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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Attempts at "Why?"

October 17, 2007 Wednesday

It's not exactly a rare occurrence for me to get hate mail.

Most weeks I get a few "lakes of brimstone" type letters damning me and my sorry writing ability. OK. I never claimed to be good at this. I'm doing my best, and if it's not good enough for some of you, you are welcome to go ahead and click that little "x" in the top right hand corner of your browser.

I had this idea, poorly formulated and somewhat nebulous, that I might be able to somehow learn about myself through this process, and by making it public I might help someone learn something about themselves at the same time. I had hoped that it might connect me with some people of the Christian faith, that I might also have some fellowship with them, as they have no church here on the Row, and I miss it. I guess I was not prepared for the sheer amount of hatred that was going to come my way at mail call. I almost have to steel myself for the ordeal like a boxer preparing to get his face punched in. I know I deserve a lot of that negativity from some people. I don't dispute that. But it's the letters from people I have never even met that have me reeling. I can only imagine how much worse it is going to be next week after they air the 48 Hours Mystery! special on CBS. Does it really enrich your lives to send me multiple pages of reasons why the world will be better off without me? Honestly? Perhaps your time might be better spent trying to figure out what you are really angry about. Just a suggestion.

Most days I'm hanging by a thread, and maybe some of you picked up on that. Maybe that's why you wrote. I'll pray that you are able to figure out what that says about you.

Anyways, if I have somehow offended you by the presence of this site, I am sorry. It was never my intention to do so. I had a few goals when I started this, and while I am not sure how much longer I am going to be able to continue writing these entries, I want to make sure that I try to complete at least one of my aims. The most common question I am asked on a nearly daily basis is: Why?

What makes a person want his entire family killed off? The ADA told my attorney six months before the trial that he knew that money was not the objective for me. And yet, this was the main angle they played up during the trial. Why did they do this? The first reason is very simple: they never bothered to ask me, not in 18 months of confinement before the trial. The second reason is a little more complicated, but not by much. It is in the nature of such trials to trend towards sensationalism. After all, money WAS the motivation for the actual shooter, and it was an easy connection to assume it might be the reason behind my motives as well. Besides, money is easy. People do horrible things for money everyday; it's not a hard sell. Any action that makes the defendant less of a person and more of a cold and calloused monster is great for Death Penalty prosecutions. Actions that show him to be a very messed up person psychologically are bad for Death Penalty prosecutions.

Like I said, very simple. The story about a mythical "million dollar insurance payout" was supplied by my co-defendant, who was the State's star witness. (In truth, I knew my folks didn't have much insurance. Turns out my Dad carried a $50,000 policy on himself, and none on Mom or Kevin or me.) If you can't imagine a situation where a person would lie to avoid the Death Penalty (in exchange for a 15 year prison sentence) then you should start doing some Sudoku puzzles or something to get your brain back in shape.

I've had a lot of time to think about this. I've spent many hours trying to put my mind into a semblance of order so that I could try to answer the question of "why" in a manner that someone other than me might understand. It is times like this that I feel most keenly my lack of writing ability. My words fail me, and I feel totally deficient to the task. Part of my problem is that I am trying to explain something that can't really be rationalized. Especially when I am trying to make sure it doesn't sound like I am making excuses. It can never be excused.

(Something to keep in mind: while the world may in fact be an objective reality, whatever exists out there must first pass through the filter of your perception, so in a very real yet totally weird manner, everything is also subjective.)

Part of the story of "why" is rooted in me reading some very true signals, and then misinterpreting and computing them very poorly, which skewed my entire perception of my world. That's not really all that strange since there are probably many, many "truths" you know that are, in fact, not entirely accurate. Anyway, I'm sorry that I am doing such a poor job. This is hard. I would have liked to have waited until I was better able to manage this, but...that thread gets thinner every day. I need to try to get it down, so it will be somewhere physical for others to see.

Sometimes "sorry" isn't good enough, no matter how much we mean it. I never meant to turn so cold inside, so hollow. It was always about survival, the slow deadening of all of the protrusions that stuck off of me and made me feel so out of place. I've never felt like I was one of anybody, even while I was very young.

I was named after both of my grandfathers and yet, I always felt like anytime I was around the Bartletts that I was somehow unworthy of their proud names. I was always aware of it. Later in life, I began to emulate some of the qualities They (especially my Mom's family) possessed: strength, toughness, and calmness under fire, a touch of disdain for the rules that everyone else had to follow but which didn't apply to them, and lastly, pride. I think I wanted to be my uncle. He had lots of power in the family, and if someone didn't like him, well, nuts to them. For someone who lived every day of his life searching for microscopically subtle clues in other people as to whether or not he was acting acceptably, the desire to be so...free!...from concern about what others thought of you was all encompassing.

So, I tried to pattern myself after him, though the attempt was only skin-deep. I faked that confidence. It did help, though, for a while. The DA called these emulations "masks", which sounds so sinister. The truth is, I had been wearing them since elementary school, and if not for them, as I tried unsuccessfully to fit in, I would have opened up my veins in despair before I reached High School. I just wanted to be a normal person that my family would be proud of.

Growing up, I was totally different from my friends. While they were confident, rebellious, I was the kid who got stuck in left field and missed all the fly balls because I was more interested in the airplane in the sky than the game, which I hated. Sports pretty much determine your rank on the social ladder at that age, and I was the base. I began to strike-out on purpose, hoping that every year would be the year I would finally be able to convince my parents that there wasn't any point. But I couldn't tell them I didn't want to play because I was afraid that not liking sports meant that I wasn't living up to what they expected of me. But playing ball was hell for me. I had to make it look like I was trying, but failing. Instead, it was more batting lessons and a better bat. Every time I missed the ball, or the basket, or whatever, it was my secret little middle finger to everyone.

It wasn't long until I retreated into books. Kids don't come with instruction manuals. I can't imagine how difficult it must be to raise two children in this day and age. My parents saw my voracious appetite for reading, and encouraged it. What else could they do? It allowed them to spend the time on my brother, who, to be honest, needed it at that age. Kevin was having a difficult time in school and required just a bit of extra attention. What I perceived, though, was that Kevin was somehow more worthy of affection, and my own self-doubt increased. And some jealousy. I didn't know that I was setting a dangerous foundation. I only knew that the only time I didn't have to be constantly watching for errors in myself was when I was alone with my books. I didn't have to be perfect for them. They accepted me as I was. And though I hated my independence, this isolation, it became me.

I wanted to be a part of the family, but by the time I went to Middle School, I was a loner. I didn't want to be, but I didn't know what it took to have a real friend. So, I tried different things. Different "masks", if that is the word you want to use for them. We all do this, to a certain extent, and sometimes we don't even know it. But I knew it. We act different when we are at work vs. when we are at a club, or at church. Eventually, I found certain attributes that produced positive feedback. Humor, for one. Making people laugh staved off the loneliness. I felt I could fit in, even if only for short periods of time. But the desire to be accepted only increased with that small taste.

The poison took form in those days: perfection brought happiness. All I had to do was look at the magazines and TV to see that perfect people had friends, had love. So, if you are stupid and ugly, what do you do? Well, you cheat. Any way you can. You do anything to keep the world and those you care about from seeing just how sad and pathetic you are. It's not my parents fault they didn't see the signs, because I was an expert at covering them up. It was critical that I kept the secret from them. I thought I would certainly lose their love if they had even the slightest idea who I really was. So I never let them, or anyone, see.

(I realize now that this wasn't true, but I believed it then. I tried to explain this to the prosecutor at my trial. I said that growing up I never felt loved, because deep inside I knew that the kid my parents loved wasn't the real me, but he rejected it completely, ignoring what I was trying to say and pointing out that my parents had never abused me or denied me love, did things with me, took me on trips, so why didn't I feel loved? No, he said, I was incapable of love and that I had betrayed the people who had tried to love me. I think that misperception is the worst part of this tragedy of multiple misperceptions. No one understands, and I am unable to explain it so they can understand. Perhaps by the time these journals are finished I will be able to get it out.)

Growing up I continued to pay very, very close attention to people's reactions to me, until I was so good at subtle detection of peoples' moods that it was second nature to me. I became a 13 year old con artist - not in the sense that I stole things or took advantage of people, but that I sold myself to people as something I wasn't. But something else happened, down beneath the masks and the sub-basement of self-loathing. I began to hate. I saw everyone as happy (even if they really weren't), and I hated them for it. I couldn't figure out why something so basic was missing from me.

I lost God in those days. I hated Him, for making me the way He did, for being such a sadist. I hated Him for cursing us with free will. I hated Him for giving me life. It's a tricky thing to hate something as big as God, though. He's too ethereal. You aim for Him, but you hit everyone else. So, even though I wasn't conscious of this, my hate for the world was really being directed at the people I loved. And the loneliness bore deep. And the masks had become all I was. There were no real benchmarks for "I" anymore, and everything became very fluid, very mutable. The better I got at impersonating a human being, the better I fit in. But the hate never went away, and though you mainly hate yourself, there are limits to how much you can hate yourself, and it spills over onto other people.

Add to this the extreme pressure I still felt to be perfect on a minute-by-minute basis, and something truly evil was born. It may have started as a maelstrom of emotions, all jumbled up into a messy vortex, but at some point during my sophomore year of High School, I overloaded. Like a breaker switching off from electricity overflow, something clicked off inside me. It started with something small. Something you can afford to lose. You think, "I will get that back some day, but for now, I have to make it through the day." It makes it easier the next time you get overloaded. It got to the point that, years later, when I heard that my best friend in High School, Lane, had died on the same day as had Matt, my best friend growing up, I was able to find my center of detachment very quickly. When I heard the news, my girlfriend was asking me if I was OK, and I wasn't. Everything was wrong, but...I found a place within me where it was all-right. I went there, and I stayed.

She had been my cornerstone since my senior year of High School. She was wonderful, perfect. She saved me from suicide 1000 times. I think I had loved her from the first time I saw her, but she was so far out of my league. When the opportunity to actually talk to her came about...I did what I always did, I re-invented myself to what I thought she wanted. And it worked. She actually cared about me, the way I had dreamed about for so long. Except it was founded on lies. I had wanted to stop being invisible for years, and here, finally was my chance, but I had blown it. I tried desperately to become the man she thought I was. I even got good at it, fooling myself for a time. Most of the time I knew, though, that there was a schism between who she wanted me to be, and who I really was. God, I needed her so much, though, I was willing to do just about anything. She made me so happy...but identity must be resolved. I know that now, though I didn't then. So, to my shame, while I was in college, I cheated on her. It was never about finding a better her, it was always about searching for me in the only mirrors that ever mattered: the eyes of another human being. I never found him. The list of who Thomas Bartlett Whitaker was became even longer. There were now at least 15 somewhat different versions of me, and it took an extreme amount of energy to keep these worlds from ever coming into contact. And the emptiness inside of me just kept getting bigger and bigger. I tried to fill it with drugs and philosophy (sometimes both...Nietzsche on Crystal Meth could make anyone hate the world). I began to work out a bit. I got into the martial arts, and that helped for a bit, though most of my senseis knew there was something wrong with me. Most people freeze up in a fight. I smiled.

Somewhere in there, around the year 2000, the hate overcame the love. It had grown strong over the years, and I knew that there were definitely people responsible for me having to be alive. A single night of passion, I reasoned, and I have to go through THIS? I'll never be what they want, anyways. I decided that it wouldn't really trouble me if most anyone in my life were to drop off the face of the planet. Sometimes I wanted them to. And then I realized that what I really wanted, more than anything else, was revenge for being alive. As soon as the thought was born, it had a life of its own.

It was never about money. It was never about getting away with it. I wanted revenge for being invisible. I wanted revenge for being me. In a very real way, though, it was all just a sick fantasy, a desperate attempt to bleed off the pressure a bit. If I thought how easy it would be, I relaxed a bit. They became the scapegoat for all the troubles in my life. I could play the "If only you knew game".

I knew I lacked the courage to do it myself. Being evil isn't a game that I could play by myself. So you find others to play. And you make plans, never really thinking it was going to happen. But then the gunshots roar, and 15 years of your personal evolution is stripped away, and it's real, oh God, it's real! What the hell was I thinking? And you try to back away from the horror of it, the image you see of yourself in the mirror, but you can't. And you lie, and you lie, trying to back away from it. Only, two of the only people that ever really cared about you are dead, and those that are left might die when they realize the truth.

So I ran, ran from the nightmare of what I had done and become. I was afraid of what was going to happen to me, and was running from the horror of me. I saw it all: the trial, the conviction, the needle. For weeks, I tried to erase the image of seeing my loved ones look at me through the glass as the tubes were inserted into my arms. The disappointment, the hate. So I ran. The only power I had now, I reasoned, was to ensure that when the day of the needle came, my family would cheer it, rather than cry over it. So like a coward I left them without a word. I didn't want anyone on the other side of that glass. I still don't.

There are those that think that my 18 month hiatus in the mountains of Mexico was a selfish action. Good. My personal fear was a major part of it, admittedly, but the majority wanted everyone to think it was selfish-it was designed to look that way so those who had cared for me wouldn't any longer. What I didn't expect was that I would find God again in those mountains. Or that my father would forgive me for what I had done. (That's another story, and a huge one, and I will write about that in another journal entry.) You might consider, though, that for those of you who have written me to say that you have a hard time fitting me into your mental image of a Death Row prisoner, it might be entirely because of that forgiveness. Think about the power of that, and how it might be applied into your own lives. All I can say in conclusion is this: Mom, Kevin, I would trade places with you in death 1000 times a day. I wish I had killed myself, instead. I'm so sorry. So sorry.

So, send me your hate mail if it makes you feel better. If it somehow bleeds the pressure in your own life. Just don't ask me to hate myself more than I already do. It can't be done. It can't be done.

I look back on this writing and it's all wrong. How can you reduce your entire life to a few pages of text? I did my best, and it is as I feared: totally inadequate. I'm sorry.

Why was none of this brought up during the trial, you ask? Good question. My attorney didn't think psychological issues were relevant in this case. Or the drug abuse. And besides, trials are designed to filter out this kind of stuff. They want cold, hard facts, not feelings.

I can't write much more of this right now, so I'm going to end this with someone else's words, as somebody else has generally already said everything better than I could ever say it. In Milton's Paradise Lost, Satan says that hell is wherever he is, for he cannot escape his own mind. Amen, Lucifer. Amen.


© Copyright 2007 by Thomas Bartlett Whitaker.
All rights reserved.

2 comments:

Andrea Schuler said...

Wow... I think you were truly honest in that post about how the hate grew in you. You explained a lot.

Anonymous said...

This article has really left me with a lot to think about. I share several qualities (the loner in highschool, using different "masks" to mold myself to what I think others want to see). I can only imagine the pain you must be in now, the "shoulda coulda woulda"'s the run thru your mind. I feel I gain a little more insight with each article I read. -Ken