An Open Letter to Walter Palmer

I imagine turning on your computer must be a terrifying venture for you these days, Walter, what with the death threats and the world calling for you to be beheaded and skinned alive or hunted down like prey and the speculations of jail time and the petitions for your extradition floating around. And let’s not forget your dental practice’s Facebook and Yelp pages. Not since bin Laden has so much hatred been focused on one human being, I don’t reckon.

Listen here, Walter, I’m not here to call for your beheading. Not that I’m a fan, mind you. But perhaps you’re hiding out somewhere, working your way through your seventh or eighth bottle of $200  scotch since this whole ordeal began, talking to your lawyers and whatever few friends you have left from home, pacing back and forth, the terror in your voice getting a little higher in pitch each day, saying “Look, how in the #!%*! was I supposed to know the damn thing was so beloved?!” Perhaps you even believe it by now. “Still, it was just a damn lion, why does the whole world want me dead?!?!”

I’m here to explain.

In case you haven’t noticed, Walter, the world has turned into an incredibly shitty place to be these days. There’s really not much good news anywhere you turn, is there? The news, our Twitter feeds, our Facebook feeds, every media outlet—every single electronic device you turn on—is full of nothing but horrible news about death, famine, droughts, murders, sexual exploitation, kidnappings, Donald Trump, climate change, war, threat of war, and on and on and on until we’ve become immune to it. You have to if you want to stay sane.

We create these giant heart-shaped shields over the organ we’ve assigned to our feelings and emotions because we just can’t bear to hear about the rape and murder of another 8-year-old girl or the police killing of another unarmed African-American kid or another unchecked oil spill into a pristine waterway or another political scandal. So we tune those things out, scroll past them in our feeds, hit the “mute” button on the TV, and think guiltily to ourselves, “I know I should care, but I just can’t or my heart will split wide open.”

And then #CecilTheLion comes along, and we learn about how friendly and beloved he was, and how he was a tourist attraction, drawing in money for a poor country, and we see his beautiful mane, his regal visage in our feeds over and over again, and our hearts DO split wide open, Walter, they break right the fuck out of those scabby little shells we’ve carefully built around our hearts, and do you know why?

For the same reason that we can watch Titantic and not drop a tear when Jack dies at the end, but grown men will bawl like babies at the end of Old Yeller or at the end of Where the Red Fern Grows. For the same reason many people will admit grieving harder when their dog died than when their father died. Animals, domesticated, represent the softest, most tender, rawest spot within us that we refuse to let become hardened. Our pets love us unconditionally; they don’t care that you’re a deeply flawed person in a deeply flawed world. Because of this, we pour our hearts into them so completely and selflessly. Aside from our children, our animals are the one sentimental spot that we allow to remain pure and good and unscathed within ourselves. We bask in their love and their light—they represent our kindest and most compassionate sides.

And undomesticated, God, they represent…they represent grace, beauty, magnificence, the untamed, nature at its finest, the beast within and without. And no more so than the lion—what a regal and striking beast. King of the jungle.

But I imagine you recognize that. I imagine that’s why you chose it.

I’ll never understand the arrogance, the fucking arrogance, Walter, of a man not content to leave this magnificence to share with the rest of the world—at least the rest of the world that is fortunate to save the money to travel to Zimbabwe and go on safari to see Cecil—and then, once having seen this magnificence in his natural habitat, gone home with a camera full of pictures to show friends and family.

No, I really just don’t understand the mind who sees a Cecil and thinks “I want that all for myself. I don’t want anyone else to enjoy that. And if that means I also have to kill it to make that happen, well so be it.” You’ve taken us into the Heart of Darkness, Walter. You’ve reminded us that, deep down, Man really IS evil; that, if left to his own devices, he will always Take, even when he has no right to it.

Like it or not, you’ve become the representation for what ails the world—the rapacious greed that has consumed the planet—all of the men that have come before you and have planted their flags in soil, in countries, in lands, in waters—and have said, “I got here first. Now this is mine, and I don’t care the cost to the people (or the lions or the land or the water) already here. I paid my money. I shall do as I please.” You are a reminder that if you are rich enough and white enough and American enough you can kill lions, melt icebergs, shoot black kids in hoodies, pollute things, fail to pay people what they’re worth, dodge taxes, make outlandish statements, avoid jail terms—all of it. All of the ugliness that is Man. Just how gross and arrogant we can be at our very worst. You put a mirror up to our faces, Walter, and said “Here we are! Scabs and all! Aren’t we hideous?!”

Unfortunately, you and Cecil are the “We’re mad as hell, and we’re not gonna take it anymore!” moment for a lot of people. It just broke us, Walter. We just couldn’t take you showing us the darkest side of humanity. We lost our shit. Which is why millions of people want your head on a stick.

And it appears you weren’t quite the shot you thought you were; it took poor Cecil nearly two days to die after your arrow missed its mark. When I think about him limping and staggering through the jungle, bleeding, my heart breaks even further. My father, a good man and an educator who taught high school and college for two decades, had pulmonary fibrosis, which is an extremely painful and slow-acting disease. It took him twenty years to die; the last five years of his life he suffered enormously.

While I’m sure you’ll likely be spending the rest of your life looking over your shoulder for a rifle’s laser pointer aimed at your back—and many people are hoping an assassin’s bullet finds you—I don’t think I have a problem saying out loud that I wish you a long and protracted death. Certainly something longer than forty hours. Perhaps two decades will be enough to assuage me. My father was a man who taught people to become doctors, nurses, and EMTs. You were a dentist and a big-game hunter. That ranks just below floor mopper in a porn theater…in hell. A nice slow brain cancer, perhaps?

And I do hope that when you scraped together that $55K to murder Cecil, you managed to gather up a few extra dollars because I imagine your dental practice is through. I’m not sure what’ll you do for a second career at this point. Perhaps you could sell fruit at intersections?

Lastly, Walter, you would do well for yourself by retracting your half-assed apology and taking responsibility for yourself and owning up to what you did. Finger-pointing at your guides is pansy and typical of someone who has coasted through life never owning up to his mistakes. I’m guessing since you were right there with them, in the dark of the night, doing whatever surreptitious shit you were doing to lure Cecil out of the national park, you were well aware that your actions were sketchy. Just own up to it instead of being the rich American who’s pointing to the hired help and saying “they did it.” It’s gross and only makes you look like a bigger coward in the world’s eyes.

I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before another asshole does something even more horrible than you and people move on. Or a huge natural disaster occurs, and the world’s attention is diverted. No doubt you’re holding your breath waiting for that moment to happen. Are you praying for a huge tsunami or earthquake right now?

God, that’s so like you, Walter. You’re just that much of a dick.