>I once found my mother dead. You have to be careful when telling people this, but in those first hundred days, I freely shared it with anyone within earshot. Check-out girl, person in an elevator, customer service representatives. (Lots and lots of customer service representatives.)
Five years later, it’s something that has been so deeply absorbed that I now say it out loud just to remember that it’s there. This happened. The experts refer to this as a process of assimilation, adding that it can take several years to assimilate something like that – even a lifetime. Butwe’re all assimilating something or other: what’s the difference between finding your mother murdered and enduring a childhood of unflagging emotional abuse? Finding the love of your life in bed with someone else and surviving a plane wreck? I have a friend who still winces when people move too quickly near him. He was beaten savagely as a kid. Who but him bears the standard of his horrors?
Then there’s the guilt of context: Rwanda, the Congo, Somalia, Bosnia, the Holocaust, the Spanish Inquisition. Jesus, just being alive in the 14th century sucked worse for even the wealthiest, most syphilitic aristocrat than it ever has for me and my one lousy dead parent. Even if I was the one who found her like that.
So why tell this story, at all? Am I that narcissistic? Well, why not – everyone else is in this Internet Age. The noble answer is: I’m a writer and have a duty to report on the extraordinary in life. The psychological answer is: If I don’t, it is going to eat its way out of my head like some squealing H.R. Giger monster.
I was always like this. I wrote an autobiography at 12 called If God Could See Me Now. It was three pages long. (Three pages is a lot for someone who’s enjoyed only about 7 years of thoughts more sophisticated than those of a Fox Terrier.)
It dealt mostly with the feelings of isolation and abandonment that succeeded my parents’ screwy, long, and turbulent divorce. I still think it’s one hell of a good title, only it would be re-imagined by some Focus On The Family-style proselyte with a junior-high understanding of matters spiritual and intellectual, and packaged as “Inspirational” reading for the Costco and Sam’s Club set. Not that there’s anything wrong with the Costco and Sam’s Club set. I hope one day to be purchased in such a fine establishment, tossed in a basket with some recalled designer jeans and a 4-month supply of frozen weiners.
The answer to my inner critic is: It’s not Elie Wiesel’s Night, but it matters.
When I tell people “my mother was murdered,” they often have the same reaction. They stand silent, nodding, waiting for the next bit of information. Grateful for what they’ve already received. Someone once suggested people are just trying to absorb my story, which I find funny and stupid. Absorb it? It happened. Just listen to me. I’m telling you. What’s required of you?
But in these five years, I have learned that by telling a stranger, a friend, a neighbor – pretty much anyone but a sociopathic personality or a therapist trained in maintaining boundaries – I bring them into it. It becomes interactive.
As the executrix of my mother’s estate (an awfully funny word for a condo about to go into foreclosure and several unpaid bills), I had to make many phone calls to customer service representatives. I relished these calls. These antagonists of society! — refusing to reverse your overdraft fees, remove a charge from your cellphone bill, lower your suddenly jacked-up APRs, and, too often, speak to you without a script and without that confounded robotic voice.
“Hi, Becca, I’m calling on behalf of my mother, who was killed last week by her boyfriend. I have her account number here, and of course I can fax you a death certificate if you need one before talking to me. I just need to get a list of all of her balances for the probate. Hello? Hello, are you there?”
We’d end up having a conversation for half an hour about someone she knew who died. Everyone has a death they’re holding onto. One guy, at Countrywide of all places, confessed his 3-year-old nephew had drowned in a swimming pool some time ago. I cried with him. He couldn’t hold the forbearance, but he got me a direct line to the supervisor who could. There are no direct lines at Countrywide – at least, there weren’t then – so I’d had to explain the entire story to three different people every time I called. Giving me the extension number was a huge gift.
Another woman – I can’t recall from where – lost a mother to breast cancer. I told her that her story was worse. Maybe it was. Maybe half the people who buy my book will have worse stories than this one. Sometimes I feel guilty for being somewhat well adjusted. It doesn’t make good television, as they say. I can’t promise to fall apart in front of you for your entertainment. I can’t even tell you anything about death that someone hasn’t before, and better.
I can tell you this: you have to go into her house to look for photographs, music, and clothes for the service. A man is inside, wearing a paper jumpsuit. He is still wiping the fingerprint powder and purple splatters of Luminol off of the floor, the ceiling fan blades, the kitchen cabinets. The sink is full of steak knives. “I guess it wasn’t one of these,” he tells you. And you watch his face immediately pale. “The mattress is in the van,” he says quickly. You accept his apology and thank him. You thank him three times.