Psychopathy is an understudied psychological issue that’s virtually impossible to understand yet people want to claim they completely got the disorder all figured out by jumping to conclusions and over-villainizing everyone suffering from it.
Matthew’s burial at Silver Cliff Cemetery in Bellingham had caused tremendous controversy between town folks and victims’ family members. The city manager has issued a statement upon the burial pointing out that burying a murderer among other people would be disruptive to the serenity and peacefulness of the space. Further information regarding the execution of the cemetery deed remained anonymous to the public. What we knew for sure was that Matt had an unmarked grave. It personally took me a few days to get the details, and when I did, I was on my way to Wisconsin to end yet another chapter of my life and moving on to the other one. To my surprise, I wasn’t the only one looking for closure: Benjamin Leavitt was looking for it too.
It didn’t take me long to figure out Benjamin was Matthew’s previous lover. They started as lifelong friends back in school in West Allis; they were outcasts who turned to each other for support. He didn’t know about Matt’s sadistic nature until their first year of high school, when he was suspended one day for bludgeoning a hedgehog to death in front of other students during recess; he repeatedly hit the animal with a plank of wood and then stamped on its head. Everyone was frightened to the sight of him committing such a deranged act, both hands entirely covered in blood. His parents were immediately notified and he was involuntarily sent to a psychiatric facility soon after. In my mind, I was comparing his story to the information provided in his father’s letter. I was starting to have cold feet dreading what I was about to hear next.
Going back to the beginning, Benjamin was an only child. He grew up with a resentful mother and an absent father. When he was a child, his mom fed him lies about his dad, claiming she left him because he was abusive, but it was the other way around. He found out much later that he had been sending him letters and gifts that his mother would hide or send back. She had also changed his last name when he was twelve, ostensibly so she could completely erase his identity and create a greater disconnection. His anger and bitterness drove him to find comfort in Matt who quenched his need for care and protection. He remembered very specifically the day Matt revealed to him a secret; that his own father had been raping him and that his stepmother was a silent accomplice. I was chastened and caught off guard by the revelation. Then again, was it true or just another one of the volatile and fabricated lies Matt created in order to manipulate him and gain his sympathy? Benjamin insisted that he was telling the truth since he seemed sincere and made him promise not to say anything. Their connection remained strong, but ever since that day, Matt denied anything related to the sexual abuse and avoided sharing family secrets. They eventually developed feelings for each other, but things quickly took a twisted turn when Matt dragged him into the woods one day and anally penetrated him. The first time they had sex was passionate, but as they engaged in it more frequently, Matt’s sexual deviance started to emerge as well as his dabbling in substance abuse which drove him off. Somehow, though, he kept getting sucked back into their toxic relationship until Matt was arrested for attacking his stepmother. A few years later, he heard a rumor Matt briefly worked at a nursing home.
The conclusion I managed to draw was that the whole family was lethal; every one of them was a bad seed.
The reason Benjamin was drawn to Matt was mainly because he seriously lacked a father figure. He enjoyed being submissive as it provided him a sense of direction and security. He did whatever he was asked to do and never questioned or undermined his authority. That path led him to join the military at the age of consent, after Matt was no longer present; being around violent and primitive members of the marine fueled his self-destructive nature. Most of them were psychologically battered, and they often bullied him for being weak. He didn’t seem to mind since the abuse helped calm his chaotic mind. As he talked more about his experience I realized that I suffered from it too. Although I’ve grown up having a distrusting and poor relationship with both of my parents, somewhere along the line I’ve exclusively developed a fearful one with my dad which resulted in various issues. Both of us longed to fill the void left by our inadequate and distant fathers, making a series of frustrating and self-defeating mistakes throughout our lives which led us to accept the abuse inflicted on us by a manipulative psychopath; instead of running away from him, we stayed and asked for more. We both battled the same kind of negative upbringing that shadowed itself into our adulthood. We were equally defeated and broken inside; we had to learn to live with the ruins left inside us — forever.
I made my way to the nursing home where Matt briefly worked as a caregiver the first time he dropped out of college. Benjamin said he got a call from him asking to see him and he accepted. He said Matt admitted to have provided the nursing home with false documentation to hide his criminal record. They caught up and it was the last time they saw each other.
Walking among the elderly, I couldn’t quite grasp why Matt would choose this kind of job; it was odd since caring for someone required a decent level of empathy. I asked the oldest employee if she remembered him, and she said she did. She mentioned he was a bright and personable young man who had genuine care and provided everyone with meticulous attention. She said they were worried and disappointed when he didn’t show up to work one day. They tried to get ahold of him but without any luck. He was simply gone.
Seattle was my next stop. I had requested and scheduled a tour of Matt’s apartment pretending I was an interested buyer when all I actually wanted was to visit the apartment and take a few photographs of a place that once was and to some extent still is pivotal to me.
I ventured out in the Industrial District area to kill some time before the tour, entering every single furniture store and spending at least half an hour at each one, leaving the fanciest and most high-end for last. After touring the last store for the fifth time, I finally sat down on a ten-thousand dollar sofa and spaced out as I wallowed in my unending misery. I was suddenly flooded with flashes of memories revolving around him. They came all at once, and it was hard for me to remember any of them vividly. I tried not to dwell on them too much although that’s all I wanted to do; dwell. A sale associate eventually startled me and asked if I was feeling unwell. Embarrassed, I told her I was fine then got up and left.
I showed up at the building ten minutes before my tour appointment. The agent, a disabled older woman in her fifties was sitting on the couch. She called my name when I first entered; I had given her a fake name: Frank. She made me fill out some paperwork and then got up, dragged her walker in front of me through the lobby and to the back where the elevator was.
The apartment was empty and cold; it no longer held an identity but as I walked around, I was gathering all the memories and projecting them inside each room. I entered the bedroom where we had plenty of sex, walked into the walking closet where Matt’s meticulous closet was ransacked for evidence by the police. Right outside by the doorframe, my fingers went through the spot my head hit that time he impulsively attacked me when I tried to leave him. On the wall where his headboard used to be, I noticed a faded trickle of what I thought was blood. In the living room, my mind tried to reconstruct the painting Matt loved dearly. Finally, in the kitchen, I kneeled and opened the cabinet Umbra used to sleep in almost expecting her to show up and startle me the way she always did.
“The previous owners lived here for over a decade”, the woman said.
“Previous owners?”, I asked hoping she’d reveal more.
“Two lovely men. Well, at least one of them was.”
My mind stopped. Two men, a decade. I was eager to know more.
“What happened to them?”, I casually asked.
“I’m not sure. I think they bought a house somewhere.”
It was impossible to inquire for more details without making her suspicious. One thing is for sure, though: that woman knew what she was talking about. Who was the other man? It couldn’t have been Benjamin. I’m seething with jealousy not being able to know who he is, his name and what he looks like. The fact they’ve been together for over a decade adds to my frustration. Every time I find out something new about Matt, I wind up wishing I didn’t know it. But he’s gone now, and all I can do is hold on to our own memories without trying to dig any further. It simply won’t do me any good.
On our way out, I saw couple of bags in the corner of the living room, next to the chimney; they had things in them; a charcoal drawing on papyrus, a yoga mat, a TV, a printer, Umbra’s cage and other random bags. They were Matt’s and were about to be taken away. When we were ready to leave, I took a quick shot and left.
For lunch, I went to the Italian restaurant Matt and I had a candlelit dinner at back when we were together; I ordered his favorite dish: The Beef Brisket with Roasted Grapes, and a bottle of his favorite champagne, The Besserat de Bellefon Brut. As before, the food was impeccably presented I couldn’t bring myself to indulge myself right away. When I eventually did, I took my time, relishing every single bite of the tasty meat and slowly sipping and savoring the sparkly flavor of my drink.
Back at my hotel, I surrounded myself with all the evidence and proof of Matt’s existence. I’ve spent quite some time with this man, yet I hardly ever knew him. Looking back, I welcomed and embraced his mystery by avoiding asking too many questions. Then again, he’s told me things, but what proves they were true? I didn’t investigate because all that mattered was that were together. I thought we had forever, but we didn’t. And now, I’m left with scattered memories. I wish I paid more attention. I wish I pushed harder to know more things about him.
As I gathered and organized the pictures I’ve taken, I’ve noticed that two of the bags left in his apartment were tote bags from a store called “Elements.” I looked it up online and tracked it down. It’s a high-end luxury boutique of home decor items based in Seattle.
My obsession then grew stronger and I remembered a few older photos I took and saved on my computer back when we were together. They were pictures of his furnished apartment. I looked through them and tried to piece Matt together. One of the pictures showed his entire book selection. I zoomed in, saved the names and ordered all of them. However, I was still confused. Matt had books that ranged from art history to business books, classic novels, guides on how to wear suits as well as other absurd subjects like, a butler’s notebook and a book about making soap. I couldn’t narrow them all down to a specific theme, or at least two.
Another picture was of his favorite washed out painting of a city; the colors were black, blue and gray. After contemplating it for a while, I concluded the two towers at its center were the twin towers of New York.
Before I knew it, my eyes became restless. Then, they closed and I fell into a deep sleep.
The next morning, I walked to Elements. Inside, I was greeted by two gay men. I paced around hoping for some sort of revelation, but my visit ended up insipid and purposeless.
My last stop was Ethan’s school. I arrived when the bell announcing the end of the school day started ringing, and children started pouring out of the building, I scanned the whole area looking for Ethan and finally saw him come out and rush to his mother. I watched them closely as they embraced, and felt a ripple of jealousy spread inside my body. There was a monumental desire roaring inside me like an open fire to be in Gisele’s shoes; Ethan was my only link to Matt, and I fiercely wanted to run up to him and take him away from her. It’s her child, but she doesn’t deserve him. Because if he ended up resembling his father, she wouldn’t hesitate to forsake him. And even if she didn’t, Ethan would still grow up feeling alone and misunderstood. He wouldn’t be able to fit in, and he will be judged for being who he is. Therapy won’t help him, neither will medication. Psychopathy is untreatable. He will end up a drifter, confused and broken inside.
A psychopath’s urges cannot be erased; however, they can be tamed. That doesn’t mean that he can be turned safe for society, because that’s impossible. It’s like trying to raise a lion hoping it would grow up into a domesticated animal. Even if he seemed safe to be around at first, it’s only a matter of time before its natural instincts woke up, causing total mayhem. What can and should be done is giving him proper reinforcement by teaching him how to act in socially acceptable ways. Even if it’s just an act, it’s a way for him to blend in and pass as a normal person among the population. Building a framework for him to operate inside somewhat allows us to maintain control over him and the overall process. Allowing him to occasionally commit something bad is the only way to prevent him from committing something worse. Putting firm boundaries will only result in hostility and rejection from his part. It’s the illusion of control; letting him make his own decisions and take action within the practical limitations that we’ve created for him will make him feel like he’s in control when in reality, he isn’t.
At the end of the day, it’s all about adaptation. Psychopaths are people too, and they have to be understood. They didn’t ask nor wish to be the way they are, they just turned out that way due to certain circumstances. Many of them lead a whole life without committing murder. Even then, if we really think about it, we’re all murderers waiting for the right opportunity to strike. Fear, desperation, jealousy, greed, revenge; they could all lead us to take a life. Evil is situational and part of our world. We can’t erase it, but we can reduce it. Because if it ends up reigning, nothing can prepare us for the chaos it would bring.