How’s that for a cliché for a title. Guess I’m not too creative right now.
Last spring I was called for jury duty, to the Superior Court in New Haven. The minute I said that in front of my sister, her one-word response was “Komisarjevsky.” And I said “Noooo. No, it can’t be.” But it was. I arrived on my appointed day, and was called not long after the lunch break, and I started to get a bad feeling when an unusually large number of people was called. And then when the clerk in charge of the big group asked who among us were teachers or students, my stomach sank: that must mean what they expected to be a long trial. There were other indicators, and sure enough we were filed into a small courtroom – and there he was. A child-murdering monster. Evil. He didn’t look it. But he scared me. I had never – until yesterday – been more grateful to escape anything than I was to be excused from that trial. The horror of what he and his partner did is not something that should ever be ignored, but I also was terrified of the idea of the details being pounded into me, never to fade. It was the first time I was highly conscious of being in the presence of evil.
Yesterday I learned of another evil I once spent a lot more time around. I didn’t recognize it for what it was until after the fact; at that point I predicted mayhem. I never thought I’d really be right. It’s a little like saying that a major fault line is bound to be the site of a huge earthquake, and then still being surprised and horrified when a city is leveled.
Almost three years ago my boss at the time called me into the conference room and informed me that because of the economy they had to reduce the office staff, and I was it. It was actually very gentle; it was only afterward that it got ugly. I was angry, and hurt; I vented in a series of blog posts about the whole situation, and part of that was exploring the fact that if you look up the definition of “psychopath” you can find a checklist of twenty items. The more of these a person exhibits, the more likely they are to be a very literal psychopath. It’s not just some internet meme – it’s a legitimate (afaik) diagnostic tool called the Hare Psychopathy Checklist. Without stretching I found I could easily apply the first thirteen to him; two more fit him if they were not canceled out by the “Pathological lying”.
After I left the place I started hearing stories. Stories involving his temper, which I knew about – and involving guns, which I knew he loved, but not to what extent. For three years now I have been grimly predicting that he was either going to kill his wife and children one day, or open fire on the office. I actually have cringed a little every time there was a shooting in New Haven, where the company is located. I took down the blog posts, because I was frankly afraid.
Then, I heard, at the beginning of this year the board of the company – which consists of the family, it being a company started by my former boss’s father – ousted the man I’d worked for and placed his brother in full charge. I have no idea what the specifics were; it’s easy to assume that they finally decided he was just too big a loose cannon to not be a detriment to the company. He didn’t take it well. But that was at the beginning of the year. Which was why I was so shocked when yesterday morning my current boss said “Didn’t you work for a company in New Haven?” “Yes – why?” “There was a shooting.”
My ex-boss went to the factory this morning, waited for and shot his brother in the parking lot, then drove to their parents’ house and shot himself.
Between them they left four small children. Not to mention wives, and parents who now have no sons. The company can’t but suffer, so that’s some 50+ dependent employees who will have to endure. Me? I’m just in shock. I’m grateful he didn’t do what I expected him to do. Also, he was a rabid (and I use the word advisedly) Republican; I always figured if he didn’t damage his family or the office he would attempt to take out a Democratic gathering. He wished harm on Obama, frequently (and other leading Democrats), and I always had a hope that he had said things publicly enough that he was under surveillance by the FBI – because there was a – pardon the pun – deadly seriousness to the threats. Had he ever been in the same place at the same time as the President, I have absolutely no doubt but that there would have been an Incident.
And it’s just really, really strange that I never have to worry about it again. It’s not like it was ever the prevailing concern of my day-to-day existence, but it was there, every time a news crew was in New Haven, every time I heard about a workplace shooting. Every time I heard Obama was coming to Connecticut. And now something’s happened. With all due recognition of the horror of it, it wasn’t the worst that could have been – I would have definitely called a higher body count. Much. But.
But, see, there’s another part of it. I spent a year and a half in that office. I had interviewed there in … 2007? And it was the best interview ever. It was fun. I have never had another fun job interview – apart from the second one I had there when I was laid off from my next job. See, I was offered the job after the fun interview, but I was also offered another one five minutes from home. I took the one with the proximity over the one with the fun, with a few regrets. When that one ended, I emailed the other place – and half an hour later had a new interview lined up. And it was even more fun than the first one. It was all very flattering, too – they remembered me, and were delighted I was going to be joining them. And there were times, early on, when that was the best job I ever had. I was challenged, and I grew. I baked for that office regularly: I love to bake, and they liked what I made, and it was fun. I had political discussions with the boss. We were on the opposite ends of the spectrum, which would normally be a recipe for disaster, but he was able to keep it more than civil; I learned a lot (though not a thing that changed my mind), and he might have even learned something. He was unstinting with praise when he set a challenge and the challenge was met. He used to play “Name That TV Theme Tune” over the PA system. He was a foodie: one day he cooked us a prime rib dinner with all the fixings that was one of the best meals I ever ate. He made his own wine and encouraged sampling of it in the office, and took us out for drinks or dinner now and then, and every person who came in for a job interview laughed. A lot.
And that’s the thing. There were a lot of job interviews, because in the short time I was there he fired or laid off six people (culminating with me) in a small office where there were usually only five desks occupied, all with little or no reason, and no notice – no preliminary warnings, nothing, just take ‘em into the conference room and then they’re out the door with a box. Since I left I know of at least three or four more. He was as unstinting with condemnation as he was with praise, and it was a lot easier to earn condemnation; try being two minutes late to a production meeting. I still have the scars. The fact that I don’t cry as easily as I once did is thanks to him – I learned not to let him make me cry. The person who was let go a few months before me has been reacting on Facebook about his evil, and the hate in his eyes – and that’s as true as the rest of it. He could be incredibly scary. I’ll remember those eyes always.
I’ll also always remember giving him a hug before we left for the one Christmas I was there.
And the rage in his face when he talked about killing the entire Obama family.
And the time he extolled my baking to someone as he introduced me to.
And the time he flayed me alive for misplacing a sticky note.
And talking to him about just how he got those shrimp at the Fourth of July cookout to taste so amazing.
And the vicious commentary he passed about one of my friends in front of the rest of the office.
And his warmth when he hired me (and while I was still “flavor of the month”).
And the coldness with which he changed the story after he laid me off to try to deny me unemployment benefits.
And the horror with which I listened to all the stories that came flooding out after I was out of there, of guns and anger and violence – on both brothers’ parts. I didn’t know the brother who was killed as well as I (thought I) knew the killer. His was a sharper intelligence; neither of them was stupid, but the one who was shot used his intelligence as a weapon. But when he felt like it he could settle in for as good a conversation as any – except that his overall air was that he didn’t have time for that kind of nonsense. I never cared about him as much as I did his brother – but I never hated him as much as I did his brother, either.
This is a very strange feeling. It has nothing to do with me – and everything to do with me. I’ve never known anyone who was murdered before. I’ve never known anyone who became a murderer before. I’ve never been so sharply aware of – and this isn’t really intended as a pun – a bullet dodged, for myself and for the friends who continued to work in that office.
And I don’t really know how to process any of it.