Who could believe it’s been another year? Sixteen now, isn’t it? October 20, 1996. Happy Anniversary, Ed. Odd that I still think about you after all this time when I haven’t seen you since that day. I don’t even know if you’re alive.
I used to wonder what was going through your mind when you jumped the counter all those years ago, your face covered in a mask, that four-inch blade shining in your hand. Was your heart beating as hard as mine? As each of us had a part to play, was there any doubt that when you took a step forward, I would take a step back?
Of course, even aside from the weapon, you had the advantage. You knew who I was. You knew me as that crazy, pacifist supervisor, who demanded that you do the job you were being paid for. You had hated me for a long time, expecting to be fired before you were. The difference between us was that I didn’t think we’d ever meet again and you may have known even then that we would. When you suddenly appeared in the doorway, blocking my exit, all I could see for sure is that you were a big man, over six feet tall and two hundred pounds against my five-nine, one-sixty. The only uncovered part of you was your dark eyes, the wide bridge of your nose and your cocoa-colored skin.
You didn’t cut me and for that I am thankful. Of course, I gave you no reason, complying with your every wish, filling a bag with the company’s cash before you shoved me into a closet and made your escape. Both of our lives changed that day, and for much longer than the money lasted, I’m sure. You of course, kept doing the same thing over and over until you got caught.
The robbery you were arrested for got you a couple of years in prison. When you finally got out, you were free for three months before you were back in for stealing a car. I guess I don’t have to tell you, Ed, it’s not a good idea to change specialties. I haven’t heard anything about you since. You could be behind bars in another state or dead. Maybe you found religion and turned your life around.
Absent from my life as you are, I want you to know you’ve never left my thoughts. Your face is as clear in my mind as it has ever been. Even after months of therapy I had anxiety attacks. I changed the locks on my doors and installed outdoor flood lights, sometimes walking the floor at night checking and re-checking the perimeter to see that the windows remained barred against your intrusion into the house where my wife and two babies slept.
I thought I saw you in shopping malls and grocery stores. You visited me in tortured dreams during the rare hours of sleep. Every year, for nine years, when October came around, the dreams would return and it was as if the whole thing was happening all over again.
It’s funny, in a way, that the Detroit Tigers did what time, a psychologist and a river of alcohol could not. In 2006, when Kenny Rogers pitched his team into the World Series, breaking a record for consecutive scoreless innings long held by Babe Ruth in the process, his accomplishment became my touchstone. Rogers, just a few months younger than I, had previously been snake-bit in the post-season, suffering humiliating defeats with the Mets and Yankees. He overcame his October Curse, and I decided if he could do it, I could, too. The nightmares decreased and the night terrors were extinguished. I turned off the outside flood lights to save money on electricity.
I’ve moved on, Ed. I live in Ann Arbor now and I love it here. I’ve been married over twenty years, and those babies I talked about, one of whom was only three months old when you robbed me? He’s sixteen now. His sister is a sophomore in college, a poli-sci major, interested in helping people who have no voice in government; people like the poor and minorities, and she’s as liberal in her politics as I ever was. And Ed, that’s why I want to thank you.
Years ago, when comedian Dennis Miller underwent his startling political conversion, he said that liberals were just conservatives who hadn’t been mugged yet. But he was wrong, and I’m (thankfully) living proof. I still care about you as a person, Ed, and I’m still convinced that you were a product of an unhealthy environment, a man who is worthy beyond youthful, poorly-made decisions. My forgiveness is yours if you want it.
Yet, I’ll never forget you. I think of you often at work, where I serve a largely African-American clientele, people who look at me as just a person, not a white man. They know when I look them in the face I’m not registering their skin color first.
I try to take comfort in the math behind the crime statistics, which say that one out of every four Americans will be the victim of a violent crime in their lifetimes. I would like to think that for my nuclear family, I took one for the team.
I cried with joy the night Barack Obama was elected president in 2008 and rejoiced when he was re-elected just days ago. I would like to think that the ascendance of this man with the funny name, raised by a single mother to being the most powerful man in the world would give you hope for your future.
This will be the last time I’ll be speaking of you, Ed. I decided against even mentioning the anniversary to my family and friends this year, letting it pass without notice. I’m content that I have reached middle age and not become a racist or a conservative, though perhaps I repeat myself.
Even now, I can feel your thick fingers in my shirt collar dragging me around in the back office of that suburban hotel, but you couldn’t lead me to a place I didn’t want to go. I won’t hate, and you can’t make me.