Posted in Nonfiction

Rodrick Dantzler is dead.

Rodrick Shonte Danzler is dead. And so is his 12-year-old daughter and the six other people he killed Thursday.

I didn’t become aware of the massacre or begin to watch the live footage until his five-hour hostage standoff was well underway. Apparently, Dantzler’s killing rampage began in the afternoon and alternated between two Grand Rapids communities, both to which I have strong connections. He shot several victims near the intersection of Fulton and Division, which is three parallel blocks away from my apartment, and the others were slain on Plainfield Avenue, near where I lived with my aunt and uncle for the first two years of my stay here. Their street, which is a serene suburban strip, just off Plainfield was sealed off last night, to ensure that Dantzler could not escape the home where he’d holed up with what was first believed to be two, but wound up as three hostages, when the last was discovered hiding in another room.

This all hit, quite literally, close to home.

I’m no stranger to mass murder and serial killing and gunmen turning their weapons on themselves to end it all. I’m from Baltimore.

Even before Dantzler decided to end his life, I predicted he would. Even before an anonymous extended family member told Wood TV 8 that Dantzler suffered from mental illnesses for which he was not taking medication, I guessed it. That Dantzler knew his victims was also something I thought likely.

But it’s his relationships to those victims that is so unsettling. Two of the women murdered were Dantzler’s ex-girlfriends (another who was shot and injured was a third ex); almost everyone else slain was related to those women. In addition to his adolescent daughter, he also killed the 10-year-old niece of one of those exes.

Investigation has revealed that Dantzler’s long rap sheet is littered with charges of violence and threats against women and relatives. He even allegedly assaulted a pregnant girlfriend in an attempt to kill the unborn child.

Grand Rapids Chief of Police Kevin Belk insists, “It makes no sense to try to rationalize it, what the motives were. You just cannot come up with a logical reason why someone takes seven people’s lives.”

He’s right, of course, but it doesn’t stop me from wanting, if not an explanation of motive, a meaning or–to use a term that makes me cringe–a teachable moment.

It’s been difficult, and it’s still early yet. I’m at a bit of a loss.

This was a man who first became a felon close to twenty years ago. His own mother sought a restraining order against him in the early ’90s, after he set fire to her home. She was one of four women who sought restraining orders against him during that decade.

He was 34. And though neighbors at his current residence described him as friendly, mild-mannered, and “normal,” he woke up yesterday morning with a .40-caliber handgun and “plenty of ammunition,” with the intent to end the lives of his exes and his daughter.

The photograph of Danzler that most often flashed across my television screen Thursday night showed a man rather indistinguishable as crazy. His hair is freshly cut, and his clothing, what little is seen of it, seems average. The eyes usually tell the tale. They are wild or darting or dilated. Danzler’s may be a bit dull, as though he’s been drinking, but they don’t show the worry or fear or anxiety or even rage you’d expect to find in the face of a man who premeditates the murder of seven people.

This was among the most notable of details, for me. Sanity, or its lack, is not easily determined by the naked eye or, at least for these women, by early interaction.

I found my mind wandering through the ruins, wondering what the victims must’ve been thinking.

A part of me already knew–the part that is attracted to eccentrics and “Iceberg Men,” as I like to call them. Iceberg Men are never quite knowable. You get the ten or twenty percent that sits above the water’s surface, but you’re also ever running afoul of the jagged, arctic ridges underneath. You are privy to the beauteous transparent peak, but not the denser, cloudier behemoth waiting below.

At the beginning of one of my relationships, my boyfriend showed me two of his earliest films: the first, for which he won a college scholarship, was about a man sent to prison for killing his unfaithful girlfriend. He starred as the inmate. The second film he showed me was about a man who mistook Philadelphia’s Center City for the rice paddies of Vietnam and began hallucinating himself knifing passersby, like he’d done as a soldier. He starred as the PTSD victim.

I gave him a pretty long side-eye, after those screenings. But eventually, I chalked it up to the eccentricities attendant to artists. I love creatives. We exorcise the baser urges of our ids on paper, celluloid, stages, or dance floors, and when we’re fortunate, those urges are contained to our media. Imagine if he were a horror auteur, I told myself. Imagine if you were dating a Black Stephen King. That, I decided, would’ve been markedly creepier.

Still, I Googled him. I listened when he offered views on gun ownership and channeling anger and the importance of self-defense. I observed how his relatives and friends responded to him. And after that vetting period, I relaxed.

He was a hybrid: eccentric Iceberg. But I was never in harm’s way with him.

I have to wonder if any of Dantzler’s exes similarly vetted Dantzler. I wonder what negotiations their hearts held with their common sense.

Since even he could appear sensible and “friendly” and “mild-mannered,” did they think that their love for him would transcend his past and mellow his future? And once they realized that wasn’t possible, did they fear that this fateful Thursday would come?

The world has never offered much sanctuary for women. And often, our decisions about who to love have repercussions that extend far beyond any we can imagine. Sometimes, running afoul of our Iceberg’s lower half results in far, far more than the bump on the head for which we’ve prepared.

Rodrick Dantzler is dead. He killed people who’d once loved and trusted him. Intimates. Children.

I don’t know if there’s any sense to be gained from violence this senseless.

God rest their souls. God bless your life–and be wise with what’s left of it.

Posted in the Nine series (novel excerpts)


Five years ago, Nine baked a rainbow cake to impress Ahmir, who she’d been seeing for three years by then. Three years was, by far, the longest she’d made a relationship last. There’d been 22-year-old Levi when she was eighteen; he stuck around for a year. And when she was 21, there was Damon, who she dumped after six long-distance months. Her relationship with Ahmir was uncharted territory. Was he a blessing or a barnacle? She hadn’t decided. Until she did, it made sense to continue crafting a certain self-mythology for his benefit.

She wasn’t much of a baker, though she’d been at it since toddlerdom. To keep her occupied, her mother would shake a bit of unsifted flour and tap water into a shallow bowl for Nine to mix. Mixing had been a favorite pastime of Nine’s ever since. Stirring ingredients by hand, in rhythmic, clockwise motion, was nothing short of cathartic. Over the years, she’d come up with her best lines of poetry while absently creaming butter and sugars. She’d discovered her ability to hit high notes in accurate pitch, while melting German chocolate on a stovetop.

On the Sunday of the woebegone cake five years ago, Nine had cooked an entire meal. Seafood alfredo (sauce from scratch). Steamed lemon-butter broccoli. Garlic bread, also from scratch. It was a good meal—great if you you were Ahmir and used to subsisting on value menu items at McDonald’s.

And so Nine’s mythologizing gained momentum. The dinner was more than enough to reinforce her position as a steady girlfriend. But the cake, if properly executed, might just secure a proposal.

It was a basic white cake—not from scratch. If it were about the mixing alone, she would’ve been just fine. But there were layers. Nine knew nothing of layers and how to pour the batter evenly between three round pans or how long to let each cool before attempting to wrest it from its metal casing or how to balance one atop the other, neatly, unbroken.

Still. All this might’ve been managed, were it not for the jello. Three different kinds were required. (After all, how else would the cake be a rainbow?) This meant adding careful measurements of hot water to the the powdered gelatin and a delicate hand to drizzle each color atop each layer of cake.

She tried. Oh, how the girl tried! She held her breath, watching the cherry and lemon and lime liquid-jellos soak into the white cake, staining it red and yellow and green. She placed the layers onto a cleared rack of the refrigerator and waited the necessary two hours for the liquid to gel.

Things seemed to be going well, and if she cleared this hurdle, there was only one more to jump: the even slathering of Cool Whip frosting. She pulled each layer from the fridge and smiled that her cake seemed to have reached its proper consistency. But when she tried to jimmy one tier from its pan, she realized she’d been far too liberal with the jello drizzle. It’d seeped straight through to the bottom and stuck. Each rainbow color was a fault line, her every movement, no matter how gentle, an earthquake. There was no way the remaining white sections of the cake would survive as a whole. This, she thought, must be what her middle school geography teacher was trying to tell her about tectonic shift and its potential repercussions for California.

Continue reading “Collapse.”