A writer and teacher asks what happens when a friend grows up to be murderer
I’m good friends with a murderer, or at least I was before his capture and prison sentence. It’s unclear to me what could have made him kill the mother of his child. I’d like to think that I knew him before he became a killer, but maybe it was always a part of him. Since we were the same age when we met, liked the same kinds of video games and came from the same neighborhood it makes me ask if the potential to commit such an act is also inside of me.
When we got older, we decided to attend the same college, a private university in the heart of the hood we grew up in. We both felt that it was time for us to branch out from our families and go to it on our own, but this is also where we started to deviate from each other. We had our own separate dorm rooms with different roommates. I lived with another friend of mine that I had known since middle school, whereas he roomed with a random student that neither of us had known prior to moving on campus. We still looked out for each other during our freshman year of college despite being more separate than we had been. One memory of those college years was a time when my friend had gotten drunk during a night out partying and had to spend the night with my roommate and I. We took care of him, and didn’t even make a big deal of it. He would go out and party regularly, and although I would also go out from time to time, I wouldn’t really call it my thing. On another occasion, a bunch of guys who were living in the dorms got drunk and started boxing with each other, they were really going at it, trying to prove how tough they all were. My friend got involved and started wailing on a scrawny kid I had never seen in the dorms before. I hadn’t had a drink when I joined in, I just figured I’d blow off some steam. I ended up having a match with someone I was friends with, but also someone who I was stronger and faster than. I had fun with it, taunted my competitor a little, made a bit of a show out of it, but gradually I lost interest. It felt like all I was doing was embarrassing someone else, and for what? Momentary gratification? That year would become the beginning of the end for my friend and I, and we would both start to show a darker side to ourselves.
At first, it wasn’t even a split, but a gradual growth apart as differences in personalities developed. I grew to be even more socially awkward, while he started becoming the life of the party. That first year of college we both had trouble with our grades because studying wasn’t our primary focus, but things changed. I was a collegiate athlete so I needed to keep my grades above a certain level, but he didn’t have coaches, or anyone else hounding him over his grades to keep him from going to social gatherings. But what really pushed us apart was that our trust in each other had been broken.
We both planned on getting tattoos and we shared our ideas of what we wanted with each other. I wanted images that I thought would symbolically represent me, which happened to be a collection of cliché animals and things all over my body. I wanted wings on my back, for example and looking back, I’m so thankful I didn’t get any of them. One day he was walking around the dorm with his shirt off, because that’s what some guys do in college, and he had already gotten the wings I had told him about tattooed on his back. When I asked him about the tattoo, he treated it as if it was no big deal. Considering how cliché of a tattoo idea it was, it wasn’t the lack of originality that bothered me, it was getting the same tattoo behind my back that got to me.
Later, I told him about a young woman we were both friends with that I had thought about asking out on a date. I was in a dysfunctional relationship at the time, but it was on its last legs and I was looking for a way out. Not long after I told him, I found out that he had asked her out instead and that they had started dating. Part of me was jealous, but another part of me felt that I had been betrayed for a second time, so I decided to not leave an opening for a third. Gradually, I stopped telling him things. Our conversations became more shallow and I developed trust issues with someone I had once been close with for the first time. Eventually we stopped hanging out altogether.
It was early into our third year of college when things became set in stone. On one occasion my friend had expressed concerns about getting kicked out of the school. By that time I had rebounded academically from freshman year, but my friend was still struggling and concerned that his poor grades would result in expulsion. I was still wary of sharing anything really personal with him. I didn’t trust him. Even still, he expressed his interest in joining the armed forces to me. I had always had negative feelings about becoming a soldier. Killing a man who I didn’t know in the name of another man I didn’t know never sat well with me, but he wasn’t anywhere near as hesitant as I would have been about it. We both were in peak physical shape so I wasn’t concerned about that aspect of him joining, it was the thought of something bad happening to someone I had grown up with. I didn’t trust him anymore, and a part of me secretly resented him for destroying that bond of trust, but I didn’t wish death on him. He had such resolve about his decision, that eventually he won me over and I started thinking that it might be something he would handle just fine. Maybe it would help him grow in ways that college could not, so I hoped that things would work out for him. After he enlisted, I would see him in person once more a few years later.
Years passed, I had finished college, and my friend and I had gone a long time without speaking. His father and younger siblings still frequented our house, but my friend hadn’t returned to our neighborhood to visit. His dad told me that after my friend had served his active duty he moved to Florida. He told me that my friend had a daughter and had gotten married to a woman down there. Nobody knew it then, but the envy I had felt towards him before sprung back up. Being a father and husband was something I had wanted from a very young age. He knew that, I had told him when we were kids.
Then one spring day his dad came over to our house with a face full of tears and he pleaded with my dad for help. I only caught them as they were leaving through the front door. At the time I was mostly preoccupied with work and my daily routine. When I asked my dad what had happened he told me about how my friend had murdered the mother of his child. It wouldn’t be until I read the news report that I learned all of the details, about how he had gotten caught in the act of hiding the body, how it wasn’t an act of self defense, but an offense committed in a fit of rage over a disagreement. This made me reassess everything that I thought I had known about him, and to an extent what I thought I had known about myself.
Our backgrounds paralleled, but we diverged in two different directions as we got older. I had only ever killed bugs while playing around as a kid, and a bird I accidentally hit with my car once. I still don’t understand what would make him murder another person, especially one he had had a child with. Maybe it was a combination of being overcome with emotion and his combat training? Maybe it was always within him? Maybe this potential to kill is within all of us? Often when people think of murderers and criminals, they think of monsters: scary, deadly, and locked away in their prison cells, those holes that society sends them to. But these monsters are human beings, and I suppose the scary truth is that these monsters come from us, and in some cases are just like us. We are made of the same parts, come from similar origins, and if it wasn’t for the fact that our personalities work differently it could be said that we are oftentimes the exact same creatures.
Looking at the boy I knew and the man my friend became, I can’t dehumanize him. Our friendship was trying. He hurt others, betrayed my trust, and stole from me, but aren’t I guilty of some of the same things? I had a physical fight with a friend and embarrassed him over nothing. I considered cheating on a girlfriend when it looked like things wouldn’t work out between us. I’ve gotten older, more mindful of others’, and my own, actions. My decision-making has improved, but then again this story borrows from him without his knowledge or consent and that is no different than thievery, isn’t it?
I’ve questioned whether I ever really knew him or not since he committed this heinous act. Maybe I did. Maybe I didn’t know myself as well as I thought. People are capable of evil, and it is only the degree of wrongdoing that separates us from those who we call monsters. We fought a lot as kids, and I’m fighting with him now, over what we have both become. I’m fighting with what made us who we are today, and why we won’t be able to come back together like we had in the days of our youth. We are made of the same ingredients. We are characters within the same narrative. The monster shares the origin story with the writer. The difference in our endings isn’t what’s haunting, but that we are assembled of the same parts.
Deonte Osayande is a former track and field sprinter turned writer from Detroit, Mi. He writes nonfiction essays and his poems have been nominated for the Best of the Net Anthology, a Pushcart Prize and published in numerous publications, including The Missing Slate. He has represented Detroit at multiple National Poetry Slam competitions. He’s currently a professor of English at Wayne County Community College, and teaching youth through the Inside Out Detroit Literary Arts Program.