My Friend, the Murderer
Here’s what the news reported: An area man murdered his former girlfriend in the upper-level apartment of his split-level home. He sat with her body for 20 to 40 minutes, then phoned the local police, claiming a complete mental breakdown. I don’t know what just happened, he said, but you need to come quick. He waited for police on the sidewalk with his hands behind his head, and officers lowered him into their squad car just past dawn without incident.
What they did not say is this: I was his close friend. He walked me home before it happened. Kevin Schaeffer liked pizza and history and music, and most especially the band Dr. Dog. He wanted to move away — to Nashville, to San Francisco — and in every memory I have of him, he wears a purple sweat shirt, one I’m not certain he even owned. He was president of the college radio station, a Dean’s Honors student, and a history major who also liked writing. He could draw a very convincing Rastafarian. The year prior, he’d attempted suicide by lining a bathtub with electronics, but returned to our college campus just five days later, where we assumed he was receiving treatment. He was not receiving treatment. He had been suffering from long-term, severe depression and suicidal ideation for over a year on the night he killed her, and yet our conversation was pleasant: We talked that night about the Badlands, canine rain boots, an upcoming potluck, a tie-dyed cake. I’d learned how to do it online, I told him — it just involved food dye and a little patience.
“That sounds amazing,” he said, nodding. “I’d eat that cake for sure.”
It was April of 2009, just four weeks before our graduation at Gettysburg College, and we were just 22. I never thought I’d know a murderer. Certainly Kevin never thought he’d be one. My biggest concern that night was packing: how in the world I’d fit a swivel chair into the back of my Toyota Camry.
“That’s easy,” Kevin had told me. “You just put it in on a diagonal.”
Then 12 hours passed, and I sat in my living room, watching “The Price Is Right” in my pajamas, while blocks north, police combed through Kevin’s apartment, stripped him of his possessions, and told him to look into the camera.
“Straight ahead,” they might have said, and then they pressed his inky finger to a pad of paper.
* * *
Kevin and I had been friends at that point for nearly four years, since the first week of freshmen year. Gettysburg College was a private school of just over 2,000 students, and it sat surrounded by the historic battlefields that had once served as the turning point of the Civil War. Forty-six thousand men died on the fields surrounding our private campus, but we ever only knew the college green, the library, an Irish bar, a Dairy Queen. That evening, we’d gone for drinks at a bar that had once been used as a makeshift hospital, but I only joked about the bodies: how undoubtedly their blood once soaked and permeated into the floors.
To me it was funny: the subtext of violence in everything. I couldn’t see the bodies or the men strapped to leather gurneys. I couldn’t hear their cries or the gunfire or the hulking cannons. I ordered a Bay Breeze with extra limes, and then Kevin walked me home.
So when the newspapers announced what happened, I sat down and wrote a letter. He was my friend and was now in prison; everything else seemed arbitrary.