Hello? New Hampshire? America? You’ve got mail, and it’s not good news. It is time to read it, though, rhetorically speaking, indeed it is late in the game to be reading it.
As a second-generation Milford native, like everyone around me, I am still stunned, shocked, and deeply saddened by the horrific murder in Mont Vernon, NH last Sunday morning. Less than a mile from where my widowed mother resides, at the end of a long, private driveway. I have worried about her, in this changing town, but have always been able to comfort myself with the knowledge that we live in an inordinately safe place. I have grown up here never locking a door, smirking at the thought of home security systems, and generally not concerned with those types of “city” considerations to personal safety.
That’s been changing, though, over the last several years, and last Sunday, the pendulum not only swung fully in the other direction, it left the clock completely and is now in a low orbit somewhere over the Atlantic.
Last Sunday, roughly around 4:00 a.m., 42 year-old Kim Cates, a mother, wife, nurse at local hospitals, and beloved member of her community, was violently slashed to death in her bed. Her daughter, 11 year old Jaime, was beaten, stabbed, and her throat slashed and left for dead. She didn’t die, though, she survived. She survived in body, at least, but what the future holds for this young girl remains to be seen.
Kim’s husband, who works for BAE, an aerospace firm, was travelling on business. He returned after being informed of the event, and as of this writing has not left his daughter’s bedside at Children’s Hospital in Boston. I try to imagine that plane ride. The other passengers… trying to be composed… minutes passing like dreadful hours from an endless pile. What an awful nightmare…what an exercise for anyone’s brain to try and begin to comprehend what happened…and why.
In a community like ours, rumors travel fast, and by Sunday evening word was out, but without names or details of the circumstances. The location itself made the story untenable, yet there it was. As more news came out, that it was Kim Cates, and that her daughter had been found outside, left for dead, the task of comprehension became increasingly difficult.
By Monday most of the details were out, and, incredibly, by late Monday arrests had been made.
Relief, surely, that there was not a maniac on the loose, soon turned to utter disbelief when it was announced that four local teens had been charged. Steven Spader. 17, of Brookline, Christopher Gribble, 19 of Brookline, William Marks, 18, of Amherst and Quinn Glover, 17, also of Amherst. How could this be? What motive could there possibly be? What connection between these unlikely parties? Anyone who knew the Cates’ at all knew that drugs, or some kind of love-triangle, or any of the few things that jump to mind in this kind of event…were not a possibility. So what was it…what could have possibly inspired the explosive rage that one would expect to be the catalyst in such a brutal crime? Well…as it turns out, it was just a fun night out for this group.
And this is why “we’ve got mail”. As a town, a state, a country, a culture, we need finally to seriously address where this comes from. I have written before that I believe it is primarily born from our media and entertainment. I grew up watching a talking horse and some kid named “Beaver”. I see stuff on early evening children’s programming now that would make an adult blush. I hear lyrics in music that are the most vile, hateful prose I have ever heard, espousing the joys of killing cops and of misogyny. Video games that celebrate killing ,violence and death. Combine these influences with the general decline in parenting skills that the last few decades have seen, and I don’t believe you need a doctorate to do the math.
Could anyone argue, that when four young men, most of whom showed no outward signs of this kind of extreme personality disorder, are able to execute a plan like this, to hack, with a machete and knives, a young woman and an 11 year-old child, and then return home with the demeanor of someone who had just been out for pizza…that we have a social fabric unwinding faster than a ball of yarn in a Texas twister.
One really has to stop and imagine the act. Pure evil. There is no denying it or sugar-coating it. Our community ripped at and shredded, a family destroyed, ripples emanate from this act like a grand piano had been dropped into a lake. It will always be here. For locals, any ride past that road will forever reignite this memory. It leaves a permanent stain on everyone’s psyche.
What are we to do, as a society? Even trying to pass legislation to protect our children from sexual predators is like pulling teeth. Imagine tackling the entertainment industry, parents, schools, trying to bring national attention and a movement to this cause? Boycotting violent video games, music and movies? Ostracizing offenders, naming names, shaming entertainment moguls? This is what it will take. But I am not optimistic.
It took America falling trillions of dollars into debt and a litany of corruption scandals to bring Americans into the street to say “enough!” It will probably take many more home-invasions and murders and children left on lawns before we take seriously the erosion in our moral culture that has left us with this raw, exposed wound…our disenfranchised youth with a thoroughly mixed up idea of what it means to “be a man”. And long after this story disappears from the front pages, a father and daughter will have to return to their Mt. Vernon home. He will have to visit that room, where he once lay with his wife, and he will have to pack her things in boxes. His home will not feel like home anymore, indeed, no place may ever feel like home. He will struggle with insurmountable pain, grief, and irreconcilable loss. Loss for no reason at all.
Last week, I entertained at a benefit for Word War II veterans. Many of them were just 17 or 18 years old when they shipped off to war, to see horrors they could never have imagined. Many never returned, and those who did certainly had something to be angry about. But they didn’t come home to be angry, they came home to build a life. Having been deprived of every comfort, of having to skirt death, they still embraced their future with bravado.
What a different, sad time, we live in now. With cell phones, i-pods, video games, two cars, an allowance and no responsibilities, for our 18 year-olds, “embracing life” now requires taking someone else’s. Yeah…we’ve got mail…whether we want it or not.