Dec 12, 2008
The press got all the facts (more or less), it got too many of them. But it never found a way to report meaningfully about death, which of course was really what it was all about.
-- Michael Herr
After two-and-a-half years as a crime reporter, this is the final tally of my dead.
... 98, 99, 100.
This was some way to keep track, a sticky note and a quote from Michael Herr, some feeble sort of system to make things succinct, even if it didn't really sum up anything.
My first murder victim was Michael Sendars, who was shot in the head with a .45, while smoking weed. The last, number 100, was Alesha Merritt, found strangled and dead on the floor of her bedroom.
In between one and 100, the names slip, scatter like animals in front of a fire, and all I have are the colorless numbers and little, unshakable details.
... 75, 76, 77.
The details come in rushes of remembering, unlike the long line of numbers. They come in flustered flocks, each free from the other but connected somehow. They come -- they come, each trying to carry the whole of the horror of murder.
I remember buttons, popped off and leading through the carpet, like a raped Gretel's bread crumbs. I remember the woman's head was wrapped with an ace bandage, before the house was burned down around her. I remember the man tried to say something, but only blood came out. No one could say what was in the note the murdered man wrote to his girlfriend. I remember the mattress covering the body, the wire hanger scratches in the baby's throat, the way the dead driver's car crashed into a pond, and I remember the black spot, where the body was burned near the "No Dumping" sign. I remember the man beaten with bricks, and his family said he wasn't homeless. I remember the man who asked the hooker for help, but she ran. I remember no one in the old motel thought it important to report the screams.
I can't remember all their names. It seems like I should, like something as searing as death should be unforgettable, like tragedies should be unique, tragedies shouldn't suffer the losses of memory and time. It seems like I should curate the 100 names, though I know I can't and don't really think I'm supposed to. I just say is as an approximation of the guilt.
I turned it into a rite, writing about the murdered. I made it a religious ritual. It was a way to pray for the dead. It was a way to wish for resurrection, to believe the gospel, and hope for the salvation of this swamp of human shit.
It was a feeble sort of system.
I suppose it made this work seem more important than it really was. I know it left me with this sort of weight, heart palpitations and hunched shoulders. What I wanted to do was make people cry, make people empathize and wish, somewhere down where they weren't really thinking about it, for grace that's gratuitous. I don't know if that's even possible, though. I don't know, and I guess I can't know, if I succeeded.
... 18, 19, and 20. 21. 22. 23.
I'm done now. Two-and-a-half years, and at the end of today I'll get up from my desk, and walk away. I'm done now, and this is what I can say, I reported on 100 murders. I counted them, and I tried to write their stories so it'd break your heart.
By Daniel Silliman at 4:44 PM