Instead of the usual gym sweat and adolescent uneasiness, this time the locker room feels menacing. This time I don't even get the chance to fumble with the locker that never opens, because I feel her stare boring into me. Those flat, emotionless brown eyes, her thin snake-like smile. As I stare at her in hate and disgust, she gives back nothing. She is a black void, sucking in the emotions of those around her. Buzzing, buzzing, buzzing, the voices of girls half my age (but not here, because here we are ageless) say, "You better not make her mad. She'll give you a necklace." And I don't have to ask what kind of necklace they mean. (A bloody necklace.) I wake up, clutching my throat.
In more than a decade of transcribing cable news, this is my first real news nightmare. In 10 years, I've seen anchors linger over details of horrible things -- things I wish did not happen in the world where my son was born. Tsunamis and tornadoes, serial murderers, hate crimes, children driven to suicide. And not once did any of those horrors follow me into sleep. Why is this time different? Is it because her crime was so gruesome? Because she latched onto a highly suspicious self-defense claim based on unproven allegations of domestic abuse?
Was it because the anchors I transcribe hung so gleefully on every detail of the trial coverage: from the minutia of the bloody crime scene to her lurid accounts of her sexual relationship with the boyfriend she killed? But why now? Why after all these years? Why her?
Slowly, slowly, the truth forms (faceless at first, like a haunting of a thought). I think I know why. I've known people like her. And that is what haunts me.
I don't like to think of it, but I have danced close to tragedy. I once dated a guy so impervious to normal human conscience that he lied boldly about everything. Once, I watched him insist, in righteous anger, that he had not stolen from his mother a video camera that only the day before he told me she'd given him.
I have known people who smiled and smiled and were my enemy; who stole from me; who betrayed me and my family. It has made me more cautious. I do not befriend my next-door neighbors. I require a background check and references before considering a babysitter. While I tend to be friendly, or at least cordial, with my neighbors, I bolt at the first hint of strangeness.
As much as we like to think we are safe from evil; that if we are only good people, if we follow our religion faithfully, if we try to better ourselves, if we inspire others, that we will not attract bad things, deep down we all know that's not how it works. We bargain, we fool ourselves, but we all know that every one of us is potentially as close to a terrible fate as we are to the nearest person who means us ill.
Watching so many hours of media coverage, I have heard people again and again ask the wrong questions. Why did he let her in? Why did he let down his guard, when even his friends knew she had been acting strange: stalking him, sneaking in his doggie door, even slashing his tires? But I don't ask that question, because I understand him better than I wish I did. Like him, I have been too quick to grant second chances to people who did not deserve them. I, too, believe in redemption.
And knowing this about him, I believe she played into his weakness. She told him what he wanted to hear: that she was sorry; that she was changing her ways; that it would be better from now on. It's happened to me and to people I know, and to people you know, as well.
I hear you demanding details. You want to know who did what to whom. But really, what is the matter whose credit cards, checks and cold medicine were stolen, whose bills run up, whose CDs hawked, whose trust betrayed, and who was left with permanent scars, physical and emotional? I'm tired of those stories: of telling them, of hearing them repeated, and of choking back words for those whose stories I have no right to tell. I'm done with it.
Take from me the stories I do not want, the memories I do not claim, the news I cannot bear. Cast them into the void that could and should exist; the pit into which we must throw these horrors. (Into which we will cast, as well, the most repugnantly grief-loving anchors). Over it all, we will stretch a sign -- as stark as the truth we must now own and live -- "Do not feed the monsters."