Murder and the Innocents

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Yesterday we were having Sunday dinner at my mother’s house with the Hooligan clan. Mom and I had been watching a Monk marathon and had left the TV on when we went into the kitchen to eat.

J.Hooligan is a fitful eater who gets up and down a lot once his birdlike appetite has been sated. He started running into the living room to see what Monk was up to. He watches Monk at home sometimes with Diamondqueen and knows the show. We didn’t think about trying to shield him from anything.

Suddenly J. went into spasms of revulsion. “Turn it off, turn it off!” he screamed, and sat crying at the dinner table. He’d been watching a flashback of the murder Monk had solved. “It was horrible!”

“Tell us about it,” we urged, but J. went into hysterics. Granted, he’s a bit of a drama queen, but he seemed genuinely perturbed as well.

“I can’t get it out of my head!” he wailed over and over. We tried to explain that if he told us about it, it would help get it off his mind. I wanted to go in alone and rewatch that scene with the sound off so I could see how bad it was, but J. wouldn’t have it. Eventually Diamondqueen turned the TV back on and clicked to a recorded episode of SpongeBob to try to take J.Hooligan’s mind off his trauma.

He continued to fret and kept returning to the subject of the recreated murder. Slowly, bit by bit, he edged toward describing the scene.

Finally it came out. “He reached around and ripped the skin off her throat,” J. whimpered, trembling. Unsure whether clinical detail would help or hurt, I carefully explained that the murderer had used a knife, as if that would somehow make a difference. For whatever reason, it must have seemed a little less horrific than literally tearing her skin off, because I could see J.Hooligan’s face relax a bit. I went on to explain how they’d probably created that scene on TV, using a prop knife with a squib that squirted fake blood on the actress’ throat. Diamondqueen went into Mom’s computer and looked up the actress on IMDB and reported back that she’d appeared on Two and a Half Men (not that J. watches that show, either). “See, she’s alive and well,” Diamondqueen emphasized.

I felt horrible that we hadn’t been more vigilant. J.Hooligan is eight, and he doesn’t watch violent TV shows — except for the occasional Monk episode, but it took only one graphic scene to do plenty of damage. Poor J. looked pale and shaken the rest of the afternoon. Even though he let the topic go and was laughing with us over one SpongeBob misadventure or another, I could tell it was in the back of his mind.

I understand. I did the same thing at his age, dwelling on some grisly thing I’d come across by accident, turning it over and over in my mind (and murders weren’t even graphic on TV shows when I was a kid; sometimes a detail on the evening news could do the trick as well). Diamondqueen was equally bad, so J. gets it direct. I know it was an accident, but I hate that we didn’t shield J. from the sight of a woman getting her throat slashed.

Worst of all, the whole time we were trying to console J., my mind was on the genuine horror that had taken place Friday night just a few miles away in Mason. A husband and father had stabbed his wife to death, then set a fire that killed his four children. “That was just on television,” Diamondqueen told J. regarding the Monk murder. What were parents telling their children about the Mason tragedy, especially those children who had known the victims and may have already been aware of the gruesome details of their deaths?

I hoped the murders wouldn’t be addressed at J.’s school today. I hoped his classmates on the playground or in the lunchroom wouldn’t discuss it, bringing it to J.’s attention and providing gory details that none of them should know.

It’s hard enough to explain a TV murder to a child (someone wrote a story where a bad, selfish man hurt someone — but it was just a story). We can give children all the reassurances we’re able — no, that will never happen in your home, that would never happen to your parents, you’re safe, you’re safe, you’re safe — but what happens when we’re revealed as liars and the world’s horrors turn out not to be fiction after all?

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