Someone must have been dying, Oma or Opa, for me to go back. All of us were there, me, Mom, and my brother. We sat in the living room at Oma and Opa’s house watching German TV. They won’t use email but can’t live without international satellite TV.
“At night, we watch the news from China,” Oma says.
I pick up that morning’s Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.
“Look at that,” Opa says, pointing at the screen. A singing group mimes to muzac on a faux Alpine stage set. “When they sing real music they don’t need microphones.”
Opa was passionate about music. He brought classical music to Lubbock, providing reel-to-reel tapes and writing the transcripts for a weekly radio show, "Music of the Masters." After he’s gone, when we clean out the house, I’ll find carbon copies of the transcripts stored neatly in a box.
My brother’s next to me on the sofa. He says, “Opa doesn’t understand lip-syncing.”
Opa can’t hear us.
I read the paper. Front page, top-of-fold: Eric Perez, 21, killed Danny Brazeal, 40. Perez said he did it to punish a girlfriend who said she didn’t want to see him again. Perez thought he'd punish her by making sure she couldn't see him. He decided to kill someone.
The headline says Perez prayed with the victim before the murder.
On the day of the murder, Perez tried to buy a hatchet. On the way to Wal-Mart, Perez met a local man, Danny Brazeal. According to his family, Brazeal had a previous traumatic brain injury. They described him as homeless and “easily led.”
Perez told police Brazeal asked him for money. Perez told Brazeal he’d give him money if Brazeal went with him to the store. Perez also promised to share a bottle of Jack Daniels he was carrying. Brazeal agreed.
Perez was unable to find a hatchet at Wal-Mart. Instead, he bought a Coleman knife. Afterwards, the men crossed the street and shared a bottle of whisky behind the Civic Center. Perez said he let Brazeal drink as much as he wanted so he’d be easier to kill.
When they finished the whisky Perez asked Brazeal if he was “right with God.” When Brazeal said he didn't know, Perez said they should pray to make sure. The men knelt together and prayed. At Perez' direction, Brazeal asked Jesus to forgive his sins.
After their prayer, Perez stabbed Brazeal in the chest and back dozens of times with the Coleman knife. He kicked Brazeal in the head repeatedly. After that, Perez said, he wasn’t sure Brazeal was dead, so he stabbed him two or three more times. Perez threw the knife down a storm drain as he left the Civic Center.
On satellite TV, the business report that repeats every half hour is on again, a reporter at a shopping mall talking about Christmas.
Oma says, “The next music program comes on at five.”
I look up, smile, and nod.
In the Christian faith, blood expiates. I know what Perez was thinking. Jesus has a reputation—people say he's easy; kneel, rinse, repeat. I bet Perez hurried to pray. Probably at the Civic Center, covered in Brazeal’s blood.
Perez turned himself in the next morning. Advised of his rights, he confessed. Police described him as cooperative and said he has no history of violence.
Brazeal’s sister says she’s praying for the Perez family.
Opa was a proud atheist. He’d say, “Religion is for the poor.” In his last few years he softened and said, “I see God when I’m in the rainforest.”
Opa died at home with a hospice nurse who said, “He’ll go when God’s ready for him.” By then Opa wasn’t speaking.
Faith is slippery and strange. One man’s faith is another man's license to kill. The word is encumbered and soiled from use; it conjures al Qaeda, Manifest Destiny, and mass suicide. But if faith is defined as the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen, surely we need a measure of faith in something just to get out of bed. We need a measure of faith, like gravity, to hold us here, to keep us from jumping off the edge of the earth.