They say the average person walks past a murderer 36 times in their life. That means that without knowing it you have crossed paths with someone who has maliciously taken the life of another. It hurts to think about, but when you are naïve to this fact you can live on in ignorance.
I was only twenty years old the first time I held the hand of a murderer. I clasped it between my own two hands and looked into his eyes as he put down his old, sick dog. I told him how sorry I was and helped him out the door. I’d never seen someone so big be struck down by such overwhelming grief. His wife usually came in, but this dog was his; this was his time to grieve.
And he chose to do it alone.
I didn’t see him again for a several months, and the incident was lost in my memories of everyday clients and their pets. However, when he showed back up one evening just before closing I immediately remembered how he sobbed quietly into his handkerchief as his dog passed away.
He walked up to the front desk and stood there for a moment, his head down.
“I just wanted to say thank you.” He finally managed, raising his bright blue eyes up to meet mine. I smiled and nodded, but was unsure of what he was thanking me for. When we had put down his dog there had been snow on the ground, now it was a 110 degrees in the shade. So much time had passed that the plants had forgotten who they were. I turned my head to the side, tilting it as I studied him, and then offered him a standard reply. I had dealt with many people and their grief, but this was definitely a first.
“It was no problem. It’s always such a hard thing to do, no one should have to go through it alone.”
He nodded and stared down at his hands for a long time, not making a move to go away or to say anything. After a bit I picked up some paperwork and started to sort through it in hopes that he might be persuaded to do something. Finally he looked at me once again and I saw the sea of anguish in his eyes and realized he was grappling with far more than his dog’s death six months ago.
“That is a very true statement. Thank you, again.”
He held out his hand and I shook it and this time there was a spark of electricity that seemed to flow from his palm to mine. A shiver so stark and cold ran up my arm and down my spine. In that instant I imagined running out into the heat to purge myself of it.
His smile was slow to spread across his face, but it never did reach his eyes and when he walked out of the door and into the brilliant sunlight I knew that it would be the last time I ever saw him.
I don’t think I was all that surprised when I saw his picture on the news that night saying that he had walked into the police department and turned himself in less than thirty minutes after coming into the clinic. When I heard that he had chopped his wife into little bitty pieces and stored her in the freezer I remembered the horrible chill that ran down my arm when he touched me. Thought of the blood that must have been hidden under his fingernails and in the crevices of his fingerprints that had once been flowing through his wife, a woman I had seen on a monthly basis for the last three years.
When I looked down and saw that I had sliced open the palm of my own hand while cutting vegetables I should have been surprised. I should have been horrified, but I could do nothing but wonder how much blood flowed through her body when he was cutting it apart, and how much of the residue of who she had been was now imprinted on my hand? My soul?
Would it ever be the same.