• Daniel Ethan Finneran

Thanatos And Teens: The Death Instinct In Youth

Updated: Apr 23, 2021

“The child, ere he can lisp his mother’s sacred name, swells with the unnatural pride of crime, and lifts his baby-sword even in a hero’s mood. This infant-arm becomes the bloodiest scourge of devastated earth”.


-Percy Bysshe Shelley, Queen Mab


Thus far, though it’s still early in the first year of the second decade of the rather bleak twenty-first century in which we’ve the misfortune to live, there are two crimes in contention for having been the vilest. Ultimately, once the points are allocated in this cruel contest of blood, and once the score is counted in this foul competition of death, only one will be deemed the victor.


Only one, thereafter, will be given the invitation to ascend the chilled podium atop which his recognition waits. Indeed, only one will have exerted himself in so murderous a way, as to be shown the path to so foreign a place and accorded such a gruesome prize. Only one will mount that icy throne, hold the scepter in hand, and accept the shriveled laurel by which his proud debasement and his sanguinary act will be adorned. Only one, having reached so cold and friendless a height, will feel the sharp sting and the large weight of the prickly wreathe, the thorny cap, by which his sinful and impenitent head is forever to be crowned.


This unnamed, unthinkable prize is reserved to the crime that is, by any measure, the year’s most heinous. It’s kept in store until, with confidence, it can be given to the assault, the bludgeoning, or the killing that was, by the judgment of a slightly more civilized yet more deeply scarred audience, the year’s most bestial, malicious, or awful. Sadly, it’s an ignoble category (of a morbid genre) in which a cast of foul characters rush to compete. So many depraved and inhumane candidates compose this sordid field, a lawless rabble from which none but the worst of humanity is excluded. Indeed, it’s a disreputable recognition for which, come year’s end, these and many more candidates will doubtless compete, but to which one alone can make a claim.


The first crime upon which, were the year to end today, this ugly award might well be bestowed, happened in the city of Washington D.C.—the allegedly fortified heart of our Union from which, since the infamous afternoon of January the sixth, we’ve been assured that all bubbling threats of violence have been effectively removed. It occurred near that city’s sterilized center (an ailing nucleus girded by pestiferous town) to which thousands of our national guardsmen have been deployed. Ostensibly, they’ve been sent there to deter further political violence, to quell those dangerous paroxysms of incivility and unrest, and, perhaps most importantly, to safeguard the threatened citizenry among whom they now have occasion to mingle.


On a street not very far from the Capitol Mall, that careful, orthogonal strip of pavement along which dutiful patriots and camera-wielding tourists daily tread, a man sat peaceably in the driver’s seat of his car. His name was Mohammed Anwar. He was sixty-six years of age and—before waking on that fateful day—a simple, pious, and admirably industrious man.


Born in Pakistan, Anwar was an ambitious immigrant to this fruitful and promising land, a sedulous adventurer to whom this welcoming, and, above all, allegedly peaceful country had opened her ample arms. His occupation, humble yet important, was that of an Uber eats deliveryman, a worker whose quiet value has, now more than ever, loudly declared itself for all to hear. His indefatigable work, thanks to the culinary exigencies attending a worldwide pandemic, and a lengthy prohibition against seeking normal venues for food, had been recognized with a sense of gratitude by which he, and all like him, must’ve been both warmed and surprised.


After the completion of a delivery, while in the process of preparing for a subsequent route, he was approached by two young girls: one thirteen, and the other fifteen years of age. Such youthfulness might, without the bother of further inquiry, confer a certain presumption of innocence upon a pair so unassuming. Faces so delicate and cherub-like, and bodies so early in the tender dawn of their adolescence, would never provoke fear in the gentle heart of a man with children his own. Doubtless, one wouldn’t expect the gnarled roots of vice to have had time sufficient to embed themselves in so soft a matrix, to have taken hold of a structure so guiltless as a teenager’s unformed, uncorrupted, and still-growing bones.


In all likelihood, Anwar’s initial opinion of these two girls was probably one of fatherly interest, much less the kind of heightened suspicion with which their elder brothers might’ve been met. In a flash, however, this changed, when the pair brandished a Taser at him and demanded his keys. The convincing veil of youthful innocence, Anwar soon learned, was little more than a murderous mask. Having displayed their willingness to do harm to his body, the girls proceeded to force Anwar from his car. Untrained as motorists, yet unabashed as felons, the two then thrust aside this disposable man, this interloper by whom their joy ride was being so rudely delayed. They then took their seats behind the wheel, giggled at the rumble of the gurgling engine, thrilled at the excitement on which they’d just now embarked, pressed on the gas, and swiftly drove away.


Anwar, however, wasn’t yet ready to relent. Instead, he exchanged desperation for defiance, incredulousness for mettle, and decided against abandoning his now-galloping car. He gripped the door through which he’d just been pulled, steadied his balance, and held on for life. The girls, quickly mastering the complexity of an unfamiliar vehicle, and learning the intricacy of a machine they’d just now purloined, pressed more heavily on the accelerator and, now with greater urgency, pressed forward and continued to gain speed.


Their first few hundred yards were unpropitious; within seconds, the car struck a nearby lamppost, by which Anwar was undoubtedly crushed. It then attempted a perilously sharp right-turn out of which, surely, nothing good could come. It was the type of inadvisably acute turn with which, in compliance to the unbending rules of physics, their car’s high rate of speed simply couldn’t contend. Science, that sovereign master to every human act, that mighty despot of our every move is, as we again learned, never willing to admit defeat.


Unsurprisingly, the car flipped. Its two tires were suspended in the air as onlookers approached the spinning mass of confusion. What was clear, despite the hazy mist of the tumult and aura of disquiet, was that Anwar was not well. In a motionless heap, a dozen or more feet away from the crash from which he was flung, he was folded in upon himself and, as was evident to a layman like me, watching through the pixels of his antiquated screen, not breathing. Jammed between a steel gate and the cold pavement, he was demonstrating few signs of life. A body is not meant to be borne in so unnatural a way, but the people around him seem to have been inattentive to this fact.


Of chief concern, rather, was the wellbeing of the two girls, who were promptly pulled from the vehicle from which, so far as I could tell, they emerged unscathed. Then, astonishingly, they sought re-entry into the toppled vehicle over which, as it regarded Anwar, they seemed to want to make a posthumous claim. What possibly could’ve tempted their return to that danger-infested, steaming pile of automotive entrails? What enticement could’ve drawn them to that simmering heap of fumes, glass, and twisted steel?


What, but their cellphones, of course. One of the girls nearly stepped over Anwar’s breathless corpse in her unrelenting attempt to retrieve that soulless device. The device, in this case, fit the emptiness of its user.


The second crime in contention for the year’s worst occurred in Rochester, New York. Much like the aforementioned (which only recently shook D.C)., this one also involved a pair of teenagers, and a certain godless depravity and youthful nihilism around which, frankly, I’m still having difficulty wrapping my head.


Two boys, aged fourteen and sixteen, were detained by police for setting ablaze a man who was, by all testimony, as inoffensive as he was pitiable, and as guiltless as he was lonesome. Steven Amenhauser, a Texas-native fifty-three years of age, had twice suffered heartbreak: first after the death of his ailing wife, and just recently with the passing of his beloved girlfriend. Adopted at birth, he had neither claim to nor knowledge of any biologic relation by whom, after having suffered these two painful losses, he might be consoled. He was, in this world, as utterly alone as it’s possible to be. Indeed, his solitude, so intransigent and complete, seemed to be of a divinely-ordained type. It appeared to be the kind of unrelenting loneliness that only fate—perched above with face painted in a colorless froideur—can impose.


Quite alone in this world, Amenhauser was sitting in a chair in his apartment when the two boys forced their entry into his home. Apparently, the trio wasn’t fully unacquainted; it had occasion to speak, being residents of a relatively intimate, persistently cold, and often cordial New York town. It’s unknown, however, the extent to which they enjoyed one another’s congress, or the reason—assuming it was once friendly—that their fellowship might’ve soured.


Upon finding him resting in his chair, behind the walls of an apartment from which, perhaps because of grief, or perhaps on account of the pandemic, he infrequently emerged, the boys proceeded to douse him with a flammable liquid. It was at this point, sadly, his awful fate was sealed. Just imagine the distress of being thus immersed! Consider the singing pungency by which his innocent nostrils were, at this point until their final breath, invaded! One can only imagine the terrible thoughts by which his dizzied mind was overcome, and the imminent dread before which his helpless limbs quivered. Perhaps, in a passing, hopeful moment, he thought the boys’ actions nothing more than a malicious prank. Yes—might that not be all? Perhaps, as he reflected on the general goodness of mankind, and the kindness of his own gentle spirit, he thought it nothing worse than an unwholesome juvenile gesture, a somewhat rougher-than-usual ruse upon which the three, sometime at a later, happier hour, might look back and laugh.


Suddenly, he awakened from these wishful conjectures to find his room suffused with a fetid stench. A miasma was growing, of which he, now bathed in a strange mixture of lighter fluid and clammy sweat, was the unnatural source. His small apartment was now occupied by the fumes of an acrid fluid beneath which, in but a few moments, his quiet existence would promptly burn. The combustible bath in which he was now dressed was kindled by a spark. A malign flick of the wrist cast it onto his soaking body, over which, with alacrity, it excitedly spread.


The result, from this point on, was never in doubt. In a very short period of time, in a luminous burst of boiling flesh, Amenhauser was burned to death, having first felt the incipient tinge of the scalding heat while still very much alive. Could one possibly conceive of a worse way to die? Would not the wrack be preferable to this? –or the slow disembowelment of vital organs on which the body’s fragile frame so desperately relies?


Upon the arrival of the fire brigade and the police, the two boys hadn’t stirred. They decided against fleeing the apartment and seeking the obscurity of an approaching night. They were incapable, it seems, of abandoning the dazzling scene of which they were the authors, of foregoing the human immolation for which they provided the flame.


Of course, there are other, frightful candidates who might, just as convincingly, be considered for this dread award. We’ll be sure to judge them as they appear. What’s more, the year—not yet having surpassed the Ides of April—still has a long time to go; it’s hardly entered the timid state of its vernal infancy. It’s barely dipped a toe into the budding loveliness of a new-born season over which, in their happy partnership, only life and love, never death and despair, should preside.


Ultimately, my belief that these two crimes might be the year’s worst can be reduced to the following aspects by which they’re uniquely marked: above all, the remarkable youth of the assailants by whom they were carried out; the shameless depravity of their endeavor and the complete wickedness with which it was executed; the unblinking rejection of the humanity they shared with their victims; the unspeakable grisliness with which they treated these two older men; and the insensitivity they displayed for having completed their cruel, respective acts.


The death instinct in youth, I must submit, is rather livelier and stronger than I’d thought. It has no real difficulty, it seems, not only in lifting, but wielding his (or her) baby-sword, and crashing it down on the neck of the innocent. It hasn’t a hesitation in pulling from its scabbard a blood-soaked sword, an imbrued chunk of steel over which Anwar’s and Amenhauser’s blood has been washed. Thus, has this infant-arm become the bloodiest scourge of devastated earth, of a country in which the innocence of youth was once thought to be sacrosanct. No longer shall I think it so.

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