I vowed this year would be my best, but instead it had been godawful, just terrible, maybe the worst since my brother up and died on me, in that cold ward at the Kaiser Permanente, six years before.
As I had been placed on paid administrative leave from my job — yeah, it’s that kind of bad — I had plenty of time to think it over. As far as bad years go, there were really just these two, and both of them involved death, only I didn’t get implicated in the first one.
Terminal illness, like some kind of gladiatorial sport, involves us standing on the sidelines, cheering on the diseased while jeering the illness. Sometimes the victory comes, but often it doesn’t. Even when the victory does come, as I’ve learned from others, it can be short lived, measured in just a few years until an eventual defeat.
The second death though, that was different. It wasn’t a matter of whether or not I was responsible for it. We didn’t measure this predicament in shades of doubt, for the contrast was turned quite high on this one, and it especially involved white and black. We knew — as did the local newspaper — that I’d pulled that trigger; I’d shot him; I’d killed that man.
Regret was a sticky word to use, which is why I’ve avoided using it. Regret would have implied that I was guilty in some way of the shooting death of the suspect, and I do not consider myself guilty at all, which is just like I hope the investigative committee sees it.
My lawyer recommended I use the term vexed when asked how I felt about what I did to the suspect, but I doubt very much anyone other than himself would know what that meant. All it told me, is that I had spent too much, and yet not enough, by hiring the man. A cheaper lawyer would have used words anyone could understand, while a more expensive one might have reached deep enough to find ones with real majesty, words that inspired shock, but mostly awe.
As “vexed” wasn’t going to cut it, I settled on the word sad. That’s what I told people; my killing of the suspect made me sad. It seemed to have the appropriate impact on the audience I felt it should matter to.
The beauty of being a modern North American is that you can take the most incomplete sentiments and cling to them like liferafts. All it takes is conviction, the right intonation, and a single word, when it is needed, will suffice.
If I were disregarding legalities, not that I am, the one word that was the most accurate, would have been overwhelmed. An event like this, while clearly life-ending for some, is more importantly life-altering for those who get to walk away. Even with an acquittal, if this unpleasantness ever came to trial, my life would be different, I would carry that overwhelming weight on my shoulders; the career that should have given a life some meaning, would have taken some of it away, like some fool rubbed off the patina on what it meant to be me.