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The Death of Susan Till
Susan Till was fifteen when her precious, young life was taken by the cold, unforgiving hand of murder. Among other things, Susan was popular and well-liked (as many know is a hard balance to keep as they are two polar opposite things). Smart, athletic, pretty and down-to-earth, she was, in simpler terms, the perfect girl.
This, at least, is how the lawyer portrays her as his stare bores into the man seated at the right side of the room. His eyes are bulging out of the rims of the obnoxiously large glasses he wears, which, as a nervous habit, is continually taken off at the end of every twenty second interval. To see what, no one knows, for it is clear he is chronically blind.
Everyone is silent as the lawyer marches around the room like an army general. His face is stern and scrunched from feigned frustration. He looks like a crumpled ball of paper being squeezed together with someone’s fist, the ink of words running out down the sides in an unintimidating river. The audience is polite though. They sit and listen to his nagging voice scraping over the evidence and into the emotions of the matter. He crushes the facts into a corner of the room where they are told to shut up and wait for the turn they will never get.
He wants this case to be over. For two years now, the debate over who killed Susan Till rages through the town like a wild fire that can’t be quenched with water but truth. Truth that is being searched for in the lies.
I sit in the audience, among hundreds of other faces. I mimic their intense stares, filled with faux worry and genuine sorrow, underneath lying mountains of curious gossip-hopefuls. Perhaps I have a different stance than they do. Perhaps, I am here for a different reason. But I am silent, and I focus my indulgent eyes on the pathetic figure of a man standing in the front, honoring the dignity of a long-since deceased teenage girl.
She was the picture of innocence, the picture of youth and hope, he tells us, adding a hitch in his voice for extra affect. The man he speaks to sits quietly in his chair. His hands are folded into a tight ball on his lap, and the bottoms of his eyes sag downward as he takes the punching fist of the lawyer into his chin, his face, his stomach and over again. He is silent as he waits for a moment to breathe, a moment to defend himself. A moment, I think, he fears will never come.
The life of a young girl is an invaluable thing, the lawyer preaches. The heavily made up ladies in the front row nod their heads with enthusiasm. I wonder if any of them knew Suzie. I wonder how many of their manicured fingers had touched her silky smooth skin, and I wonder if she would remember them at all now.
How could you take her life?
The lawyer throws the question into the air like confetti, raining down on the audience, the jury, the judge. It’s layered with poison, and it stings our skin. I flick each piece off nonchalantly.
How could you have the audacity, the cruelty to have her blood soak your hands and live with yourself?
The man being attacked is a hanging piñata. The audience waits for the opportunity to hold the bat and take a swing.
There is silence and nothing more. I must admit, I hold my breath and wait for the reaction, the epiphany where the crowd erupts in anger at the man who took their prized jewel, the man who stole the innocence from not only the girl, but the town. The safety and the security they once felt was destroyed.
It’s the father of Susan Till who sits there, I will tell you that. The lawyer can feel the emotions building inside the accused face. He can see the tears start to mold against the outsides of his cheeks. He can hear the blood simmering underneath the father’s beaten skin. He wants to see him break. He wants to see his life vanish in the midst of his guilt.
With a deep breath, the father stands. No one sits him back down. Everyone just waits, sitting on tiptoes and salivating for that perfect, eventful confession. Waiting for the end of the wait. The end of the fear.
But also, the end of Susan Till.
She was his daughter. What kind of father kills his daughter? What kind of man does that to his own children? How does it feel to know that you killed her? How does it feel to know that everyone knows you did it, but you can’t confess? Tell the lawyer. Tell him.
“I killed her,” a meek voice emerges from the deafening silence and out of the weary lungs of the broken father sitting right in front of me. “Take me. I did it. I killed my own daughter.”
It’s like unzipping a jacket. The soft tearing sound it makes as it slides down the first few tiers of the zipper. I’ve always liked that sound, and in the midst of all the mindless gossip and chatter swirling around me, I hear the man tearing at the top, slowly moving down until there is nothing but the naked pain in an empty, shell of a body.
They take him away.
He won’t fight.
The room clears.
The last pair of high heels cluck out of the room, tissue paper gossip stuck on the tips of their stilettos as they drag it out into the open, listening air.
I pull out my wallet and thumb through the first few pictures before I land on the soft-faced beauty in the back of the group. I stroke the laminated, pink cheek, chocolate brown hair, and rare, but stunning, blue eyes that are reflected on the sheet of paper. She’s even more beautiful than I had remembered from the last time I had looked at it, just a few hours ago.
“Suzie,” I whisper to the image. “I did it.”
There is a strange, intoxicating feeling of winning that only intensifies as its repetition increases. I feel the smile creep into the corner of my mouth.
Just some facts about Susan Till:
She wasn’t as good of a girl as everyone thought, at least not when I was with her.
Her father, the man surely to be sentenced to death, adored her, and would rather have died than to have given her a bruise on her skin.
Two days before Susan Till was done the cruel and unjust hand of intentional death, she made the biggest mistake of her life.
Three hours before she died, I sat in the middle of a deserted street, whispering to myself not to do it, and unable to convince myself, stood up and walked the familiar route I would take quite often to her house in the middle of the night.
She didn’t have to break my heart so forcefully.
She told me she cared, but sometimes, I swear she didn’t, that she was just using me.
Two minutes before Susan was killed, I laid tulips against her neck. I watched the deep purple kiss her skin and caress it, just like I should have been able to do. It melded with the milk of her flesh into a deeply intoxicating contrast.
Almost made me stop.
The truth is, I don’t know the truth about Susan Till’s murder.
I am the truth.