There are a lot of things in my rolling briefcase, but the strangest is a letter from a 31-year-old year old man who took a large knife to his father’s throat last April. The father didn’t survive and the man is now in Cook County, waiting around to find out his fate.
I sent a letter to him while working on a story about the murder last November. I didn’t actually expect to get anything in return. The letter is in a standard-size white envelope. My name is printed all in caps by a hand whose “H” lines run a little low and whose “G”s never quite make it all the way, looking instead like deformed “C”s. The stamp is printed directly onto the envelope. It’s two purple martins, which look more like crows; one sitting on a branch staring at you and another flying away in the distance.
The interesting thing about the letter is that there really isn’t much interesting about it. It’s not the voice of a deranged person, the handwritten note reads more like an email from an old teacher than a man who murdered his father in cold blood.
He says I’m welcome to visit whenever I like. He says there are a lot of factors affecting his mentality which resulted in him being where he is today. Referring to a childhood friend I had inquired about, he says he doesn’t want to bother him with his situation, the man probably has his own family to take care of.
(Basement where the killing took place.)
I haven’t gone to talk to him because I have my own fears about it. In my mind I tell myself, “it’s not going to advance that story much further and you don’t have enough experience with this kind of thing to feel comfortable,” but the reality of it is I’m just plain scared. Scared to stand so close to a large man capable of that kind of destruction. Socially-rejected, lonely, anger bubbling under the surface.
I don’t know what should happen with him. There seem to be a lot of people like him lounging around lately; mental problems, no help, no outlet. The modern day Boo Radleys of America. At the end of that book, Boo Radley kills Bob Ewell. He does it to protect Jem and Scout, but he’s still got it in him to take a knife to a man.
Boo goes home because it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird. But the man I know isn’t a mockingbird, he’s two purple martins that look more like crows. And so the letter stays buried in my briefcase and the man sits in a cell thinking thoughts I’ll only guess at.