20 April 2013 (at night)

by jkatejohnston

Dear Max,

Teresa read my diary from this morning and thinks it’s strange that I sympathize more with the murderer than the victims. And reading it over, I see I’ve implied that the crime was impulsive, when of course it was carefully planned.

I was thinking more of the murderers I’ve known, who have all had guns but not really wanted to kill anyone. Most of them just wanted money or drugs and things got out of hand. And all my murderers have been young, one of them only sixteen. I’m constantly amazed by how easily my schizophrenic, mentally retarded, alcoholic, drug addicted teenage clients (this is a composite portrait) manage to arm themselves.

But I think what bothered Teresa was my indifference. I just don’t feel bad about public tragedies. I’ve been around long enough to have written about the Oklahoma City bombing, 9-11, and this. And so far I have a near-perfect record of giving offense. I’m with Jane Austen—How terrible that so many people have died, and how wonderful that one cares for none of them.[1]  Of course she was writing about soldiers killed in a war. That’s a bit different from children cheering for a race or people going about their lives and work.

It makes me think of something else I wrote recently—that when we were picking Enzo’s sperm donor the most important things to us were looks and temperament. But how could we know anything about the temperaments of the donors? There’s no measurement for that, no box to check. And the answer is, we knew because they had to write about themselves and why they decided to donate their sperm, and any young man who can get through that assignment without sounding like a complete ass is probably a pretty good egg. I mean sperm. Ha ha.

Writing is horribly revealing of character. I think there’s a Tolstoy quote about how nothing reveals the character of a man so readily as his use of language. Reasonable modesty, a bottom of good sense, sweet temper, these things leap off the page. And agonized self-important philosophizing do too. Enzo’s donor is a lovely guy. You could tell right away. And he has two dimples on each cheek. Sold.

Enzo didn’t get the dimples, but he got the good nature. And he’s a handsome boy.

Anyway, when it comes to public tragedies, even my ands and buts are indifferent. There’s simply no way to conceal it. (I almost wrote ands and butts, which now seems far more interesting.)

But all this seems incomplete. Two things:

At the grocery store, standing in line with my limes and red wine and avocados, I saw on the cover of People magazine a picture of the eight-year-old boy who died. And tears came into my eyes and dread gripped my heart. And of course I was thinking of my own boy, my beautiful little boy, dear god that I don’t even believe in, keep him safe. And then I paid for my groceries.

I think it’s just as well to name what it is we’re feeling and who it is we’re sad for. It’s for ourselves and it’s quick. There’s nothing wrong with that. If we could somehow truly sympathize with other people’s pain we couldn’t live.

And earlier today I was driving on Stockton Boulevard on my way to Thrift Town to buy t-shirts because it’s starting to get hot, and I passed the place where Anthony Winters shot Alfredo Perez during a drug deal. And it just seemed shitty from every possible way of thinking about it.

[1] I looked it up:  “How horrible it is to have so many people killed! And what a blessing that one cares for none of them! ” (Jane Austen’s Letters, Oxford University Press, 2011, page 200.)