We sit facing each other. Both deep in cheap hotel chairs, long past their supportive best. We do not speak to begin with - the words I have for you have to be so carefully picked and I have this complicated decision to make. A decision about a life.
And, of course, you can’t speak.
This one single moment is one that has been in my thoughts for fifteen years. Fifteen years - and it comes down to this moment. For every moment of that time, I had tried to imagine how it might feel, and it is none of these feelings.
I wanted lightness. I wanted to feel the burden of my life lifted. Just by having you there in that chair. I wanted it to lift me back into a life - the life that went away fifteen years ago. I have ached to be away from the void that my life became - and now, with you in that chair in front of me, now in this final moment, the emptiness is there more than ever. I can see beyond it - and there is only more.
I so rarely remember what an ordinary life was like, that my dream last night took me by surprise and launched me into the morning with a super-charged feeling of loss for that life. An ordinary, normal, life, with a wife and a child and a car and a mortgage. Sometimes it was almost boring. I haven’t been bored for a long, long, time.
And you took that ordinary life away from me. In moments. Just the right people in the right place - so far as you were concerned. I searched for years for a reason, for the thing that I had done that put us in this place. I couldn’t find it, though, because it didn’t exist. There was no reason. Just the right people at the right time in the right place. All wrong, if you were me. Sheer chance that we were there just at the time that you needed someone to be there. Sheer chance that we were ordinary enough to act in a totally predicable way. Sheer chance that I was able to give you your opportunity to get away.
Fifteen years of my life - and the life I was living. That’s what you took away from me. For a distraction. One moment on the way to the supermarket. A normal family Saturday morning. Sarah was tired and grumpy and Kathy just wanted to sleep in the back. We were arguing - gently - about the food we would buy. Just the normal Saturday fare of a life. All switched off by the slap and buzz as bullets surged into the car. The sounds came after - but first there was that sudden stop in what Sarah was saying and the wetness as the bullet carried her life from her and onto me.
I wish I remembered more and I hate remembering as much as I do. I was hit in the head as I turned around to see Kathy and so the very last thing I saw for eight years was her death. I watched the light dim from her eyes - so very quickly. And then nothing. Not even a feeling of time passing.
I woke up seconds later - and eight years later.
I learnt to walk and I learnt to speak - and all the time I wondered why I was bothering. What was the point in living when life has ended. The point of a life was to build a life - a home, a partner, a family. So if that’s not there - if that was there and then is taken away - what is the point?
You can’t give up in a hospital. I tried. There are just too many ways to keep a person alive, no matter what they want to do. They are very keen that your heart keeps beating and that your brain keeps beeping, but less keen in discussion the futility of that endeavour. Keep trying to switch off the mechanics of your body - once you are physically capable that is - and you quickly find yourself on a locked ward with even more people determined to keep everything working. This time, however, there will be someone to discuss futility with.
I’m not sure that, when the doctor said ‘Find something to live for’, she really meant this moment, but it was this moment that kept me breathing. It was the thought of this very moment, in these chairs, with you so very close, and so very powerless, that made me reconsider.
Two years. That’s what it took to get out on my own. Two years. Once the physical barriers were removed, the more astute on the psychological assessment team were reluctant. Apparently - I later stole a copy of my notes - my answers seemed too prepared and too exactly what they wanted to hear.
I spent most of those two years thinking. Thinking about you - because that was so very much less painful than thinking about almost anything else. Thinking about who you were and about why you had chosen us. It was so much easier to find you once I had removed that last question and accepted that you didn’t pick us at all. You simply wanted as many people as possible looking in our direction while you killed a man - an important man - in the opposite direction. That was all we were to you - a distraction.
Five more years. It took me five full years to track you down and to set up this meeting. Establishing a person that you would believe might be a client.
And here we are. You in your chair and I in mine. I searched you, of course, while you were unconscious and then taped your arms and legs - and your mouth. I have no illusions about our relative merits if it came to a fight and I have no intention of trying to fight fair. I have no wish to hear anything you might say either. I want you, instead, to listen as I tell you about the lives you snuffed out so carelessly. I think you were happy to listen in the end - after all, every moment listening was one more moment alive.
I want you to listen to the decision I have to make too. A decision about a life.
Not yours. Yours is of no concern to me. Mine.
I have to decide about my life - or rather about whether there will be one. I had a life before. A normal ordinary life. One that you took in seconds. Then I had another life. A life full of hatred and anger and violence. I am not the man you killed - because you did kill me that day. The man I am now would horrify Sarah - she would be repelled by what I am now and by the things I have had to do in order to get you into this room. I have lied, I have cheated, I have bullied, I have beaten and I have - twice - killed. And that makes me no better than you sitting opposite. Oh I can tell myself that the men I killed were killers - but then so now am I.
I can tell myself that I gave those men an opportunity to live but all that proves is that they were more afraid of the wrong person. And I can tell myself that the men I killed were horrible, dreadful people. That is also true. But. But I never bothered to check if they too had a family. Perhaps they thought their lives ordinary. Perhaps they now have a grieving family left behind in sadness and anger - anger that might continue the whole cycle if they come looking for me, because I came looking for someone else, and on and on and on.
When I first thought about you in that chair, I wanted to kill you so very slowly, I had it all planned out. It was going to take weeks. But what’s the point. What will it achieve. I will not enjoy it - even I have not yet become that much of a monster. You will certainly not enjoy it and in the end you will be just as dead.
And dead will do.
There is one thing only that acts as a thread to keep me living. A single comment at the end of a long night. Sarah’s voice in my head over and over.
So. Decision time. To live or die. To continue or to stop. Stopping seems so easy. But…
That has to be a sign. The ‘but’. That means there is more, does it?
But. And yet.
Enough. I have made a decision.