Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Un-Crying Wolf

August 20, 2008

I'm not really sure how to start this. Today has been an extremely trying day. I have not felt like this since my trial. I feel totally defeated, like everything and good that I have endeavored to accomplish has no meaning. I have slowly been rebuilding my life these past four years, one piece of driftwood at a time. All of that was wiped away by a single question:

Why should we believe you when you say that you have changed?

This was asked by Miss Lisa Ling, late of ABC's "The View", acting as special interviewer for the Oprah Winfrey Show. My father has been invited to Chicago to be a guest on Ms. Winfrey's show, which will air sometime in October. I was asked for an interview, something which I have consistently rejected from the local media. For some strange reason, I thought maybe I could help my dad in this, and get a chance to show that God really does still change people. I am such a fool. Cameras scare the crap out of me. I should have known better.

Let me set the stage for you a little. On Wednesdays, normal visiting hours stop at noon, so that there can be an opportunity for media interviews. I have never done one of these, but I knew that I would not be called down there until around noon, so I should have had plenty of rest, right? Wrong. It was the trial all over. I got maybe four hours, all in depressingly crumb-like fifteen minute chunks. I am sure that you can understand how being on national television might cause an individual some degree of stress. I don't know how the politicians can do this every day. I guess you get acclimated to it. God, I prayed, just give me the words to do you service. That was all that I wanted. I don't know how he intends to use my clumsy babbling for some purpose, but that is His business, I guess.

I've never been comfortable in crowds. In High School, I was on an Odyssey of the Mind team that won Regional's and went to State. The contest consisted of two parts: the first required us to build a functioning robot; the second, to use said robot in a play. It is a contest designed to expand all the facets of a person's intellect. The crowd was huge. I broke out into cold sweats, and to this day I do not know how I managed to get through the thing. When you believe, for whatever reason, that you need to work really hard to be accepted, the stress of accomplishing this multiplies when the crowd does. More people = more expectations = more eyes judging you...and a camera is the biggest crowd there is. It never blinks. It misses nothing.

The crew was professional. Miss Ling was equally so. I have often wondered who the talking heads are, when the cameras are turned off. During the interview, I kept wondering...Am I talking to the real Lisa Ling? Is this simply the role she has to put on to do her job? Does she hate me, want me dead? I kept thinking her eyes looked wounded, and I wondered if this was my fault. I guess my initial impression was that it didn't appear that she believed anything I said. That's sort of my dilemma, isn't it? How do you un-cry wolf?

Is it even possible? I have done all I can think of to express my sorrow about what happened on December 10th. I have admitted my wrong, both in open court, and here in the largest forum in world history, the internet. It was pointed out to me, during the interview, that I could write personal letters to some people...and this is correct. I've thought about it of course; discussed it with my dad, about the timing. I guess I figured that these people didn't want to hear from me. I mean, my name is cancer...I thought they would feel...I don't know, angry (?) about me writing them. I'm going to do this, though. Please tell me, what more can I do? I am serious here. I don't explain myself very well. Sometimes people ask me questions...and I just don't know the answers. I'm doing my best with this mess, but obviously it's not nearly enough. I don't know how to put into words how sorry I am. Do you think I can escape, even for a few minutes a day, the past? Do you know what it is like to get your lunch tray, and when you lean over and smell it, all that you get is the overpowering stench of blood and cordite? Do you know what burning pennies smell like? Have you ever gone to pour ketchup on a hot-dog, only to freak out and lose your appetite because it looked too much like blood? When I was in Mexico, I had one of those composition notebooks. I tried to put on paper what I was feeling, but I couldn't, so I just ended up writing "I'm so sorry" over and over again, until all of the margins and pages were covered. If all those pages couldn't explain how I feel, how could a few minutes of tape?

Do you honestly believe that a day goes by where I don't think about appeasing all of the people who call for my blood? It would be so easy to oblige you all. Some of you have even given me suggestions. I recently went back to the hospital, to speak to the surgeons about correcting their train-wreck of an operation. I was left in a room on the seventh floor, with a full window. Have you ever felt undertow? Every time I go near a window, I feel that gentle tugging, only it pulls at my heart. Can you understand how maybe someone who has caused so much pain would not want to cause anymore, ever, ever, ever, ever again? I know the day is coming when my Dad will be told that I am dead. As much as I would love to be rid of this pathetic little circus we have here, I have no intention of causing him that pain yet. You vultures will have to wait for your meal a little while longer.

Maybe there is nothing that I can do. We are a nation of people living in fear. We weren't always like this. My grandparents' generation believed in the inherent goodness of man. That someone could start over, renew themselves, and become great. Now, we believe only that someone is out to get us. Iran. Russia. That weird guy down the street who wears odd clothes and listens to The Mars Volta. Why is this concept of change so hard to accept?

For those of you in your 30's, your 40's, your 50's, think back for me. Are you anything like your 23-year old self? Even a little bit? Then why is it so impossibly difficult for you to believe someone (not necessarily me, the question is really more rhetorical) can change? If it could correct the course of their life? What does it really cost you to believe in me? Whether you do or not Texas is going to kill me in a few years. The Appellate Process is a farce in Texas. Your beliefs will not change that. If you choose to think only the worst of people all of the time, you are doing SO MUCH DAMAGE to the potential good of the world. How many of our greatest triumphs came at the hands of men who made terrible mistakes, only to make a conscious effort to better themselves? And for some reason which is completely inexplicable to me, it seems like the worst of this lot all go by the name of a man whose whole point of existence was to give us all a second chance. Have you not read, Oh ye "Christians", of Paul, who was Saul? Hunter and MURDERER of Christians...who would have believed him that God had spoken to him on the road to Damascus? Many did not, and those people surely missed out on the brilliance of the one person most responsible ensuring that today you know a man named Jesus of Nazareth. A few, though, they took him at his word. What a reward for believing in a man! I am not Paul by any means. I do have a testimony, though God called me in Mexico, not Damascus. He didn't say my name out of a cloud. He said it when a gun I had held to my head didn't go off. I may talk about that another time. I simply do not have the heart for it right now. But I KNOW I have changed, and so do the people that know me.

Change. It's like a currency we only accept from the people we care about. When our young sons or daughters dabble in drugs parents quickly decry they can quit the habit. When a female friend at work shows up with yet another black eye, she is quick to point out that her boyfriend is "working on it". But when it is some punk convict trying to show the world that he is not the sum of his worst moments alive, we run in terror, lamenting his ability to overcome himself, all the while secretly reveling in the drama. Monster! Cold-blooded villain! How satisfying it must be to have that righteous indignation. When they put me in the ground, I hope that you are able to recognize the fact that your world didn't get any safer. Your bills are still there. Your problems will persist. I hope you are able to identify the thought that someone just died for...what? I hope you don't simply move on to the next target, whatever that may be.

So tired. I want to help someone so badly. I have run my life the last few years in a way I believe to be moral. I tithe 10% of all of my donations (Actually it's a whole lot more, but I have never been one to toot my own horn, so I don't really talk about that kind of stuff here). I have tried to reach out to people who felt like I did growing up. If you believe nothing else that I ever write, believe this: there are so many of me out there. People eroded down to the breaking point by the sandstorms of loneliness, emptiness, purposelessness, and all the vagaries of this brave new modern world. I am no prophet. I have no fancy degrees. I have never made a pilgrimage to a holy place to obtain wisdom. I'm probably not qualified to help anyone, but I am trying nonetheless. And people are responding. Though, for the most part, I keep such information out of the public eye. The point I'm trying to make is this: I do have a testimony. Maybe it is not one for everyone...but whose is?

I don't believe in myself. I never have. So it is very hard for me to trust myself to always do the right thing. I DO however, trust God to handle my fumblings and use them in a constructive way. I have to believe that He is up to something. And that whatever it is, it won't get done unless I open my mouth. I am sorry I am not eloquent. Putting me in front of a camera is like watching Chernobyl. When that little red light goes on, my heart drops into my shoes and my tongue hails a cab for the airport. I feel like Moses must have felt standing in front of the burning bush, looking over his shoulder going, "Who, me? Uh, you must be kidding, right?" I will never be good at this. My hope is that some people will look beyond my stutterings to what I meant. And also realize that 15 second sound bite answers are not even 1% of the true answer, when it comes to human beings. We all know this, don't we? Bleh, what a mess.

After the interview, I dragged myself back to my cell, totally drained. I hadn't realized just how much my social skills had atrophied. What a curious thing to lose-the art of conversation. Another victim of the isolation conditions, I guess. It can join its compadres human contact, pride, and understanding of personal space in the hereafter.

I understand that Fred Felcman, the ADA who prosecuted me, is going to be on the show. I hope Mr. Felcman really listens to my Dad, for a change. Before I die I wish could talk to him for just a few moments. I want to tell him so much. That I don't hate him. That I pray for him. That his ways just lead to more pain and more death...I don't know all of what I would say. I just get the impression that he is a man badly in need of a friend. I hope my Dad can reach him. I really do. I hope he can reach you.

I really, really do.

"I was just a boy only twenty-two,
neither good or bad,
just a kid like you-
and now I'm lost, too late to pray
I've paid the cost
on the Lost Highway."

-Leon Payne "Lost Highway," 1949

© Copyright 2008 by Thomas Bartlett Whitaker.
All rights reserved.

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