Monday, November 20, 2017

The Bogeyman Is Dead

Criminy, there is just way too much going on right now to write about it all and some of it is more than a little disturbing, so I think I’ll write about something fun: the death of Charles Manson.

Okay, there really is nothing fun about it. I’m not making light of this and I’m not trying to be glib. You might notice that there are no song lyrics or a music video accompanying this post. Nothing about this makes me have a song in my heart. I even struggled to come up with a photograph to use for this post, because I really didn’t want to post one of Manson or any of his happy followers. So I chose Linda Kasabian, who was a follower, but after driving the getaway car on the night of the Tate murder, was appalled and chose to help the prosecution by telling everything she knew. While she was part of the Family, she was instrumental in putting the majority of them in prison, including Manson.

Like many people my age, I am morbidly fascinated by those murders. I was only 7-years-old when they happened, so I really don’t remember much about it other than my parents being worried about us all being murdered in our home. When the Bugliosi book, Helter Skelter, came out in the early ‘70s, my parents read it and I suppose I read it not too long after that. I still remember the paperback. Some interesting reading for a girl in middle school, that’s for sure, but I don’t recall my folks being upset with me for reading it.

So in an odd way, the Manson Family and the murders were a part of my childhood. There was the strange, train-wreck thrill of learning about this horrific murder, but there was also an element of being fascinated by the whole thing. I admit this without shame, because I was a kid coming of age, and I was trying to find my way through the world. There has always been a part of me that wondered that if I had been born a decade earlier, or in another place, I might have become part of that scene. Not the Manson Family, necessarily, but I had a fascination with the counterculture and a desire to be different. To rebel. I’m glad I realized pretty quickly that that would have been a horrible option. I might be a rebel, but I’m a peaceful one.

Manson was kind of a shadow over my formative years. I’m still fascinated by the whole thing and I loved the show “Aquarius,” and I’ve got a couple of books to read concerning his miserable life. I don’t mean it to sound as weird as I’m sure it does, but I’ve always had a morbid fascination about killers. It’s not that I revere them—quite the opposite—or that I like them in any way, shape, or form.

I’m fascinated by the psychology of it all and by what happened to them that made them that way. By all accounts, Manson’s childhood was miserable and abusive. Was he hardwired to be a murderer or did his circumstances turn him into one? How does an Ed Gein happen? Or a Jeffrey Dahmer? Is it solely mental illness or a combination of factors? What causes people to follow someone like Manson and to kill at his bidding? If I had grown up in a different place or in different circumstances, would I have been vulnerable to that type of manipulation?
These are all things that I think about. So when I read last night that Manson had died, I felt a strange combination of relief and sorrow. Relief that this monster is no longer upon this earth, sorrow for his victims (both the murdered innocents and those who fell prey to his murderous ideology). Relief that maybe I don’t need to wonder anymore if I would have been vulnerable to such manipulation. I even felt a measure of sorrow that he had such a horrible childhood and that maybe that’s what made him become what he was. I wonder if he’d gotten better care, including psychological care, as a child, would he have been able to live a relatively normal life?

I’ve seen people posting that he can rot in hell. I don’t believe in hell, so I can’t say that. He is now exactly where we will all end up. Dead and gone. The only thing that will be left for any of us is our legacy. His is a terrible one and nothing can erase that.

It strikes me as strange that these murders that happened a couple of thousand miles away from where I grew up and ones that I don’t remember happening at the time cast such a shadow on me. I honestly don’t know what to make of that. I remember that my Mom got Susan Atkins’s book where she wrote about her having her jailhouse conversion and becoming “born again.” I read it back then and I wouldn’t mind reading it again.

I remember thinking then that it seemed like an easy way out of the horrible things you’d done. No matter what you had done, God would forgive you. (A while back, I read Henry Lee Lucas’s book in which he had the same jailhouse conversion. That seems to happen a lot.) I wonder if that was apart of my disillusion with the dogma of certain types of religion? It still seems odd to me that some would condemn those who don’t believe exactly the way they do to “hell,” but people like Susan Atkins get a pass because, hey, she accepted the Lord and repented! That still bothers me a lot.

I have felt very at-odds today, very unsettled. I think there is an element of him being a bogeyman of my childhood and now he’s dead. He loomed large over our collective conscience and never quite seemed to fade away into obscurity. He is probably the most evil (and I rarely throw that word around) and notorious person of my lifetime. And he’s dead.

I don’t celebrate anyone’s death. But I guess I can be okay with the death of someone who was a shadowy, menacing part of my formative years.