In my teens, I liked the Bad Boys. I know I’m not alone – there’s a reason people say that nice guys finish last. I was always drawn to them, not because I wanted to be bad myself, but because I wanted to fix them. I would look for the good parts of their characters and try to draw that part of them out. I was a champion of the underdog.
One of my Bad Boys hung out with people who were much, much worse than him. Dangerous People from his neighborhood. He was a saint in comparison to these people, although, looking back, not all of them were bad all the way to the bone. Knowing some of the things they’d done, I should have run away and never looked back. But at the time, being young and stupid naive, I let myself be charmed by the good parts of these people. Especially because, in front of me, they were never doing anything out of the ordinary.
One of them in particular grew attached to me in a way my Bad Boy found inappropriate. But as he was always going on and on about his ex-girlfriend right in front of me, I decided to poke his jealousy into an open flame and see what happened.
I never claimed to have common sense, people. Forgive me my youth.
Two things happened: one, my Bad Boy bowed out of the race in fear; and two, I found myself in quite a predicament. You can’t USE people to make your Bad Boy jealous and not expect someone to get upset. I stupidly allowed a Dangerous Person to become attached to me, and how the hell does a 16 year old tell someone like that, “Never mind, just kidding! See ya later, ‘gator!”
I tried to gently extract myself from the situation, and I must say: it could have been worse. Far worse. But it was bad enough, especially for someone as young and stupid naive as myself. Instead of punishing me, he gave me a subtle warning before letting me walk out of his life.
He asked me to do him a favor. He wanted me to go to our local community college and remove one of the many fliers posted up there for a missing person, and bring it back to him. When I did, he told me to look at the picture as he told me a story. A story of a young man who owed another person, a Dangerous Person, some money. How he didn’t pay, and the Dangerous Person was forced to take action, even though he’d known the young man from childhood and considered him a friend. He said loyalty was everything, and those who were disloyal had to pay for their transgressions.
He told me every last detail about how this young man’s face came to be posted on fliers all over our town. Then he smiled, gave me a hug, and told me he’d miss my company. Told me he’d be checking on me from time to time, making sure I was doing well. Named my family members, one by one, and said he wished them nothing but the best.
The day I graduated from High School, there was a message on my answering machine. I heard his voice say, “Hey beautiful, I just wanted to say congratulations. I know you’ll go far, but don’t forget where you came from.”
Four years later, I opened the newspaper and saw his face on the front page. He was being put on trial for murdering two people. His eyes seemed to bore right through the page, warning me. Reminding me of what he was capable of doing, even to people he cared about.
He was behind bars, where he belonged, but would he stay there? My heart was on fire, thinking about the people he killed – because there was no doubt in my mind that he was guilty as charged. If I had been brave enough 5 years prior, would those people still be alive? I couldn’t bear to live with that kind of guilt.
So I met with an investigator from the police department. I volunteered the information I had on that Cold Case, and they were able to fill in many of the blanks they’d had. They told me that if the current trial didn’t result in a guilty verdict, they would arrest him for the old murder and I would be their star witness. If nothing else, that young man’s mother would finally know what happened to her son.
The investigator for the two murders he was on trial for interviewed me, as well. He asked if I’d be willing to take the stand as a character witness, to refute the glowing testimonies of his family and friends.
Would I be willing to sit in a court room, with him staring at me with hatred, his family sitting in the rows behind him? It was one thing to talk to an investigator, but talking about it in open court was a completely different matter.
I talked to my parents about the risk. I talked to Jeremy, my boyfriend of one year at the time (now my husband of many years), about the danger. I weighed my options.
And then I did The Right Thing. I said yes, without fear of the future, because I couldn’t live with myself if he ever killed another person.
They ended up not calling me as a witness since he didn’t take the stand in his own defense, so I got to sit in on the last week of the trial. That first day, my stomach was in knots as I walked in and sat on the prosecution’s side next to the investigator. I waited with baited breath for him to look back and notice me.
Fortunately, I wasn’t looking when that happened, but the investigator was. Apparently, he did a double take and then leaned over to his attorney, looking worried. Once he found out I wasn’t on the witness list, though, he seemed to relax.
At the next court recess, as they led him out in shackles, he looked at me and smiled. I couldn’t even look away, because my blood had run cold, and I was frozen solid. He winked at me, and walked out of the court room.
I am happy to say, I sat through the rest of the trial, which ended in a guilty verdict, with my head held high. He may have been able to intimidate a 16 year old girl, but not this woman.
Not this woman who has made it a point in her life to Do What’s Right. In his attempt to silence me, to teach me about fear and loyalty at all costs, he taught me to look inside myself and find my own strength.
I crushed his wicked smile beneath my shoe, and walked away a better person.
Originally Posted at The Sweet Life 2/27/2009 12:38 pm