When you pray at night what do you ask forgiveness for?
I was 17 years old when I made the worst mistake of my life. I was young stupid and naïve, just a dumb kid who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks. I remember it like it was just yesterday. I was high that night, tweaking out of my mind but like an all too familiar itch, I needed more to quench the fire that was burring inside me. I had no money so I had to think fast, I made a split second decision that would haunt me forever.
Growing up in foster care I was always abused by other kids and even sometimes adults. I couldn’t take it anymore, so I got a gun to protect myself. It made me feel powerful, invincible, like no one could touch me.
I had the gun with me that night; it was like a suit of armor. Once I felt the cold metal against my back I knew I was safe, protected.
I had pulled up to a check cashing place, I knew I could do it quickly, in and out no worries, but I was wrong.
On the inside everything was normal, old guy up front at the cash register. Nothing too serious for me to handle, since I assumed he was all alone.
I pulled out my gun and pointed it at him demanding the money from the register, I could see the fear in his eye and I smiled thinking I had won.
When suddenly out of the corner of my eye I saw a figure coming in from the back and without thinking I turned in his direction and fired.
Bang! Bang! Bang!
I heard his body hit the floor, I heard the old guy’s screams, I heard the sirens but I couldn’t move; I was frozen with fear. I had really killed someone.
It’s been fifteen years since I’ve been incarcerated and I still think about that night every time I close my eyes.
It turns out that man I killed, he wasn’t just a nobody like me, he mattered, and his life mattered. He was a husband and a father, not some washed up drug addict no one would miss.
You would think killing someone would be the worst moment of my life but no; the worst part was facing his wife and kids as they begged and pleaded with me to tell them why I did it. I couldn’t give them an answer, I didn’t have one.
A year after I was locked up the visits stop coming but that didn’t stop the guilt. I had nightmares about his wife and kids every night, I couldn’t forget their faces nor could I forget his. I wrote to her every day after I got clean, telling her how sorry I was, how I wish I could take it back but my letters never got answered.
I don’t blame her either. Who could forgive the man who killed the most important person in their life? When the letters didn’t work, I tried getting in touch with her through my lawyer but it was no use, he said she wouldn’t talk to him. That didn’t stop me from trying though; I needed her to forgive me. I needed her forgiveness more than the air I breathe.
The guilt it was too much, I couldn’t take it. For days I couldn’t sleep or eat but I guess this was my punishment. I would have to live with this for the rest of my life, because even though I wanted her forgiveness, I knew I didn’t deserve it.
Today’s the day I get out of prison, I did my time, I paid my death to society but still I felt the guilt of that day like a dark shadow looming over me. On my first day of freedom I didn’t want to go to a fancy restaurant and order my favorite food or go to the beach to see the sunset again. I only had one destination in mind; I just hope it wasn’t too late.
My palms were sweating as the cab driver pulled up to the cemetery. I knew I had to do this but that didn’t make it any easier. I took a deep breath and walked into the cemetery. His tomb stone was covered with flowers, clearly his family loved him and that thought made everything seemed harder.
His tomb stone read: Here lays Jacob Collins, devoted father, husband and friend. Though you are no longer with us physically, you will forever be in our hearts.
Tears came to my eyes as I read each word, I had done this, I had taken a good man away from his family. The guilt consumed me as I fell to my knees and cried. My tears were useless because no matter how guilty I felt that would never be enough to bring Jacob home.
I was about to leave the flowers I had brought with me when a voice behind startled me.
“I thought you would come.”
I quickly turned around to see Jacob’s widow staring at me, she didn’t look angry or spiteful, and she seemed to be a peace.
“I’m sorry,” I tried to say but she only shook her head.
“The time for apologies are past and gone,” she said, she was no longer looking at me but at her husband’s grave.
I watched as she knelt down and laid the flowers she had in her hands at his grave side. She then turned towards me and I will never forget the words she said.
“Life is for the living.”
With those words she departed, leaving me a complete mess. This woman who was supposes to hate me had barley said an unkind word to me. I felt lost, it seemed she had forgiven me but I couldn’t understand why. I didn’t deserve it, I once ached for her forgiveness but now that I had gotten it, it felt like an unwanted burden.