A man was walking at night with his wife in a desolate part of the restless city in which they lived. Just few blocks from their one bedroom apartment, where a babysitter tended to their 5 year old son, another man stepped from out of the shadows and caught the woman by the neck. Holding a small blade to her throat, he threatened to end her life before the eyes of her husband.
A young woman had been weathering the storm of her best friend’s prescription drug addiction over the past 10 years, until one fateful night, when she received a call from the local hospital; he had been admitted for an overdose. Upon entering the corridor that led to his bedside, doctors approached her with a somber tone and declared that her best friend might not survive the next 24 hours.
A mother walks with her young son on the sidewalk of a residential area on a warm Saturday afternoon. At the same time, the side effects of new medication have caused an older man in his 60’s to become drowsy at the wheel of his automobile, jump the curb, and plow into the young child. To the horror of his onlooking mother, the child is rushed by ambulance to the hospital; his life hangs in the balance, and his mother can’t stop screaming.
The sudden loss of a loved one is also the quest for a villain. How can one make sense of such death and injustice without the resolve to find and punish those responsible? Sometimes the quest is a literal one; the villains we seek to hang are of flesh and blood, mistakes at the hands of others who have exercised poor judgement. Other times our search points us towards the abstract; the intangible sources and elements of our loss that cannot be arraigned or reasoned with. They cannot receive our anger and so there is no true catharsis; there is no real conviction; there can be no relief.
Still, indeed, there exists something much worse, for the villains often sought are external, being separate from the victim. In the above scenarios–and rightfully so–one would rage against the shadow man with the blade, the doctor’s that continued to prescribe for the young woman’s friend, and the older man for driving under the influence of drugs that induce drowsiness. The villains that take away our loved ones can be numerous and are identified and pursued, in part, as a means of protecting the victim. We need damnation. There is peace found in the damnation of these villains as it keeps us sane because the process reflects a familiarity about the natural rhythm of life: condemn that which threatens our happiness. But what happens when the villain and the victim are the same person? When a person you care about puts their own life in jeopardy at the will of their own hands. How can one protect the victim from the villain then? It’s a paradoxical check-mate that carries the chance of destroying those charged with carrying the burden.
In the time I’ve been alive a few people close to me have threaten to permanently pull the plug on our relationship: friends, girlfriends, family members. Whether the result of anger or sadness, whether serious or fleeting, the threat they made on their lives was something real to me and could not be undone. Because they were not wholly sincere threats, the reasons why such threats were made don’t matter as much as the implications and subsequent impact they imposed on me–someone emotionally connected to them. The result is an irreversible insecurity about whether or not that relationship will continue or if time will soon find you grieving uncontrollably. Consequently, the battle of separating the villain from the victim, of protecting the victim from that force which threatens the life of someone you care for, becomes futile. And, because they are the same person, you’re forced into a situation where the blame and anger has nowhere else to go, and against all possible efforts, the victim becomes the villain.