Thank you for this measured and thoughtful response! You are right that my view on DFW’s death does say a lot about me. I’ll tell you exactly what it says about me, in fact, because it is relevant: I have very little hope of abusers reforming. And sometimes, much as I want to believe in restorative justice, it seems to me that the only way to keep victims safe is for abusers to be far, far away or nonliving (this doesn’t mean I want them to receive the death penalty, just that I don’t fully mourn their deaths).
I did not always feel this way. When I broke up with my abuser in 2011, when he stalked me, broke into my office, hacked all my accounts, showed up in my apartment late at night, banged on my door, harassed my loved ones, and sent me long email messages in which he fantasized about my death… I felt genuinely sorry for him. He was arrested shortly after the stalking began, for unrelated reasons, and I felt sorrow for him. When he moved away and started self-medicating his anger with weed, I hoped that things would get better. He was smart. He could be so sensitive. He was an abuse victim. He had mental illness. I thought if he just got better he could be a good person.
And then, a few years later, I heard from one of his current victims. And he had escalated his violence a great deal. She could have died from the things he’d done to her. And he’d left a ton of other harassed and brutalized people in his wake along the way, too.
When I was the one being victimized, it was easy for me to think about him finding peace. But the second I knew he had continued to hurt other people, I wanted nothing but his death. This is also informed by another experience I had — someone who sexually assaulted me died a few years afterward, of a heroin overdose. I felt sorry for him, but, knowing he was no longer around, I also felt safe.
I didn’t bring up Wallace’s mental illness because I don’t think it matters an iota, when it comes to blame or sympathy for what he did. Am I sorry he suffered? I don’t know. I used to feel sorry for him. But now most of my heart belongs with the people who were terrorized by how he processed his sorrow. I have mental illness too. Most victims do. Most people with mental illness are nonviolent. They’re more likely to be victims than mentally healthy people. Wallace’s mental illness does not explain or excuse what he did. It’s a separate variable entirely. A lot of us suffer just as much as he did and never turned it outward. I’m fantasizing about his death, not stalking and threatening to kill someone as he did. The idea that I’m the one lacking in empathy and sensitivity here, that I’m the one who needs to soften up — that feels a bit outrageous, given what I’ve been through without doing anybody any physical harm.
Maybe if he’d lived he woulda gotten better. It happens. Usually though, it doesn’t. Most abusers, especially ones with power, take advantage of the systems around them, and escalate in their violence. I have no reason to believe he would have gotten better given his prestige and history. Because he is dead, there are people in existence who might have been his victims, who are not. That’s speculative, of course, but it’s not a speculation that’s unfounded by the statistics on such matters.
So that’s why I believe what I believe. Of course it has everything to do with who I am, what’s been done to me, and how I have responded to what has been done.