The Dark Undone

D R Haney in The Nervous Breakdown:

MacbethThe thought came to me when I was fifteen and trying to sleep on New Year’s Eve. Nothing I recall had happened to incite it. I’d spent the night babysitting my younger siblings while my mother attended a party, and she returned home around one in the morning and everyone went to bed. (My parents had divorced, though they continued to quarrel as if married.) My brother was sleeping in the bunk below mine, and as I stared at the ceiling and listened to the house settle, I thought: Why don’t you go into the kitchen and get a knife and stab your family to death? It wasn’t an impulse; it was a kind of philosophical question that I found myself pursuing. I thought of true-crime cases and wondered at the difference between, say, Charles Manson and me. Why was he capable of killing? Why was I not? Was it a matter of morality? But for me morality was tied to religion, and I’d declared myself an atheist a year or so before. Nor did man’s law amount to an automatic deterrent; some killings — those sanctioned or even performed by the state — were viewed as “right.” But wasn’t a life a life? So, if I wanted to get a knife and stab my family to death, as I knew I didn’t, why would that be any more “wrong” than a soldier killing in combat? Because my family was “innocent”? But weren’t many victims of war also innocent? And why was I wondering in the first place? Didn’t serial killers similarly brood before acting? I knew some did. I’d read the letters they sent to the press and police: Stop me before I kill again. I don’t want to do it, but I must. Maybe I was one of them. Maybe there was no difference between me and Charles Manson. You can’t choose what you are; you simply are.

I tossed and turned. The quiet of the sleeping house was loud — how loud was the quiet that followed murder? Maybe I was destined to know. I desperately wanted proof — irrefutable proof — that I would never hurt anyone as, more by the minute, seemed inevitable.

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