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M I C HAEL

Shay Bourne was pacing in his cell. Every fifth rum, he pivoted and started circling the other way. "Shay," I said, to calm myself down as much as him, "it's going to be all right."

We were awaiting his transportation down to the room where our restorative justice meeting with June Nealon would take place, and we were both nervous.

"Talk to me," Shay said.

"All right," I said. "What do you want to talk about?"

"What I'm going to say. What she's going to say... the words won't come out right, I just know it." He looked up at me. "I'm going to fuck this up."

"Just say what you need to. Shay. Words are hard for everyone."

"Well, it's worse when you know the person you're talking to thinks you're full of shit."

"Jesus managed to do it," I pointed out, "and it wasn't like He was attending the Tuesday Toastmasters meeting in Nineveh." I opened my

Bible to the book of Isaiah. "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news..."

"Could we just this once nor have a Bible study moment?" Shay groaned.

"It's an example," I said. "Jesus said that when He came back to the synagogue where He'd grown up. Let me tell you, that congregation had a lot of questions-after all, they'd grown up with Him, and knew Him before He started the miracle train-so before they could doubt Him, what did He do? He gave them the words they'd been waiting to hear. He gave them hope." I looked at Shay. "That's what you need to do, with June."

The door to I-tier opened, and six officers in flak jackets and full face shields entered. "Don't talk until the mediator asks you to. And make sure you tell her why this is so important to you," I urged, lastminute quarterbacking.

Just then the first officer reached the cell door. "Father," he said,

"we're going to have to ask you to meet us down there."

I watched them move Shay down the tier. Speak from your heart, I thought, watching him go. So that she knows ifs worth taking.

I had already been told what they would do with him. He'd be handcuffed and cuffed at the ankles. Both of these would be linked to a belly chain, so that he'd shuffle along inside the human box of officers. He would be taken to the cafeteria, which was now set up for offender counseling. Basically, the warden had explained, when they needed to have group sessions with violent offenders, they bolted several individual metal boxes to the floor-and prisoners were put into these miniature cells along with a counselor, who would sit on a chair in the cafeteria with them. "It's group therapy," Warden Coyne had proudly explained, "but they're still incarcerated."

Maggie had lobbied for a face-to-face visit. Failing that, she wanted to know if we could meet on opposite sides of a glass visiting booth.

But there were too many of us, when you added in the moderator and

June, or so the administration said (never mind I'd seen families of ten cram into one of those little noncontact booths for a visit with an inmate). Although I-like Maggie-thought that we were starting at a grave disadvantage if one of the participants was restrained and bolted to the floor like Hannibal Lecter, this was the best we were going to get.

The mediator was a woman named Abigail Herrick, who'd come from the attorney general's victim's assistance office and had been trained to do this kind of thing. She and June were talking quietly on one side of the anteroom. I walked up to June as soon as I entered.

"Thank you. This means a lot to Shay."

"Which is the last reason I'd ever do it," June said, and she turned back to Abigail.

I slunk across the room to the seat beside Maggie. She was painting a run in her stocking with pink nail polish. "We are in serious trouble,"

I said.

"Yeah? How's he doing?"

"He's panicked." I squinted in the dim light as she lifted her head.

"How'd you get that shiner?"

"In my spare time I'm the welterweight champion of New Hampshire."

There was a buzzing, and Warden Coyne walked in. "Everything's set."

He led us into the cafeteria by way of the metal detector. Maggie and I had already emptied our pockets and taken off our jackets before

June and Abigail even realized what was going on; this is the difference between someone who has intimate experience with a detention facility and those who lead normal lives. An officer, still dressed in full riot gear, opened a door for June, who continued to stare at him in horror as she walked inside.

Shay was sitting in what looked like a telephone booth permanently sealed shut with nuts and bolts and metal. Bars vivisected his face; his eyes searched for mine as soon as I walked into the room.

When he saw us, he stood up.

At that moment, June froze.

Abigail took her arm and led her to one of the four chairs that were arranged in a semicircle in front of the booth. Maggie and I filled in the remaining seats. Two officers stood behind us; in the distance I could hear the sizzle of something cooking on a grill.

"Well. Let's get started," Abigail said, and she introduced herself.

"Shay, I'm Abigail Herrick. I'm going to be the mediator today. Do you understand what that means?"

He hesitated. He looked like he was going to faint.

"Victim-offender mediation is a process that gives a victim the chance to meet her offender in a safe and structured setting," Abigail explained. "The victim will be able to tell the offender about the crime's physical, emotional, and financial impact. The victim also has the chance to receive answers to any lingering questions about the crime, and to be directly involved in trying to develop a plan for the offender to pay back a debt if possible-emotional or monetary. In return, the offender gets the opportunity to take responsibility for his behavior and actions. Everyone with me so far?"

I started to wonder why this wasn't used for every crime committed.

Granted, it was labor-intensive for both the AG's office and the prison, but wasn't it better to come face-to-face with the opposing party, instead of having the legal system be the intermediary?

"Now, the process is strictly voluntary. That means if June wants to leave at any time, she should feel free to do so. But," Abigail added, "I also want to point out that this meeting was initiated by Shay, which is a very good first step."

She glanced at me, at Maggie, and then at June, and finally Shay.

"Right now. Shay," Abigail said, "you need to listen to June."


June

They say you get over your grief, but you don't really, not ever. It's been eleven years, and it hurts just as much as it did that first day.

Seeing his face-sliced into segments by those metal bars, like he was some kind of Picasso portrait that couldn't be put together again-brought it all back. That face, his fucking face, was the last one Kurt and Elizabeth saw.

When it first happened, I used to make bargains with myself.

I'd say that I could handle their deaths, as long as-and here I'd fill in the blank. As long as they had been quick and painless. As long as Elizabeth had died in Kurt's arms. I'd be driving, and I'd tell myself that if the light turned green before I reached the intersection, surely these details were true. I did not admit that sometimes

I slowed down to stack the odds.

The only reason I was able to drag myself out of bed at all those first few months was because there was someone more needy than I was. As a newborn, Claire didn't have a choice. She had to be fed and diapered and held. She kept me so grounded in the present that I had to let go of my hold on the past. I credit her with saving my life. Maybe that's why I am so determined to reciprocate.

But even having Claire to care for was not foolproof. The smallest things would send me into a downward spiral: while pressing seven birthday candles into her cake, I'd think of Elizabeth, who would have been fourteen. I'd open a box in the garage and breathe in the scent of the miniature cigars Kurt liked to smoke every now and then. I'd open up a pot of Vaseline and see

Elizabeth's tiny fingerprint, preserved on the surface. I would pull a book off a shelf and a shopping list would flutter out of it, in

Kurt's handwriting: thumbtacks, milk, rock salt.

What I would like to tell Shay Bourne about the impact this crime had on my family is that it erased my family, period. What I would like to do is bring him back to the moment Claire, four, perched on the stairs to stare at a picture of Elizabeth and asked where the girl who looked like her lived. I would like him to know what it feels like to have to run your hand up the terrain of your own body, and underneath your nightshirt, only to realize that you cannot surprise yourself with your own touch.

I would like to show him the spot in the room he built, Claire's old nursery, where there is a bloodstain on the floorboards that I cannot scrub clean. I'd like to tell him that even though I carpeted the room years ago and turned it into a guest bedroom, I still do not walk across it, but instead tiptoe around the perimeter when I have to go inside.

I would like to show him the bills that came from the hospital every time Claire was sent there, which quickly consumed the money we received from the insurance company after Kurt died.

I'd like him to come with me to the bank, the day I broke down in front of the teller and told her that I wanted to liquidate the college fund of Elizabeth Nealon.

I would like to feel that moment when Elizabeth was sitting in my lap and I was reading to her, and she went boneless and soft, asleep in my arms. I would like to hear Kurt call me Red again, for my hair, and tangle his fingers in it as we watch television in the bedroom at night. I would like to pick up the dirty socks that Elizabeth strewed about the house, a tiny tornado, the same reason I once yelled at her. I would love to fight with Kurt over the size of

If they had to die, I would have loved to have known in advance, so that I could take each second spent with them and know to hold on to it, instead of assuming there would be a million more. If they had to die, I would have loved to have been there, to be the last face they saw, instead of his.

I would like to tell Shay Bourne to go to hell, because wherever he winds up after he dies, it had better not be anywhere close to my daughter and my husband.


M I C H A EL | Change of heart | M IC HAEL