Sunday, October 4, 2009

This Dark Obsession

I live with Modesto’s (Self-Proclaimed) Foremost Expert on Serial Killers. This is no indictment of character; after all, I’m a close runner up for the title. We speak an odd lexicon of Bundy-Gacy-Bianchi-Damher; when we merged our book collections a decade ago, I noticed that we each had a copy of the (horribly written but endlessly fascinating) Helter Skelter. One of our first dates in San Francisco, following a guide book, took us past Manson’s former digs off Golden Gate Park. Not that we admire serial killers, mind you - but collecting the data is a sort of hobby. Some people save stamps, others collect Holstein figurines...

This obsession is fueled mainly by television. If I have a spare minute, it’s not hard to locate something on A&E – a cold case file, a biography. I grew up on Unsolved Mysteries; I watch with the absorption of someone who has never personally been touched by this sort of tragedy. I watch – sometimes from between my fingers – and think.

This dark obsession has proved useful, as I’ve recently become a slow motion serial killer myself. First it was a squirrel, then a cat, a deer, a toddler, and now, in my latest story, a teenage girl. I feel a sense of responsibility for them – I’ve created them, and they’re entitled to die with some dignity. It took pages – agonized pages – for the deer to die, and afterwards I spent a half-day in bed, mourning it. Another time I asked a friend for his reaction to my story, and he could only respond, “I can’t believe you killed a cat.” I’m sorry. I don’t know what it is in me that tends to this dark side, although perhaps it’s fueled by my home environment.

Take this conversation tonight, with a friend who is planning to build a chicken coop. While she spoke I was thinking of the advantages of raising chickens – hardboiled, over easy, scrambled, benedict – but I could see Will’s mind leaning in another direction.

“Save one of the chickens for me,” he said.

“So you can raise it?” she asked.

“No, I’m just curious. Do they really run around after you cut their heads off?”

“Sure they do. I’ll call you over if you want to see it.”

Will blanched. “Well, um, I don’t actually want to kill it or anything.” He thought a moment, visions of Manson and the Zodiac Killer dancing through his head. And then he added, smiling in my direction, “Paula would have to do it.”

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