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"I still don’t understand what happened."
February 4, 2013 10:42 AM   Subscribe

Sick by Amy Butcher (Via)
posted by zarq (30 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
damn.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 10:56 AM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is good – and worth listening to. (Note that, if you scroll down to the bottom of the page, you can listen to the author reading this piece. Which is an awesome thing, I think.)

It was an interesting choice to use a slightly smaller font to signify quieter asides. At first I found it distracting, and I had to look at the source to make sure I wasn't just seeing things, but after a bit it worked.
posted by koeselitz at 11:07 AM on February 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


It weird, I really liked this article when I read it, but when I researched the actual murder, the fact that he murdered an ex-girlfriend (they had just broken up and were in that awkward limbo of moving out while staying friends) instead of the anonymous and dispassionately described "young woman" and "poor girl" put me off. Honestly, it made me wonder about how honest she was being about her relationship with Kevin or other facts. I feel lied to.
posted by saucysault at 11:08 AM on February 4, 2013 [10 favorites]


This is an excerpt from a longer work, it says; if you look at the Essays section of her website, she mentions that it was his girlfriend in another one. I assume the longer work will address that more?
posted by leesh at 11:15 AM on February 4, 2013


saucysault: “... but when I researched the actual murder...”

I'm not sure how I feel about this – I mean, she says
Even now, I watch the news and see a violent man—Jared Loughner, James Holmes, now Adam Lanza—and think, That’s exactly what happened to Kevin.
But I'll have to think about it. Anyway – do you have any citation or link for that? Googling seems futile; I can't find anything about this, although I am interested.
posted by koeselitz at 11:16 AM on February 4, 2013


saucysault did a much better job than the pithy snark I was going to make about how Charles Manson still has some dedicated followers as well that love him.
posted by k5.user at 11:21 AM on February 4, 2013


k5.user: “saucysault did a much better job than the pithy snark I was going to make about how Charles Manson still has some dedicated followers as well that love him.”

Again, I'm not sure what this is supposed to indicate. That people who do monstrous things are thoroughly monsters that should be discarded by society into the worst prisons imaginable? I don't think anybody is denying that this Kevin guy did a monstrous thing. However, Amy Butcher's apparent point – that mental health is utterly neglected in this nation, and that this neglect is in large part what keeps us from preventing those monstrous acts – is still a good one, isn't it?
posted by koeselitz at 11:26 AM on February 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


saucysault, I'd love to see links, too. I did my own searches before posting and came up empty.
posted by zarq at 11:28 AM on February 4, 2013


Emily was her name. (yes, I know it is Cosmo, there are shorter articles out there). I saw it was part of a longer work, but Amy was Kevin's best friend and would have spent a long time with his long-term girlfriend/fellow student. It just seems to really minimize her by reducing her to a demographic description instead of personalising/humanising relationships.
posted by saucysault at 11:31 AM on February 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


Ah, thanks! Much appreciated.
posted by zarq at 11:43 AM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


It just seems to really minimize her...

But I don't think her role was important in this piece. I think adding all of those extra details would have taken away from the picture the author was trying to paint. The piece was about the author visiting her sick friend in a sterile medical-type facility and how she struggles with interacting with the friend and moving on with her own life.

I don't feel lied to. I feel like I got a glimpse into the thoughtful, nebulous meanderings of a woman in an odd situation. And of her trying to cope with and process that situation.

I'm not trying to diminish the woman who was killed. This is just not her story.
posted by jillithd at 11:43 AM on February 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


A story about the man who killed her? Yeah, it's her story, too.
posted by troika at 11:47 AM on February 4, 2013 [8 favorites]


Mental illness is a huge problem that is getting a little bit of attention now; especially pieces that address stigma. I don't know if I feel comfortable agreeing that he had a psychotic break. Psychosis itself is pretty rare, on the spectrum of psychosis completely losing touch with reality is even more rare, being violent while severely psychotic is even MORE rare and being violent towards someone else while severely psychotic is almost unheard of (statistically - I know those are the headline grabbing cases). I have seen nothing that talks about a gradual descent into psychosis (because it is rare to just "snap") and I am concerned that Kevin has found a "reason" to explain abhorrent behaviour that preserves his other relationships. We all know that domestic violence is minimised; blaming mental illness despite any co-orborating evidence is too close to macho men blaming "passion" or "honour" for me.
posted by saucysault at 11:52 AM on February 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


Amy Butcher knew Kevin first and foremost, not Emily. It IS a story that involves Emily, but Amy's best and most personal knowledge -- and the knowledge she needs to come to grips with because of Emily's death -- is about her own relationship with Kevin.
posted by Madamina at 11:54 AM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's worth noting that the guy apparently had quit Zoloft shortly before all this happened.

I don't know, honestly.

I had a friend who did a moderately bad thing (no violence or sexual assault, no racial aspect, not related to a romantic relationship; it was property crime) and yeah, I think it's hard to talk or think about what happens when a friend does something out-of-the-common bad. In fact, maybe we could approach this piece charitably and assume that it takes the shape that it does precisely because we have very few cultural models for both saying "this person did something terrible" and saying "this person is still someone in my life". I think that makes it really hard for the families and friends of incarcerated people.

Admittedly, sometimes I think about the entitled, clingy men who act like this character apparently did (there was a stalky history with a previous girlfriend, which, to be fair, seems to have been totally secret from his other friends)...and I feel so much rage and hatred. I think about the way masculinity is created in this culture, where men learn that if they can't have something, no one should be able to have it; and where so many men seem to believe that if they are going to suffer or die, they are entitled to take the women and children in their lives with them.

It's actually pretty scary. I have a lot of men friends and I occasionally wonder if one of them is like this inside and I don't actually know them at all. (Anybody read Jame's Tiptree's "Screwfly Solution"?)

And then it's pretty depressing. You end up thinking that the way masculinity works, it creates men who are psychologically almost unrecognizable to me - what is their interiority? They might as well be aliens, right?
posted by Frowner at 11:55 AM on February 4, 2013 [12 favorites]


I add that the "moderately bad thing" was bad enough that it broke up our friend group. The friend who did it vanished for a couple of years, then suddenly started sending money for restitution to the injured parties. And now we're friends again, and it's all okay. But it was wrenching when it happened.
posted by Frowner at 11:57 AM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


saucysault: “I have seen nothing that talks about a gradual descent into psychosis (because it is rare to just ‘snap’) and I am concerned that Kevin has found a ‘reason’ to explain abhorrent behaviour that preserves his other relationships. We all know that domestic violence is minimised; blaming mental illness despite any co-orborating evidence is too close to macho men blaming ‘passion’ or ‘honour’ for me.”

I wholly agree that domestic violence absolutely must not be minimized. Moreover, I feel like it's necessary not to use mental illness as some sort of excuse. What Kevin did is monstrous. That's not something that will change, no matter why he did it.

However, it seems worth noting that this really doesn't seem to be a 'reason' that Kevin has 'found.' In the article, Amy quotes one of the three psychiatric evaluations that were ordered after Kevin's arrest:
In a mental evaluation completed just weeks after Kevin’s arrest, one doctor wrote, It is my professional opinion that Kevin demonstrated signs of impaired functioning prior to and at the time of the offense, and therefore lacked the capacity to comprehend the wrongfulness of his actions and conform his behaviors to the requirements of the law.
Amy apparently is not lying; these psychiatric evaluations were ordered, and I guess they're one of the reasons the judge decided to agree to a plea deal which gave Kevin a sentence of 26 years in prison. So – it appears that neither Amy nor Kevin is inventing the excuse of mental illness to make Kevin's actions more palatable.

Now – at the same time, it should be said that, while the above quote from an evaluation may make it seem so, none of this takes away what Kevin did. It complicates the murder; but murder is still murder. I think that's kind of the crux of the difficult issue here, I think, and seems to be what Amy's getting at. There's this monstrous thing that Kevin did, and there are apparently reasons he did it, but none of those reasons take away the fact that he did in fact murder a human being.

I share some conflicted feelings about this article; I'm not sure if it's always a great idea to humanize murderers. But there seems to be a good point at the heart of this one. The people around us generally seem completely "human" – they seem perfectly normal, happy, reasonable, and because it's a taboo, we never consider the fact that mental illness is a possibility for all of us. That taboo is worth overcoming, because it's one of the things keeping us from stopping people like Kevin Shaeffer before they commit monstrous acts.
posted by koeselitz at 12:11 PM on February 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


They might as well be aliens, right?

A very Tiptree-ish conclusion.
posted by octobersurprise at 12:27 PM on February 4, 2013


A story about the man who killed her? Yeah, it's her story, too.

I don't agree. I don't think it's wrong to write a story: I have a friend who did a horrible thing and I don't know how to deal with that. An essay isn't a courtroom; the writer is not obligated to allow equal time to the prosecutor and the defense. It's not a sin to stop to consider what it's like to be the bastard. Or the bastard's friend.
posted by Diablevert at 1:05 PM on February 4, 2013 [9 favorites]


I'm a bit concerned by the notion that not humanizing the murderer, that is dehumanizing him, is a good idea. Awful things are done by human beings, after all, and while we might abhor what they've done, we share that with them. From a practical point of view, how are we going to understand and, hopefully, prevent people from doing these things if we dehumanize them?
posted by sfred at 1:37 PM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


You're right, she did not have to make this essay into The Kevin and Emily Story. I feel that I should mention (before launching into a complaint) that I really liked this piece.

But even though it's a different way of considering the situation, in one important way it's the same as all the others: the man gets humanized, the man gets a back story, the man gets named. The woman is reduced to her gender. More thought is devoted to the details of how Emily was killed than the Emily herself. It would not have cheapened the description of her friendship with Kevin to mention that this was domestic violence. To mention that woman he killed was his ex-girlfriend. Or to even just call her by her name.
posted by troika at 2:00 PM on February 4, 2013 [8 favorites]


She's asking multiple questions.

"How does a mind break?" she wonders.

"When does a mind heal?" she wonder about him and herself.

"Does visiting him slow my own healing, especially if I spend so much time wondering the first question?"

And finally she wonders if this is the best we as a society can do.

/of course, that's just my interpretation. but go ahead and string em all up, if that makes you feel any better.
posted by surplus at 2:13 PM on February 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


It would not have cheapened the description of her friendship with Kevin to mention that this was domestic violence. To mention that woman he killed was his ex-girlfriend. Or to even just call her by her name.

It's weird; I find I agree with that, and yet,

But even though it's a different way of considering the situation, in one important way it's the same as all the others: the man gets humanized, the man gets a back story, the man gets named. The woman is reduced to her gender. More thought is devoted to the details of how Emily was killed than the Emily herself

I can't quite agree with this. I feel like, to say "his girlfriend" or "Emily" instead of "girl" would have been simple enough. To devote as much time to Emily as to her killing would have changed the essay fundamentally.

I dunno, I feel a bit wishy-washy. It was an interesting essay; I thought it could have maybe used three more rounds of editing. The shift in the tone doesn't quite work, there's a little too much of what she thinks about in it --- when you learn the enormity of his crime it seems almost indulgent. But when you learn the enormity of his crime it feels blasphemous to critique the essay at all, to stand outside of the emotions and argue that they could be otherwise expressed.

And I think that's part of why I feel wishy washy about the politics of it, as well. One cannot argue that it is not a political piece. And yet it certainly aims for the emotional and aesthetic impact of art. I don't mind arguing about right and wrong and which side you're on when it comes to politics. But I quite dislike the viewpoint that politics supersedes all, because if you go that route --- "this is wrong, and we can't like anything about it because it's wrong" then empathy becomes a zero-sum game, where anything given to the killer is taken from the victim, even the attempt to understand. And that destroys art, destroys its power, which is to help us understand.

Sigh. I'm babbling. But I suppose my confusion is a sign it's a good essay.
posted by Diablevert at 3:39 PM on February 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


I think it matters that she doesn't really say that the women in question was his girlfriend because she says this: "Now, in the three years since it happened, I myself have been diagnosed with PTSD, as I was the last person Kevin saw that night, the last woman before he killed her." So it matters that she was "the last woman" not "the last person" full stop, but that it matters somehow that he saw her, a WOMAN, before he went on to kill another woman. If Kevin had gone on to kill another person - say a male roommate - I sort of wonder (and doubt) that it would matter so much that she was the last woman he saw. She'd have just been the last person, which undoubtedly would also be traumatic. But I felt when I read this yesterday that the author is putting in some kind of ... hint or something I couldn't quite put my finger on... around the issue of who Kevin killed so terribly and the missing context.
posted by marylynn at 4:02 PM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


...since 2001, it’s been rising steadily with every year.

This is the take-away. I didn't check the figures, but according to the NIMH: An estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older — about one in four adults — suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year.

And we're do fk-all about it.
posted by BlueHorse at 4:21 PM on February 4, 2013


> so many men seem to believe that if they are going to suffer or die, they are entitled to
> take the women and children in their lives with them.

Suttee? In what country? In what century? Seriously, what are we talking about here?
posted by jfuller at 4:50 PM on February 4, 2013


Heartbreaking story for everyone involved. Mental illness has been stigmatized for too long. When are we going to get our equivalent high profile charity with the exposure of Susan G. Komen (as an example).
posted by arcticseal at 7:02 PM on February 4, 2013


Suttee? In what country? In what century? Seriously, what are we talking about here?

Familicide among men who've just experienced some business or financial setback is a well-recognized phenomenon. See William Parente, John List.
posted by ostro at 9:01 PM on February 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


what is their interiority? They might as well be aliens, right?

When we read stories of moms who drown their babies and dads and kids who kill their families, I think most of us compare our own mental stability to the killer's.

"We watch it burn," the author said. Because really it seems like we understand so little about what's going on in our own minds.
posted by surplus at 6:49 AM on February 5, 2013


Admittedly, sometimes I think about the entitled, clingy men who act like this character apparently ... and I feel so much rage and hatred. I think about the way masculinity is created in this culture ... where so many men seem to believe that if they are going to suffer or die, they are entitled to take the women and children in their lives with them. ... I have a lot of men friends and I occasionally wonder if one of them is like this inside and I don't actually know them at all. ... You end up thinking that the way masculinity works, it creates men who are psychologically almost unrecognizable to me ... They might as well be aliens, right?

The chances that one of your "men friends" is a familicidal alien seems pretty small. The US DOJ says that 15 out of 100,000 men will commit murder and that their victims are 3 times more likely to be other men than women. So what's that, something like 20,000 to 1 odds that any given man will kill a woman? Now not all of those are cases of domestic violence of course, but it is a scary number when considered on the scale of the overall population. Yet, on the scale of the men you know personally, it's pretty unlikely that you'll find one no matter how entitled and clingy you think your male friends were raised to be.
posted by 0 at 7:11 AM on February 5, 2013


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