Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Monday, March 28, 2011
If you don't want to read almost 4,000 words of autobiographical whining and angst, pass this one by. Seriously, things will get ugly. I really wish I knew how to do a cut in Blogger.
I don't do the angry rants often, because they make me deeply uneasy, and because I don't think they're particularly interesting to read. But this eats at me in the way that only the worst insult you can imagine from one of the people you love most in the world can, and there is nobody I can tell the story to. Nobody I can imagine who would actually sit and listen to me talk my way through it all, everything I went through and how much it hurts now.
I could just write it all down and never show it to anybody, but that won't help. I need to communicate it, and if I can't communicate it to anyone, then I'll communicate it to potentially everyone. And maybe, among the thousands who think I'm a monstrous asshole for being happy that the state of Oklahoma killed someone for a crime he committed at the age of 16, there might be one person out there who says, "I feel you, brother. That's fucked up, what you went through."
So who was Sean Sellers?
He was a guy who made national headlines in 1986 when he was sentenced to death for killing his parents and one other random dude. This was notable not only because he was 16 at the time, but also because he claimed during the trial that he was not responsible by reason of demon possession. Not only that, but the demon possession was a result of his dabbling with Satanism, for which Dungeons and Dragons had been his gateway drug. It was an incredibly sensational story and trial, and of course, it gave great impetus to the Pat Pullings of the world.
By 1986, I had stopped playing Dungeons and Dragons, but still dabbled in other roleplaying games, so at the time, Sellers was to me just a loser who was trying to spoil my good time. And if that were the only reason I hated him, I really would be like the world's biggest asshole.
And speaking of assholes, let me address the "executing a 16-year-old" thing here, right up front. In America, as a society, we acknowledge that 16-year-olds are mature enough to handle the responsibilities of life-and-death, because we license them to operate motor vehicles on public thoroughfares, where every time they drive, they are literally taking hundreds of lives in their hands in the form of every other vehicle on the road. And the liberals who oppose the death penalty so vociferously are also the folks who argue most strenuously for sex education and free birth control for teenagers, trusting that teens, given honest information and free condoms, will exercise their sexuality and the attendant life-or-death consequences responsibly. The same people also fight like grim death for the right of teenage minor girls to receive an abortion--which is not only a life-changing event for them, but also literally a life-or-death matter for the child--without any form of parental input or even parental notification.
But when a 16-year-old boy takes a pistol, walks into his mother's room while she's sleeping, and puts a bullet in her face, suddenly it's "Poor baby! He can't be held responsible! He had no idea what he was doing!" Bullshit. You should slap yourself in the face for being an idiot, and also slap your mother for raising one. Fuckwit.
But then, I'm an asshole. Also a failure. I have failed in every way a man can fail. I dropped out of college. The peak of my career, at least in terms of making my living doing what I wanted to do, was in the late 80's, in the immediate aftermath of Sellers's crimes, when I was writing for a living, reviewing movies for the biggest newspaper in the state. Professionally, everything's been downhill from there. I have been separated from my wife of twenty years for almost three years now, and she has made clear on multiple occasions that true reconciliation will never happen. I am not a man she wants to be married to.
I quit my fairly well-paying, but very dissatisfying job a couple of years ago to go into business for myself. I did almost everything wrong in the deal and got swindled out of $25,000. Employment has been sporadic and low-paying since. My car was repossessed, I'm behind on my mortgage, and I don't answer my phone anymore because 90% of the calls are from creditors. I'm currently working for barely more than minimum wage part-time at a big box retailer, and serializing a novel on-line that even my best friends aren't reading. I have few friends and rarely speak to my family. Oh, and my house is a mess. By any measure, my life is an epic FAIL.
But let's go back to Sellers. He made headlines again not long after he was sent to Death Row when he publicly claimed to have converted to Christianity. At the time, I found the timing... suspicious, like the soldier in Vietnam from the comedy routine by Christian comedian Mike Warnke, who had a bunch of chains around his neck with a cross, a Star of David, a little Buddha, a crescent and star, and some other things. Mike asked him what all that was for and the guy replied, "I believe."
Believed what? Anything that would get him out of there alive, obviously. So yeah, in 1987 and into 1988, Sean Sellers was to me just an inconvenient douchebag who had killed three people, evaded responsibility by blaming my favorite hobby and was now trying to evade punishment by claiming a foxhole conversion.
That all changed in 1988 when I started dating the woman who would become my wife. Because she, it turned out, was one of Sean Sellers's best friends.
I'm not a Christian. Among the many things I have failed at is believing in God, any God. I was raised Pentecostal, but it didn't take. For a long time, I called myself agnostic, but eventually that just seemed wishy-washy, so now I call myself an atheist. I'm not a militant, angry atheist. I don't hate Christians, nor do I believe that "Christianists" are just as bad as Islamists. You don't see any Christians trapping girls in a burning building to keep them from coming into the street with their faces uncovered. I think most Christians are reasonably good-hearted people who find comfort in certain illusions, and as a guy whose hobby is writing about superheroes, I'm sure not one to throw stones. On the other hand, I don't believe superheroes are actually real.
K, my wife, is a Christian. And she told me that she had felt led by God to contact Sean not long after she learned of his case. So she did, and they became good friends. She wrote him often and visited him in prison about once a month.
So I had a choice to make. I didn't much like Sean Sellers as a concept, but I very much liked K as a real person. And if Sean was her friend, I would have to accept it or else move on.
So I accepted it. And in time, I came to accept him. He made her happy, and he seemed supportive of our marriage. He dabbled in painting in prison, and did a couple of nice paintings for K, including a portrait of her with ghostly angel wings. We never became friends, but we did exchange a couple of letters during one of my tours in Korea.
I wasn't actually thrilled with the letters. Because although on a personal level, I appreciated the fact that he was a good friend of my wife, I really resented him in other ways. See, his high-profile trial and subsequent conversion made him a celebrity. When Geraldo Rivera did his infamous special about Satanism during the Satanic Panic of the late 80's, Sellers was a featured guest (via satellite feed from inside the prison). He also appeared on Oprah. And after his conversion, it wasn't enough for him to be a humble sinner saved by grace. He had to establish his own ministry, with a monthly newsletter in which he would purport to teach spiritual truths to folks who had somehow managed not to kill their parents and get sent to Death Row, and so might be assumed to have a generally better grasp on how to live than he did.
In 1995, while I was in the Army, Sellers got married to one of the women he had been corresponding with. I was living in Clarksville, Tennessee at the time, serving in a Military Intelligence unit at Fort Campbell. Sellers asked my wife for a favor. He wanted my wife to buy his wife a dildo. Not a vibrator--he was very specific--but a realistic artificial organ that she could pretend was his, since Oklahoma didn't allow conjugal visits for Death Row inmates. Ever the supportive husband, I went shopping with my wife for a substitute penis to send to the wife of her best friend.
Sometime during that same year, K came to me very unhappy. Life at Fort Campbell was hard for both of us. She had no job to keep her busy during the day, I was working long hours in my job (not to mention the two or three months I was gone on different exercises and training schools), and even when I was home, I was stressed out and exhausted, not to mention some other personal baggage that had arisen between us during my first deployment to Korea.
She handed me a copy of Sellers's ministry newsletter, in which he waxed rhapsodic about how much he loved his wife, how their souls seemed to be in perfect sync, how they completed each other and always knew what the other was thinking, and what a wonderful gift it was from God to have received a mate so perfect for him in every way.
K was unhappy, because the relationship Sellers was describing was the kind of relationship she wanted with me, and I wasn't delivering. The article was nonsense, of course, the kind of infatuated drivel you see from anyone experiencing the highs of a new relationship. I explained to K that after 5 years of marriage, our relationship was more mature than that. We were going through hard times, and we would need more than blissful feelings to get through them, but in the long haul, I would be there for her. We would see five years down the road if Sellers and his wife were still as blissfully, perfectly happy.
Two years later, the perfect, blissful marriage that my wife so envied was annulled. In a strange twist of coincidence, I ended up working with Sellers's ex-wife not long after, as well as the man she married almost immediately after the annulment. Apparently, she wasn't satisfied with a substitute rubber penis.
My marriage endured, but Sellers wasn't done fucking with it.
After I got out of the Army, life was hard. My wife and I had endured years of separations and tensions and hard feelings, and we were raising a young daughter as well. I was working full-time and attending school on the G.I. Bill and also writing a book about my experiences in the Army, while she was working part-time and trying to finish her Master's in Psychology. And Sellers exhausted his last appeal, which meant his execution date was now set for February 5, 1999.
That last year was miserable. My wife was working frantically with a group called Oklahomans Against the Death Penalty to stop the execution. As the supportive husband trying to help my wife through this hard time, I attended several OCADP functions with her. There were basically two distinct sets of people at these functions: the opponents of the death penalty, the most liberal of liberal idiots you ever met, and the Friends of Sean, a bunch of young single women (plus one married one, ahem) who found him charming. I didn't enjoy myself, but I went with her without complaint (with one exception which I'll detail later), because she needed this.
During the same period, Sellers was also frantically trying to complete as much work as he could. He had taken up writing and convinced several friends to publish a book of his poetry, titled Shuladore. He had also written a Christian fantasy novel about a female warrior-princess with fairy wings (I think it was actually called The Warrior Princess[ETA: actually it was The Princess Warrior according to his website]) that mixed together oddball Christianity with Bushido in much the same way he had formerly mixed together Satanism with ninjutsu.
Because here's one thing about Sellers you never read. Although he appeared on national television several times to talk about the great Satanist conspiracy, he was never part of it (probably because it didn't exist). He was not drawn into Satanism by any cult or coven. He met a girl who was into witchcraft, and he wanted to get into her pants, so he got into it with her. Then he read the Satanic Bible, and thought it was cool, and ninjutsu was cool, so he picked out all the parts he liked and became a roll-your-own-Satanic Ninja, practicing a religion unique to himself and a few younger acolytes he tried to bring along. Just like when he couldn't be just a Christian but had to have his own ministry, he had to try to lead a group as a Satanist. Lucky for the other kids, it didn't take.
After his conversion, he did the same thing, reading the Bible and picking out the parts he liked, then drawing influences from Bushido and other bullshit he thought was cool to create a roll-your-own-Christianity. My wife was part of that process, discussing all this endlessly with him through her letters and monthly visits.
So that last year was not just a frantic scramble to stop the execution, but a scramble to get all of his unfinished work finished before he died. My wife was editing and proofreading the novel, and working with Sellers's new girlfriend on typing up his massive memoirs and working with some other folks who were publishing his graphic novel. Yes, he was a comics fan as well, and wrote and drew a graphic novel titled Donjonhoefen. And in true narcissistic Sean Sellers fashion, in his editorial message, he stated that he had created this entire incredible world in the hopes that other people would continue to write adventures in it. Because it wasn't enough for Sellers to create; in his own mind, he had to inspire and lead and be followed. Hell, the very act of "creating" a world and having other people inhabit it would make him a kind of god himself, which in the end was the only thing that would do for Sean Sellers.
And no, the graphic novel wasn't very good, and no, no one ever followed his lead and continued to write adventures in the wonderful world he created, and no, I will never, ever be featuring it in Out of the Vault.
Things got more and more tense as the final date approached. One night in late November or December 1998, with the execution only a few months away, I attended a particularly excruciating meeting of the OCADP folks. There had been a clemency hearing, and Sellers's step-siblings had testified against him. He had killed their father in cold blood, and they had never accepted his so-called conversion to Christianity. The OCADP folks sat around and discussed, with typical liberal venom, what awful people Sellers's step-siblings were. They then went on to talk about what a bad mother Vonda had been, and what an asshole step-father Lee had been, and how they had pretty much deserved what they'd gotten.
I held my tongue while we were there, getting angrier and angrier at this bunch of self-righteous fuckwads, and when we were in the car, I finally unloaded on my wife. Maybe I shouldn't have--maybe I should have just made a scene right there with everybody present, or else never expressed my opinion at all--but I went off with my wife when we were alone. I talked about the rank hypocrisy of the whole Sean Sellers Fan Club, how this guy had become a celebrity by killing his parents and then making lame excuses for it, and that it was totally fucked up that this group of pricks would then sit around and bad-mouth the murder victim by implying she deserved it, which also completely forgot the third victim, who was certainly not to blame in any way.
I was honest, and as far as I was (and still am) concerned, I was right, but my wife was hurt, and it drove yet another wedge between us. The final couple of months before the execution were non-stop Sean. My wife was either heading up to the prison, or talking to interviewers, or going to hearings, or talking to OCADP or Sellers's lawyer. Once, I answered the phone, and it was Bianca Jagger (ex-wife of Rolling Stones singer Mick Jagger) wanting to talk to my wife about Sellers's case.
In the end, none of it made a difference. On February 4, 1999, my wife left home to attend the execution, being one of the people invited on Sellers's guest list. She dropped our daughter off in Oklahoma City to spend the night with my mother, which my mother was thrilled to do. Alone at home, I went out and got drunk.
Sellers was executed by lethal injection a little after midnight.
The next morning, I got a call at work from my mother-in-law, who seemed shocked that I hadn't heard. When I asked her what I was supposed to have heard, she told me that my daughter had died, smothered by a pillow after falling off the bed in my mother's guest room. The bed was in the corner of the room, at an angle which left a small triangular space behind the night table. My daughter, our daughter, had somehow fallen off the bed into that small space headfirst with a pillow and become trapped. She was dead when my mother found her the next morning. She was two years and one month old.
And I'm not saying that Sean Sellers killed my daughter or anything, but the fact is that it happened on the night that my wife went to his execution, and only because she went to his execution. The furniture arrangement was a potential deathtrap, but the actual event occurred on that night and no other. Without that reason, my daughter would not have been there in the first place.
The life that I hoped would somehow return to normal after the execution never returned to what it was. My wife decided she could no longer live in the small house we'd lived in with our daughter, and convinced her mother and grandmother to sell their houses and move into one big house with us. Later that year, she became pregnant again, which meant that within another year, I was living with four generations of women in Casa Estrogen. By then, my wife and I were in marriage counseling and everything was unraveling.
It took several more years to get to the breaking point. I wanted to make things up, get right somehow, but she rejected every subtle gesture I made, and I was too proud to come right out and say what I was feeling. By the time I finally forced the conversation we had been avoiding for so long, my wife of 18 years told me that I was not a suitable husband because she needed a man who could be her best friend, who could talk to her about anything and listen to her with total interest. If only I could have been more like Sean Sellers, she said, our marriage could have worked.
And there, in a remark that was not meant in any way to hurt, was the worst goddamned insult I have ever received in my life. My wife of 18 years, with whom I had endured all the shit that 18 years can bring, told me that I was less suitable as a life partner than a man who once shot a convenience store clerk because he had decided to break all 10 commandments and wanted to watch a man die.
And I want to tell her she's wrong. I mean, of course he listened to her with total attention. He only got to see her for an hour or so once a month. He never had to go to OCADP meetings with her, never had to hold her as she cried on his shoulder over and over and over, never got nagged to mow the lawn or take out the trash or clean the bathroom, never had to deal with her periods or her pregnancies, never got to raise a daughter with her nor had to bury a daughter with her, never had to look at an empty bank account at the end of the month and know that he wasn't providing for her as he should, never had to lie next to her at night and feel her stiffen up when he tried to touch her, never had to prove himself every day worthy of her love. He was on Death Row. He had it easy.
And I want to tell her that she's wrong because, for all the myriad ways in which my life has been an epic FAIL, compared to Sean Sellers--who murdered his mother, spent half his life on Death Row, had his first marriage annulled after two years, and died at the age of 29--my life has been a huge win. I never killed my parents, stayed out of jail, lived in Los Angeles, went to movie premieres, visited foreign countries, had two beautiful daughters (one of whom is still alive), and got blow jobs from a woman who, it seems now, was in love with him the whole time. I WON, DAMN IT!
But really, it's all hollow. Somehow, this fuckwad, this murderer, this narcissistic douchebag, inspired a devotion in my wife that I never could. Even now, 12 years after his death, he wins. My wife loved him more than me.
I'm so glad that motherfucker's dead.