Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Crime and Punishment (not about the book) (07/21/11)
TITLE: Room 1297
By Beth Muehlhausen
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Tall, attractive, confused, blinded, schizophrenic - Ruth Ann, Ruth Ann! You were nineteen, withdrawn, insecure, and desperate for love.
The $37.50 you made each week as an insurance typist couldn’t fill the gnawing, consuming void. Life was a bore, so you dreamed of becoming a flashy model with your willowy body and curly brunette hair – but your jittery temperament stood in the way.
What tempted you to fall for Eddie? Lust? Loneliness? Ambition? Escape? Did egocentricity or fear motivate you to adulterate love? Why did you worship him at an altar in the shrine in your room, spend hours gazing at his pictures, and set an empty spot for him at the dinner table? What made you faint into a heap when you finally got close enough to see him face-to-face? How did you become infatuated, and then obsessed, with this all-star major league first baseman and World War II veteran?
There are so many unanswered questions, but the facts remain.
When Eddie’s team stayed in a hotel in 1949, you rented a room there as well, sipped a few drinks, dressed in nice clothes, placed a couple of jeweled combs in your hair, and gave a bellhop $5.00 to deliver a note to Eddie.
“Come to room 1297…we’re not acquainted…I have something extremely important to tell you. I won’t take up much of your time.”
Eddie came, thinking you might know a mutual friend, and you ushered him inside: cold-faced, resolute, and sure of yourself.
He plopped down in an overstuffed chair.
“For two years now, Eddie, you’ve been bothering me. So today I’m going to do something about it. You’re going to die.”
You pulled a loaded .22 caliber gun from the closet, waved it in Eddie’s face, fired a bullet into his chest, and called room service to say, “I just shot a man.”
It was too painful to be attracted to someone who could never be yours. So you decided to get rid of him.
The bullet missed Eddie’s heart, but collapsed one lung and lodged near his spine. He underwent two surgeries, survived, returned to play ball, and was named Associated Press Comeback Player of 1950. When interviewed, Eddie called you a “silly honey” and later a “mad dog that should be taken off the streets.”
But Ruth Ann … Ruth Ann! The legal system turned its back. Didn’t they want to protect society and deter you from other crimes? Didn’t anyone expect retribution or compensation?
Instead, you were declared insane. Insane! Didn’t anyone see that you were an introverted, self-absorbed young woman starved for love? Didn’t anyone realize you were screaming for help?
The authorities placed you in a mental institution where you relished undivided attention and confessed to “having the time of your life.” You were given electric shock treatments for nervousness and tension and released three years later.
Were you rehabilitated? Reformed and educated? Restored? And not incidentally, were you ever punished for your crime of near murder? Didn’t anyone care that someone almost died at your hand?
Upon your release, Eddie dropped the charge of assault with intent to kill. And so, two final questions remain. Did you finally feel loved when Eddie granted your pardon? And why did he give up his own rightful act of justice in order to protect you?
It is too late to know the answers; you both have passed on. And yet this story speaks of deep, soulful things: sin, rebellion, arrogance, and delusion on one hand, and forgiveness, redemption, reconciliation, and hope on the other.
You hurt too much to love. Eddie must have loved too much to hurt you.
Author’s note: The above story is based on historical fact. Ruth Steinhagen shot Eddie Waitkus in Chicago’s Edgewater Beach Hotel on June 14, 1949.
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