To Tell the Truth

To tell the truth (not that anyone ever tells it completely), I liked him and no one else did.

Not that I went out of my way. I let him sit next to me on the bus when he couldn’t find another seat. Didn’t tease him. Talked to him once in awhile. A year or two younger, he wasn’t really in my sphere but I didn’t actively chase him away or sneer at him like the other kids. I thought that meant I was a good person.

Now I’m not sure. Maybe I’m not nice. Maybe I’m defective. Maybe liking him when no one else did showed a failing self-security system.

When they had her memorial at school, he came to the cafeteria where I worked alone every afternoon. I tallied milk and lunch tickets for extra credit. He wandered in and lounged against the counter. Surprised, I looked across the stainless steel surface to him.

“Why aren’t you at the gym with everyone else,” I asked.

“Didn’t like her. Felt like a hypocrite being there. Thought I’d come hang out with you.” He grinned.

Though I didn’t know how he knew I was there (It wasn’t common knowledge), I nodded. I hadn’t liked her either. She was flirty, giggly, and girlish and I was trying not to be. I could have gone to the memorial, but, in a fit of truthfulness, hadn’t wanted to lie by being there.

Our end of the campus was empty. While everyone else was busy remembering her good points, we spent an hour alone in the echoing cafeteria, talking about her bad points. He walked me to class afterwards–eager to prolong the moment when he belonged with someone.

Our high school was the town. There wasn’t much else there, certainly not a police station. Because most of the officers came from a city an hour north, the police took over a room in the library to use as a base. One day after school, he literally fell in their lap. He had wriggled into the crawl space above the room, the sound board ceiling collapsed, and he tumbled right onto the table in front of them.

Later, after he confessed to strangling her, I wondered was she like me? Was she trying so hard to be nice, she didn’t notice the wrongness of him? Or was I like him, so wrong I didn’t notice the niceness of her.

To tell the truth, I still like who I thought he was and I can’t wrap my mind around the wrongness of him but, at least I’ve come to see my resemblance to her.

_________________

Photo by Joe Beine of Flickr

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57 comments

  • You could not see the wrongness in him because you did not even know how to register or see it. That is innocence, not wrongness.

  • You could not see the wrongness in him because you did not even know how to register or see it. That is innocence, not wrongness.

  • Every once in awhile but, most especially when I was young, I meet someone who is shunned by everybody else and I like them. Does everybody else have some radar that goes off. BEEP, BEEP. Unless someone does something, I don’t see the wrongness in them.

    There have been very few people I haven’t liked and, to my shame, this girl was one. Though looking back, I see that what I didn’t like was my reflection distorted in her. I didn’t like myself.

  • Every once in awhile but, most especially when I was young, I meet someone who is shunned by everybody else and I like them. Does everybody else have some radar that goes off. BEEP, BEEP. Unless someone does something, I don’t see the wrongness in them.

    There have been very few people I haven’t liked and, to my shame, this girl was one. Though looking back, I see that what I didn’t like was my reflection distorted in her. I didn’t like myself.

  • This story game me chills. Must have shook you up a bit.

    I tend to be friends with anyone. Even if they are shunned. As long as they are kind to me, I won’t dislike someone just because everyone else does.

  • This story game me chills. Must have shook you up a bit.

    I tend to be friends with anyone. Even if they are shunned. As long as they are kind to me, I won’t dislike someone just because everyone else does.

  • A part of me was shook up. I even felt a little disconcerted by him in the cafeteria but I refused to allow my intuition to change my behavior. Because he hadn’t ‘done’ anything, I wouldn’t allow myself to shun him. I might even have been more friendly than normal to make up for my interior shunning. And, even knowing what I know now, I’m not sure I could hurt him that way. He had been rubbed so raw by others’ rough actions, I don’t think I could stripped another piece of skin off.

    I’ve learned with my martial arts training that it is okay to hurt someone if they are trying to hurt you (but for me that was intellectually correct long before physically I could have done it.) Still, I don’t think I have learned to put self preservation above another’s pain if I haven’t been overtly attacked.

    I’m still working out whether I think I should learn that…

  • A part of me was shook up. I even felt a little disconcerted by him in the cafeteria but I refused to allow my intuition to change my behavior. Because he hadn’t ‘done’ anything, I wouldn’t allow myself to shun him. I might even have been more friendly than normal to make up for my interior shunning. And, even knowing what I know now, I’m not sure I could hurt him that way. He had been rubbed so raw by others’ rough actions, I don’t think I could stripped another piece of skin off.

    I’ve learned with my martial arts training that it is okay to hurt someone if they are trying to hurt you (but for me that was intellectually correct long before physically I could have done it.) Still, I don’t think I have learned to put self preservation above another’s pain if I haven’t been overtly attacked.

    I’m still working out whether I think I should learn that…

  • When I was a kid ( seven years old) my best friend was this boy that just didn’t fit in anywhere else. He was into science in a big way and was crazy good at math.

    When we were 15 his Dad beat him up in the parking lot of our school. Before we graduated I drove him to the hospital because had been having really bad headaches for a week that turned out to be a skull fracture.

    When we were 23 he shot himself.

    My best friend, someone I grew up with, and I had no idea that he had it in himself to wake up one morning and destroy himself.

    Haven’t really trusted myself to be anyone’s best friend since.

    amm

  • When I was a kid ( seven years old) my best friend was this boy that just didn’t fit in anywhere else. He was into science in a big way and was crazy good at math.

    When we were 15 his Dad beat him up in the parking lot of our school. Before we graduated I drove him to the hospital because had been having really bad headaches for a week that turned out to be a skull fracture.

    When we were 23 he shot himself.

    My best friend, someone I grew up with, and I had no idea that he had it in himself to wake up one morning and destroy himself.

    Haven’t really trusted myself to be anyone’s best friend since.

    amm

  • Anita, after reading your comment, my throat aches now. I remember Johnny Venburg. He was this beautiful boy in high school. I never knew him well but he was sweet to me, to everyone. I always liked him and so did everyone else. When I was 21, he shot himself and it still hurts. For you, that boy was your best friend, that ache must fissure your life.

    At least, for me, it’s hard to trust reality when you haven’t learned to recognize it which makes the ache of someone you like doing something so wrong/so off what you expect of them a shaky place that undermines your view of life.

  • Anita, after reading your comment, my throat aches now. I remember Johnny Venburg. He was this beautiful boy in high school. I never knew him well but he was sweet to me, to everyone. I always liked him and so did everyone else. When I was 21, he shot himself and it still hurts. For you, that boy was your best friend, that ache must fissure your life.

    At least, for me, it’s hard to trust reality when you haven’t learned to recognize it which makes the ache of someone you like doing something so wrong/so off what you expect of them a shaky place that undermines your view of life.

  • That’s where the confidence thing kicks in right?
    At least I hope so.

  • That’s where the confidence thing kicks in right?
    At least I hope so.

  • Your story reminds me of my own story of knowing and recognizing the ‘wrongness’ in someone. Allthough my story is not as dramatic, I learned a lesson that has became a major part of who I am.
    When I was 15 we lived in a small town in Southwestern Oregon. We were poor people and the home we lived in was not fancy. In fact, in my mind, I still call it the tar paper shack. I was new in the community and school and was trying desperately to become one with the other kids.
    Living next door to me, in a just slightly better home than a tar paper shack, was a boy, not “wrong” but different. He, too, was shunned. One day he caught up with me on our way home from school and we began to talk. He was kind, gentle and, it had obviously taken a great deal of courage to catch up with me and strike up a conversation.
    Our conversation covered several subjects, but when he mentioned that he loved classical music, I really began to listen to him. He came alive when I began to ask questions and showed an interest in what was probably the passion of his life.
    Just as I was turning to go into my house, he quickly asked if I would like to come and listen to some of his music. His mom was home and he was sure it would be okay with her.
    I hesitated, torn between really wanting to hear his music and feeling drawn to this different boy AND being aware of who he was in the eyes of my friends.
    I hesitated and, now much to my shame, I told him, No. I had other things I had to do. As I have looked back through over 50 years to that memory, it haunts me. I can still see the look of sadness come over him and saw him shrink back into that quiet, different boy that the world saw – not the boy who came to life when talk of his music moved him out of his shyness.
    To this day, I try to remember to look for the music in those that are differerent. I’m sorry to say that I don’t always succeed but when I do, there is always the memory of a boy who loved music and I failed to recognize him for who he was.

  • Your story reminds me of my own story of knowing and recognizing the ‘wrongness’ in someone. Allthough my story is not as dramatic, I learned a lesson that has became a major part of who I am.
    When I was 15 we lived in a small town in Southwestern Oregon. We were poor people and the home we lived in was not fancy. In fact, in my mind, I still call it the tar paper shack. I was new in the community and school and was trying desperately to become one with the other kids.
    Living next door to me, in a just slightly better home than a tar paper shack, was a boy, not “wrong” but different. He, too, was shunned. One day he caught up with me on our way home from school and we began to talk. He was kind, gentle and, it had obviously taken a great deal of courage to catch up with me and strike up a conversation.
    Our conversation covered several subjects, but when he mentioned that he loved classical music, I really began to listen to him. He came alive when I began to ask questions and showed an interest in what was probably the passion of his life.
    Just as I was turning to go into my house, he quickly asked if I would like to come and listen to some of his music. His mom was home and he was sure it would be okay with her.
    I hesitated, torn between really wanting to hear his music and feeling drawn to this different boy AND being aware of who he was in the eyes of my friends.
    I hesitated and, now much to my shame, I told him, No. I had other things I had to do. As I have looked back through over 50 years to that memory, it haunts me. I can still see the look of sadness come over him and saw him shrink back into that quiet, different boy that the world saw – not the boy who came to life when talk of his music moved him out of his shyness.
    To this day, I try to remember to look for the music in those that are differerent. I’m sorry to say that I don’t always succeed but when I do, there is always the memory of a boy who loved music and I failed to recognize him for who he was.

  • Throughout my life I’ve been open or innocent, it seems, almost to a fault. I’ve been burned and almost burned but rescued several times, but have also made some pretty good friends along the way – not the least of which is my husband.

  • Throughout my life I’ve been open or innocent, it seems, almost to a fault. I’ve been burned and almost burned but rescued several times, but have also made some pretty good friends along the way – not the least of which is my husband.

  • This is why I blog. Your comments left me aching but at the same time resonating with recognition.

    Thank you. You all enriched my day.

  • This is why I blog. Your comments left me aching but at the same time resonating with recognition.

    Thank you. You all enriched my day.

  • Kym… I was a janitor at the High School when the murder happened. The young man (I’ve forgotten his name) worked for us in the summer program, helping clean the school. My impression of him was that he was very “odd” and the other boys shunned him. He tended to hide out and not work very hard and I remember that he had a strong odor which I have since read is sometimes a symptom of schizophrenia. I heard that he was sent to Napa and subsequently killed another woman. I have no sure knowledge of that. Maybe just a rumor. The weird thing I remember was that it did not seem too shocking as there had been some other disappearances not long before. It has certainly happened to me that I have felt remorse after the death of someone I disliked.

  • Oh my. My first thought after reading this was how easy it could have been for him to have done something to you, all alone there in the cafeteria. But since he didn’t, my second thought was that I, too, often have an empathy for those who are “odd” or “different”…not that I always act on it. And my third thought was that you just never really know what is going on it someone else’s mind or life.

  • Oh my. My first thought after reading this was how easy it could have been for him to have done something to you, all alone there in the cafeteria. But since he didn’t, my second thought was that I, too, often have an empathy for those who are “odd” or “different”…not that I always act on it. And my third thought was that you just never really know what is going on it someone else’s mind or life.

  • Wow. Very scary and sad.

    I can sort of relate.

    Odd how ya’ get surprised sometimes.

  • Wow. Very scary and sad.

    I can sort of relate.

    Odd how ya’ get surprised sometimes.

  • John Duncan was the boy and Lynette Holland was the girl. I’ve never heard about him killing again. God, I hope not. I searched the internet for a reference. The only thing I can say is don’t name your child John Duncan an inordinate amount of them become murderers! But I didn’t find anything.

    The only disappearance that I can think of that happened before was Sheri Smith was murdered around 1972. I think she was found after just a day or two. I don’t think that murder was ever solved.

    You don’ t ever know what is going on even if you think you know them. Some people are changed by experiences like Shadow in Lou’s post. So foundation shaking to have people be so very wrong and not be aware of it though.

  • John Duncan was the boy and Lynette Holland was the girl. I’ve never heard about him killing again. God, I hope not. I searched the internet for a reference. The only thing I can say is don’t name your child John Duncan an inordinate amount of them become murderers! But I didn’t find anything.

    The only disappearance that I can think of that happened before was Sheri Smith was murdered around 1972. I think she was found after just a day or two. I don’t think that murder was ever solved.

    You don’ t ever know what is going on even if you think you know them. Some people are changed by experiences like Shadow in Lou’s post. So foundation shaking to have people be so very wrong and not be aware of it though.

  • Moving story, well written. Amazing the part where he falls into their lap, could be a movie…

  • Moving story, well written. Amazing the part where he falls into their lap, could be a movie…

  • Oddly the part that sticks in my mind is something I only heard about. When he confessed he told his mother first and she had a heart attack. I’m not sure if it is true but to me that symbolizes the pain that pools out from evil.

  • Oddly the part that sticks in my mind is something I only heard about. When he confessed he told his mother first and she had a heart attack. I’m not sure if it is true but to me that symbolizes the pain that pools out from evil.

  • His relationship to his mother would, I think, be an important aspect of understanding his motivation.

  • His relationship to his mother would, I think, be an important aspect of understanding his motivation.

  • I’m not sure. I understand he had some genetic mental disorder but then, as a mother, I’m voting that mothers aren’t responsible for how their kids turn out. It’s like saying house painters are responsible for whether or not the foundation collapses.

  • I’m not sure. I understand he had some genetic mental disorder but then, as a mother, I’m voting that mothers aren’t responsible for how their kids turn out. It’s like saying house painters are responsible for whether or not the foundation collapses.

  • I’m not sure either. I agree that mothers aren’t responsible. I am definitely NOT saying that she is to blame. But she may have felt responsible. And she may have felt guilty too. If she survived the heart attack, I’d bet she likely carried some unwarranted sense of guilt along with her grief, and confusion as well. A heavy burden to bear. He also may have felt, in a convoluted way, that she was somehow to blame. He may have felt –who knows what?! That’s my question –what was he feeling? You talked to him and walked with him. I’m sure it wasn’t simply that the victim was too giggly and so forth. Or that she may have dissed him or laughed at him or whatever. His underlying feelings, his foundation, as you put it –what was it made of? Why did it collapse so easily? And what if anything could have prevented it from collapsing.?
    A genetic disorder may have a lot to do with his motivation, but I don’t think that alone makes one a murderer –like there’s a ‘murder gene’ or something. I feel that his environment must have had some sort of impact on what happened. Isn’t that what you were questioning too? The kids shunning him and so forth, and what if anything that had to do with his case?
    I don’t know. I don’t see it as black and white. Like as if ‘evil’ can be isolated and eradicated. The agents of evil can be jailed, hospitalized or killed. But evil itself survives.
    Again, I am not blaming anyone.

  • I’m not sure either. I agree that mothers aren’t responsible. I am definitely NOT saying that she is to blame. But she may have felt responsible. And she may have felt guilty too. If she survived the heart attack, I’d bet she likely carried some unwarranted sense of guilt along with her grief, and confusion as well. A heavy burden to bear. He also may have felt, in a convoluted way, that she was somehow to blame. He may have felt –who knows what?! That’s my question –what was he feeling? You talked to him and walked with him. I’m sure it wasn’t simply that the victim was too giggly and so forth. Or that she may have dissed him or laughed at him or whatever. His underlying feelings, his foundation, as you put it –what was it made of? Why did it collapse so easily? And what if anything could have prevented it from collapsing.?
    A genetic disorder may have a lot to do with his motivation, but I don’t think that alone makes one a murderer –like there’s a ‘murder gene’ or something. I feel that his environment must have had some sort of impact on what happened. Isn’t that what you were questioning too? The kids shunning him and so forth, and what if anything that had to do with his case?
    I don’t know. I don’t see it as black and white. Like as if ‘evil’ can be isolated and eradicated. The agents of evil can be jailed, hospitalized or killed. But evil itself survives.
    Again, I am not blaming anyone.

  • This one really grabbed me, and I was planning on writing a good deal in comments about this post, but I’m finding that with little time on my hands, I’m just going to say what I think is most important — this is REALLY well-written. I like how you leave some of what’s going on for the reader to piece together. I had to ask myself a lot of questions that pulled me in even closer to the story than if you had given a vivid, step-by-step description of what happened and what you felt. I know you and I have discussed how this style of writing appeals to you (and to me as well) and I think this is an excellent example of well it can work. Great job!

    That said, OMG! What an incredible, creepy thing to have happen!

  • This one really grabbed me, and I was planning on writing a good deal in comments about this post, but I’m finding that with little time on my hands, I’m just going to say what I think is most important — this is REALLY well-written. I like how you leave some of what’s going on for the reader to piece together. I had to ask myself a lot of questions that pulled me in even closer to the story than if you had given a vivid, step-by-step description of what happened and what you felt. I know you and I have discussed how this style of writing appeals to you (and to me as well) and I think this is an excellent example of well it can work. Great job!

    That said, OMG! What an incredible, creepy thing to have happen!

  • Headwrapper,
    Knowing mothers, I can bet she felt responsible (this happened 30 years ago and though she survived the heart attack I believe, there is a good chance she is dead now). I know I would, even though I would try and tell myself I wasn’t responsible.

    But the main question, as you pointed out, the one I ask over and over again is ‘was he different because there was something warped in him Or did he become warped because his differences set him up to be teased and tortured?’ And could I or anyone else have changed what happened if we had acted differently?

    Another question that bothers me. Was John evil? Certainly what he did was horrific and evil but, God, he was just a boy and a confused and mixed up one at that. How evil do your actions have to be before you are evil?

    Mostly I believe no one is evil but that some people do evil things. But sometimes I just want to throw the relativistic crap out and say, “to hell with it somewhere there is a line and if you cross it then you are evil. And the world is justified in exterminating you.”

    But I guess even so, John wouldn’t be totally evil to me. He would still be the little kid with tears in his eyes because no one would let him sit next to them on the bus. How can you hate that?

    Chris,
    Thank you. The piece is still rough but it’s nice to know that what I’ve been working on in my writing is showing through!

  • Headwrapper,
    Knowing mothers, I can bet she felt responsible (this happened 30 years ago and though she survived the heart attack I believe, there is a good chance she is dead now). I know I would, even though I would try and tell myself I wasn’t responsible.

    But the main question, as you pointed out, the one I ask over and over again is ‘was he different because there was something warped in him Or did he become warped because his differences set him up to be teased and tortured?’ And could I or anyone else have changed what happened if we had acted differently?

    Another question that bothers me. Was John evil? Certainly what he did was horrific and evil but, God, he was just a boy and a confused and mixed up one at that. How evil do your actions have to be before you are evil?

    Mostly I believe no one is evil but that some people do evil things. But sometimes I just want to throw the relativistic crap out and say, “to hell with it somewhere there is a line and if you cross it then you are evil. And the world is justified in exterminating you.”

    But I guess even so, John wouldn’t be totally evil to me. He would still be the little kid with tears in his eyes because no one would let him sit next to them on the bus. How can you hate that?

    Chris,
    Thank you. The piece is still rough but it’s nice to know that what I’ve been working on in my writing is showing through!

  • Well. I am willing to be the judgemental one here. People are what people do. And if the act is evil, you are evil. So. You rape and murder a young girl? You are an evil fuck. And before I feel for a kid who had a hard time finding a seat on a school bus, I will feel for the young girl who was raped and murdered and will never grow up because she is dead.

  • Well. I am willing to be the judgemental one here. People are what people do. And if the act is evil, you are evil. So. You rape and murder a young girl? You are an evil fuck. And before I feel for a kid who had a hard time finding a seat on a school bus, I will feel for the young girl who was raped and murdered and will never grow up because she is dead.

  • So if you do one evil act, you are evil? What if you are otherwise a saint?
    If one evil act ( and I agree that raping and killing a young girl is clearly evil) dooms you to evil, then why bother trying to be good after that?

  • So if you do one evil act, you are evil? What if you are otherwise a saint?
    If one evil act ( and I agree that raping and killing a young girl is clearly evil) dooms you to evil, then why bother trying to be good after that?

  • Since I found out at 18 (Did my senior thesis on it in high school) how unevenly and unjustly the death penalty was applied, I’ve been against it. See Eric’s post
    http://redwoodreality.blogspot.com/2007/12/new-era-of-enlightenment.html#links

    But I wonder if I could be absolutely convinced that someone was evil no redemption possible, if I would consent to the death penalty. I certainly would kill to protect myself or others. One of those questions that hangs in there and never get resolved completely.

  • Since I found out at 18 (Did my senior thesis on it in high school) how unevenly and unjustly the death penalty was applied, I’ve been against it. See Eric’s post
    http://redwoodreality.blogspot.com/2007/12/new-era-of-enlightenment.html#links

    But I wonder if I could be absolutely convinced that someone was evil no redemption possible, if I would consent to the death penalty. I certainly would kill to protect myself or others. One of those questions that hangs in there and never get resolved completely.

  • I do not think one evil act is all we are talking about. People who rape and murder young women or children rarely stop at one. I also am not talking about crime and punishment. I am talking about a state or condition of being that must be acknowledged. Rather than separating the act from everything else you know about a person and setting that action to the side like it is separate from the rest of the person. Seeing that that act is part and parcel of the whole person, not a side note, and must be seen that way. A person is his or her actions. You cannot say he or she is this one thing, he or she just does this other thing. At least I think you cannot. I think you must look at what people do and acknowledge that is what people are.

  • I do not think one evil act is all we are talking about. People who rape and murder young women or children rarely stop at one. I also am not talking about crime and punishment. I am talking about a state or condition of being that must be acknowledged. Rather than separating the act from everything else you know about a person and setting that action to the side like it is separate from the rest of the person. Seeing that that act is part and parcel of the whole person, not a side note, and must be seen that way. A person is his or her actions. You cannot say he or she is this one thing, he or she just does this other thing. At least I think you cannot. I think you must look at what people do and acknowledge that is what people are.

  • But what if people do bad and good both–the saint who sins. Or even the person who does evil but also takes care of family and friends? There has to be some way of seeing them that doesn’t dismiss them as evil and almost not human and yet at the same time doesn’t dismiss their evil actions.

  • But what if people do bad and good both–the saint who sins. Or even the person who does evil but also takes care of family and friends? There has to be some way of seeing them that doesn’t dismiss them as evil and almost not human and yet at the same time doesn’t dismiss their evil actions.

  • Not for me there doesn’t. A murderous rapist is a murderous rapist and I am not inviting him to Thanksgiving dinner.

  • Not for me there doesn’t. A murderous rapist is a murderous rapist and I am not inviting him to Thanksgiving dinner.

  • Okay, I’ll let you go on that. You can have a rapist murderer free Thanksgiving and I won’t call you uptight;>

  • Okay, I’ll let you go on that. You can have a rapist murderer free Thanksgiving and I won’t call you uptight;>

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