A journalist interviews a killer waiting for execution.
Let my heart go
Let your son grow
Mama, let my heart go
Or let this heart be still
"Mama Said" by Metallica
I fiddled nervously with my tape recorder, checking that it had a tape and then checking again five seconds later. I'd never been handed such a story. It felt important. Like it would produce something deep and meaningful. As the car approached the prison, I gaped at the crowd that had gathered there. Signs were thrust into the air as men and women shouted. Individual words couldn't be made out in the roar but the signs said enough. "Monster" and "Mama Killer" flashed in thick, angry marker.
Two guards escorted me through the crowd, shoving people and shouting for some kind of order. But the frothing mob wouldn't be put in order. I kept myself firmly between the two large men, hoping they would shield my body from any errant elbows or signs. Once we'd stumbled through the doors, I could breathe easier. But there still remained the long walk and invasive search checks until I reached my destination. And God knew there'd be no comfort there.
Finally, I found myself in a small, bare room at a sturdy table. Guards were posted at the door behind me and the one across the room. Shortly after I'd been seated, those doors opened and two more guards led the subject of my story in by the elbows, shoving him roughly into the chair across from me.
I knew his age well before I took the story, but seeing him here, now, like this, it hit me just how young he was. He stared at me out of black circles, through bloodshot eyes. It was clear he hadn't slept. I ventured to guess he'd been crying. What fourteen year old boy wouldn't in a place like this?
I pressed the button on my recorder, leaving it in the middle of the table.
"Hello, Anthony. Thank you for speaking with me today."
"Gotta talk to somebody before I go," he said with a shrug.
"Why do you say that?"
"Gotta say what you want before you can't say it no more. I'm s'posed to let other people write my story? Pretend like they know me?"
"I think that's fair," I said evenly. "What is it that you want to say, Anthony?"
His light blue eyes watered briefly but it passed. They were hard and unfeeling, like a switch had been flipped. They didn't look like the eyes of a boy anymore.
"They're out there callin' me a monster. But they don't know her. They don't know what I had to go through."
"Well, that's why I'm here today, Anthony," I soothed. "I want to hear your side of the story. I want to understand who you are as a person. I'm not here to judge you. That's already been done. I'm here to understand."
Anthony looked skeptical but seemed to relax a little in his chair.
"She wouldn't let me have nothin' of my own. She wouldn't let me be nothin' of my own."
"What do you mean by that?"
"Nothin' I liked was good enough for her. All my hobbies, trash! All my friends, trash! Everything I said or thought, trash!"
"Parents can be that way sometimes," I said with an understanding nod. "I remember when I - "
Anthony cut me off with a laugh.
"Yeah, sure," he retorted with a roll of his eyes. "I'm not stupid. Don't act like I don't know. I know what normal parents are like. This wouldn't normal, okay? This wouldn't normal."
"Tell me what was different about it, Anthony."
"Some kids, their parents get mad if they read too many comics, watch too much tv, stay out late. They get mad if they don't have the same political views, right? But that wasn't it. My mama didn't let me be a person. You don't get it. She didn't let me be a person."
"You're right, Anthony. I don't think I understand. Tell me more about what your mother did."
"She suffocated me, okay? She suffocated me. Always on my ass. Controlling every moment of my life. I had to fill out a time sheet, okay? I had to account for every minute of my day. She had to know. Where was I? What was I doin'? And if I missed even a single fuckin' second, bam!"
Anthony slapped his hands together and the guards tensed.
"Do you mean, she would hit you, Anthony?"
"Yeah. Smack! Right in the face. And then she'd start on me. And that was worse than the smack. Hound me until I told her what I was doin' in that time. Hound me and hound me and then, no matter what I told her, she called me a liar. She accused me of all kinds of shit I didn't do. Drugs and theft and fuckin' around with girls."
"Was your mother particularly focused on that, Anthony? On keeping you away from girls?"
"Of course." He shook his head with a stressed laugh. "Don't hang around girls, oh no. You look at a girl, she's gonna get pregnant then you'll ruin both our lives. Anthony."
"I've read that you worked a part time job at a local pig farm to help support your mother. Is that why she was worried about you getting some girl pregnant? You wouldn't be able to support her if you had a family?"
"I guess," Anthony said with a shrug. "Yeah. She worked me like a fuckin' dog."
"Did you feel trapped by your mother, Anthony? Is that why you felt you had no choice but to kill her?"
"Don't nothin' get by you, huh?" he snarked. "What other chance did I have? Run away? They'd catch me, take me back. Wait another four years in that hell? No. I was fuckin' done."
"I can understand that, Anthony. When we're backed into a corner, instincts take over. Fight or flight. If you thought flight wasn't an option, it's logical you turned to fight."
He shifted in his chair uncomfortably and wouldn't meet my gaze. I went on with the interview.
"I've heard you planned to dispose of your mother's body at the pig farm where you worked, Anthony. You claim the murder itself wasn't premeditated. A crime of passion. But you'd mentioned this disposal method to friends before, is that right?"
"Yeah, so. It's not like it's a secret. Pigs'll eat anything. But I didn't say it cause I planned to kill her. It was just talk."
"But didn't you ever want to kill her? I'm not asking if you planned the murder. But that feeling is something that sat inside you for a long time, isn't it?"
"Yeah, I won't argue that none."
"And one day, you just snapped? Tell me about that day, Anthony."
"She wouldn't get off my fuckin' back!" he snapped. "Where you been Anthony? I heard you missed work. You were shooting up with a girl, weren't you? Were you Anthony? Were you out fuckin' and drinkin' and shootin' up like your daddy?"
"Did your mother often project these feelings about your father on you, Anthony?"
"All the god damn time."
"That was very unfair of her. I understand how frustrating that can be. What was your relationship with your father like?"
"Don't remember him."
"So all you had to go on, all you knew of your father, was your mother's judgement on him?"
"Yeah, I guess."
"So your mother is screaming at you," I said, turning back to the subject. "She's comparing you to your father. Accusing you of his supposed crimes. Were any of these accusations true?"
"Fuck no. I skipped out on work to go to the fuckin' movies for once. I just wanted some fuckin time to myself."
"That's understandable. Everyone needs time off."
Anthony nodded weakly and put his face in his hands.
"And she just kept coming at me. I couldn't get away. I tried to hide in my room, but she wouldn't stop poundin' on my door, you know. Screamin' and kickin' and goin' on."'
"So, you snapped?"
"Yeah, man, I snapped. I came out of there with that fuckin' knife and I shut her up."
"With thirty-two stabs to the throat."
"I wouldn't countin' or nothin' but yeah that's what they say."
"That's a lot of rage," I said softly. "Thirty-two stabs."
He got a distant look in his eye as he dropped his hands. He shook his head and called for the guards to take him away. He didn't want to talk anymore. As I reached for the recorder, he lowered his head and I could hear a quiver in his voice. Suddenly, he was a boy again.
"You know, the weirdest thing is, late at night when I think about where I'm headin', I still want my mama. How fucked up is that?"
I clicked the recorder off and stood, watching as they took him away.