Why do bad things happen to good people?
Scott was in our gang. We didn't see him at school because he went to a really posh school across town, while we went to the local comprehensive. But that was totally ok, for after school and at weekends, when he wasn't at rugby practice in the school playing fields, we would all meet up and get up to our usual shenanigans. So much for the class war; Scott was just one of the gang, and we loved him as a brother.
Sometimes, on a clear summer night, I'll get out the binoculars, lie down on the back lawn and gaze up into the sky. I see cold, hard stars blazing back at me. I know that each of those points of light is another sun, zillions of miles away, hot as hell, with, like as not, its own retinue of planets circling it; each of those worlds has at least the possibility of supporting life. And I wonder what makes us so special?
One day Scott came to tell us that his family was moving away. Not far, just the other side of town, but far enough away that he wouldn't be able to come play with us any more. But on the bright side, both he and I would be attending the same all-boys high school, so I'd still get to see him there. Pity about the rest of the gang though.
What is it that possesses people to bare their souls to complete strangers? I can understand telling your nearest and dearest, or conversely hiding it from them, but why do I feel safe sharing this with you, my imaginary friends? It's like a diary that talks back to you. It's quite disconcerting when I think about it.
Summer passed, and high school began. Scary stuff at first, but Scott was there too, so we could support each other. My God, he was funny! Always ready with a quip and a smile, and to bend the rules a bit, just like we'd done in the gang. An example: to get to the school, you had to catch the bus into Davidson's Mains, then walk a very long way from the village up the road towards Barnton, just to reach the end of the school drive. It must have taken a good twenty minutes, which no doubt the gym master thought was good for us. Character building or some shit. I just found it a pain in the arse. Of course the rich kids, the ones whose parents had cars, were dropped off at the school itself. Bastards.
But there was another bus stop just on the other side of the wall. The eight-foot high wall. The eight-foot high wall that bordered the strip of private property between the school and the busy, four-lane main road. Not to mention the fence. Hmmm. Twenty-minute walk, twice a day, or nip across the playing fields, over the fence, through the trees and over the wall onto the narrow pavement? Decisions, decisions...we hardly ever got caught, but that belt really stung our hands.
Of course that was then, when the building was new and the boys had no influence over school policy. Those boys have long since grown up and found places on the toon cooncil, or as lawyers, architects, movers and shakers. Nowadays there's a clearly signposted, carefully sculpted hole in the wall; a paved path up to the gate in the fence; even a pedestrian crossing at the road. It's no fun at all.
Scott had an older sister, Elaine. She was quite pretty, in a distant way. I suppose I might have fancied her if I'd been a couple of years older, or she'd been younger. She had a boyfriend at their new house, I remember that. They went out together every weekend.
Now I can tell this part as I remember it, finding out drips and draps and then piecing it all together like a jigsaw, or I can present the finished picture. To tell the truth, after forty years I forget which pieces appeared in which order, but it went something like this...
One Monday morning, Scott wasn't at the bus stop by the wall. He wasn't in the playground either. It was only when the bell went and we all trooped into assembly that we found out - the headmaster announced that one of the boys had died over the weekend and there would be a memorial service shortly. That boy was Scott.
Now at first I'm pretty sure I got the impression that he'd been climbing over the wall on his way to (or possibly from) rugby practice, slipped and fallen under the wheels of a car. Then, when I heard he'd died at home, I thought he must have passed away in his sleep. Except...that didn't really explain why his father had been arrested. Had Scott been smothered? No, it was worse. Much worse.
Do you ever just have to put your head in your hands and sob? It's not fair. Scott was a good kid. He didn't deserve this, no matter what he did, this should not have happened to him. Or anyone.
There's a good reason for my initial confusion; everyone was confused. On Saturday night, Elaine's boyfriend waited for her to show up for their date. And waited. And waited. Nada. There were no mobile phones back then, this was in olden times (the sixties). So he waited until Sunday morning before calling her at home. No answer. He made a trip to the house. The lights were on, even although it was broad daylight, but when he rang the doorbell there was only silence. So he called the police.
They were reluctant at first to take any action; after all, the family might have gone away for the weekend. Maybe one of the neighbours suddenly remembered hearing unearthly screams during the night? I really don't know.
Having kicked the door down, the police were understandably at a loss. There was so much blood and gore, and so many body parts that they had trouble at first working out just how many victims there had been. Eventually they figured out that Scott, Elaine and their gran had been butchered; their mum had sustained head wounds but was still breathing; and their dad had, upon coming to his senses, slit his wrists in desperation. But somehow he survived.
Was there a trial? There was no point; it was clearly an act of madness. He was incarcerated in Carstairs Hospital for the Criminally Insane with no hope of reprieve.
A couple of years ago, I heard that Scott's mum, who suffered brain damage and never fully recovered, had finally passed away. His dad, now in his eighties, applied for permission to be released, under supervision, to attend the funeral. The authorities duly convened a committee to discuss the pros and cons of allowing an old man to bury his wife. Whether by bureaucratic idiocy or sheer, petty small-mindedness, the meeting was held the day after the funeral. For all I know, maybe it was something like that which set him off in the first place.
When I heard this latest snippet, I thought, "Good. Serves the old bastard right." But by the time I started composing this post, a few months ago (yes really), it had occurred to me that this old man has had four decades to consider the consequences of his actions, and the loss of his beautiful children. I pity him and yes, finally, I forgive him too.
Why do bad things happen to good people? Scott should have been a dad himself by now; perhaps even a grandad. But now he'll always be a laughing, joking twelve-year-old boy. I miss you, Scott Anderson.
Tuesday, 26 August 2008
Why do bad things happen to good people?