Jason Wenger started his Bronco and rested against the driver’s seat. It was December 2, 2007, and the thermometers in Anchorage, Alaska, read nine degrees Fahrenheit. Jason’s breath would have been visible in the cold if it weren’t so dark. He might have prayed while he waited for the engine to warm, hands folded in his lap and chin tucked against the gold cross he always wore. Perhaps that is what Christopher Erin Rogers, Jr. saw when he approached the driver’s side window with a loaded gun—a man in prayer.
At Jason’s funeral his father asked attendees, “Are you ready for Christ? Jason might not have been—are you ready?” Naturally, some of Jason’s friends were appalled. They knew it would have been so easy to find something nice to say about Jason instead. He worked for a nonprofit helping people with disabilities. Jason himself said, “I believe in personal civil service.” He thought it was his duty as a servant and writer to be “an active member in the community and world.” He wanted to help people take care of their earthly and very real needs. The word the Hebrews used to describe God’s love—agape in Greek—translates to caritas in Latin, or charity.
Anyone could have been killed that morning (the police called it the most dangerous day in Anchorage), but it was Jason Wenger on his way to church. Perhaps his father’s offensive question was not proselytizing so much as a desperate sort of self-soothing: his son was gone but this was Christ’s beneficent plan. It had to be. I understand his father’s hope, or might if it were my son so violently and permanently taken. Or maybe the opposite is true, and I would no longer cling to any belief but choose instead to put my faith in Justice. Or nothing.
But justice and grief are not what burden me. Although we shared a small city, friends, and a finite writing community, I never met Jason or his father. [End Page 117] I didn’t go to his funeral or pray for the Wenger family. But I did know Jason’s killer and other hard men, damaged men. I know the place where their lives interlocked with each other and intersected with friends and victims and a thousand other lives they will never know but touch all the same. What concerns me is the notion of design.
The Thread of Destiny, a proverb with roots in Chinese and Japanese folklore, holds that we are connected to everyone we will meet by imperceptible strings. In some stories, we are tied at the ankles; in others, the gods carefully loop invisible twine around our pinky fingers, tethering us to our lovers, our husbands, our killers. The threads may tangle or grow taut, but they will never break.
I feel like two women: one grown and grounded, the other still 20-something with little education, few job prospects, and no health care. The grown woman is safe, maintains healthy familial relationships, is charitable. The other is in danger, a daughter of drunks and often in the company of predators. Two women. Two tangles of string. Two fates.
Recently a Christian friend was trying to change my stance on a political matter. She made a scripture-based argument and I made a scripture-based counterargument.
“No offense,” she said, “but with everything you have shared with me about your past, I know you were never taught how to interpret scripture.”
I have a deep respect for my friend but feel that some of her points of view are the product of a privileged life, an upbringing of which I’m a little jealous and a little proud to have avoided.
In 2004, Theadose “Theo” Merculief was a pretty good-looking young man: mid-20s, brunet, cute face, lean build—like a short Dave Matthews with a lot more freckles and a lot less talent. The servers liked him, especially the females. Some said he was an efficient employee, others called him lazy. On this day, he leaned against the counter, moving slowly and...