Let Me Start Over

Let me start over, I want to start over. After two weeks in hiding, all anyone really knows about me is my name, age, and general description. Already, I’ve said too much without saying anything at all, for example, about the town I am hiding, how it differs from yours, and the gravity of what I did. Yet, I wouldn’t want to begin saying too much about the town, however, because I would be saying too much about myself and would need to explain both town and myself further, or you would get the wrong impression. Telling you the town’s name, its location and population, telling you almost anything at all about the its locale, populace, and directions getting here, would call attention to my choice of words, selection of details, tone of opinion, any of which could lead one to an impression that is at once irrelevant, erroneous, and thereby misleading. Anticipating this, and tracking it, sensing I am on the verge of being misunderstood, I would try to intercept any wrong impression before it impresses you irretrievably. I would insert one or more corrective interjections, followed by several or more supportive explanations, here and there interrupting myself with offsetting details, innocuous distractions, and side commentaries. 

It would not stop there. Any shift of focus would itself introduce yet another series of checkpoints along this ever rescinding continuum of false starts, missteps, and slips of tongue. Ironically, as these re-starts continue piling up as circumstantial, suggestive, and incomplete, their many re-beginnings themselves begin to secede from their topic to form a collective misimpression that will yet become all the more damaging the longer the re-beginnings are left dangling, suspended, and abandoned. 

It would not stop there, either. Desperate by then, I will know no other recourse but to continue the disclaimers more and more even while so keenly aware how much bigger, better, and more-and-more is continuing the wrong impression because, by then, I will have forgotten how to shut up.  When the damage begins, the damage is done.

 So let me start over, let’s start over. Regrettably, I’ve done so little here to correct any of the many misconceptions from what all is being said about me—such as why I ran, my possible whereabouts, and the motive for my crime. If anything, I am here making matters worse. By now, for example, I may have impressed you as seeming somewhat self-conscious, overly unraveled, exceedingly desperate, which would lead one to suspect I am guilt-ridden, hiding something, and plainly up to no good. Even though accurate, this impression would yet be false. The truth is, I am incognito, in hiding, and striving to be careful. I need to choose my words carefully, tread lightly, err with caution. In describing where I was coming from, where I was going to, and how it only seems I made way too many wrong turns, misdirections, and misreadings of maps, signs, and landmarks that very night I wound into your town—I need to be methodic, circumspect, and selective. Way too much is at stake. Now more than ever before, I need to remain diligent, deliberate, and specific with each and every specific leading to, from, and now right back into your town. 

The truth is, I’m clockwork. I’ve a sound, clear, and well oriented sense of direction, easily adjustable, and have never been lost like that. A clash of paradigms, shifts from alternate dimensions, earth shuddering before a meteor hits it. Something happened. Some kind of spell, trance, or hypnosis I couldn’t shake ... off some form of jinx, hex, or superstition I don’t know how to snap out of, step away from, or just leave be—these living, breathing, resuscitating memories that will not explain themselves, won’t let me go, and just don’t let me sleep.

I want to start over, but I know no matter how often I restart I’ll keep running into the same disruptive hesitations every time I am confronted with describing what is bound to come off sounding like a whole lot of mumbo jumbo, sheer lunacy, and utter nonsense. Far, far more important than my gaining your belief, respect, and sympathy, is my keeping to the unconditional integrity of remaining honest, uncensored, and open-hearted to you—however contradictory, evasive, and dubious my surface. For the sake of this confession, we need to move on, we need to start. I apologize in advance for my inability to describe a crime without also obsessing over any inexplicable intangibles of what may or may not have brought on the dark, confused, and rather disturbed state of my mind these last two weeks. I apologize as much if there’s anywhere else in this letter that I have misspoken. I mean no disrespect. 
Even before the crime, I was driving fast but lingering lost, aberrant, flummoxed in an eerily creepy confusion, virtually shackled by the seatbelts on a witchride that ushered me into your county, around your town, and then repeatedly along your town’s eerily endless maze of side roads, landmarks, and dead ends I couldn’t turn off of, into, or away from.

Against my better judgment, I’ve traced back the drive that dark night to earlier that day, to the day before, to the restless week before that, back and forth and back again, recalling the most finite details, contrasting all I remember with all I know of my personality, and considering the most remote possibilities against darker probabilities. What if the combined sequence, rhythms, and utterance of my thoughts, mumblings, and actions all that night, day or week, had stumbled me onto an arcane, long forgotten, and all but dead Rumplestiltskin incantation of chants, dance and genuflection, for example, whose scripture calls upon, conjures up, and resurrects an all-mighty curse that has no other purpose but to put the mean whammy on its incantator? Or, instead of any such alchemy, voodoo, black magic, what if this curse is genetic, purely chromosomal, simply biologically inherited? Just what if my mental lapse had incurred from the cumulative sequence, development, and minute consequences along the continuum of my particular thinking, eating, and driving without sleep all that week, day or night, had formed the perfect storm for releasing certain violent, deviant, paranoia-inducing stress inhibitors from some variant gene. 

Psychosis or sorcery? The supernatural or the psychological? Bipolar, manic, depressed? Or, possessed, bewitched, charmed? Spirit or latent spiritual longing, whether from an unresolved childhood neglect or from some reincarnated mood swing—what was it that sparked my violence, what could spring such a demon into being? What passed me my bite? Something just had to have happened. I was not myself. I have never been lost like that.

Yet, after the crime, I seemed to have little trouble escaping the jurisdiction of your Snohomish County; yet, it’s as though I hadn’t left. All that driving and driving must’ve driven the trauma deeper. Your town, the Town of Gold Bar, continued, continues still. It’s as if here now in a new town, I am still there in your town, ever seeing it and forever feeling it, still driving all those back roads, just to shake free of all those same back roads. For two weeks now, each new town is just like the town before and the town thereafter; over and again reacting to the near-the-same places, choices, dilemmas for direction I am all but made to make. No matter where I go or where I went, where I am or what I do, how fast I drive or how slow, how far, how near—no matter whatever, this déjà vu superimposing itself over every ensuing vista, landscape, and district remains your town, the Town of Gold Bar, still wet from my crime. In the extreme familiarity, only colors change.

I apologize if again I’ve gone too far. In no way do I mean to trivialize the night of your son’s death, much less my involvement. I know that this cannot be even close to what you would expect to read from me. You must be wondering where I got the nerve even to write you, let alone in this seemingly self-absolving, sadistic, and torturously desultory manner. Please know, I am not trying to manipulate your sympathies. I hope I have not given you a pause to think I’m looking for excuses in place of reason, admission, or regret—because I’m not. Nor am I trying to figure out the violence only to bury it. I would never do that. Scrutiny will not release blame, and I am sure to have more shame than you realize. Please know, this is a difficult situation for both of us. My only intentions are to present myself in the very suspicious circumstances, conditions, and behavior the night your son pulled me over. That was the way your Ian found me.

Forgive me for mentioning your son by name. Again, I mean no disrespect toward you or your family. From what I have read, your son Officer Ian Petrie was a fine patrolman thoroughly dedicated to his profession. This is enough to convince me he was also a loving son of parents, who had raised, guided, and instilled in him a good work ethic, solid family values, and a Christian stress of right and wrong. Under different circumstances, I just have to believe your Ian would have been quick to understand my predicament. If he knew anything at all about my drive, for example, I am sure he would have respected why I was lost, that I had not slept well, and how much I was crying to get back home. If he knew just one thing about my drive, he would have respected that everything in my car still belonged to my mother—her many tiny personal belongings, her dog Snow, her son me—everything in the car still hers, because everything was en route from her funeral. At the very least, under different circumstances, I just have to believe your son would have considered how utterly confusing the Town of Gold Bar’s roads can seem to a visitor.

Again I’ve gone too far too soon. Let me rephrase the reference to your son’s profession. Even at that time of night, Officer Ian Petrie was still only doing his job, a job he seemed thoroughly committed to. I’ll never fault him for that. He sensed I was running and wanted to know why. He sensed I was distraught and wanted to know why. That was his job, to find out why, and—“why are your eyes so red … why’s your dog being aggressive … and what’s that dirt under your fingernails!” How might I have explained that Snow was only barking and being defensive because he did not trust officers—who seem never to trust me? Even with all the barking, your son didn’t let up, just kept pushing, prodding, and probing with rapid questions I just couldn’t muster the wherewithal to answer. “Just why can’t you explain yourself … why are so many women’s things stuffed in your car … don’t you know this kind of staple gun is a weapon?”—and this I tried, truly I tried to explain and point out that I worked with carpentry, that I did indeed use the staple gun often, but never ever as a weapon. Before then, I hadn’t conceived it could be used as such.

On I know I should’ve tried harder, should’ve composed myself and cooperated better, answered all his questions directly, succinctly, and given him just the straight facts. Respectfully, I should have requested your son not to rummage through my mom’s things, not to disturb their order, or take things out of the car. I should have asked your son not to repeatedly flash his light into Snow’s eyes, and I really should have quieted down Snow. But, I didn’t. I didn’t, I just couldn’t. My throat had swollen tight from so much emotion, when I needed to speak I could barely breathe, and there seemed nothing I could do to stop Snow from barking. 
I wish I can take it all back, but I can’t. I wish I could trade places with your son, but I can’t. I wish I can convince you that, if wishes were horses, zippy zappy zoom! I’d rephrase, rescind, and undo all my violence that night and every night before and since. I have wished as much, but it just ain’t happening. Wish as I might, my wishes will not gallop, my regrets will not rewind, and any violence begun will not be undone, done away with, or taken back just like that. When the violence began, the damage done has left us both bereft with no one to blame but myself.

Please know, I regret the manner of these apologies. Add to the fray, again I’m saying too much of nothing much at all, and I am pathetically sorry about that. You’d think I’d tire of spiking myself in the hands and feet. It seems all my life, all I’ve ever wanted was to explain myself, but it always comes out defensive. Boy crying wolf while backing himself into a fighter’s corner, swinging at innuendos, accusations, and disses even before they can exist. Ironically, now that I actually have the time, due cause, and reason to defend myself against an actual injustice—the sick media reenactments of what they deem happened that night—I am no longer so inclined to defend myself. After two weeks of intense self-interrogating introspection, deep wishful thinking, and an unconditional consideration for your feelings, all I now want is to shed my armor, drop my guard, and lay bare all my penetrable defenses, for the lone possibility of your family gaining closure.

To you alone I should explain my crime. Soon after you get this letter, I will have turned myself in without expectations of quarter, mercy, or appreciation. With this letter, you will not so quickly believe what predictably will be said about me: that I did not so willingly surrender, but was persistently tracked, cornered, and captured; that I waived my right to a public defendant, only to evoke sympathy; that I pled no contest on all counts, only to elicit leniency; that I held my head low only to contrive a false sense of shame, remorse and self-pity. And so on. You alone will have to consider that I am categorically, consummately, and most sincerely resigned to hear my verdict, nod with guilt, and serve my punishment, come what may. You’re probably questioning why I have not had the basic, humane, and God-fearing decency to have done so already. After all the pain I’ve caused, how could I wait, pause or preamble even a minute longer before hurrying to a precinct? I don’t expect you will understand right away, as this delay has made me too a bit unsteady. Please know, if simply turning myself in would have secured the closure your family much deserves, I would have done so. But, some intentions do need planning out. This delay seems of so little concern when there’s so much else at stake. I have a plan.

I know I have no right even to suggest that everything I did, I did in self-defense. I am only trying to open up to you, and to do this I need to come clean with everything—even those facts that may appear crass, gratuitous, and tactless, as they partly exonerate me! The fact is, your son Officer Ian Petrie stepped above the law. He detained me over an hour for speeding, searched my car without permission, invaded my mother’s belongings, and even crumpled up her funeral notice. He then stuck his gun in my mouth, cocked the trigger, but killed my mother’s dog instead. Had Snow not lunged for him when she did, your son might have shot me first. When your son whipped the gun free to shoot Snow, both my front teeth were chipped.

Now I really have gone too far. I did not intend to tell you this much this soon, but there seems no delicate way to handle the details. What I also mean to point out is that the details are somewhat superficial, and I think there’s something else beneath them. Perhaps his actions were not fully realized, premeditated, or altogether intended, as they had seemed to me at the time. I now can understand, for example, how your son in his own way may have been a victim of circumstances beyond his own understanding. It is possible his series of actions were themselves a series of reactive accidents. He must have believed there was convincing evidence that I was a criminal, a fugitive, an assailant running from the law, possibly fleeing some unspeakably shameful, heinous, and violent crime. As I earlier pointed out, something inexplicably dark, disturbing, and confusing had indeed disrupted me. I was not being myself, and possibly this is what your son Officer Ian Petrie saw in me. How was he to know my nerves were fraught from lack of sleep, a most grueling drive, and my mother’s funeral? At the time, it seems all we were communicating with were our reflexes, which were opposed in near-identical ways—a bit protective, blind, and hair-trigger. If only we had met previously and under different circumstances.

Right now, what matters more than anything else is that you at least should know the complete circumstances of all that I went through the night I hit your son. I need you to know what happened so very much, I’ve gone as far as to hope, channel, and pray that you too will soon feel a change in breathing just as I did, the very same arrhythmic flurry hastening for days into weeks, just has mine has yet to slow and return to normal. I know this may read like a warning, if not a direct threat. Even as this will bring you closer to your son, I know I have no right to wish any discomfort upon you, much less to exert so many hopes, channels, and prayers to exact such torment. Yet for me, it is the only worthy thing left to pursue. However cruel it is of me, I think you should share your son’s last gasps. I am almost content with the remote possibility that you too will soon breathe as I breathed the night I killed your son, that your throat may swell, tighten, and ache down to a grating echo in your stomach, followed by the incessant reverberations ringing throughout your arms, legs, and spine—just as I felt with each blow from my staple gun. A ringing that is paralyzing, soundless, and yet so deafening, not even the sirens will reach you.

Any pain in the body is better than hating this monster you should never know. You should know this, you should know everything. The monster who bludgeoned your son was raised by a mother who never hated anyone. We are both grieving


  Chris Custer