This epistolary is inspired by a story I saw on YouTube of a shooting victim who forgave his shooter. Among the things he said he mentioned receiving a letter from the shooter’s children. And he ended up meeting them. It made me thing what would that letter look like? What would they have said to him?
July 4th, 2022
Dear Mr. Patel,
We’re under the impression that you’d refuse to meet us. Any sane person would. So, we went for the second best option, writing you a letter with the help of our lawyer.
Though we’re all going through some kind of grief, we know ours will fade into a dull pain while yours will remain alive and present in every moment of your life.
We’re Jane and Thomas, our father’s children—literally. We’re both drug addicts, both high school dropouts. Our father was the closest thing to a family we had ever known, no matter how dysfunctional it was.
We’re not trying to play the victim here, but we can’t help but mourn our father’s death and the decisions he made that led to it.
We wanted to meet you, Sir, because you intrigued us. No one gets shot in the face and forgives their shooter, let alone reaching out to let them know they were forgiven before they were gone.
Why did you do it? We always wondered. What inner strength do you possess? Is it some religious belief you have? Is it your way to cope with pain? Are you at a higher spiritual level, or did you hit rock bottom, and you needed a drastic move to help you find yourself again?
Whatever your reasons were, we’re grateful. More than that, we consider our father, and ourselves, lucky to have you as his victim (as twisted and baffling as that sounds).
The other victims of the shooting didn’t make it, but you did. Instead of turning your back on this awful period of your life, you chose to use this opportunity to teach him that the brown eye his bullet shattered can still see behind the rage and hate. That the brown hand he so hated can reach for the human inside of him, and it did.
We can’t tell you what the effects of your actions on our father were. We know he cried when you called him; the lawyer told us that much. Did he have a change of heart, or was it just a natural reaction to an unexpected action? We will never know.
We would have loved it if he had a chance to live and rectify his actions—as selfish as that sounds—to give back to society and advocate for love instead of hate. But he died—a learned lesson went to waste. We may not have many opinions about politics, but we think if the victim forgives, the government should let the culprit live.
We apologize if we, once again, made it about us. There is little we can say about you, since we haven’t met. We surely heard what everyone else knew about the case. Details you know, and we’ll not put you through the pain of reliving it. But we were hoping we could sit with you and talk. Maybe we’d understand at last your motives. To see with our own eyes that you’re truly at peace, that you’ve moved on. Maybe we’d see what you saw in his angry, bloodshot eyes—which we’re more than familiar with.
When he peered down at you with a disgust unfathomable to you, when he accused you of every misfortune life had ever thrown at him, when, despite his unsteadiness, the haze over his gaze, and the slur in his speech, he still looked as menacing as an angry bull, tell us, did you cower like we used to do? Did you cry? Did you apologize for things you didn’t do or know?
No, we think you didn’t do any of this. You looked him in the eye, equal to equal, and he didn’t like that, so he shot you in the face. He never liked when we stood up for ourselves. That would always make things worse for us. He lived off of the fear he instilled in people.
No, it’s unfair to say that. He wasn’t always bad. We wish you knew him when he used to play with us, or when he used to watch football on TV, or when he used to smile; before our mother walked out on him. When he wasn’t hurt and angry and jobless.
We wish he didn’t give up, but he was never taught how to turn weakness into strength, pain into fuel. We know that, because he used to tell us stories of his childhood; of his parents’ mistakes he would never repeat with us, how he’ll do everything in his power to give us what he never had. But the apple never falls far from the tree, does it?
That’s why we wanted to meet you. Maybe we’ll learn how not to be him. Maybe you won’t stink of alcohol and bad acquaintances. Maybe we’ll catch a glance of what he could’ve been. Because, for our sake, we need to believe that this is the result of his poor decisions, not of his fate. Because what chance do we stand if it was just fate?
Please, let us meet. Your phone call brought closure to him, but opened the gates of hell on us.
When we heard he was charged for murder, we weren’t surprised. Somehow, deep down we knew that’s how it would end, and deep, deep down we wished it wouldn’t. So when it finally came true, we felt helpless and disappointed. When he was sentenced, we didn’t feel. It was too late for that.
It was weeks after his death that the rage crept in. When Jane stumbled one night into the dark house—the electricity was gone because we hadn’t paid. She passed out on what she thought was the couch. When she woke up, she was on the stained floor. The cigarette butts reminded her of him, the empty beer bottles, and his belt. She screamed. She threw his shoe across the room. She tore his coat. She smashed his beloved TV, then sunk onto the floor and sobbed.
How dare he do this to us? Live with us but never be a father to us, then leave—like he’s never been, without a body to say goodbye to—but keep living in us; in the little things we didn’t dare to touch, in our bad habits, in the picture peering at us from the mirror trying to convince us that there is no hope. And often time succeeding.
We are well aware there is no reason for you to keep reading this far. But if you did, please tell us, what did you tell him over the phone to make him say “I love you, bro.”? Because, God knows, we tried everything, and he never said it.
Or, let us meet you for a brief second. Maybe we’ll know what you saw in his eyes that led you to forgive him. Maybe then we can let go and forgive him, too.
Jane and Thomas Smith