The bird of life is singing in the sun
Short is his song – nor only just begun
A call, a trill, a rapture, then – so soon! –
A silence, and then the song is done – is done.
From the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
It is 6:05 PM on May the 12th, 2010. I have heard no reports from the officers which would indicate that Governor Perry has reviewed the tenets of his Methodist faith and discovered the concept of mercy, so I must assume that the State is about its ugly business. I have lost many friends and acquaintances over the last 3+ years, but Kevin’s execution somehow feels different. The accompanying joy or sorrow one feels when your favorite sports team wins or loses is proportional to the emotion you put into your cheering and I guess this is no different: I had way more of myself invested in Kevin than in anyone else. Listen to me: “accompanying joy,” “proportional.” I use words like that when I am trying to hide, or keep people at arms length. None of that, I think, for today.
Last night seemed to stretch out beyond the norm. I’ve made a habit of keeping some sort of stupid vigil the night before a friend of mine is killed, ever since they got Woody in 2007. For the first maybe 15 dates, there was a lot of fasting and praying involved, though I honestly don’t waste the effort anymore. Whatever god is up to, he’s not paying any attention to Texas. Now, I spend most of the night simply meditating, refreshing my memory of the soon-to-be-departed. I guess I feel this is the only means available to me of honoring a side of someone the world neither cares about nor will ever see. Years back, my friend Prieto showed me how to make a crude candle out of hair, wax and a few other odds and ends, and I always keep one of these around. They are contraband of course, but I don’t mind losing them in a cell search much as I enjoy the act of making them. It was a bit of a technical challenge to get my grubby little fingers on the necessary supplies back here on level, but I also enjoy that type of thing. In any case, Kevin had his candle, which mattered to me in some silly way. Over the past few years I’ve learned it is far better to light one candle that to curse the darkness. If I may be so bold: please reread that last sentence a few times. It may well be the most important thing I have ever written.
Ah, what am I feeling right now? No anger, at present, though that may come later. Anger can be a wonderfully constructive emotion, when directed in the proper manner. Kindling for the fires of progress, so to speak. Neither do I feel any appreciable amount of bitterness yet, though I am absolutely certain that will come. I do “bitter” like a pro, as I am sure you are aware by this point. It is not a very endearing emotional state, a fact which does not escape me. And yet I find such moods ineradicable. If you have been reading Kevin’s journals over the past few months, I think that maybe some of you will have figured out why this is. If you feel shame or sorrow or fear or anger or any form of unpleasant mental state from simply viewing his words on a computer screen, try then to imagine actually living the reality. And then, multiply this by the 300-something men here. I’ve taken the stance that – ugly as it may be - bitterness and cynicism may very well be the best choices available from a limited array of lesser evils.
What I really feel at present is gratitude. Many of you stepped up and confronted a situation which was entirely alien and frightening and you did so with grace and character which astounds me. Even though you hadn’t the foggiest idea what to say to someone in Kevin’s position, you made yourself available to him, you encouraged him, and you kept him from feeling the full weight of his despair. That means something. Maybe not in an absolute sense (nothing does), but in Kevin’s subjective world, it meant everything. I suspect and hope that this experience has also meant something to all of you, as well.
It would be impossible to name everyone who – to borrow a term from Kevin’s religion – helped to carry his cross for him. Honestly, I have been cut off from events back here in the dungeon, so I don’t have any real concept of all the people who truly deserve to have a candle burning in their own names. I know there are many. Dina, Dorothy, Dixie: if there is anything that exists in this world which could be appropriately labeled as “Justice” or “Karma,” your lives should be nothing but Elysian Fields from here on out. Stefania: please remember that it is the choices we make which define us, not the outcomes of our endeavors. You are a warrior and don’t ever forget it. And, of course, Tracey: it must be an exceedingly wonderful thing to be very nearly a perfect avatar of hope in such an ugly world. If only you could see yourself the way everyone else does. Things didn’t go the way we had hoped, but tomorrow waits not for us to grieve.
To those of you who had the nerve to attempt posts of derision, hatred and scorn (including the guy who simply posted “Whaw, whaw!” and then had the temerity to add “Go with honor”), I will say only this: one day, you too will face death. For your sakes, I hope it comes quickly. Because if you have to wait out a three or six month span for cancer (or whatever) to unmake you, the words you posted will come back to you and they are going to leave you utterly, completely ashamed. The world would be a better place if anonymous postings went the way of the dodo.
Capriciously malevolent cretins aside, the rest of you should take some solace in the fact that in the few months prior to his death, Kevin seemed filled with a newfound sense of direction. When “happiness” is taken off the table as a possibility for life, only purpose remains. Kevin knew his chances were not good, and he made the conscious choice to dedicate the time that remained to him to the task of putting into words some very complex emotional states. I’ve not had the chance to read most of what he has written yet but from what I have seen, I would judge his efforts as successful. I joked with him in a kite a few weeks back that in less than 60 days he had managed to achieve internet hit counts multiple times higher than even my best showing, which I informed him was both amusing and annoying. He replied: "If I survive this, I guess I might see my way to allowing you to post on my site, scrub. If I don’t, you will just have to deal with knowing a guy who’s idea of heavy reading is Spiderman comics whipped you at your own game. Deal with that Mr. Perfectionist.” Haha, tool. You were my funniest friend, Kev, and I will miss you.
He also had a way of making me see the inconsistencies in my own logic, which is a blessing to be sure, but a rather infuriating one. A simple example, which crossed my mind during my vigil: like everyone else here, I gave Kevin full and unapologetic broadsides on his Britney obsession. And why not? It was kind of silly and maybe a little creepy. Especially when Ms. Spears went through her bald/overweight phase (the only reason I know of this period is, of course, Varga’s fault. Ugh. I want those brain cells back.) He took all of the ribbing in stride, in that good-natured way of his. Occasionally he would defend himself, but he really didn’t care what we all thought about the situation, even when we would send him birthday and Christmas cards made up entirely of magazine clippings of Britney with other men. I deemed myself to be above such sophomoric puppy-loves, of course.
About 8 or 9 months ago, I was out in the visitation room, waiting on an escort team to come ferry me back to my cell. Sometimes this can take several hours. so one quickly becomes quite numb with boredom. Every once in a while, attorneys and law students from the Texas Defenders Service truck up to the Polunsky Palace to speak with their many clients, and on this day there was quite a crowd of them (no grenade jokes, these are the good types of lawyers). One of them was an astoundingly beautiful blonde girl, who appeared far too young to be a law student, though that is probably merely my advanced age showing through. In any case, she really was very nearly perfect. I am generally not the type of man to stare, as I deem such actions to be low-rent, but I couldn’t help myself. It must have been rather obvious, because she turned to look at me on her way to the vending machine. I felt pretty chastised (and more than a little pathetic), and looked away because, really, what woman needs some loser convict ogling her? How déclassé. My lack of self-control alarmed me, really, and I afterwards pondered about it at length.
What I came to understand is that in a world entirely bereft of anything resembling beauty, all of us build a shrine deep down inside of us, where we keep the icons of our aesthetic preferences. Very near to what Plato had in mind when he discussed the form of Beauty, I suppose. For Kevin, that was Britney. Having the apotheosis of perfection within him helped him wade through a swampland of muck and mire, and not lose what it is to be a human being. I had to admit to myself that for all my feelings of superiority on this issue, had that law student actually walked up to my booth and picked up the phone, my heart would have been racing. Once I figured that out, I never bugged Kev on the Britney issue again. Almost always in life, the more you know, the less you judge.
In our last exchange of kites, Kevin and I said our goodbyes and offered some attempts at wisdom. My last words to him were: what isn’t painful when it is present should cause no pain when it is anticipated. I gleaned that from reading Epicurus, whose notions on Death and god I find useful. Kevin’s gift to me was far more profound, by several orders of magnitude. He told me that he always wondered if the main reason I fought so hard for him was that he shared a name with my brother, and was using him as a form of penance. I was surprised at his acumen, for he was partially correct: it wasn’t the “main” reason, but it was one of them. He said that when he got to heaven, he would search out my brother and tell him about the man I have become. Reading that pretty much ended my usefulness for the day. Pretty telling, though, isn’t it? My last words were about conquering fear, and his about rebirth. I can’t help but think that, in the end, I need to be a whole lot more like Kevin, than he needed to be like me.
© Copyright 2010 by Thomas Bartlett Whitaker. All rights reserved.