What I’m about to write has been in my brain for many years. Frankly, my family has supplied enough drama to write a book; but this one, this one has never left me. Ten days ago, after Troy Davis was executed even though there was ample evidence suggesting he was not the man who killed police officer Mark MacPhail, my brain went back to 1975 after a pro-death penalty friend texted, “what if it was a member of your family that was killed” and I retorted that “it has been a member of my family.” I haven’t been able to shake it. I want to write a short story of an incident in my youth so people understand that this stuff happens in so many families. You can’t ever think, “no, not me, not us, it’s the others.” An eye-for-an-eye can never undo the damage.
In August of 1975, not too long after my 13th birthday, we got word that my aunt Vicki was dead. I believe she was 42 at the time. My uncle Sonny who was an alcoholic had thrown her down some stairs in a drunken fit. I now know he had always been physically abusive towards her and everyone looked the other way. Yet he had always been so nice to me. As a kid, I was a big baseball fan and loved the Red Sox. He gave me my first baseball glove. It was used and worn, but man I loved that thing. Carl Yastrzemski was my favorite player and he gave me this awesome picture of Yaz in his batting stance. Then after he went to a Sox game, came back with a glossy team photo of the Red Sox for me. He even gave me my first driving lesson on a tractor. He was my favorite uncle. I was totally unaware of the darkness.
Unlike most of my aunts, my aunt Vicki always said girls can do anything boys can do and I should do what makes me happy. She knew I wasn’t a girly girl from the start and she was totally cool with that, and never tried to encourage me to be someone I wasn’t. In fact, she encouraged my passions. I liked sports, I played with trucks and while I loved teddy bears, I hated dolls. And I liked to write. She used to read my lame little Red Sox game caps, she was the only one. Even my parents couldn’t be bothered. My funniest memory was her tying my socks together when I was little and me crying because I was not smart enough to just take them off!
I vaguely remember parts of a day so many, many years ago, so long before that dark August day. My aunt Vicki had showed up in her Ford Falcon at our house because Uncle Sonny had beaten her up again. I remember the black eye. I remember her crying and holding herself up against our refrigerator before I was scooted away. Next thing I knew, she was gone. My father didn’t want to let her stay, didn’t want to get involved. My mother has always been subservient of his demands, even though I know now that she regrets not taking a stand, it’s too late. Just so you know, my father has never been physically abusive, but emotionally, well that’s another story. The thing that changed for my mother was that as I hit my teens, I fought back to his sexist, subservient tone and while it didn’t really help me as I was who I was, I think it helped her. Yet, to this day, she somehow remembers the days of her youth when women stood with their men no matter what as a positive. But, I digress…
I’m not sure how often I saw Aunt Vicki after that incident as I’m sure she didn’t feel welcome or supported. As an adult, I can only wonder how my parents support might have helped her. I also wonder, with her encouragement if I would’ve pursued my dreams of journalism, as she was the only one who believed in me and encouraged me to swim upstream when needed. I wanted to be a writer, a sports writer at the time. Who knows, with encouragement, maybe I’d be Jackie McMullen today. My parents didn’t believe in college. I went back to school when I was in my 30’s, but by then felt journalism had passed me by so I jumped on the computer technology train where I serve today.
So here I am many years later putting pieces of my life together and thinking about the “Butterfly Effect.” My Uncle Sonny did not deserve the death penalty. He was ill. There were at least two sides to him as I’ve stated. He wasn't always an abusive drunk. Back then, especially in a small farming community, getting help was still a sign of weakness. That said, he killed my aunt. He was only sentenced to seven years, served six and was let out on good behavior. His pattern repeated. But since I don’t have all the details, I won’t bother with speculation. However, I can say first hand that anyone who wants to cut spending for addiction is foolish.
I guess in the end, capital punishment is playing God. I personally would not be comfortable sending someone to death. Yet, I can also understand certain cases, like the Petit case in Connecticut where the perpetrators couldn’t possibly be more evil, and if the state executes them, no one will care. This is such a complex issue, but it’s becoming more and more clear that innocents are being executed with shoddy evidence or in Troy Davis’ case, no evidence; we must decide what kind of society we want to be. No matter what they’ve said publicly, officer MacPhail’s family will now be living with, “what if he wasn’t the one.” This stuff stays with you forever, it will never make more sense tomorrow than it did yesterday. Meanwhile, you’ve taken another life. Will you feel better about your loss? I doubt it.