Friday, November 03, 2006

Failed Seekers, Part 2

NB: This post is a continuation of Failed Seekers, a post that I did about a week ago.

Will Morva escaped from jail the day before the Fall Semester was scheduled to start. As my wife drove me in to work, I noticed police cars parked along Route 460, the main highway through my area. We had heard about the escape the previous evening, but it was still shocking to see the police combing the bushes.

About midway through my second class of the day, there was a knock on the door. When I answered it, another teacher was waiting for me in the hall. He told me that the University had shut down for the day, and all of my students were supposed to return to their dorms. I wrapped up everything in class and sent my students home. Walking back to my office, I noticed that campus was almost empty; I called my wife and asked her to pick me up.

In my building, my colleagues were gathering in little groups in each others' offices, chattering about the day's disturbing events. I was the only one who knew Will, and they seemed convinced that he was about to knock down their doors and start shooting. I could understand their concerns; Will looked insane in the mug shots that were plastered all over the news. While I couldn't imagine my friend hurting a fly, the nutjob in the pictures was clearly capable of anything. While I tried to keep myself from buying into the hype, it was hard to see Will the same way.

All that day, I kept checking the local news' website and answering e-mails from worried friends and relatives. That night, I wandered around Facebook, reading the responses from various students. By the end of the day, there were over a dozen groups dedicated to Will. Some of them were funny, such as "Jack Bauer Would Have Caught Morva Faster" and "I'm Tired of This Mother#@&$in' Killer on This Mother#@&#ing Campus." Others, like "I Sat on my Couch with a Loaded Gun Waiting for Morva to Come in my House" and "The Homicidal Maniac at Tech Club," showed some of the terror that the students felt. The one that touched me the most, "We Knew Will Morva Before He Was a Murderer!," hinted at my own confusion.

One person, Emily Arthur, wrote: "everyone has to keep in mind that the William that we knew in high school and even after is NOT the same person who did all of this. The William that most of us knew was caring and peaceful. The person who emerged over these past few years is not the William that I remembered and is not how I will remeber him in theh future... I urge the rest of you to do the same." Another, Shawn Whiting, had also met the officer Will killed: "The sherif he killed on the huckelberry was the same guy that pulled me over 2 weeks ago for expired tags on my car. my tags were like 9 months out of date but he let me go, he was a really nice guy. kinda puts this whole thing in persepctive for me. fucking morva."

Perhaps the most interesting thing was the greater significance that people drew from this event. One person called this "the day that Blacksburg lost its innocence." A young woman weighed in with the profoundly ridiculous statement that "Today, someone I knew killed a man and got a middle name: William Charles Morva."

Now, for me, Blacksburg lost its innocence in 1994, when a freshman, Christy Brzonkala, was repeatedly raped by two football players. The young men, of course, went free, and Brzonkala ended up leaving the school. For that matter, the disturbing bacchanal that follows every home game has long made me nervous about wandering the streets, let alone allowing my sister to do so. Regarding the other statement, comparing Will to Lee Harvey Oswald, John Wayne Gacy, or Henry Lee Lucas is, of course, utterly ridiculous.

The conclusion that I drew from this matter was that Blacksburg is no longer a place for thoughful wanderers and assorted tumbleweeds. In the mid-1990's, I was able to raise my sister in the town because the cost of living was extremely cheap. However, over the last ten years, housing prices have gone through the roof. Today, downtown apartments cost as much as $3000, which puts them in range of New York prices. The three-bedroom townhouse that I rented for $480 in 1996 now costs over $1500. In other words, I could not afford to raise my sister in Blacksburg today.

The cost of this inflation is immeasurable. In the mid-1990's, Blacksburg had a wide array of floaters, dreamers, and drifters. Rather than undermine the town, these people added immeasurably to its intellectual life. Most of them worked part-time jobs to pay rent while they found themselves. Some of us worked for the University (I was an artists' model and librarian). Most people didn't do this for long; some, like my friends Dana and Adam, went on to law school or grad school. Others, like Paris, drifted away after a few years. One or two became organic farmers and some went to Hollywood. A few, like me, ended up teaching. I'd like to think that all of us added to the level of conversation in the local coffee houses and bars.

Will used to hang around with us, talking and drinking coffee. When he got older, it probably seemed natural to try living the same existence. But Blacksburg had changed, and he could no longer afford to be poor. Now, I'm not going to try to blame Will's actions on inflation or the rising cost of living, but it seems to me like there is almost no space left for people to "find themselves" before they are plunged into the workforce. This, to me, is a tragedy.

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