Observer’s paradox: The observation or measurement itself affects an outcome, so that the outcome as such does not exist unless the measurement is made.
Only one other woman was dressing in the gym locker room that particular evening. It was a little slow, although that time of year often was. January and February were busy workout months as people were dedicated to their resolutions. May and June were busy too as beach season approached, but March was sometimes dead.
The other woman finally left, leaving Olivia Mason alone to finish putting on her green pants and green shirt. It was a good workout, mostly cardio but some weights. The slow workout season had no bearing on Olivia. She approached her workouts with the same resolve that she approached everything else in life - total commitment. That’s how she lived every day of her twenty-three years. Now, it should be noted that she wasn’t obnoxious about her tenacity like some people are, she had a lovely, sweet demeanor but an otherworldly work ethic. Why was she like that? Why are some people focused and driven and others aren’t? It’s hard to say. Maybe it’s wiring, maybe upbringing or perhaps a bit of both.
Olivia was raised by a single mom in the small town of Fergus Falls, Minnesota, a place where, proverbially speaking, everybody knows everybody. She had a fun childhood even though she worked hard and played hard. That’s how she enjoyed life. She got good grades, she was good at sports, good at relationships, she was pretty much good at everything. And even though she had no brothers or sisters, you could almost say she had more sibling than anybody, meaning that she had friends around her constantly. She was a magnet. People were drawn to her, and not so much for her excellence at school or running track, and not because of her college scholarships or her civic minded volunteering, well some of her popularity had to do with those things, but mostly she collected friends because she was such a fine human being. It was unusual for a person to be this determined and yet have such a gentle spirit. Olivia was very successful in her young age and could have been haughty about it, but she wasn’t.
Tragedy struck, however, as her mom died of cancer when Olivia was barely eighteen, leaving her without family. Her mom was her best friend, her family, her world. So, her quick demise, from diagnosis to death in only three months was devastating to Olivia. She handled it with grace and focus though. She was brokenhearted but continued with the life that she had planned for herself.
She had received a full ride scholarship to the University of California at San Diego. Most young adults who go away to college still have a life-raft back home, but not Olivia. Off she went to the west coast without a soul. But it didn’t take her long to carve out a life for herself. A year ago, she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology. She was now in the master’s program at UCSD. Her PHD would be next, followed by a career helping troubled kids, especially the ones from broken homes. That was her dream anyway, and so far, nothing had derailed her dreams.
Olivia lived in an apartment with her roommate Mae Seizmore. Saying that she ‘lived’ there was an over-statement. She was seldom there. In addition to her full-time studies, she had two jobs, working at Postal Annex and on campus as a guidance counselor for the undergraduates. She also helped at her church, teaching children’s Sunday School. How did she find the time and energy for the life she led? Who knows. Her friends often teased her about that, and she always smiled at that gentle poking.
One of the things she enjoyed playing with in her mind were dates. She had a freakish memory for dates and she played it up, deliberately, to elicit some harmless teasing. She could be found wishing her friends a happy Mozart’s birthday on January 27th, for example. She received a lot of moans, but it was all part of the fun.
Today marked the final day of her favorite four consecutive dates of the year, starting with March 14th when she baked a pie to bring to work to celebrate Pi Day. Then the next day was all about Shakespeare and the Ides of March. Then her favorite of the four was John 3:16 day. As a Christian, that day held special significance for her. Then St. Patrick’s Day. You would think that with all she had going on, she couldn’t possibly find the time to put together an outfit for this day, but of course, she did.
After she finished tying her green shoe laces, she got up and started walking down the familiar hallway, past the familiar posters of skiers, runners, surfers and other activity portrayals that exuded the joys of fitness. She had been a member of this gym for four years now. In that time, she had run two marathons and was currently training for a third. All the workers and many of the members knew her by name. She had this knack of making everyone think that they were one of her best friends. And in some weird way, they were.
“Had enough for tonight Olivia?” asked Darlene at the front desk.
“For sure,” Olivia responded as she signed out.
Little did Darlene know that Olivia certainly could have gone longer but she had a midterm to study for, and that she deliberately avoided that type of answer because it would have seemed boastful. She had a way of making people feel comfortable.
“And how about you Darlene, how are your kids?”
“Driving me nuts as always.”
They shared a laugh as Olivia made her way to the exit.
“See you next time,” Olivia said while opening the door, “have a good evening.”
“You too,” Darlene responded as Olivia left the building.
It was past eight and was dark out. Olivia, with gym bag in hand, her phone in her back pocket and sporting her nifty green outfit, walked across the parking lot to her car. She opened the passenger door and tossed the gym bag on the seat. She closed the door and walked around to her side. She got in, closed the door, took a relaxing deep breath and prepared to go home.
“Don’t scream,” came a male voice from the backseat.
All within a second or maybe even less, Olivia flinched, her heart raced, her eyes bugged out and her hands became numb with fear. But before she could scream or turn or do anything, the man spoke again.
“If you scream you die, understand? Listen, listen. Calm down, this is not a rape. You need to understand, this is not a rape. I’m not going to touch you, but I do have a gun. Now, take a deep breath,” as he paused, “come on do it, relax and glance over your right shoulder.”
Olivia had done many things in her life that required hard work, but she had never faced danger before. She was completely unprepared for this, and she was seldom unprepared. She turned slowly, her heart still pounding out of her chest. She finished her turn and saw the man behind this voice. He was about fifty years old, a little overweight and holding a revolver in his right hand, resting on his right knee so she could see it. Seeing the gun and seeing his eyes made this encounter even scarier. She jerked her head away. She didn’t know what else to do. He said to not scream but maybe she should anyway. He said he wasn’t going to touch her, but could he be trusted? Clearly not.
“Listen. I have a job for you to do. It’s easy and it’s legal and it’s quick,” the strange man explained, “first off, some ground rules. If you try and make eye contact with someone, if you mouth help, if you wink, I will shoot you right through this seat. If you understand this, tap the steering wheel.”
Olivia decided, through her fears, that the best thing to do would be to follow his orders, at least for the next few moments, until she figured something out. She looked around the parking lot for a friend but then she remembered his warning, so she tapped the steering wheel.
“Very good,” he continued, “I need to say this again. I’m not going to touch you. I’m not going to hurt you, that is, if you do what I say. If you don’t, then you’re dead. But if you keep your head and do what I say, you’ll be fine. Once you do this simple little job, you’ll be free to go. I know you’re scared but in fifteen minutes you’ll be on your way as if this never happened. Are you ready?”
“Don’t nod your head! Tap the steering wheel!” he commanded.
This time she tapped it. What was happening? What was he going to do? Her mind swirled with thoughts. What could an easy, legal job be that would require this gunpoint threat? Why me? Why was this happening?
“OK. Start the car,” he said, his voice surprisingly calm.
She started it, wondering with all her being where they were going.
“Go out the exit to your left, then turn right.”
She was still alive, so he was true to his word so far. She put the car in gear and slowly pulled out. She had a plan, she could have an accident. Yeah, great idea, she thought. She could bash into another car. The other driver would get out and then hopefully this creepy man would get scared and run off. But wait, her thinking continued, maybe he wouldn’t run off. Maybe he would start shooting - everyone. She reluctantly concluded in her mind that she should keep driving.
She exited the parking lot and turned as he had directed. These city streets that seemed so familiar and inviting suddenly became foreboding as she tightly gripped her steering wheel with hands wet with sweat. He continued to direct her where to turn and not to turn. She followed his orders perfectly. Eventually she arrived at a residential area.
“Slow down,” he directed.
She did, of course. He took a garage door opener from his pocket and pressed the button. A garage door on a fairly nice looking, two-story house started to open. She knew what that meant, she knew she was going to have to go into this stranger’s house. Olivia was well informed. She knew all about Elizabeth Smart, all about Jaycee DuGard, all about that sicko in Cleveland. And those were the ones who got away. What about all of those who didn’t? But she also knew that she was in no position to run.
“See that garage door opening? Pull in there,” he said.
So, she drove in, looking for an opportunity to run. She was a smart girl and she knew it. Maybe there was something inside that could be her refuge, her escape device. She thought for a moment that perhaps she could hit him with something, but she had never hit anything in her life. Her mom killed a mouse once and poor little Olivia was bothered for weeks. She didn’t have an ounce of violence in her. What was she going to do?
Once she stopped the car in the garage, he spoke again.
“Turn the car off, get out and go through that door. And don’t try and be a hero. You’re almost done,” he said as he closed the garage door behind them.
Was he really going to let her go, she wondered? She turned the car off, slowly opened the car door and got out, keenly aware, through her peripheral vision, of this unnamed gunman in the back seat. She did as she was told and walked gingerly through a door that lead into the house.
Once inside she was surprised at how normal everything looked. It didn’t seem like the house of a crazed lunatic. There were hardwood floors, nice furniture, and pretty pictures on the wall. There was definitely a feminine touch to the decorations.
“Sit there,” he commanded, using the gun to point to a chair. Olivia very carefully sat down, completely expecting him to sit near her, but much to her surprise, he sat on the couch, facing her. There was a coffee table between them. Then he started behaving very oddly, like he was going into a trance. His eyes started to bounce back and forth, his mouth began to quiver, his breathing got heavier and heavier.
“I hate my life!” he yelled.
Then he moved the gun to his own temple. It looked like he was going to kill himself, right there in his house. His face contorted, his eyes squinted shut, his gun trembled, as if trying to build up the courage to do it. Then he opened his eyes and moved the gun away. Olivia had no idea what was going on. Then he tried again, with more trembling and more heavy breathing but he could not pull that trigger.
“So many times!” he cried out.
Then a third attempt, the least successful of the trio. This time he couldn’t even get the gun to his head before giving up.
“I’m too weak to even kill myself!” he lamented.
After this last comment, he seemed to relax a little. A strange peace came over him.
“This is where you come in,” he said to her.
“See those magazines on the table? Move them,” he directed, pointing to the coffee table between them.
Olivia very carefully moved the magazines uncovering a gun. A gun! Maybe this was her answer. Maybe she could use this to escape. But what was going on here?
“I have to end this. I figured I’d find someone in the parking lot to finish it,” he explained.
“I... I don’t…”
“You’re going to kill me,” he said to her, as calmly as asking her to pass the soup.
“What? No, I can’t…”
“Yes, you can!”
“You said it was legal?”
“Self-defense is legal!”
“I think you should think this over.”
“Stop arguing with me!”
He pointed his gun at her. She started to cry but struggled to regain herself.
“Here is what you’re going to do. I have it all worked out,” he explained before taking a breath to slow down, “outside the front door, under the mat, I wrote a note, explaining to the police this whole thing. You have a phone, right?”
By then Olivia was so confused that she hardly even heard the question.
“You do have a phone?” he repeated, angrier this time.
“OK, after I’m dead, put the gun down, go out to the porch, get the note and call the police. You’ll be fine.”
“Wait, I can’t kill a person. It’s not in me.”
“Well you better get it in you, and fast.”
“Why did you pick me?”
“Your car was unlocked.”
“I can’t... I…”
“Pick up the gun!”
“I never shot a gun before. I don’t even know how.”
“Everyone can shoot a gun. You just point it and pull the trigger.”
“Please! I can’t!” she cried.
“If you don’t do this, I’ll kill you and then go find someone else. I’m going to die tonight!”
“Pick up the gun now!”
She very reluctantly picked it up, through her trembling and tears.
She had never touched a gun before. It felt cold and metallic. Her stomach became queasy as she held this thing, this instrument of death.
“Now point it at my heart.”
Olivia started weeping harder as she slipped her finger in front of the trigger and pointed the shaking gun. He pointed his steady gun at her head.
“It’s finally here,” he said with an element of relief in his voice.
“I can’t do it,” she cried as a few drops of vomit filled her mouth.
“I can’t kill myself, but I’ll have no problem killing you. I’m counting to three girly! If I’m not dead, you will be!”
Is this the last day of her life, she asked herself? What about her friends, what about her plans? Her head filled with questions. Survival instincts started kicking in. Could she actually take a life? There must be another way!
“Please, please, don’t make me…” she pleaded.
“One!” he commanded.
Olivia started gasping for air as the walls started closing in.
Pounding tension filled the room.
Olivia pulled the trigger. A piercing loud gun sound echoed off the walls. She screamed and wept. This strange, cowardly, suicidal man was slumped over, motionless on the couch. Horrible red blood oozed from his chest, and she knew that she had put it there. She pumped a hot piece of lead through another human being’s beating heart. She ripped a hole right through it, rendering it and him dead. Dead! Olivia Mason, yes that Olivia Mason killed a man. She dropped the gun and ran out the front door, crying hysterically.