When I went back over the transcript of my conversation with Detective Daniel Cunningham, the current detective on Patty Vance’s case, I felt as if I shared too much.
“What’s your interest in this case?” he asked.
What came out was a flood of reasons.
“Honestly,” I began, a clear indicator that I am going to cross a social boundary since I’ve talked to him for all of two minutes at this point.
“I was asked in a writing class to write about a time that changed my life,” I said.
This was only loosely true, but has become something I say now and again. I chose to write about this period for a class because it did change my life. Only later when I saw the prompt in a book on writing did I realize my piece answered that exact question.
After I rambled on for a bit longer, I explained to Cunningham how Patty and I were estranged when she died, how she’d robbed my mother, and with another girl beaten a friend of mine senseless.
Cunningham was not so much trying to gather information that might help the case as summing me up I realized in retrospect.
The truth is (here I go again!) that my reasons often feel almost too complicated to explain. Maybe I haven’t listed them all out yet myself. I wanted to tell him that I wanted to know about the case so I can write about it, so I can use it to get some insight into the way the world works. I wanted to tell him that I’ve come to believe knowledge is not power, but a salve. It isn’t true of course; it does little to nothing to take away the pain.
As much as I want to focus my writing on Patty Vance, on her case, on what might be of use to other people, my writing is a lot about me. It’s me asking “what the hell happened?” and “is the world really this cruel?” and various other pressing questions. I toy with the idea that maybe the overarching question is about forgiveness, about trying to understand what that means. I tell myself that I want to be forgiven for all the shitty things I’ve done to people over the years, hence I need to forgive others. I’ve even started telling myself that maybe she didn’t hurt my friend at all, but it was the other girl who inflicted all the violence. I have no way of knowing. Patty did nothing to stop it. If she didn’t partake in the violence, she likely operated as a cheerleader for it.
I ask myself about the moral math. How do I reckon the most heinous acts with the act of forgiveness? There is no good formula. But there is opinion. And I guess that’s one of the reasons I’m writing this, to discover what exactly my opinion is. I am like Einstein trying to do the math behind his theory of relativity. As history relates, he had to turn to mathematicians. I am not saying I’m some genius, only that I wish there were experts to turn this problem over to. Has anyone really solved the problem of evil, or explained why it is that we humans can inflict such harm to one another. There is no satisfying answer that I’ve heard so far.
I wished I’d figured out an elevator pitch to respond with when people like Detective Cunningham ask me things like what my interest in this case is. I need a pat phrase like “it’s the right thing to do, she was my best friend once.” Because this much I know about how the world works, there are rules about what you can and can’t say, and you will be judged on how well to stick to these rules. I can’t imagine I’d be able to ramble on about how I’m trying to figure out how to make sense of this crazy world without people thinking I was a bit crazy myself. “It is all too confusing and painful to figure out,” I might say tossing the rule book aside.