This afternoon when I opened the mailbox, I found a package from the Boone County prosecutor’s office. I had expected it for a few days — they let me know when they sent it. And besides, I had asked for it.
I opened the envelope when I went inside. Wrapped in a rubber band, I found a stack of DVDs, each inscribed with a date in September of 2013, one for each day of my brother’s trial for the murder of my parents. Each disc contains the recorded video and audio of the trial’s proceedings for that day.
A few hours later now, I’m sitting in the spare bedroom, listening to the opening statements. Over the coming days — perhaps weeks — I will navigate through the discs, through the proceedings, through the month I spent in a very small room. I will descend.
A few days ago, I told a couple of my friends about the package and about my intentions. They seemed startled. “Why would you want to put yourself through that again?” It’s a fair question, and one I’ve heard at various points in this process — when I listened to the 911 call over the years, for example.
My answer, then and now, lies in my need to know as much as I can, to know as much as I can bear. As I said, with the exception of my own testimony and the closing statements, I didn’t know any more about the trial than any other TV viewer or newspaper reader. Maybe I won’t know any more after I watch what I can — I don’t know. But I have to see as much of the truth as the trial will reveal.
In literature, there is a motif we call katabasis — a descent. This often takes the form of a protagonist’s visit to the underworld in order to emerge with some heightened knowledge. Dante’s Inferno is an example of this, as is Odysseus’s trip to Hades in Book 11 of the Odyssey. I’m nobody’s idea of an epic hero, but I suppose that like most people, I think of myself as the protagonist of my own story. To look for the knowledge I need, I’m descending. Bear with me.