Tim Kreider looks across the table at his son, Alec. The counselor, her face still pale, also looks at Alec, waits a moment, then speaks.
“Go ahead, Alec. Why don’t you tell your parents what you told me while they were out of the room?”
Alec looks at his parents. Tim tries to brace himself for what his son might say next, but there is nothing that will prepare him for this.
“I killed the Haines family,” he says.
2007 (days later)
Tim sits in a small holding room with Alec and Alec’s mother. The three of them manage to keep the conversation relatively light, even as they wait for law enforcement to arrive and escort Alec to the Lancaster County Prison. Tim thinks about the pain and heartache his son has caused. He also thinks about Alec’s life, how it is over, how he will never go to the prom or choose a college to attend or raise children.
It all seems so irrevocable.
“Dad! Hey, don’t forget to deposit my check, you know, from work,” Alec reminds him. “I think it’s almost $100!”
He doesn’t have a clue, Tim thinks to himself. He’s probably going to spend the rest of his life behind bars, and he’s thinking about that $100 from work. The enormity of the situation washes over Tim. He thinks about all the things he never taught his son, simple things, like writing a check or making a deposit.
Soon, they hear footsteps approaching.
I walk up to a well-kept house in a middle-class, suburban neighborhood. I knock on the door. Tim and his wife, Lynn, answer, welcoming me inside. We spend the night talking about Tim’s story while their two large dogs roam the house.
Tim is thin and on edge. He rubs his hands together a lot. Sometimes, without thinking about it, he pushes in a circular motion on his sternum, as if to massage away an ache that never leaves.
A few months later they ask me to work with them, to help retell Tim’s story, to take the 300 pages he typed a few years before and turn them into a book. It takes longer than they expect, but stories are elusive things, like hope, or healing.
“You look so different,” I say to Tim one night over a glass of wine. We are nearly finished writing the book. My wife nods and leans forward. Tim’s wife smiles.
“How so?” Tim asks.
“When I first met you, you looked…rough,” I say. Everyone laughs.
“Gee, thanks,” Tim says, but as the laughter dies down, a peaceful smile settles on his face. “You know, I realized that I had a choice. I could choose to spend the rest of my life miserable and angry and overwhelmed with guilt because of the actions of my son. Or I could choose happiness.”
He stops, and for a moment it all sounds so simple.
“After some time passed,” Tim continues. “I realized that the only thing keeping me from happiness was something inside of me that said I should feel sad. I should feel guilty. I decided that, since feeling terrible and guilty for the rest of my life would never make up for what Alec had done, would never bring anyone back or change what had happened, I might as well choose happiness.”
He picks up a wine glass and raises it a few inches off the table.
“To happiness,” he says in a quiet voice.
“To happiness,” we all say, feeling the weight of it.
Tim stands behind the counter at the gym his wife owns and watches as a woman leaves. She lost her daughter a few years ago in an accident, and she has never really recovered. She carries a copy of Tim’s book, Refuse To Drown.
A few days later Tim sees the woman again as she enters the gym.
“Hey,” he says as she walks by. “How are you?”
She smiles. He can’t remember having ever seen her smile before, at least not like that.
“You look different,” he says.
“I read your book,” she says, smiling again. “I decided I’m going to choose happiness.”
If you’d like to read more about Tim Kreider’s story, check out his book Refuse To Drown.