“When they brought me in to identify the body, I was unsure what they were expecting of me. The body was badly burned, almost to a cinder. The only thing that gave it away was the necklace around her neck. The intermittent stones, the malformed gold draped around her neck...it was her, I was sure of it. I had seen it around her neck when I kissed her goodnight. I had first seen it around three months before when I gave it to her as a anniversary gift. When asked if I could think of who would want to hurt her, I had to admit I didn't know anyone who would want to. But I knew someone who was willing to start a fire.
They picked him up soon after that. His hands were badly burned, but he had not gone to seek medical treatment. Said that he barely felt it at all. I knew his history, an it was only for that reason that I believed him. He had lost sensation in his hands years earlier, when his family had been killed in a fire. Back then, I had taken up his care during and after his stay in the hospital. I was at the trial when he was accused of arson.
A new therapist was assigned to the boy. He was brought in to try and substantiate that the boy was insane at the time of the act. His testimony was loose, but it drove the point home. When asked later if I had anything I wished to say, I suggested that instead of prison, the boy be kept in a institution. It wasn't about my desire to see him receive treatment. I knew that if he was sent to prison there would be a chance at an appeal. If they were convinced that he had a long standing, mental ailment, he would be kept under observation for the rest of their life. Treating him as a criminal was foolish. The truth was he was insane.
His lawyer informed me after the trial that I was going to be a character witness...that I was the one most qualified to speak on the boys inclinations. I thought about the years I had spent talking with the boy, about his family and his childhood. And I thought about the years I had spent with my wife, about the day when we first met, and the condition of her body when I was asked to identify her.
I had to bury what was left of my wife in a casket, though at that point they might as well had just gone all the way and cremated her.
I continued practicing though deep down I felt I needed some time away. I didn't trust my patients anymore, nor my observations of them. But somehow I worked passed it. What really did it was when I decided I would visit my former patient in the asylum. I had been to the various hearings after the trail, but had never sat down with them...
It was a Tuesday and it was raining. In a way it felt serendipitous..I singed in and was brought to a open room to speak with him. He looked healthy, though the scars on his hands had clearly healed poorly. There were bruising on his fingers, probably from running into things, pressing too hard when holding things to hard He seemed happy to see me, which I suppose wasn't all that surprising.
I only had one question to ask of him, though I thought I had to know the answer by this point. I asked him why he thought to attack my family, why he thought to attack me. He leaned in close, and he asked me if I wanted to know the truth, or if I wanted to be comforted. I asked him what the difference was. As he explained himself to me, I began to realize just how much of a difference there could be.
“When I was little my father left my family. He used to put out cigarettes with my arms, and would tell me to hold a match in between my fingers until it burned down to the bottom. If I didn't do what he said he would hurt me. Then he left, out of nowhere. I know he was a bastard, but when my dad left my mom didn't find someone better. She didn't do anything at all...just sat there and drank. I could see what was happening. She was going to leave me too. I reminded her too much of him, the way I would start fires to get attention. The way I laughed at her panic...
One night my father came back home and tried to make nice with my mom. He didn't even act like I was there. They went to their bedroom, and I started a fire in the corner of the hall by the drapes. They never knew what was happening. The fumes knocked them out. And they never left.
I wasn't...I wasn't going to let you leave either. I could tell you were tired of me, that you didn't think I was going to get better...”
I tried to tell him that wasn't the case, but he cut me off.
“I have always loved fire, since I was a young boy. Something about it always made me happy. In the end I never felt like you had done me wrong, nor did I think that somehow burning down your home or killing your family would help. I simply didn't realize it was your house.”
He was quiet after that, even though I asked him to explain which was truth and which was the lie. Even though I had been working with him for years, I never knew what he had said about his father. Ever since then, I have been obsessed with the problems of disturbed young people. I knew there had to be a reason for their actions, and I knew I had to find out why. The boy eventually died in the hospital. No set reason why was given but it was assumed his wounds had become infected. Since that time I been involved in studies, and treated innumerable teens and adults.
The most horrifying part is that even after I focused my interests, there are still those who fall through the cracks. There are still those whose behavior surprises me.
The above was given to me, along with an apology, by the secretary of my therapist. He had explained that he had to take a personal day, and that I deserved to know why. I arranged to make an appointment for tomorrow, and then went home.
I have been wondering why he shared the information with me, why he gave me an explanation at. I worry that maybe he simply thought that I would react badly if he didn't tell me why. But more than that, I worry that he thinks that I would understand.