Matthew Trotter stared at the handcuffed man in the dock — the murderer of his wife and daughter. Trodg stood nearly seven feet tall, with a broad, powerful body. He was one of Matt’s caseload, so he knew the man’s distorted face was the result of repeated battering from an alcoholic father, until at 14 Trodg had killed him. The court had ruled self-defense, back then.
Until the murder of Claire and Tiffany two months ago, Matt had prided himself on love, tolerance and compassion for all, but now, now he wished New York still had the death penalty. For the past eight weeks, he’d woken from dreams in which he incinerated Trodg with a flame thrower, or caused a rockfall to bury him in a deep canyon, or pushed him under the surface of a cesspit with a long pole. Each dream was different, like tripping Trodg so he fell into a shark-filled pool, or knocking him down with a big truck then backing the truck over his body again, or seeing him fall from the stern of a ship, and being cut up by the propellers.
Claire and Tiffany — only seven years old — had been Matt’s haven from hell, his life support, his home base. Claire had often said with a laugh, “If I wasn’t here to look after you, you’d starve to death!” Sure enough, Matt had lost maybe thirty pounds since she was gone.
In the dock, standing between two armed guards, Trodg said, “Your Honor, yeah, I plead guilty, but…”
The judge broke the silence: “But what, Mr. Carmody?” Matt had known Trodg’s real name, Peter Carmody, from the case notes, but for all the street people, now eagerly following the case, it was a surprise he even had a regular name.
Trodg looked up at the judge. “Uh, your Honor, I, uh, bought some stuff I thought was heroin but they put something else in it, and I went off me head. I didn’t know what I was doing.”
“Mr. Carmody,” the judge grated in a voice like razor, “You will now have a life sentence without parole. More than enough time to get off your addictions. You murdered nine people in the bank, including two little children, then the security guard as you fled. No one forced you to be off your head, as you expressed it.”
Were tears glistening on the fellow’s ravaged face? “Your Honor, the social worker what looks after me on the streets has said, like, you cannot judge someone without walking in their moccasins for a hundred days. If you lived me life…”
Matt was that social worker. He had indeed said that to his clients, often.
The judge looked at him. “Mr. Trotter, please take the witness stand. I know this is highly unusual at an arraignment, but I want to hear your opinion.”
Matt went to the stand, and was sworn in. He stated his position as Social Worker, New York City Department of Homeless Services, then gave a brief summary of his interactions with the Accused over the past six years. All this time, he did all he could to force the hate down, to keep to professional demeanor.
The Prosecutor stood. “Two questions, Mr. Trotter. Did you know that the Accused possessed an assault rifle?”
“No, sir. He has no fixed abode. I’ve never seen him with a weapon, and given his powerful build and reputation as a fighter, I thought him safe from assault, so why would he need one? But I am aware of a police report that his drug dealer had provided him with the weapon. And also, I know that wretched man died in a mysterious explosion when the police knocked on his door to arrest him.”
“Here is my second question. What can you tell us about his drug use?”
Matt had to sigh. “Sir, I’ve had him in rehab four times. As soon as he is out, he relapses. I’ve organized free counseling for him, but he has refused to engage in the activities known to help with processing all the many traumas of his life.”
The judge asked, “As an expert witness, do you see any reason he should not suffer a life sentence without parole?”
Matt wanted to shout “NO! If he cannot be executed, he should be locked away forever!” Instead, with every appearance of calmness, he said what he would for any other client, “Your Honor, I am involved in the drug detoxification program at Rikers Island. I offer to continue as his case manager, and recommend his parole conditions be reviewed subject to a report from me, after a time set by the court.”
“Very well. The court is adjourned.” The judge stood, everyone standing for him. He walked out.
As he exited the courtroom, Matt ran the gauntlet of the press without responding to any of their questions, and hurried out of the building.
He had no home to go to, only an empty, cheerless apartment. He went there anyway, then phoned his twin brother in Australia, his only lifeline. Mike had told him to call, anytime.
“G’day, bro,” Mike said. “I’m having breakfast, so you didn’t get me out of bed.”
“I’ve just come from the arraignment.”
A silence followed, one of support and peace. It was as if Mike was sending soothing love over the airwaves. At last, Matt said, “I’ve offered to continue as the bastard’s case manager in jail.”
“You would. Reckon you can?”
“No. I want to kill him, slowly and with great pain. But…”
“Yeah. Matt, there once was a fellow called Siddhartha Gautama.”
“Sure. The Buddha.”
“He said something like, anger is a hot coal you pick up to throw at someone, but—”
Matt well knew that quote, having often used it in his work, so cut Mike off: “But it’s your hand that gets burned. Sure thing, it’s burning the hell out of me.” Mike knew all about his nightmares.
“OK, fella, short of killing the bloke, what would give you the most satisfaction in this terrible situation?”
Again, neither of them spoke. At last, Matt sighed. “What I offered in court. Get him off drugs. Help him to process his trauma. He now owes me, and he knows it, so this time I’m sure he’ll comply. Then coach him to catch up on his basic education, maybe learn a trade, and argue to have him on parole in 15 years. That’s the minimum if he is convicted of second degree murder.”
“Right. Matt, close your eyes. Breathe deep. Imagine, it’s, I don’t know, three years from now. You regularly visit this man in jail. He is sane, steady, remorseful, and thinks of you as his best friend.”
Again, Matt felt enveloped in a golden cloud of love from his brother. The red fog of hate lifted. “Thanks, mate. You better get on with your day. Speak to you again.”
“Any time you need me, I’m here for you.”
It probably won’t last, Matt thought as he disconnected. But, as I say to my clients, for now, for this moment, I am cured of hate. And Trodg, poor bastard, has no one else.
What can Matt and Mike teach us?
Like Jarro a few stories down, these twin brothers are also characters from my Doom Healer series. The two short stories are not in any of the books, but are “backstory” for them, revealed here for the first time.
When you have the opportunity to read the series, you’ll learn that Earth has been home to an Invader, whose task is to destroy all life on this planet, with as much hate and misery as possible. His soldiers, who do the work, have an internal bomb that explodes in certain situations. You know, like the drug dealer who poisoned Trodg’s brain, then equipped him with an assault rifle?
The other thing from the overall story is that soothing, peace-inducing love Matt experienced while talking with his twin. Mike had sent him a blast of metta.
Many people have this intuitive skill. I have used it often, while working as a psychotherapist, and in my private life. Little babies almost always smile at me (I tell their parents that all kids laugh at me because I look funny). When I manage to have peace in my heart (not always!), people spontaneously smile at me, feel good in my company even if I say nothing, do nothing. I merely project that I want to be of benefit.
Try it yourself. Read what Bill Sutcliffe has said on that webpage, and put it into practice. It’s a skill anyone can learn.
Both Matt and Mike are tremendously effective metta broadcasters, much better at it than I am.
But let’s get back to forgiveness. A few times a week, I include this statement in my nightly meditation:
If I have caused harm to anyone, knowingly or unknowingly, accidentally or on purpose, I ask for forgiveness.
If anyone has caused me harm, knowingly or unknowingly, accidentally or on purpose, I offer forgiveness.
When you do this with full intention, honestly meaning it, and focus in on specific instances that come to mind, you will experience inner peace.
Matt Trotter actually did end up as Trodg’s mentor, guide and best friend, and reformed the man. This is NOT a necessary part of forgiveness, and is beyond most of us. I cannot tell how I would react in his situation, but suspect that I am not a mature enough soul to have been able to befriend and support Trodg.
The inner peace is from letting go of hate, resentment, feeling victimized, not from any effect on the other person.