Mom was quietly concerned. Looking back, I can’t blame her.
There’s something unsettling, if not downright disturbing, about a 12-year-old boy being able to list his "favorite serial killers."
I already had a — some might say unhealthy — fascination with horror movies, the gorier the better. I was notoriously careless with knives, once falling asleep with an open lock-blade in my bed. But I didn’t set fires (oh wait, I kinda did).
I just really, really liked reading about mass murderers, spree killers, serial killers and general whack-a-doos, to the point that my Dear Sweet Mother worried that I might … well, she didn’t exactly know what I might do, but it couldn’t be good.
I remember staying in a hotel one summer while Mom was at a teacher’s conference. When I wasn’t sneaking around the hotel pretending to be a super spy, hiding and guarding a vial of plutonium (actually a plastic container of slime from a gumball machine), I was in the room reading "The Ultimate Evil."
Since maybe 19 people on Earth have heard of this book, allow me to provide a synopsis. "Ultimate Evil" was a fantastic true-crime conspiracy novel that tied the Son of Sam murders to a California satanic cult that had infiltrated the American suburbs. It even had ties to Charles Manson.
I was obsessed with this book, although that obsession that would soon be supplanted by "Zodiac," about the bizarre California serial killer who wore costumes, sent taunting letters to the cops, killed random people and was never caught.
But "Ultimate Evil" is probably the book that set off Mom’s radar. It was well over 600 pages, and I read it twice, underlining certain parts. Keep in mind that this was a conspiracy novel, not for beginners. I had to already be well versed in Manson, Son of Sam and the idea of satanic cults before diving into this tome.
Again … I was 12.
Now that I am grown and have a child of my own, I feel my mother’s pain. I was reading. I was reading large books with complex themes. But those themes generally involved the slaughter of innocents. It was a total pros-and-cons scenario.
I was an otherwise totally normal kid. I had friends. I rode bikes. I played basketball. I read comic books. I got busted stealing comic books (not bragging, just saying). I loved to write. I struggled with math. I liked girls but was too shy to talk to them.
I also liked serial killers.
In fifth grade, when other kids did their biography reports on Hulk Hogan, Abraham Lincoln, Michael Jordan or Max Headroom, I did mine on Charles Manson after watching "Helter Skelter" on TV.
None of it meant that I was a budding psychopath. I didn’t want to hurt anyone. I was just fascinated about why people do the things they do.
(I still am. It’s one of the reasons I love writing about religion: a curiosity about why people believe some things but not others.)
Mom allowed me to follow my macabre interest. She may have slept with her bedroom door locked, but she never said so.
"When you told me that you thought you might want to be a criminologist when you grew up," Mom said recently, "I was relieved."
While that career path wasn’t meant to be, the interest in serial killers remains. Plus I haven’t killed anybody yet.
Contact Brett Buckner at firstname.lastname@example.org.