Says the author, "The events of 'Aftershock' have long-lasting consequences for the survivors, as one man's death continues to affect the lives of three others long after his execution." These letters may or may not have ever been read by the persons they were written to ... but are no less illuminating for it.
By Cirocco Jones
July 21, 1996
If you're reading this I assume I'm dead and you just got this from my lawyer. A long time ago, when I joined the NYPD, they told us to write letters like this to our family in case we were killed in the line of duty, just to make sure we didn't leave anything unsaid. I've written and ripped up a few since then, but I gotta say this is the toughest.
Obviously I don't know when you're going to get this, but I'm writing it a couple of months after Mickey Scott was executed. I don't know if you remember that day, but I do. You came to see me and we had lunch and it didn't go so good. I'm saying I don't know if you remember it because it wasn't much worse than how things usually go when we get together.
I don't know why we don't get along, Cath. It seems like we both want to, but whenever we get together we just end up pissing each other off. Or at least, I piss you off, I don't know why. I told you that day that I'm better with people when they're already dead, and it's definitely true in your case. I just can't seem to say or do anything right around you.
I don't blame you for that, you know. If it sounds like I do, I'm sorry. I know I was a sorry excuse for a Dad and you really resent me for your whole childhood. I just want you to know that I don't piss you off on purpose.
I guess that's why I'm writing this, because I know that if I tried to tell you any of this face-to-face it wouldn't come out right and you'd just get pissed off again. Maybe I can write it down better than I can say it.
Anyway. Why I'm telling you about the day Scott was executed is, I fell off the wagon that day. I'd been sober for almost four years, but that day seeing that stupid mook get killed and having lunch with you was too much for your old man, and I fell right into a bottle of vodka again.
If that sounds like I'm blaming you at all, I'm not. I'm an alcoholic, I know how easy it is for me to react to a bad day by wanting to drink, and I chose to go into a bar knowing how I was feeling and then I chose to drink. None of that was you.
The reason lunch with you was so hard, though, was what you said about assuming you were the reason I started to drink in the first place.
Sweetheart, I'm so sorry you ever felt that way. You didn't get me started drinking. My drinking had nothing to do with you. I really never knew you thought that, although I guess I should've. I didn't. And hearing you say that, I just felt like there wasn't any point to staying sober. I mean, it was really tough to get sober in the first place, and I know I did it way too late to do you and your sister any good. That day I just felt like since I couldn't make it up to you for wrecking your childhood, there wasn't any point to fighting so hard to stay sober. So I went and I got drunk, like an idiot.
Then later that night a girl I worked with came into the bar where I was and she offered to drive me home. She was just about your age. I'd gotten drunk with another guy at the bar and I'd told him that my kid hated me, so when Claire showed up he asked if she was my kid. I thought that was pretty funny and I think I told him something like, she couldn't be my kid cause she didn't hate me. It's all kind of hazy though.
Anyway, while we were on our way home a drunk driver plowed into us. I spent the night sobering up at the hospital, waiting around with her boyfriend and her parents and my partner to see if she was going to be OK. She wasn't.
Then I spent the next day or so wondering what was the point of staying sober, since I really wanted to drink and there wasn't any reason to not drink and I felt so bad about getting Claire killed and about ruining your life and making you feel responsible for my being a drunk.
I finally decided to go back to AA instead of drinking myself to death, which is why hopefully this letter won't get to you for a few years yet. Actually, I hope you never read this letter - I hope I can say all this to you in person some day. I remember at the hospital, looking at Claire's parents and thinking it must be hell on earth having your kid die. And it really made me think, if either one of you two died I would have more to regret than Claire's parents did, because I was never really a father to you two.
Anyway, I'm trying to make up for it now, even though I know I really can't and even though it doesn't usually work out real well. I always feel like I'm intruding when I get in touch with you or your sister, but I'm trying. I love you kiddo. I'm sorry I've never really been able to say it to you so you could understand. And if I die before we get right with each other, hopefully this letter will help to say some of the stuff I couldn't ever get across to you while I was alive. If you're reading this, I'm sorry that obviously I failed to make things right. I'm sorry you and me didn't have a very good relationship. And I'm sorry you grew up thinking you were the one who started me drinking.
I love you, Cathy. I hope you can forgive me some day.
September 25, 1996
If you're reading this I assume I've been dead for about two years and you got this from Father Morelli. I hope you and the girls are doing well, and that you've all gone on with your lives. I wish I could be there with you, and however I died, I'm sorry I didn't get to see them grow up.
When I joined the police department they told us to write one of these, remember? Just in case we were killed in the line of duty, they said it would give our families peace, and that we could say things that maybe we wouldn't think of saying normally. I didn't think much of it at the time, because you know how I feel about you. I tell you and the girls all the time that I love you and that you're the world to me, so I never thought there was a reason to write you a letter saying the same thing. And remember we talked about it once and you said you didn't need a letter from me either.
Well things change and sometimes they don't change for the better. I wish I didn't have to write this letter, but I do.
There's something I never told you about and always felt bad about keeping from you. I'm not sure how to even write this, so bear with me, this is probably going to be a little difficult to read through.
The day that Mickey Scott was executed, I went to see the execution, remember? And it was supposed to be my day off, but I called and told you I wasn't feeling so great about the execution and then didn't come home until really late. I told you later that I spent the day talking to McCoy and then working, and then went to the gym. That was a lie. What actually happened was, I broke my vows to you. I met a woman in Central Park and somehow ended up sleeping with her.
Father Morelli knows the details of what happened so if you want to know, you can ask him. I don't really want to take up space telling you about it, and I doubt you'd want to know anyway, except for the fact that I never saw her again after that day.
I don't know why I did what I did. To this day I've never been able to explain it to myself. It went against everything I believed in, everything I still believe in and it's the worst thing I've ever done in my life. I've never regretted anything as much as I regret that. The only half-adequate explanation I've ever been able to come up with is I didn't know how to deal with the execution and for some reason tried to avoid how I felt by being with that woman. I don't know.
I'm writing this about four months after it happened, and I still haven't gotten over it. I don't know if I ever will. I love you more than you can possibly know, and it kills me inside, to know that I betrayed you and our kids. It really kills me to know that I can't even tell you, not in this lifetime, anyway. I was going to tell you that day when I came home, but then Lennie and Claire Kincaid were in that accident and I spent the night in the hospital with Lennie, and then the kids were up, and then I went to see Father Morelli and he convinced me not to tell you. He said there was no reason to hurt you even further, and maybe even destroy our marriage, and he told me that you and our kids were more important than my guilty conscience.
I never wanted to lie to you, never wanted to hurt you. We've never lied to each other. That's always been really important to me, and I know it's important to you. But I had to make a choice between hurting you and lying to you and I chose to lie. I hope it was the right choice to make.
Morelli and I have talked it over who knows how many times since the day I confessed. I understand everything he's saying and I agree with it, but it still doesn't seem right to keep quiet. Some days, like today, I just feel like I can't live with the guilt of it one more minute. We had kind of a close call today - a suspect was waving a gun at us and for a minute there, I really thought that was it. And one of the things I thought about afterwards was, if I died, you'd mourn me without really knowing who you were mourning, and that didn't seem fair to you. I'm not the person I was before this happened - or maybe I'm just not the person I thought I was, who knows. In any case, I'm not the person you think I am. There's this stain on my soul that you don't even know about, and some days it feels like I'd do anything to get rid of it or at least not hide it from you any more.
It may be that you'll never even read this letter. For all I know one of these days all of Morelli's logical arguments won't mean a damn thing and my guilt will get the best of me and I'll just break down and confess. For your sake, I sure hope not.
I love you so much, Deborah. I'm sorry. I wish there was some way I could make up for what I did, but there isn't. Hopefully by the time you read this, I'll be far enough in your past that it doesn't hurt too much. I'll leave it to Father Morelli to decide whether to give this to you at all - he'll know better than me when you can read this without being hurt by it, if ever.
I hope you can read this and realize that what I did wasn't meant to hurt you, that it had nothing to do with you, it was just my own stupid, thoughtless mistake and it didn't mean I didn't love you. If you could feel how I've felt since it happened, you'd understand. I lie awake at night sometimes, watching you sleep and wishing so much this had never happened. You deserve so much better from me.
Even as I'm writing this, I'm watching you sleep and wishing I could go back in time and just erase that day. If you're angry at me, and wish you could punish me in some way, you don't have to. Morelli told me the day I confessed that I would have to live with this for the rest of my life. I had no idea then how painful it would be. Deborah, I'm so sorry.
I hope that you can understand that I loved you and I always will, and that wherever I am right now I still love you and our girls more than anything in the world. That's never changed.
If you can forgive me, I guess I'll see you in the next life.
January 15, 1998
I've never wanted to talk to you as much as I have in the last few days, so since obviously that's not possible I decided to write you a letter instead. I wrote one of these to my father a long time ago, and it helped resolve some issues. Let's hope this does too.
It's been an interesting couple of years. I thought I was dealing with your death pretty well, considering I've never been cast in the role of grieving 'significant other' before. I missed you so much for the first year. Everywhere I went there were reminders of you. That's the problem with sleeping with somebody you work with; they're everywhere, and when they leave you see their loss everywhere. It was never that big a deal before; Sally and Diana and Sharon all left with a welcome sigh of relief on both sides. Your loss was so sudden and unexpected that it left an open wound for a long time.
I thought I dealt with it though. I thought I did everything that people are supposed to do. You would have been proud of me, I think. I knew you'd be pretty pissed off at me if I just buried myself in work, so I remembered my college psych articles on grief and surviving loss, and I dutifully let myself go through all the stages of grief.
I did bury myself in work, of course, I'm sure that's no surprise to you. But not to any kind of pathological degree - at least, no more so than before your death. I also let myself drink a hell of a lot more than I had before. My new assistant, Jamie Ross, teased me about it all the time.
I didn't date anybody for a long time - in fact, Jamie's still pushing me to go out on blind dates. It's kind of amusing, actually; the first female assistant I've ever had that I haven't slept with spends a lot of her spare time trying to play matchmaker for me. In my more cynical moments I suspect her of doing so just to make sure I won't make a pass at her.
I went back to the Church, which I'm sure must be amusing to you. I find it comforting, although I'm too much of a skeptic to really buy into all of it wholesale and of course if there's a big case pending I tend to skip services. But it's helped. Somebody once said that the comfort of rituals is that they give you a feeling of connection with other human beings. You know that as you light a candle or say a prayer or cross yourself, you're doing what countless millions of other human beings have done before you, probably for many of the same reasons and with many of the same feelings. It keeps you from feeling isolated.
But I digress. The point is that I thought I was dealing with your death. I told myself that drinking a little more was a perfectly natural reaction to my loss, as long as I didn't let it get out of control, that not dating was also perfectly natural and would eventually pass too, that going back to the Church was healthy too, that everything I went through was just part of the normal stages of grief.
Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. I thought I went through all of them. But I guess I was wrong. At least about the last one, acceptance. I never realized until this last week how much your loss still affects me, how much I still haven't accepted it.
I almost lost it in a trial. I almost did something unforgivable because of how I still feel about you.
The defendant, Bernard Dressler, got rip roaring stinking drunk on a plane and then drove home from the airport, plowing into an old man out for a walk, a father of three and his five-year old son, killing all three. I saw this man and realized that the worst he'd get was Vehicular Manslaughter and I lost it. I was trying the case before Gary Feldman, who wants to run for DA under the anti-drunk driving banner. He let me know that he would like to basically make new law and send drunk drivers to Death Row, not let them hide behind alcohol as an excuse to commit murder. And I jumped onto his bandwagon. I tried to prevent any evidence that Dressler was drunk from being heard at his trial, so that he could be convicted of Murder One for a multiple homicide.
Jamie watched me, pretty much helpless to do anything, which is not like Jamie at all. You'd like her - she's pretty spirited. She protested and tried to get me to see that what I was doing was wrong - holding back exculpatory evidence, 'tag teaming with Feldman to commit legal murder' as she put it, trying to make Dressler pay for what happened to you. And I just ignored her, yelled at her, and kept pushing. I wanted him to pay for your life with his. I wanted to avenge you in the only way I could. He killed three people, he caused so much suffering, and I wanted him strapped down and suffering himself. The man who killed you got 12 months at Mount MacGregor. It felt like an obscenity.
What I did was the real obscenity.
I pushed and I pushed until almost the very end. Then I looked into his eyes and saw that he was suffering. I don't know if he actually felt guilty or if he was just scared for himself. Probably the latter. But I knew at that moment that you wouldn't have wanted me to do what I was doing. You never believed in vengeance in the first place.
I realized I'd thrown away everything that you held dear: the law, proper procedure, our duty to uphold it, compassion, and respect for life, even respect for the life of a killer. I knew then that if you didn't think that Mickey Scott, a man who committed murder willingly, should die, that you also wouldn't want that for Bernard Dressler, who wasn't even competent to keep from killing himself at the time, let alone anybody else.
Claire, I almost commemorated your death by making a mockery of your life. I suddenly realized that if you could see me you would be horrified, that I was single-handedly destroying your memory. I almost killed a man for you.
I guess I still haven't really dealt with your death. With how much I miss you. You know I've never been the most romantic person in the world, and we never promised each other till death do us part, even though as it happens, that's how it worked out. But I loved you, and I miss you. You were an incredibly special person, and I never told you how much you meant to me. I thought we had all the time in the world to see if things would work out between us despite the difference in our ages and temperaments. And then all of a sudden, you were gone. And the last thing I said to anybody about you on the day you died was "to hell with her" because we hadn't been getting along lately and I'd been waiting for you all day and I was tired of fighting with you over the death penalty.
I still believe in it, you know. I still believe it's the right way to deal with certain crimes and criminals. But I'd give anything to be able to argue with you about it. I know I said that we needed the death penalty because it's a way to provide for the need for vengeance. I said that vengeance is what people want and it's a natural human instinct that we don't have to apologize for. I do have to apologize for it now, to you.
I'm so sorry, Claire. I'm sorry for never telling you how much you meant to me while you were alive, I'm sorry for not really allowing myself to grieve for you, I'm sorry that our last day was full of conflict. And most of all I'm sorry for everything I did in the last few days. I'm sorry I allowed myself to forget all that you stood for because of my guilt and grief and my need for revenge.
I hope that wherever you are, you can forgive me.