The RCMP’s search for fugitives Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky, that began with the murders of American tourist Chyna Deese, and her Australian boyfriend Lucas Fowler, as well as UBC lecturer Leonard Dyck in Northern British Columbia, and is now taking place in Northern Manitoba, has been big news around here this summer. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m completely and utterly fascinated by this case. I love a good true crime story, and this one is more gripping than any podcast, book, or documentary could ever be because it’s unfolding in real time, and in my own country. It’s shocking, sad, mysterious, and I can’t get enough, texting friends for updates, scouring news websites for new information, and following hashtags on Twitter.
This isn’t the first time I’ve been sucked down the true crime rabbit hole though. I spent a month in 2012 recovering from wisdom teeth surgery watching Investigation Discovery’s Disappeared, and wading through the vast world of Websleuths, where forums for specific cases and the missing exist along with evidence and a multitude of theories presented by citizen detectives. My gums throbbing in pain at 1 a.m., I’d find a case on Websleuths and start scrolling. Even now, years later, I’m still haunted by the Sumter County Does, an unidentified couple found murdered in California in the 70’s, and whose post-mortem photographs are forever seared into my memory: Jane Doe’s gaping mouth, and wide, vacant eyes cannot be unseen.
A few months ago I listened to investigative journalist Billy Jensen’s audiobook Chase Darkness With Me, and was struck by his keen insight into people’s fascination with the macabre world of true crime. Jensen explains the appeal this way:
When I heard this gem of information, I was instantly struck with a new, deeper level of understanding about myself. I thrive in environments of order and routine, and I certainly like having things thoroughly organized and “just right,” as a way to combat the anxiety I begin to feel when I can’t control my surroundings. In fact, after a busy, demanding day at school there’s nothing I find more relaxing than throwing on a true crime doc. and kicking back on the couch in my pyjamas with a fuzzy blanket and a giant bowl of popcorn to unwind.
When I engage with a true crime story, it’s not because I’m interested in the blood and gore, or get some strange satisfaction from seeing people suffer. In fact, it’s the opposite. It’s the catching of the perpetrator, and the return to order with justice rightly dispensed, or at least the persistent quest towards such an outcome, that soothes me. Like a balm to my frazzled soul, seeing order brought back to chaos just seems right, especially when it’s something I’m constantly striving to bring to all areas of my own life.
When I was sixteen years old, I, like so many other sixteen year olds, had a big dream, but my dream wasn’t to move to Los Angeles and become an actress, or to audition for some Idol type TV show and break into the music industry. Instead, my dream was more of the Canadian variety. Since meeting Olympian Cassie Campbell-Pascall at Vicky Sunohara’s Summer Hockey Camp the year before, I had an intense desire, and drive, to play AAA hockey. Like so many other young girls in Canada, I had watched our women’s teams battle the Americans on TV, and shared in the joy of those victories. Now, wandering around the Coca-Cola Centre in Grande Prairie, Alberta wearing a pair of black track pants not unlike my own, Cassie and her accomplishments had ceased to be abstract constructs that existed only in the realm of TV-land. She was real, normal, approachable. Holding Cassie’s gold medals from the 2002 games in Salt Lake City, and the 2006 games in Turin, in my own hands, and feeling the literal and figurative immensity of their weight caused a wave of reverence mixed with a generous helping of wonder, and a little dash of fear, to wash over me. Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos: the three old women were busily spinning my fate out of Cassie’s gold threads; when I touched those medals, there was no going back. I leaned into the surge of awe, and dove in head first.
I skated decently in the first few on-ice sessions at tryouts, and made it past the initial cut, to the final session, which was an inter-squad game. To say I was nervous would be a gross understatement. My hands were like lead. My head was down. Every time I touched the puck it went wildly bouncing off my stick. My feet were heavy, and despite my desperate efforts to get them going, my skating continued to look, and feel, like I was attempting to move through quicksand. My heart thumped so loudly as I struggled to catch my breath that its beating rose up through my chest and into my ears, spilling into a rush of static that blocked out every other sound in the rink. Lub dub. Lub dub. Lub dub. Lub dub. I sank down into that muffled, isolating tunnel in shame. The game
I had attempted, and failed miserably.
Afterwards, came the equally nerve-wracking wait to meet with the coach, who was an intimidating looking man named Guy Anthony. He was bald, like a cue ball. He wore a dark shirt. He also wore a coordinating dark tie. A smile had failed to ever find its way across his face throughout the selection process, at least from my own observances. In other words, he was all serious, all business. When it was finally my turn, I entered the room on shaky legs, steeling myself for the upcoming judgement. Guy broke the bad news that I already knew in my gut, and in my heart, was coming: I hadn’t made the team, but he was going to extend an offer to me, along with a few of the other final cuts. He asked if I’d like to play on my regular team at home, and train and practice with his team. His offer showed a deep kindness that initially startled me. Here, in his offer, was an opportunity for a second chance, but it scared me more than simply being cut would have because although Guy hadn’t actually said these words, this is what I’d heard:
Do you want to show up, but always feel like an outsider?
As obviously “not good enough?”
As different, and lesser, than all those other girls?
His offer played upon the worst fears and anxieties I had at the time, which I can only articulate now, in retrospect, as being linked to its inherent requirement for vulnerability. For years I have sincerely believed that my biggest fear is failure, but recently I’ve realized that claim isn’t exactly true; it’s not a lie, but is an incomplete answer. My worst fear is being embarrassed, and the thing that embarrasses me the most is failing and looking foolish in front of others. Revealing a real part of myself in a competitive world that seemed unforgiving and cruel opened up the possibility of embarrassment because of my failures.
I didn’t want to go. I was nervous. I was scared to feel unaccepted. I was terrified of being too slow, or, even worse, showing I was physically inept and unable to keep up with the requirements of training. It would have been so much easier to stay at home, sitting on the computer or on the couch. It would have been so much easier to go driving around with my friends, enjoying the freedom that came with my newly acquired drivers license. I’ve never been the fastest player on the ice, or the most skilled, but on that day ten years ago I did have something that was incredibly effective at combating the demand for vulnerability Guy’s offer contained, the embarrassment from my failure, and the anxiety caused by it all: sheer determination.
I showed up for our first dryland training session because my desire to play on that team was so much greater than my fear, and to my surprise, I kept up with the rest of the team just fine. After, I was given some news: Another player had decided not to take her spot, & since I was the only red-shirt who had taken Guy up on his offer, & actually showed up that night. I was on the team!
This experience taught me the importance of showing up, and the lesson of finding the courage to show up to my own life has been true for me again and again in the ten years since. Because I had the courage to show up to a dryland training session that day, I was given an opportunity that others missed out on. That single act of courage changed my life because I learned that we can not let fear dictate our lives, limit our potential, or determine our level of achievement. Author and researcher Brene Brown, who has a wonderful body of work around this idea of vulnerability, said it best:
“Sometimes the bravest and most important thing you can do is just show up.”
I could not agree with her more strongly. Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos: the three old women were busily spinning my fate out of Cassie’s gold threads on that day at the Coca-Cola Centre; when I touched those medals, there was no going back. I leaned into the surge of awe, and dove in head first. Desire leads to determination, which leads to courage, which trumps fear. Just show up. Amazing things will happen if you do.