continuously ringing and doing the little vibration dance across the oak desk.  The fifteenth and sixteenth calls of the hour crept the phone to the edge of the desk, the next call undoubtedly sending the phone to its demise on the tile floor below.  Dad slowly stood – never breaking his discourse on piece development and center control – placed the phone in the top desk drawer, and returned to the game.

“Dad, what if someone is dying?” Natural curiosity.

“The lives of people are only truly valuable to those who love them. If the emergency involved one of our family, the home phone would ring.  Since it has not, the emergency doesn’t involve anyone important enough to leave our game.”

I was twelve then and for the first time, my mind wandered from the game.  Why did we care about others?

Mated in three more moves.

With each subsequent hospital emergency, the phone got quieter and quieter.  By fourteen, I barely noticed the vibrating volta as the phone danced its way across that ancient oak desk.  Dad standing, maintaining his rhythmic conversation, stowing the phone in the top drawer, and returning to the game.

Early time with Mom was different.  I helped with the household chores, laughing about silly trivialities.  Cooking with Mom was the best.  We would talk for hours – to the market for fresh produce, back home, peeling and laughing, chopping and sharing.  Dad would come home midway through the cooking and join in the frivolities.  The kitchen was the most amazing place in the house.  I think it was the only place Dad ever truly let go.  There in Mom’s huge kitchen we had more fun than anywhere else.

Mom had a way of making everyone smile.  She knew everyone by name at the grocery store.  Every clerk, all the daily patrons, she made time for each one.

A week or so after the night Dad talked about who matters in life, I asked Mom, “Why do you talk to everyone and make everyone smile?  These people don’t matter, do they?”

“So, you’ve been talking to your father.  If life only has value if you are loved, then the more people who love you, the more valuable your life.”  Mom was always compassionate, but this display of logic was undeniable.  Manipulating the opinions of others through actions, no matter how hollow or self-serving, is one of the most powerful lessons Mom ever taught me.

At twelve, my introduction to sheeple, and the ease with which they can be manipulated, had begun.

I began to learn Mom’s masterful maneuvering of neighbors and friends.  The parallels of her social graces with Dad’s chess strategies were fantastically entertaining.

She managed the school’s PTO with the skills of a grand puppeteer.  She incited Mrs. Tuck with a tactful gambit, offering something small in exchange for removing Tuck from the important business at hand.  Tuck was so aggressively abrasive to other parents that she never saw the insignificance of the battles Mom allowed her to win.  By her brilliance, Mom allowed the other parents to see Tuck’s virulence and toxicity.  Then she was free to move the PTO in the direction she had already planned.  Ms. Koupt was a rumor monger.  Mom used her as a mouthpiece with incredible skill.  She would joke in the kitchen about how the new playground equipment had “flown the Koupt” or how she started a “Koupt de tas” against Tuck’s agenda.  Mom played fianchetto in life as well as Dad played it on the chessboard.

By fifteen, I was Student Council President as a sophomore.  A title I held three years – running unopposed my senior year.  Lesson learned, Mom.  Thanks.

 

…Shaping

            Peering into the darkness of Dad’s office, feet still half-sliding half-sticking to the tiles, I saw two shapes on Dad’s desk.  Mom was lying on her back, wriggling on the desk.  Dad was standing at the edge of the desk between Mom’s legs, folded over her, his pants around his ankles. Both silhouettes moving violently against each other, choking grunts and gasps.

Fucking gross!  I walked in on my parents having sex?

I turned as quickly and silently as I could, disgusted.  The rental shoes sliding across the tile, nearly spilling me to the floor.  I had to grab the door jamb to my parents’ room to regain my balance.  Pulling myself back to a stable width of base, I steadied my legs, and my stomach.

I remember thinking that my parents must have spilled something on their way to the office – how Dad would undoubtedly clean it before going to bed.

I remember refusing to believe it was any other kind of liquid.  My stomach churned again at the thought that I had slipped in Mom juice.

Turning to leave their bedroom and head upstairs, as my eyes tracked from the floor, to eye level, they stopped.  My orbs frozen on a pair of feet, perpendicular to the floor, heels down, toes up, protruding from the bathroom door like the last bit of a rat’s tail as a snake swallows it whole.  Shoes don’t just stand upright.  I strode into the room for a better understanding.  Slowly, the shoes grew shins, shins met knees, knees extended through the femur to the hips and torso.  Finally, Dad came fully into view.  His white shirt darkened and splotchy in several places, eyes open and glazed – a slight glint in his eyes reflecting the moonlight coming through the bathroom window.  Lifeless, his body was

MOM!  On the desk.  Those gurgling sounds.

I moved back to the hall and peeked through the slightly open office door.  Taking in the totality of what was happening I saw the knife, pressed to Mom’s neck.  The tears glistening as they streamed from her eyes down past her earlobes, disappearing behind her hair.  I half-moved toward opening the door – and as if realizing a miscalculation in chess – I rocked myself back into place.  I knew that if I just burst into the room, Mom was dead.  I had to try something else.  Quickly I flew up the stairs, my feet barely touching every other step.  I reached my room, flung open the closet and unzipped my baseball bag.  The knob and black leather grip of my Easton C-Core felt natural in my hand as I unsheathed the bat.  Down the stairs, and pausing briefly at the office door, I slowly pushed the door open.  No creaks, Dad oiled the door hinges every two months.  Silently the door swung on its hinges, my chest pounding like Tim Yeung on his double bass.

Enter the disconnect…

Anyone who has ever played baseball knows how impossible that high fastball is to resist.  The ball looks the size of a watermelon and seems slower than it’s actually moving. The entire world ceases to exist until you swing and miss.  Then the feeling of failure because you knew not to swing at it in the first place.  Here came the high heat.

Everything went silent.  My heart slowed.  My breathing calmed.  The world stood still as I strode the four long steps between the doorway and the desk.  Right, left, right, left foot planting naturally in the stance I had used the last four years for the Mustangs.

Mom’s head turned and her eyes saw me.  They opened to consume her face like an old anime from Osamu Tezuka.  Her pupils cued her assailant.  He turned his head as my hips flew and my hands led the Easton down to meet his face.

What a sweet fucking sound!  The ping of carbon graphite aluminum and cheekbone muffled through half an inch of vascular flesh.  The crack of escaping gases from his vertebrae as his neck spun from left to right, wrapping over his right shoulder like an owl. 

His head lolled back to the left, centering itself as he stood and teetered backward.  Sliding out of Mom, and struggling for balance.  I pulled my left hand off the bat, slid my right hand down to the knob.  Gracefully closing my lefty stance as I replaced my left hand above my right.  Switch hitting has many benefits.  My hips and hands fired again in choreographed perfection.  Top hand, top hand!  Coach always preached top hand.  Lower half for power, top hand for accuracy.  Full extension, top hand driving the barrel of the Easton straight across his mouth.

No muffle!  Milliseconds separated the clink of his teeth on the barrel of the bat from the tearing of his teeth from his gums from the delicious squish-crunch of his maxilla and mandible cracking.  Then the subtle popping sound as his TMJ dislocated. Finally the almost imperceptible exhale of carbon dioxide from his lungs as he flailed to the floor – finally dropping the dripping blade from his hand.

Dripping?  MOM!  I spun to see her, Dad’s stained twin.  This bastard had already stabbed her to sap her energy for resistance before raping her.  I ran to hold her.  She coughed, misting my face and neck with blood.  Her eyes drifting from lucidity to void and back.  “Do you love me?” She asked, I thought rhetorically.  “Do you love me?” Again.

I realized then, she was evaluating her life – her value.  “Everyone loves you, Mom.”  Something inside me knew what she wanted, as she slipped into oblivion.  “Dad and I love you.  Everyone at school, all the teachers and kids love you.  Everyone in PTO, the baseball team, football team and parents – they all love you, Mom.”

My face was leaking.  I couldn’t stop, nor did I want to stop.  It was the last time I would cry.  I held her head in the crook of my elbow and she smiled, “thank you,” as she closed her eyes.

Prom

1

Prom

Sweat escaped the pores of my forehead – an involuntary reaction to the flushing of my face.  The rising temperature seemed a solitary punishment.  Mrs. Lawrence, always kind, placed her hand on my shoulder.

“She’ll be down in a few minutes.  You know our Tani, late for everything.”

Of course Mrs. Lawrence was right.  Tani had been born nearly a month late, and – according to family stories shared over the last two years – had reached every developmental milestone later than average.  Mr. Lawrence once gave his perspective, which was odd because he never spoke much.

“Tani walked late because she was content to be carried.  She talked late because she never had any complaints.  She teethed late – apparently she enjoyed ‘smashed’ everything.”

He carried on about her reading, riding a bike, nearly every achievement came late due to Tani’s complacency.  I stopped him after about fifteen mintes to let him know I already knew she was perfect, and that I didn’t need an explanation.  He offered an awkward but knowing smile, then trailed off into something about football – conveniently excusing me from the conversation.

Truth is – after two years adoring Tani, and growing with her – I had learned patience.  True patience.  Waiting had become routine.

So I waited.  Nervous, flushed, I waited.  Senior Prom would start in just half an hour and we hadn’t even been to dinner yet, but I waited.  Calmly.  It seems an oxymoron to suggest I waited calmly while so nervous.  You see, my nerves resulted from anticipating her beauty.  Tani’s pulchritude was unrivaled.  She was offered modeling contracts on three separate occasions, but she had no interest in it.  She never needed attention or the approval of others.  The only reason Tani wasn’t hated in school – like the typical high school hottie – was that she was so amazingly humble.  Everyone liked Tani, and I loved her.  Loved her and waited for her, always.

So still, I waited.

Looking back, all the patience I would draw on later in life always reminded me of Tani.  My years with her and the patience I reaped from the countless hours of waiting have contributed greatly to the success of my hobby, my life’s passion.

Finally the scuff of her door across the plush carpeting.  I could hear her gentle steps on the floor of her room upstairs.  Tani called down, “I need help with the zipper, mom.”

Mrs. Lawrence quickly ascended the stairs.  It was always obvious why Tani was so incredibly beautiful.  Mrs. Lawrence must have been equally stunning in her youth.  She was still a beautiful woman, and the talk of the boys’ locker room – which I always protected to the ridicule of my teammates.

Mrs. Lawrence popped back out into the stairwell and made her graceful descent.  Just as she reached the den floor – as if on cue – Tani stepped into the light of the landing atop the stairs.  She was amazing.  The light danced off the natural highlights of her hair.  As a hummingbird in high speed motion capture, Tani floated down the steps.  Each step brought another degree to my face.  She landed gently beside me and too my hand.  “Close your mouth, sweetie.”

I had been slack-jawed from the moment the lights bathed her face in golden splendor.  “Sorry.  Stunned like a deer in headlights as always, Tani.”

God how cheesy.  At seventeen I had zero game.  Luckily I didn’t need any.  With Tani, no pretense was necessary.  She also seemed to understand my sincerity.

Tani kissed my cheek spreading warmth through my entire body and returning me to consciousness.

“Brittany Lawrence!  You must let me get some pictures of the two of you.”  Mrs. Lawrence was an amateur photographer and escorted us to a contrived little scene at the gazebo behind their home.  Thirty-six frames later, Tani and I were on our way.

Patience is a virtue.  Im so glad I learned that from the Larences all those years ago.  If you’re anxiously waiting for the meat and potatoes of my little hobby, too fucking bad.  You could use a less in patience yourself.  Good things come to those who wait and all that bullshit.

As our custom, we cranked the stereo up on the local pop music station and sang out loud and out of key – probably Tani’s only flaw: she sang like Alfalfa from The Little Rascals.  We blared three tunes before commercials, then we poked fun at the exaggerated claims of the advertisements.  Man!  We were great together.

We met up with a few friends of mine, who were dating a few friends of hers.  How utterly convenient.  Olive Garden, Prom Central is what it should have been named that night.  All but three tables were taken by teens sporting their parents’ cars, their parents’ money, and – in a few cases – too much of their parents’ liquor cabinet.  The girls ordered salads and soups.  The guys ordered huge amounts of pasta, each attempting to out-eat the others.

their fucking lame-ass attempt at alpha male dominance behavior…

I had fettucini alfredo, a modest meal, but I had no need to compete for Tani’s affection.  I had it, without insecurity, I had it.  We enjoyed our meal, laughing at our friends’ jokes and smiling at each other for obliging them even though the jokes weren’t really funny.  Except Big Donnie.  Big Donnie had a way of being funny without trying.  Donnie was an overweight lineman

we’re talking hotdog neck here…

with a comic style similar to Chris.  That I’m-so-hyper-I-must-be-on-cocaine type of funny.  But you just couldn’t resist the gut laughs that came from watching his antics.  In fact the whole “Chip ‘n Dales” routine from Saturday Night Live was one of his best.  Donnie kept the entire table rolling and holding our sides until it was time to leave for the dance.

We arrived at the country club around 7:15, just late enough to not be in the first wave.  The parade of rooster-proud guys escorted their dates – most of the girls so obsessed with making sure no one else was wearing the same dress.  Tani and I passed by the photo station set up near the entrance to the main ballroom.  I took off my coat and reserved a little space for Tani and I to set drinks, her purse, the program, and anything else she decided to collect.  Tani was a scrapbooker.  Any little keepsake was fair game for her clepto-habit.  By the end of the night our little space was piled with baubles to immortalize my Senior Prom with the love of my life.  A napkin embroidered with the class motto and a perfect impression of her lips in a pale pink, my boutinier, the baby’s breath and a few petals from her orchid corsage, and countless other trinkets from our night.

I should have paid more attention to the things that mattered to her.  This might have been much different if I had.  So many things might have been different…

The music selection was representative of our student population.  My high school was mostly black, about sixty percent at the time of my attendance.  Therefore the playlist consisted of a majority of hip-hop.  Growing up in the community I did, hip-hop was more than acceptable for me.  Tani was partial to Pop 40, where all the music sounds very similar, and recently she had developed a taste for country music.

I think that’s where we began to grow apart.  The first major thing we didn’t share.  She had started line-dancing and I disliked country music, so I never went with her.  If I had made the effort, I may not have lost her.

We danced for a few hours, never missing a chance to be close – a ballad or slow R&B jam.  A little after ten we were both ready to go.  Like I said, we were a perfect fit, we reached our fill of the crowd and our desire to be alone at the same time.  She excused herself from her friends with a barrage of hugs and cheek-kisses.  I nodded my farewells to the guys from the football and baseball teams – my crew.  I still remember the huge crowd around Donnie as we made our exit.  The laughter could be heard long down the hall.  Tani and I smiled, the intimate look in her eyes was all I ever needed.  I adored her.

Tani knew I had reserved a room at the Holiday Inn Express, just for us.  She didn’t know the surprise I had created for her.  I was always at my best when being creatively romantic.

Now my creativity pulls me toward a much different romance, but the passion is nearly as intense and almost as satisfying.

All morning long I had run around town preparing a romantic setting for Tani.  I was always doing stupid little things to show Tani how much I adored her.  I wrote her poetry, surprised her with flowers, showed up at her job in the chocolate store in the mall just to say, “I love you, Tani.”  Even though it was an hour from my house to the mall.

I bought three dozen sterling roses.  They reminded me so much of Tani, strong, beautiful, free of pretense, and otherwise perfect.  Sterling roses don’t have thorns, another quality they shared with Tani.  She never hurt anyone.

I picked up half a dozen scented candles.  Fresh linen, her favorite.  Then I ran by Blockbuster and rented Bed of Roses with Christian Slater – our favorite movie.  At the hotel room I placed the candles around the room, set up the VCR, and clipped the roses and baby’s breath to about five-inch lengths.  Using fishing line, I tied the stems to the ceiling creating constellations of flowers suspended overhead.  Three hours later, I left for my haircut.

Tani and I arrived at the hotel and kissed our way through the elevator ride to the third floor.  I asked her to wait outside for just a moment to set up the surprise and she obliged.  Tani was so incredibly patient with all my ideas, and she was never disappointed with them – or at least she never let on that she was.  I lit the candles quickly and popped back out into the hallway.

“Tani, I wanted you to know how special you are to me.  Everything that makes me smile reminds me of you.  I love you.”  And with that I opened the door and led Tani inside.  She was stunned, speechless, and tears streamed down her cheeks.  I knew my sentiments had reached her.

“Oh my God!”  She seemed to squeak-whisper the words through quick shallow breaths.  Her hands trembled as she wiped the tears from her face and I took them in mine, spinning her to face me.

“I love you.” Simple, honest.

Now only one thing feels as simple and honest.

She embraced me, passionately kissing me with a warmth unsurpassed by any event in my life, before or since.  Her soft lips pressed against mine, still trembling, we kissed for what felt like an eternity, but a thrilling and happy eternity.  From the kiss to gentle caresses, both of our hands moving over each other with familiarity and burning desire.  We were incredible together.  Her skin perfect in the candlelight.  Her cobalt blue eyes piercing my very soul.

Damn that sounds so gay, but it was true.  Guys don’t talk about shit like this, but with Tani… with Tani…it was all okay.

We made love, perfectly.  Everything she needed, everything I needed, perfect for both of us.  Naked and wrapped in the comforter from the bed, we sat on the loveseat of the hotel room and watched our movie.  Her soft, perfect body resting on mine.  I caressed her back with my hands and kissed the top of her head throughout the movie.  Afterward, we made love again.  Just as perfect as always.  Her touch thrilled me.  Her kisses sent my mind reeling in fantasy.  Being inside her was my Neverland.  Her body responded in kind.  Her eyes always showed her love and satisfaction.  We were kids.  We didn’t know much about sex, but what we did know was pure, incredible, and perfect.  By two, I blew out the candles, we dressed, and left to take her home.

We didn’t even turn on the radio on our way to her house.  Holding hands and smiling.  She blushed every time she mentioned the flowers, the movie, the candles, the love making.  We kissed each other goodbye at her front door and I left for home.  A more perfect night?  Shakespeare would struggle to create one.

Prologue

Forget everything you think you know about serial killers.  Those FBI bozos don’t know dick.  Forget about all their profiling and psychological stereotypes, statistical models, investigative techniques, DNA labs, forensic science, computer data banks and the like.  They only work to catch the two-bit whack jobs and true nutsies that have just enough dumb luck to get away with their first.  All assumptions regarding serials (part of a balanced breakfast) come from the rank amateurs rotting in prison or playing canasta in purgatory.  Someone who kills for pleasure baffles rational people, and cops are rational people.  I’m not talking some perversion like vicarious victimization of one’s own abusive parents.  I’m talking about true pleasure like Warren Sapp hitting quarterbacks or Big Mac trotting around the diamond after crushing a 500-footer.  I’m talking about that level of pleasure true lovers find in that once-in-a-lifetime shared orgasm.  For this creature, their system has no answers.  About the guy whose rewards are intrinsic, never needing approval from others, self-confident, without a traumatizing childhood, they know nothing.  I’m living, breathing, killing proof.

These guys – the cops I mean – have been after me for close to twenty years now, but they don’t even know it.  I have out-smarted them all or perhaps they have out-smarted themselves.  Even now, as I write my memoirs, murders – countless to all but me – remain unsolved, even unrelated, (my best still undiscovered).  You see, I have committed 43 murders since 1994, but I have never been questioned, fingerprinted, lined up, or arrested.  The simplicity of the system is wonderfully pathetic.

Let me fill you in on some of the 411 regarding murder and the system.  Most police departments are small, very small – less than 50 schmoes and even fewer full time dicks.  It naturally follows that many homicides are handled by small departments with no specialized Homicide Department.  So murders in small towns and rural countrysides are investigated by the likes of Barney Fife or the Keystone Cops – hardly the intimidating law enforcement presence portrayed by network television – without the aid of some high-tech labbies or 40-year homicide vets.  No Morgan Freeman or Dennis Franz running around sewing everything up nicely in one or two hours.  No CSI Miami where all the evidence is collected perfectly in Zip-Loc baggies by some gloved geek in a white coat – whose pocket houses a plastic sleeve and 15 pens of varying colors.  No untampered evidence, unmolested if you’ll pardon the pun.

Your average murder occurs between acquaintances, people who know each other, although unacquainted murders are growing.  The usual suspects include: husbands, boyfriends, disgruntled employees, friends caught up in emotional turmoil.  That’s where cops look first because that’s what’s easy.

Just over fifty percent of murders are cleared by an arrest.  In other words, for every two killings only one guy gets arrested.  Ponder that for a moment if you will.  We’re talking one in two.  Let’s delve a little further into the workings of our justice system.  For murders, slightly more than two-thirds of arrests result in convictions.  That means for every hundred murders, fifty arrests are made.  Of those, roughly forty-five are convicted and go to jail or the nuthouse.  Most of those are the husbands, boyfriends and common street thugs whose idea of settling an argument over east coast/west coast rap supremacy is to bust a cap in some poor bastard’s ass.

Stranger homicides offer few leads for the poor little piggies.  Cops hate stranger homicides.  Such crimes, I use the word crime in the legal rather than natural sense, require a great deal of time, effort and skill to solve.  Therefore the imbeciles in blue (or whatever local flavor you may see) haven’t the desire or the skills necessary to “apprehend the perp”.  That’s police jargon for catching the killer.  Cops simply follow easy leads on routine murders and the general populous remain content with the results.

My hobby has led me to question the morality of murder.  Society has established laws based upon religious premises, then justified the taking of life by the government.  Hypocrisy abounds.  What is it that makes murder wrong?  Is human life innately valuable?  Are there varying degrees of value, and, if so, what arbitrary measures do we use to assign the value to any given life?