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When an evil man dies...

"...the fear lives on."
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(Author's Note: This piece is about an evil man. If you're offended by evil deeds, please don't read this. If you have a gentle soul, please protect it. Go read an emotionally uplifting story that will add value to your life. For me, this was cathartic to write. I don't know how long I will keep it posted. The truth-of-things is often ugly and sometimes it is better not to know the truth. But I also know that sometimes one is compelled to tell it.)

When an evil man dies…

…his corpse may lie in a cardboard container awaiting cremation but the fear of his infernal power lives on. When I looked at him, I was mostly, but not completely, relieved. His family still feared him. They feared he might rise from the dead.

I knew the power of him when he was alive. I knew how he exercised his power over others and I knew that nothing was beyond his capabilities. If any mortal could rise from the dead in the 21st century, he would be the one to do it. It’s too easy to imagine him returning from the dead…especially to harm someone.

Were he to arise from his cardboard box during this viewing, there would be no witnesses to his re-appearance nor to the violence he’d bring with him; he was most evil when there were no witnesses. It was his way.

He gave his organs to science; pieces of his evil to be dissected by naïve medical students. They didn’t know. How could they?

It’s more than fitting to burn his remains and cleanse the earth of his taint. Fire destroys evil on earth; in Hell, fire will burnish his evil soul and temper his sins to a fine patina. Shiny sins in Hell are the worst.

Don’t speak evil of the dead. An inner voice cautions me today. Don’t say out loud what you’re thinking.

As I begin to write this piece, a shiver runs up my spine; the haint of him may still be present but it shouldn’t be. He’s been dead for more than a year. His ashes are in the other room; sent to us by his youngest son and brought by UPS. But the power of him lives on even if his body doesn’t.

His ashes wait to be placed in the Wall with his wife. She passed before him. She waits for him now in the same exact way she waited for him in life. In silence.

She always chose him. Every damn time. There were times she could have stopped him, left him, or exposed him. Instead she chose him. Over and over. Over her children, over her other family, over everything. No one suffered more from him for more years than she did and yet she still chose him.

It’s fitting to join the two of them together in the Wall. Till-death-do-us-part is for others.

When an evil man dies…

…one wonders. When he turned off her life-sustaining equipment at the hospital, was it with pleasure or regret? The question fits.

My wife saw her mother at noon the day she went into the hospital. Her mother had rosy cheeks and told her the emergency personnel had forgotten her teeth at the nursing home. Could she get them and bring them to her? My wife said she would. Her mother asked her to stay with her for the afternoon. My wife said she had to get back to work at the church. This was the day she had to run the church bulletin. She couldn’t stay but she’d be back later. It was the last time she saw her mother alive.

The evil man said “something happened” and how terrible it was to see her like this, with her chest rising and falling, with her breathing induced by machines. He said he couldn’t stand to see her suffer. He said she wouldn’t want to live like that. He told us he turned the machines off.

His reasons rang hollow with me. He’d made her suffer before…and he’d made her children suffer before, too. He was accustomed to making other people suffer and then he’d savor the anguish or pain he’d caused. This was his way, too.

He made his fatal decision the first day his wife was in the hospital. He was alone with her when he turned the machines off. There were no witnesses. As I said, it was his way.

And it was the first goddamn day she was in the hospital.

My wife has not forgotten this. Even though her mother loved her sister more than her (and said so), even though her mother did not protect her when she was a child (nor her sister), even though her mother did not protect her brothers from the beatings, and even though her mother chose him over all things, my wife was unable to say goodbye to her mother. She has not forgotten this.

When an evil man dies…

...I think I should confess something. Every time I was in a room with him, I looked for objects I could use to defend myself and, if it became necessary, to kill him. I’d made my peace to go all the way with him many years before. Yes, he was seventy-five years old when he and his wife came to live with us because of health but his age wasn’t a factor when he was enraged. His power and his toughness could never be dismissed. Only the foolish or the naïve would think he was a defenseless old man.

You should be told that he carried his cane in his hands when he wasn’t seeking empathy. He carried it in case he needed an edge. He prepared for violence. That’s the kind of man he was. He kept his weapons in the trunk of his car when he traveled to Walmart or to dialysis.

I asked him once, thirty years before and at one o’clock in the morning over whiskey and chess, if he ever killed anyone. He paused, looked at me, and said, “I don’t really know.”

He likely spoke the truth but you never know. I believed him then but maybe not now. He beat a lot of people in his life. He showed me his brass knuckles and his homemade slapjack. A slapjack is illegal in most states. It’s designed to bruise. It is leather wrapped around lead and it has enough flexibility to slap the head or body with force. The slapjack was preferred by gangs before guns became cheap. In the hands of violent people, it killed.

He never used weapons on his children or his wife. He used his hands. It was personal when he beat the ones who loved him. Open hands. Not fists.

People who tried to hurt him, and failed to go all the way, suffered the worst. There was no doubt in my mind that if you ever took him on and if you did not kill him then he would win. Somehow, some way, he would win. If not then, it would be later.

He was a boxer when he was young; he knew how to hit people hard and to do it over and over again. He said he was the equivalent of a Golden Gloves champion when he was in his twenties in the merchant marines. He fought and he won. He also said he played football for the team that became the Chicago Bears. I believe he played for a semi-pro team after the Korean War. It isn’t recorded anywhere that I’m aware of. He wore a leather helmet when he played. It was a time when men used their flippers to take out other men on the field. He showed me how he used his elbows to do it.

When an evil man dies…

…and his ashes are to be placed in the crypt next to his wife, the deacon who performs the remembrance ceremony reminds you that he grew up on the streets of Chicago and received a scholarship in eighth grade to attend high school. He went to a seminary high school. He also reminds you that the teenaged boy was kicked out of the seminary for fighting and swearing. He just couldn’t stop.

The deacon calls it a love of fisticuffs. Even deacons don’t want to say he beat people. The evil man’s journey to become a priest ended in his teens. Many years later, when his guilt came upon him, he served as a deacon himself in a northern Georgia church. He placed healing hands on many believers. He said he witnessed miracles.

Color me skeptical.

When an evil man dies…

…you learn none of his siblings want to come to his remembrance service. Not one of his ten brothers or sisters wants to come. They are either afraid of opening old wounds or afraid his evil spirit will find out where they live and visit some perceived vengeance upon them.

Only one of his six children will attend. My wife. She remembers a time before he was evil; before he came to her bedroom at night and did things when there were no witnesses. From second grade through high school, he came for her. When she was eighteen she said “This shit’s gonna stop right now. No more.”

He laughed and said she’d come back to him; begging for it. She said “I won’t.”

Several years later, after marrying me and after therapy, she forgave him for the evil she suffered as a child. This allowed her to move on as an adult.

Her sister never forgave him. She never forgave him for taking her to a bar where he would have her sit on display. He talked with other men for a half-hour before taking her upstairs where there were no witnesses. She feared him and his evil until he was dead. After he was dead, the hate came out. It’s still there. In many ways the fear is too.

When an evil man dies…

…you remember your in-laws telling stories about the different times they were beaten and the reasons for it.

…you remember how they told stories of looking after each other and about hiding when he came home from work.

…you remember the bastard telling you with pride in his voice that his oldest son went into the Navy to learn to kill him because he hated him. His pride came from his ego and the fact that his son never did kill him. It was his power over others that fed his ego.

This was all true. His oldest enlisted in the Navy to join the new SEAL program. He wasn’t chosen so he opted to ferry SEALs in river patrol boats (PBRs) during the Vietnam War. He told us he was on one of three PBRs that took SEAL Teams into Laos for a covert CIA operation to kill Communists. When the Viet Cong attacked the noisy PBRs, everyone was killed except for three men. He and two SEALs were tracked by the Viet Cong for months while they slowly made their way downriver to the American lines. They were hunted men. They killed along the way. When they came out of the bush, they were told they weren’t supposed to come back alive.

When an evil man dies…

…you remember he hijacked trucks and stole from warehouses when he was in the Chicago gang. And you remember that the wedding china he gave was the same given to other family members. Hot china as a wedding gift. It fit him.

…you remember him telling you he could sell cigarettes for two bucks a pack and there were ten packs in a carton and thirty-six cartons in a case and generally ten cases on a truck for a total of seventy-two thousand dollars per truck they jacked. You remember him saying they never killed the drivers; but left them sitting on the side of the road with a long walk to a phone. You remember him saying something about the tax stamps on the cigarettes but don’t recall what it was. Your in-laws tell you about the garage full of television sets, too.

…you remember he could not come to your wedding because he was in the federal witness protection program. One of the men he testified against -and sent to prison- used bombs to kill people and he’d just been released.

…you remember him saying he had a $50,000 contract on his head. He said it was more than the contract on Joe Valachi, the Mafia informer in the 1960’s who ratted out the Cosa Nostra of the Vito Genovese family. He lied. Valachi had a $100,000 contract on him. The murder of snitches is well-paid but no one killed Valachi or this evil man.

…you remember his death was faked, his funeral was faked, and your wife’s youngest brothers were given fake names.

…you remember how much he admired the US Marshals who protected him during his trips to Chicago when he served as witness in gangster trials. A US Marshal, code-named Jesse James, was the one your wife sent birthday cards to so he could relay them to her family.

…you remember when the evil man returned to his hometown a decade after being in witness protection. He and his wife left abruptly just one day before the bad guys came looking for him. The bad guys followed one of his sons and wanted to know where his father was. The family was grateful the bad guys were Italian. They wouldn’t come after the family; only the man who ratted them out.

When an evil man dies…

…you remember not everyone thought he was evil.

…you remember his grandchildren loved him and played innocently with him. You remember him crawling on the carpet and giving them all horseback rides. You remember them picking out story books for grandpa to read. You remember him making exaggerated faces and using different voices as he read to them. You remember him happily laughing with them, too.

…you remember how those same grandchildren were never allowed to be alone with their grandfather. My wife and her sister made sure someone watched the grandkids if they weren’t there to do it themselves.

…you remember thinking the evil man was not a child molester. His incest was about dominion; about his power over his daughters and his wife; about his will to do what he wanted; and his personal challenge to anyone and everyone to try and stop him. You also remember you took no chances. Safe was better.

…you remember the dozens of times when he would tell a story that exaggerated his life and how, in every story, he would step into your personal space, cock his head, put his hands on his hips, and scrunch up his face to make his point. He wanted to see if you backed away or backed down. You remember never giving him the satisfaction. Ever.

…you remember his stocky frame and powerful body and his habit of chewing his words when he spoke gangster to you. His jawboning of words let you know he was taunting you to just try and hurt him. You knew if you tried, he would bust you with his power. That was his way, too.

…you remember he always, always, always, looked for weakness in people. When he found it, he exploited it. He made it a point to let people know that he knew their weakness and that he had the power to dominate them with it. You remember never letting him see yours. You knew he would use it against you if he had a chance.

When an evil man dies…

…you wonder what happened. How was it possible he was dead? He’d won before against Death.

After he turned off his wife’s machines, he said he was tired of the struggle to stay alive. He’d been on dialysis for more than two decades. He was told that Death would come in less than a month if he stopped his treatments.

He went to hospice. We visited. He signed all the papers and he had all the signs of dying in the third week. With Death at the door, he decided not to let him in. He cheated Death and asked for Life. The dialysis was started again and he fought his way back.

Death must’ve been pissed. He’d waited more than three weeks to get his hands on him and the evil man evaded him at the last minute.

When an evil man dies…

…or more precisely, is waiting to die, I learned how afraid he was of Death and his holy judgment. It was on his mind that stopping dialysis was like committing suicide. It’s a mortal sin, you know. If you aren’t Catholic, or have a seminary background, or once served as a deacon, you likely don’t understand. When a person commits a mortal sin, he or she forfeits Heaven and opts for Hell. He wasn’t too worried about Lucifer. He knew him by name and as a friend. They’d sparred before. The reason he chose to start treatment again was that his fear of God was greater than his fear of the Devil.

Perhaps he needed an edge, I don’t know. He could have figured that pulling back from this mortal sin would give him an edge with God. He donated his organs to science because he hoped it would count well for his soul. In his mind, pulling back from a mortal sin would likely count, too. It sounds like something he would do.

…you remember how much he admired the Olympians; the men who trained for the Olympic games in the same gym as him. He learned how to lift weights from them.

…you remember your wife telling you that he respected you. You aren’t sure how you feel about it but you remember that when he recovered from his hospice stay, he chose to return to Georgia. When he left, he said to you, “I’m sorry I’m not leaving as a Champion.” It was obviously important to him that he had my respect. He didn’t.

When an evil man dies…

…he leaves everything to the one person who will take responsibility to do what he wants done. My wife.

…the grandchildren don’t understand why their two aunts have stopped speaking to each other. One wants to put an end to the drama and put her parents together in the Wall. The other wants to prevent doing anything the old bastard wanted. You cannot tell the grandchildren the truth about why their two aunts aren’t speaking so you speak in generalities.

…the lies continue. No one wants to tell the truth-of-things. It’s too painful. The grandchildren want to come to a remembrance ceremony. They loved him. The youngest son wants to come, too. He remembers the good days after his father went into witness protection and the family fractured. He never came.His daughter did.

…your wife tries for more than a year to get his discharge papers from the military so a color guard can add military honors to the remembrance ceremony. He earned it and it was important to her that he receive it. You support her because it’s your job as her husband to do that.

When an evil man dies…

…and the color guard bugler plays Taps, you cry.

…you cry again during the flag-folding ceremony as the lieutenant commander, in his dress uniform, drops to one knee to present the folded flag to your wife. He says to her:

“On behalf of the President of the United States, the United States Navy, and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one's honorable and faithful service.”

…you learn you’re not crying because you feel his loss.

When an evil man dies, you cry because a human life was wasted; his evil impacted the life of everyone who knew him. Even yours. And you cry.

Afterwards you go to lunch. You, your wife, and two of the granddaughters who loved him as grandpa. We are the only family who came to the service other than two shirttail relatives who came to meet us and did not really know the man in the ash container. Six people.

One granddaughter says “I know things and I want to talk to others about it but they don’t know anything. Should I tell them?”

There is the ugliest of pauses and everyone looks at their plate. She searches the eyes of everyone for a clue.

You know your wife loved her Dad in spite of his evil. You know your daughter loved her grandpa, too. You know this granddaughter also loved her grandfather and wants to talk to close family members who never knew the truth-of-things but have good memories of him. She wants to tell them.

They all look to you.

Awkwardly you say, “If they have good memories, don’t try to change them. They won’t think differently about him. They will think differently about you. However, if they’re struggling, if they want to know why he wasn’t loved by others, and if they are really seeking the truth, then tell them what you know. It will bring them understanding. But if someone has good memories, please don’t try to change them. Let them be.”

Then you go home and write some of what you know. It isn’t black and white with evil. It’s complicated. You hope those who need the-truth-of-things-to-move-on will understand their feelings a bit more. When an evil man dies, you hope others can recover from his evil. You pray for it.





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