Tuesday, October 31, 2017

I’m Going To Make You Suffer! (The Tyger)

The Tiger
He destroyed his cage
The Tiger is out

(TW: Rape mention)

Brooklyn, New York, USA

[Father David O’Brien is tending to his flock when I arrive. Despite being 83, he is still active within his church, grown exponentially in the decades it’s been around. I stand in the back as he finishes teaching a class of teenagers “The Ecchoing Green” by William Blake. His recitation is almost as wondrous and terrifying as the words he is reading. When the discussion concludes and we are alone, he begins talking with great trepidation.]

I knew him as a child. I thought he was a good boy back then. He would always bring his father lunch, he defended many children from bullies, and he was always a good Christian. I officiated his ceremony, and baptized his children. I thought he was a good man. And yet, seeing him now…

[He pauses.]

I think the news gets him wrong. They keep saying it was the War or the loss of his family that made him the man he is. If that were the case, there would be more people like him walking around: monsters who lash out at the world. Ones who think that the right way of dealing with the ills of the world is by bashing the skulls of the sick. [He sighs, rubbing his eyes with his thumb and index finger.]

And where do you think it started?

Lauren Buvoli.

[He interrupts before I could follow up on that.]

He was a quiet child for the most part, kept a small group of friends. He would mostly listen to what other people were talking about.  It took me a while to notice it. I was walking by his house one night; I think he was twelve at the time. His parents were having an argument, as many parents do. I couldn’t tell what they were arguing about, and he never mentioned it in confession. I only saw because I happened to glance by while walking home. There they were, arguing.
And in the background, I could see him. There was no expression on his face, no obvious sign that he was even listening to what his parents were prattling on about. Save one: his eyes. He had the dead eyes of a tiger in a cage, waiting to pounce on an unsuspecting person. And yet, they implied something bigger. Something that wouldn’t be caged at all, save if it wanted to. They were the same eyes that would haunt newspapers for years to come. It was then that I realized what he had done.

And that was? [Father David says nothing, instead he gets up to leave. He motions me to follow.]

It began when he was ten years old. His mother had told me that he had a fascination with stories, and she thought it would do him some good if he joined my reading group. For the most part, even now, the group consisted of teenagers whose parents wanted them out of the house, but not on the streets. They mostly didn’t care, letting two or three of their peers lead the discussion. Back then it was just Lauren Buvoli.
She was always kind. She never said a bad word to anyone, never knowingly hurt anyone and when told she unknowingly did so, she always tried to be there to help heal the wounds. She was his only friend. [Pauses.] There was one discussion, before it happened, that I think helps paint a picture as to why he did it. [Pauses.] All of it.
We were discussing a different Blake poem than the one you heard today: The Tyger, do you know it?

Yes, ah “Tyger, Tyger, Burning Bright” and all that?

Yes, and what do you think of it?

It’s all right, bit overrated, but all right. I honestly prefer London or the Newtons Sleep poem.

[His tone briefly hardens] Fair. There’s one line in that poem that always struck me: “Did he who made the Lamb make thee?” It represents how the very act of God’s creation is so powerful, so awe-inspiring, that our mere mortal minds can’t comprehend the scope of it. Indeed, I feel that’s a common theme within Blake: the horror and wonder of creation itself… of the somewhat terrifying power of God himself. For God creates both angels and devils. It is God’s vision of the world that guides the narrative of life forward into the unknown pathways that make up his design.
I could tell immediately that the line also entranced him. Though he kept to himself, I could always tell he was invested by the poems. He seemed to be the kind of listener who encountered works like Blake and Kipling from a more solitary position. I thought, at the time, that he would be a great scholar if he could only exert himself just a bit more.
When I asked him about the line, he said, “Does it mean… God didn’t make the Tyger?” Initially, I laughed off the assumption, as one does to the assumptions made by children about the nature of the universe. I said, “If he didn’t make the Tyger, who did?”
“I dunno. Someone who don’t make things like lambs?” When he was twelve, and looking at his parents with his dead eyes, I realized that there was an aspirational tone to that response. Like he wanted to be the thing that the creator of lambs wouldn’t create: a horror upon humanity, a blight upon God’s creation made by something that looks to God with a misplaced envy, expressed solely by destruction and misery. When I looked at the news, and saw what he became… [Pause.] It shouldn’t have surprised me.
I tried to correct his error, explicitly told him what the poem was about, but he wouldn’t budge. Lauren tried to mediate the tension between us by suggesting that the poem could be read both ways. But this was a matter of the nature of God; two distinctly binary ways of reading the poem, diametrically opposed to one another. God is not a contradictory being who does and does not create things. There is no demiurge out there, defiling God’s design. There is only God. Sometimes children just don’t know what they’re talking about, you know?

[I feign agreement. We finally arrive at Father David’s office. He pulls out an old photo book, featuring various decades’ worth of poetry groups led by Father David. He turns to a black and white photograph featuring various teenagers. At his request, the photograph will not be reprinted within this edition. His finger leads him first to a pair of sweethearts from an old romantic comedy. She has long, dark hair and the body of someone who could be an actress or a model in two years. Her smile is infectious. Meanwhile, her companion has darker hair and a body that will grow up to be a soldier, though tall for his age. He is not smiling, nor is he grimacing. He doesn’t even appear to care about what’s going on around him. Father David tells me she’s Lauren Buvoli. He does not say who he is. His finger moves to another girl. Like Lauren, she has dark hair, though much shorter than Lauren’s, and body of someone equally, yet differently beautiful. She invokes sadness.]

Her name was Sue Carmenelli, and she committed suicide the night I read The Tyger. Lauren was walking him home when it happened. Sue was just standing in the middle of the road, waiting… she got her wish. Four weeks later, Lauren joined her.


[He nods.] She slit her wrists.

Was there a connection?

Of course there was a connection! Are you familiar with the Rosas?


Yes, them. Vincent Rosa, the youngest of the bastards, he raped those girls. Raped them until they were of no use to him. Supposedly, it was because he wanted to have a kid, but he never stopped any of the parents who committed the sin of abortion. He never chose any girl of his age. He just did it to have a power over things he saw as beautiful. I conducted service for both of their funerals, and I could see the anguish on their parents. No one should lose a child that young, let alone in a way that damns them to Hell. Maybe that’s why Tony Buvoli drunk himself to death.
Maybe that’s why I went to pay Albert Rosa a visit. I didn’t go alone; I wasn’t suicidal. I was joined by Henry Tully, two others… and his father. We let Henry do the talking, as he was the best of us at it. Some said that he could convince the devil himself to turn to the side of God. I don’t know if that’s true, but he was a great speaker. He was always polite to Rosa; grateful that the monster let us have what little time we were permitted. Henry pleaded to Rosa to keep his son in check, to stop him from raping our girls. Rosa never interrupted, and requested that we do the same for his response.
Once Henry stopped talking, Rosa took out a shotgun and broke every single one of Henry’s fingers with the butt. Rosa’s men held us, making sure that we were watching Rosa break our friend’s fingers. He never spoke when he did it. He was like God creating a Tyger: something monstrous. [Father David realizes that he’s shaking, and stops.] I thought we were going to die that night. Instead, we were thrown onto the streets, without a word or a care. [Pause.] Henry’s hand never recovered.

[He slumps into his chair.]

Two days later, Vincent Rosa was found burned alive in a makeshift grave next to Lauren Buvoli’s. When he heard the news, Albert Rosa died of a heart attack. His successor had better things to do than seek retaliation. It was as if God had granted all of our prayers and made sure none of us were punished for it. But God’s design requires agents to carry out His will.
We all wondered who had done it. We wanted to know who to thank. [A small “heh” comes out.] Perhaps it was a rival family, unconnected to our tragedy. Or it might have been Sal Buvoli, Lauren’s older brother returned home from war long enough to tell his sister goodbye. In truth, I believed it myself for two years. And then I saw his eyes, and knew who murdered Vincent Rosa.
In truth, I’d be more forgiving if Rosa died a simple death. His father, a former soldier, would have had a gun locked away. With his quiet nature, he could have discovered its location and used it to kill Rosa. If it was to simply avenge his friend, and nothing more, he would have done so. But he wanted Rosa to suffer, to be the one to begin the burning. He wanted to hear Rosa’s screams.
He wanted to be something too terrifying to be made by God. But God makes all creatures, great and small, beautiful and terrifying. God is the sole creator of all things. He wanted to be the Demiurge to God’s creator, but had to settle for being the Tyger. Perhaps he knew I knew what he did. Maybe that’s why the first family he exterminated were the remaining members of the Rosa family.

[He pauses, turning away from me, until finally he sighs.]

“When the stars threw down their spears,
And water’d heaven with their tears:
Did He smile, His work to see?
Did He who made the lamb make thee?”
Some say it was the war that made him a monster. Others say it was the death of his family. And perhaps there’s some truth in that. But the fact it, this was always in him. He was always going to turn out the way. [Pause.] Because he always wanted to.

{An Excerpt from “The Thirty-Six Year War: An Oral History of Frank Castle” by Ryan Chakk}

(Next Time: England, October-November 1987)

[Photos: Calvin and Hobbes “March 27, 1993” by Bill Watterson]

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