Violent crime is a rare thing indeed in the quiet middle class neighborhoods of my hometown. I have to think it has happened. Surely, from time to time the ugly viciousness of brutality makes an appearance around these parts. But except for once, when I was a small child – probably about 8 years old – I have never been aware of it. That once, though, produced a trauma from which I still suffer.
I don’t remember the exact date (and I dare not look it up) but it was early spring, shortly before Easter. I’m guessing it was spring break of that year, because my cousin, Erik, had come over to spend the day with us. His Mom and Dad worked at offices. My Dad worked for a company, but my Mom worked making a lovely home for our family (and she worked hard, too). I imagine this is why Erik was over – Mom was watching him for Aunt Marilyn. It was on this occasion that I was witness to a triple mass murder, in my own home, in our dining room.
I don’t remember all the details – it was so terrible and so long ago. Thankfully, time has a way of softening the horrors of our past. But I will share as much as I am able.
I remember it was a pleasant day, warm but not hot. I remember this because the kitchen window over our sink was open, and I had on short sleeves. (funny, the odd details we can remember, and those we forget) Erik was by far my favorite cousin. We were close to the same age (Erik’s about a year older than me), both boys, we shared a common history, and mostly enjoyed doing the same sorts of things. We liked playing Army and riding bikes and making skate boards by tearing up my sister’s little metal strap on roller skates and nailing them to boards my Dad had laying around. And speaking of my sister, Erik enjoyed making his sister miserable as much as I enjoyed tormenting my own sister. So we shared that, too. We liked James Bond, Rat Fink models, plastic models of any kind really; So all in all, I was really happy Erik was coming over. I was happy that is, until a little after lunch.
Actually, things started ‘going south’ a little bit during lunch. As weirdly random as this memory is, I think lunch that day was the first time I noticed that Erik and I ate differently. I remember Mom asked what we wanted. I wanted the usual, highly normal I would add, Peanut Butter and Jelly with Potato chips. Erik said he just wanted a Cracker sandwich. That’s right! A Cracker Sandwich! I was totally distracted as I watched him eat that. I mean I liked Crackers and I liked Bread, but crackers between two slices of bread and nothing else? What kind of freak was this kid who I liked so much? The sandwich shook up my world, but what was to follow would shatter it, end my childhood, and annihilate my innocence.
Lunch being over, Erik and I had gone ‘round the corner and were messing with something in the living room while my Mom was standing by our kitchen sink, cleaning things up, and putting things in order. Erik and I, a room away, were playing and talking. I began to tell him about how excited I was for the Easter Bunny’s impending visit. All that candy, chocolate, those little marshmallow ducks were just a few days away, and I have to add I LOVED it the way -unlike Santa who just put everything out under the tree -the Easter Bunny played a game with us by hiding that basket. I loved the Easter Bunny.
Then in an instant of diabolical cruelty Erik killed the Easter bunny. Just like that he whispered, “Hey Mike, you know there isn’t an Easter Bunny, right? I mean, you know that’s just your Mom and Dad giving you all that stuff, right?” He had to know he was doing something deeply evil, else he would have said it out loud.
I was stunned. I had barely recovered from watching him eat a Cracker sandwich and now he’s speaking such blasphemy. At first I argued, tried to reason with him, “YES THERE IS AN EASTER BUNNY!! Who told you there was no Easter Bunny? Of course there’s an Easter Bunny.” I don’t remember him getting upset, but with the coldness of an assassin he just icily said, “Nope. Karl and Mark (his older brothers) told me. No Easter Bunny, sorry man.” I began to tear up. I ran to my Mom in the next room. Mom’s word was way better than Karl or Mark’s. She’d set Erik straight. “Mom, Erik said you and Dad were the Easter Bunny. He said the Easter Bunny wasn’t real. Tell him, Mom. Tell him,” I snorted between gasping, snotty sobs.
I’ll never forget the look on her face. Erik and I were both looking at here. My Mom was so pretty, so good, so calm. She stood there, looking first at me, glancing at Erik, then back to me. She paused, took a deep breath. An eternity passed in seconds. (Looking back, I’m certain she wasn’t entirely sure what she should say. Was I old enough? Would I ruin it for my sister? Was the truth going to rob her of something she loved?) She looked at me deeply for a fleeting second, and then the Easter Bunny who was lying mortally wounded before my shattered reality was euthanized by what she would next utter. “Michael, Erik is right. The Easter Bunny is a fun thing that parents and small children enjoy.”
“AAAAAAAHHHHHHH” I don’t remember if I screamed aloud, or only in my thoughts but the Easter Bunny had breathed his last. Dead. The Easter Bunny was dead. I stood there and sobbed, ashamed I would add, that I was crying like a little baby in front of my older cousin, but I couldn’t help it. I suppose I should have resented him for this murder, but so overwhelmed was I at the moment, that who killed Peter Cottontail seemed irrelevant. The murderer was made meaningless by the crime itself. But even worse, almost simultaneously, another, even more horrible thought occurred. More Death. “What about Santa?…was that a hoax, too? And and and and the Tooth Fairy? Is that a lie? And and and and Jack Frost? Oh Dear GOD!! ” Mom never said another word. It wasn’t necessary. I knew the answer as soon as I asked. They all died, right then and there. I thought I’d never be the same.
And so it went. Adolescence soon came around, followed by youth, then High School and college. The next 12-15 years the world, my life, my friends, teachers, the academy, all systematically went about the dutiful deconstruction of the magical world my parents had lovingly built for me. Reason grew, and the ability to be delighted came harder and harder. The Adventures of Huck Finn and Peter Pan and Johnny Tremaine and Call of the Wild would soon be shelved in a seldom visited book case. They would be replaced over time by various text books and authors with names like Hesse, Castaneda, then later Hume, Locke, Aristotle, Socrates, and Sophocles.
Indeed a mass murder occurred that Early Spring Day on David Drive in Lexington, KY. It traumatized me, but I think a happy ending may be in my future. (but who knows the future?)
Anyway, I believe it was Sophocles who first said something like, “Once a man, twice a child.” Most of those real smart guys were right, most of the time I have found. That’s why we still read them, or at least we did when I went to college. By any account I am entering my second childhood, or about to enter it.
Just as there is an innocence to one’s nonage, I am beginning to feel that one’s dotage may restore to me something even more magical than what was lost that spring morning so long ago. In retrospect, it’s likely that the process has been under way for some time. I just didn’t notice or called it something else. Maybe it began that first moment I saw the little girl that would one day be my wife, and I remarked to my buddy sitting next to me in Room 17 of the Fine Arts Building, as I watched her come in the room with a nice pair of jeans and a rather tight green and white striped sweater, “Hey Dean, thatlooks pretty good.” Not long after that, that girl and I were sitting atop an rocky arch in the wilderness of my homeland viewing the beauty God laid before us. That was a magical moment. A few years, but just a moment later, I watched in wonder as that girl created something out of nothing right in front of me and brought another beautiful little girl into this world. Then, through this new creation later, those that Erik slayed for me were resurrected as Santa, Peter Cottontail, Tooth Fairy, jack Frost and all of them began again to visit my house and the new little girl. Yes perhaps reconstruction began almost the moment the deconstruction was complete.
Now, a half century later, much of it, maybe all of it, seems like a dream, a happy dream, mostly. The reason that replaced the magic, seems less and less reliable now. It also seems less necessary. It seems at times, as if the me I once thought I was certain of is being lost in a song, or maybe a dance, but I am so enamored with my bandmates and dance partners, that somehow, magically, this is how it seems it should be. Perhaps the trauma was worth it. Someone else real smart also said long ago something like, “For something new to be born, something old must die.” I now officially pardon and forgive my cousin. He killed something old, that something new and more wonderful would be born.