What is credible about it to me is the lack of vehemence. The police mentioned his name, claimed he had been spotted nearby that night, and that was that. Astonishingly today, having his name or something close to it, the web reveals a surprising amount. The man is dead, and that is a matter of relief to me. For I fear him, that is the simple truth. He is forever coming after me in this, my waking dream life, the terror-inspired present. But there it is, on the web, evidence of his funeral. I am dying to know how he died. And there are so many layers of meaning in this statement that I want to rule one out. Only that I did not die, and there is nothing about this worth dying for. And the fact that he is dead means that he is no longer capable of pursuing me. Though others are, I suppose. And that is something that I simply have to live with. Die with, perhaps. Exist with.
What is particularly credible about this suspect in my 1968 shooting is one particular physical characteristic. Which is hardly evidence, one must point out. Still, this is one of the few traits I was able to observe in those few terrified and dazed seconds before the bullet and the quadriplegia and everything else. I must say, it makes sense. It really makes sense. I believe in my gut that, yes, this is, or was, the guy. And what now? Aside from feeling safer, that is? Vindicated in some way, because he is dead? He had a fairly long life, after all. And guilt? Karma? If one believes in some objective force for justice, that is.
It must have been my mother who gave me a bit of information from the Berkeley police. That someone had called them around 6 AM the morning after my shooting, long before a single news story had been broadcast or printed, to ask about the man who had been shot. Was he alive? Doubtless the police said yes. And the caller, almost certainly the shooter or associate, could have breathed a sigh of relief. The white dude survived, he might have thought. Okay, got a little trigger happy and, what the hell, didn’t work out too badly.
Not only free but guilt-free, he could have easily moved on without a burden. And I have personally captured and tortured him, along with his accomplices, of course…not to mention quietly destroyed his spinal cord with an undetectable dose of phenol, then driving him ever so quietly to the parking lot of Oakland’s Highland Hospital for, as it were, night deposit…. Bye-bye. And so on. Vengeance fantasies, a permanent addiction to gun-wielding movie thriller heroes…particularly the wisecracking sort. My legacy.
And with this information online for so long, why now? Because I am recently returned from my annual men’s conference in the Midwest. Where it was proposed that I, like a returning combat veteran, am a warrior. The notion I am still trying to absorb, or to don like a new costume. And because I know the difference between action and passivity, or have been recently reminded of it. So there it is, the product of a bit of online sleuthing, and not even the closing of a chapter, more the opening.
Because death makes no difference here. Alive or deceased, the shooter is still grinning in the harsh glow of a 1968 Berkeley streetlight. And what could have been going through his mind? A high dose of drugs certainly among the possibilities. A moment of power…the latter comprised of a handgun, that violent fantasy object, all pushbutton convenience and instant gratification…and the presence of one of those smug and privileged white students, effortlessly wandering toward status, security and success. Bang. And one of us is still trying to move on, and the other is finally dead. All of which may be totally inaccurate and utterly surmised and wrong. But I prefer this story. It is the version I am now living with. And I am sticking with it. Or it has stuck to me.
And if I can now count myself a warrior and feel a sort of battle-scarred pride in my status as survivor…what battle was I in? And was I even fighting? Well, within seconds, fighting to breathe. Then fighting to live…the latter struggle never quite over, by the way. But warriors are drafted, in one sense or another…that is the thing. Manhood’s test utterly compelling for many…the urge to defend and protect present in all…forces too big to resist, even without a notice of conscription. Drafted, reporting for active duty, trained, deployed and sent to casualty all within the same instant. Too fast to note the combatants and their causes and their battle lines. But not too late, even now. What larger battle was I sucked into that June night?