He now wears what looks to be a permanently semi-horrified zombie like look on his face, as if he has only now just seen an accident, or stumbled upon a body. His eyes look as if he has not quite gotten back from whatever it was he saw, and tired. He has lost weight but it doesn’t look good, it is the sickly, empty balloon type of weight loss. He is not an official ‘person of color’ but his color is bad. It is the wan, yellow color of bad food,despair,regret,alienation, exhaustion.. prison. He looks right at me, though it feels like straight through me to the wall.
I know he is not enjoying this, that it it just all part of the requirements, part of the release. I want to make it not as bad, without seeming condescending, without seeming overly-maternal- yet also not seem professional to the point of him adding me to the roster of his judges, as I am not. He sits on the couch rather than any of the chairs, and seems to take up the whole thing, his legs creating a kind of table with their length.
He has the uneasy and slow grace of the imprisoned giant he has so recently been. He does not stretch out. He keeps his hands in his lap, as if still cuffed. I come around the desk and sit in the chair to the side of the couch. He looks up but doesn’t move. I’m relieved there appears nothing squirrelly, shifty or mercurial in his face, his speech or movements- in fact, I feel like I’m on the far end of barely the same solar system- this is like the planet Neptune, slow-moving, large, remote.
“I fucked up,” he says. ” I know I did. I go over it all the time. I dream about it- but I didn’t mean to do it. I wasn’t trying to kill him, I was going to tazer him, he kept resisting- but I didn’t mean to kill him- I can’t change it, and people don’t believe I’m sorry, but I am, I am so fucking sorry.”
” I believe you.” I say, looking at his hands. Pause. “I believe you didn’t mean to kill him.”
“Well, some people don’t. They think I meant to. They think I’m not sorry- but I am.” With his left hand, he starts playing with a shoelace. ” I feel like shit. For what happened, and like shit for even worrying that I will always be seen as some evil trigger-happy psycho. I’m at fault for fucking up, grabbing the wrong thing, I’m at fault for killing him, but I wasn’t out to kill anyone. We’re not supposed to strong-arm people, if it didn’t happen like it did… I could have restrained him, but we’re supposed to not touch them more than we have to-and I shouldn’t have been afraid, but I was. Not really afraid of him, but afraid of a situation-that could have gotten out of control-it wa already out of control to a point-but if I had control of the situation, if I knew what I was fucking doing I would have grabbed the right thing..and I didn’t. ” He looks up from the shoes, as if he is in trouble right now, as if he is waiting for me to either approve or scream at him that whatever he said isn’t good enough.
For all of our gifts, we are flawed- we are idealistic more than realistic , sometimes quick to anger and deny when things aren’t as they should be, instead of doing at least the first step of the AA creed, something about at least admitting there’s a problem. This guy probably doesn’t even have the flaws a lot of us have. I get that pain in some center place that tells me I won’t be having any more coffee today and stuff is rumbling around. Or is it Iam just hungry? He certainly isn’t doing the typical stuff that makes the squirrelly/weaselly things an easy scent to catch once one knows what to sniff for.
He might be retreating, defensive, mentally locked down for fear of his own sense of anger over being vilified to this degree- but he is not hiding lots of bad secrets. He doesn’t have what I would call for lack of a better phrase- psychic pimples, or…imagine, like a porcupine. He doesn’t have lots of invisible barriers, like those laser alarms in banks.
He shows me a couple photos. A cute child, a woman who also bears an ‘M’ name – that looks vaguely like my sister, the branch of the gene pool that skipped my father’s side and looks like grandpa. I have seen these or similar ones in a file, but I’m glad he is showing me himself. It’s a good sign- life-affirming – outside of this shitty context, would be the normal thing to do, and I would show him pictures in return. But because of this framework, this construct , I cannot be just a ‘person in return’- it sucks, I can’t give back, I have to be behind glass, behind my own wall, this particular format of a construct of something bigger- something bigger which I which I hate and try to subvert very chance I get, every chance I recognize another construct. They don’t serve us, they kill us-and the Others too for that matter. It’s not just me noticing this. There’s others. Lots of others. If you take me down, it won’t take everyone.
“Do you want to tell me the story of that day?” I ask. I have already read about it plenty, but I’m hoping he will go through it for what is probably the thousandth time. He does, a few different times, but the story stays essentially the same , only the little details of things that happened during other parts of the day change, things remembered in retrospect. I thought he would be angry- the kind of fake-anger-seeming men have when they are actually scared, depressed- defensive. I thought he would put the focus on justifying how things played out that day, but he doesn’t.
He comes back from the place he hides a few times, the place that makes his eyes have that dull, dead look-the shut down place. I remember writing about being haunted by the living, and this is what is happening with him, except he is haunted by himself and that day, stuck in a kind of loop of the events of that day, and the days that followed until now.
It is as if he driving and almost falling asleep, and when he startles himself awake, he realizes he is lost- he is still looking for landmarks, anything that might render this new universe easier to navigate-some evidence of the familiar- but he doesn’t trust himself or the hostile landscape and there is no one to ask for directions. There is just him and that day and life before and after.I try to tell him some easier-to-make-sense-of version of this but he just stares at me.
“You don’t have to convince me.” I say, breaking the rules by touching his hand, though quickly and lightly- conveying emphasis rather than intimacy. “You have to convince yourself, and then you can stop trying to convince everyone else and move to the next level. ” But he doesn’t see a way out of the loop just yet. I start thinking of Dante’s Inferno and wished I hadn’t said ‘level’, but hopefully he doesn’t make the same connection.
“What’s the next level? I can’t do anything to change it, what do they want? .there might be a lawsuit against the city, I don’t know..-but I can’t go back ” he sighs- it comes out shaky and exhausted.
“But you are going back- you keep going back to that day. You’re not ready for whatever is next until you come to terms with it. Maybe you won’t be for a while. Until you get out of the convincing and approval so you feel better, endlessly judging yourself , stuff like thinking anything good you do doesn’t count now, feeling like you’re stealing for enjoying time with your boy-right now it’s how you are getting by, because you don’t have any other way to function except going into hard protective mode or shutting down- what’s the alternative, falling apart?right now this convincing, defending -it’s how you are making an attempt at …it’s not really forgiving yourself- we don’t have a word for it in English- you already know anything you say is never going to be good enough for the people… for whom this is a cause, people who see it…..”
He’s smarter than I thought and knows where I am going without me having to go all the way there for him. I’m grateful.
“As a race thing? Yeah of course they see it as a race thing- those people see me as The Man, like I was waiting to take one of them out- and they are seeing one situation applying to every fucked up thing that’s ever happened to them from cops or whoever but this wasn’t that- this was an accident, a fatal accident-and not even of judgment- I meant to just taze him- just a pathetic error, a fucking stupid mistake and I’m sorry, damn am I sorry and that’s the difference- I’m not The Man , I’m just a man and this wasn’t one of those him or me type situations… I’ve seen that, people get shot because we’re trying to protect ourselves too…Now they are making this guy a martyr for their cause which is trying to make me everyone who put someone up in a tree or dragged someone from a truck.. but that’s not me, and they’re trying to make that me, and yeah I do resent that. I’m not a hero and will probably never be, but neither is he. I can’t make him come back alive from my mistake and I have to live with it-and the death threats- but he’s not their hero either. He shouldn’t have been resisting, all kinds of shit was going on, people were trying to run away hand-cuffed and get back on the train, people yelling and screaming, people trying to get close and take pictures with their cell phones- we both fucked up -only I fucked up a lot worse. I got death threats that are always about all that other shit that doesn’t have to do with what happened that day at the train station. They’re going to say it does, but it doesn’t. A man can get hurt and it doesn’t have to do with all of that. A man can get killed and it doesn’t have to do with all that. “
I know, kiddo, but when one invokes the magical ‘White Privilege Rumplestiltskin’ goblin and mixes that formulae with ‘The (Evil White) Man’ i.e., in this case, cops- why- then of course it must have to do with any kind of historically fucked up stuff. In fact, it always does, and it’s always Whitey’s fault, meaning it doesn’t matter in their context what actually went down, the story is going to get fed into the oppressed peoples narrative and this kid is going to come out the grinder like some grand cyclops dragonmaster, or whatever the hell they’re called. Which is so much bullshit.
Just like a man can get hurt and it isn’t about racial stuff, sometimes shit can also seem unfair and it still isn’t racially related from their side, the cop’s side- and if anyone thinks it’s a good idea that you can resist or give cops crap, that’s just stupid, stupid from the angle if one is white and thinks they will certainly be cool and not bust you because of that, because they’re your ‘friends’.. (you don’t really think that , right?), so you get mad and act out when they do bust you-while you’re all belligerent and drunk and having a fight with your old lady- well, that’s not a smart move, and it’s also stupid from the point of view ‘oh, I’m a minority, if they do anything, I’ll sue the crap out of them like whatshisname down in LA did and got a few million dollars, or I can try to break loose and run for it , because they’re too afraid to put their hands on me, even if I deserve it because I’ll say they ‘profiled’ me or some other discrimination shit that has nothing to do with what actually happened… ‘
I’m thinking now of the four dead cops in one day from one guy- the Lovelle Mixon case out of Oakland, but of course I don’t mention it. Mixon is dead but it doesn’t make up for the four he killed,doesn’t bring them back to their families- or the fact the Mixon’s sister was packing AK’s or whatever in her apartment and he probably knew it. Maybe there wouldn’t be four dead without her help, maybe there would be ‘only’ one or two. It’s really hard not to keep score on how many cops get killed by thugs all the time versus this, or the shootings that end up killing random people on the street. I think of a recent news article I read out of Redwood City, a three month old shot dead in a car-bullets meant for the adults- teenagers arrested, gang retaliation supposedly the motive.
” I guess we’re going to do this again, ” he says. “It’s part of the whole thing ,right?”
“Yeah, it is. ” I tell him, ” but it’s your choice whom you see.”
” I don’t want to have to start over, I’ll come back next week.” he says and sets another appointment. I try to think of something encouraging to say, something that is solid.
” It doesn’t feel like it now, but this isn’t going to be what defines your whole life. ” I do believe that, but as soon as it’s said, it sounds trite and I almost regret it.
“I hope that’s true, ” he says. “Monday at 2, ” and closes the door after himself. In a moment I hear the click of the lock of the back entrance of the building and a car’s engine.