Anthony told me about what he saw on Planet Earth. Families of chimpanzees form packs and invade their neighbors’ territory, soft as a whisper on the jungle floor, and with those big intelligent eyes scanning the canopy. One is mean and old; his eyes are milky white but he moves with precision, maybe even confidence. He leads his family through the dense foliage on a route he’s never traveled before, and yet he is driven directly towards his target. Some primal force in his marrow moves him like a marionette, but he knows the purpose of this. He knows he risks his family’s lives, and he knows the potential for expanding his territory. Once they are near the other family’s fig tree, they start screaming and beating tree trunks to frighten and confuse the other family. They scale the fig tree with terrifying speed and purpose, tearing at the first foe they come across. Some of the males escape. A female is thrown out of the tree. The mean old one catches an infant and begins eating it alive. The rest of the hunting party flocks to him to join in the feast. One chimp who was late to the party watches his brother hungrily as he gnaws on a bloody limb. Eventually he hands it over so everyone can have a share. Scientists know the attack was a grab for power, to make their neighbors weak in order to protect their own family. But no one knows why they cannibalize the ones they kill. It isn’t a desperate grab for sustenance; they could have easily feasted on the plentiful figs that the enemy family left behind as they fled. Anthony thinks that chimpanzees have an innate desire for violence. A desire to do harm to their own kind, and turn their fear into sport. Chimpanzees are the closest evolutionary relative to mankind.
. . .
I stood in my kitchen on a bright morning, and noticed a chattering sound from outside. I went to the window and saw that a huge flock of little black birds were squawking loudly as they scoured my back yard for seeds, hopping around contentedly, and sometimes taking wing in a black burst before settling somewhere new. Compelled by some instinctive urge, I ran to my room and grabbed a heavy steel pellet gun, loading it quickly on my way back to the window. I propped up my elbow and looked down the sights, trying to decide which bird to aim at; there were at least fifty of them. Then I realized I really didn’t need to aim, I could probably just shoot anywhere and hit one. I closed my eyes and leaned out the window. The sun was so warm on my face, the gun cold and heavy in my hands. All I could hear was the squawking of the birds and a beating of dark wings. I took a deep breath and squeezed the trigger. The gun shuddered and split the air with a crack, the forceful reaction of my desire for violence. After the crash of my gun, the sky was filled with a flurrying sound of franticly beating feathers, escaping from the void in front of a muzzle-loader, the black wind of my black intentions, darker than the guilt that crept over me slowly, darker than the way I kept my eyes closed for a long time.
. . .
Two brothers emerged from the edge of a dreary New England forest. One carried a .22 rifle, the other carried the lifeless body of their twelve year old sister. Neither of them had known what to say to her when the gun they had been target shooting with accidentally discharged, lodging a chunk of lead in her frail chest. She didn’t scream; either the shock was too great, or she had finally realized why she could never imagine herself as an adult. Neither of them had known what to say to each other when she stopped breathing a half mile from the road. They could have tried to lay the blame somewhere. It could have been the first brother’s fault because he was the one who caved to his sister’s pleas to let her come spend time with them. It could have been the other brother’s fault because he was the one holding the gun when it went off. It could have even been the little girl’s fault, because didn’t she know better than to play with guns? But the brothers didn’t say anything, because it wouldn’t have eased the guilt, and it wouldn’t have explained their sadness. These are cousins that I’ve never met. They are spoken of only in whispers when my brother and I are not in the room. They exist in a sort of shadow world in my head, made up of rumors and scraps of conversation. Sometimes I think I can imagine what they might look like, how their eyes are always looking down and their shoulders are slumped with an invisible weight. I can imagine meeting them some day, shaking their hand and saying, “It’s nice to finally know you.”, but in my mind, they never say anything back.