Here in Chicago, we’ve had a running news story over the last week. A family from Missouri, a husband, wife, and three kids, were headed up to visit the wife’s family here in the area. According to the husband, he pulled off the road to tie off the luggage on top of their SUV when, suddenly, his wife pulled out a gun, shot their children to death, wounded him, then put the gun to her head and pulled the trigger. Immediately, a flood of stories appeared about how she didn’t approve of guns and wasn’t that type of person, and how similar this was to a recent episode of Law and Order.
The husband’s now in jail, charged with multiple counts of first-degree murder. No surprise, huh?
On Monday, the papers here were chock full of stories about why a man would kill his spouse and children. According to psychiatrists, one of the most common reasons is escape. The man doesn’t want to deal with a divorce, doesn’t want to deal with custody issues, just wants to live a “free” life again. Paternal instinct, if there is such a thing, takes a back seat to a fight-or-flight reaction, and people die.
It’s a gruesome story, and with its heavy play around here, it’s already reached saturation point. The last thing I wanted to see was that story being replayed in a milleu that I cover. But that’s happened now.
I have no idea what happened in Atlanta this weekend. No one does at this point. The police are trying to fit as many of the pieces together as possible. Given the time separation between the three deaths, murder/suicide seems to be the rational conclusion. Who killed whom and when is something that the investigators will determine. Supposedly, there are enough clues to work that out, at least to the point of having a workable theory. Until that time, it’s a quantum event, an effect without a cause. That’s something that most physics students have a hard time getting a handle on when they start doing quantum mechanics. Something happens without any reason behind it, inexplicable things that shouldn’t occur in any rational universe. Even if they’re explained, they still make no sense. And right now, this makes no sense.
Until we get an explanation, we have to deal with this. We’re fans of a medium where violence is inherent. But we know that the violence is make-believe. People do get injured, but it’s accidental. They’re not trying to cause injury in the ring. That’s what makes this situation so shocking to us. We’ve seen Chris Benoit get down and dirty with opponents for two decades. We just can’t imagine him doing it outside the ring. We certainly can’t imagine him committing acts of violence on his wife and child.
To us smarks, Chris and Nancy had the perfect wrestling marriage. She was in the business. She understood the lifestyle and coped perfectly with it. She walked away from it, head held high, to raise a family with the man she fell in love with when they were thrown together into an angle that suddenly, fantastically, became real. The wrestling business wouldn’t destroy this marriage, unlike with so many others. We got an outside view of the toll that the wrestling lifestyle takes on marriage courtesy of the recent problems with Ric Flair and Kurt Angle. If there was one marriage that wrestling couldn’t destroy, it was Chris and Nancy.
Something destroyed that marriage this weekend. Whether or not it was wrestling is yet to be seen. But if it was wrestling that was at the root of this…well, I wouldn’t be surprised. None of us would at this point. We’ve seen this too many times.
For people in wrestling, the early forties is a danger zone. It’s when the lifestyle takes its greatest toll. Curt Hennig, Rick Rude, Miss Elizabeth, Bam Bam Bigelow…all of them were between forty and forty-five when they died. Eddy Guerrero didn’t even make it to that point. And now you can add Chris and Nancy to this list. This is the age group that I’m sitting in right now. You don’t know how much that scares the hell out of me. It’s a time of changes for people, the beginning of mid-life crisis. For someone involved in an athletic endeavor, it’s even worse. Your abilities start to decay, the abuse catches up with you. Between the physical damage and the depression that hits you as you realize that the end is coming, you need to be mentally resilient. And not even the most mentally resilient person is immune. It’s a psychological time bomb, one made worse by the fact that you don’t know when or if it will go off. The anticipation is often the worst aspect of this, not knowing if some day, some way…
But we don’t know if it went off in Atlanta. That just adds to our incomprehension. We need something to make sense of this. A suicide note, a voice mail from Chris to someone, anyting that we can get our hands on to try to rationalize this. Until then, it’s the most irrational of acts possible, one that’s beyond our ability to comprehend.
There was once a man who was a specialist in this area, attempting to explain the inexplicable. Feodor Dostoevsky’s books are crammed full of irrational characters performing actions that violated every precept of what was considered moral society. Obviously, the character that comes to mind first in this instance is Rodion Raskolnikov, who committed murder for the simple reason that he thought he could get away with it. But Dostoyevsky was able to show, in a number of his characters, the fight taking place for the eternal soul, good versus evil. Evil had this tendency to lose, because Dostoyevsky always had faith that morality would win out in the end, no matter how despicable his characters were.
Dostoyevsky knew better, though. With him, the repentance always seemed to be tacked on. It was the acts of evil that were the most attractive. It was why he was planning to turn his most saintly and innocent character, Alyosha Karamazov, into a terrorist and regicide in the book that he never had the chance to write. Even the best can turn to the darkness. It’s a lesson that needs to be understood to try to make any sense of this situation.
As I said, I don’t know what happened, and I’m not going to make any judgments until I do know, or at least am given a hypothesis that meets my tests. I’m not even going to state a maudlin little sentence about how I’m going to pull out the Benoit DVD and watch it, or try to remember Nancy in her role as one of the great female managers of her era. At this point, they’re just gone. There’s no action that I can perform that could begin to fill this void. Only information can do that, concrete, solid information. I can just sit here and hope that this was an act of domestic violence, and that the lifestyle had nothing to do with it. Because if wrestling was a cause, there’s no way to justify it anymore. The toll now includes a little boy, and there’s no way to explain that away.
Because of that, there’s part of me wishing that this doesn’t get explained. The cause might be more difficult to accept than the effect.