Sneak Peeks

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

My Mother Who Killed

     My memory begins on that day.

     There was a life before the killings, but the memory of that one night seems to have eaten up the space that those other experiences once existed in.

     My life begins at five years old in a dark parking lot by the sea.

     I’m in my mother’s arms. I’m tired and my cheek is resting on her shoulder. She smells like her going-out perfume and her body is soft and warm.

     My daddy is walking behind us, rifling through his pockets for the car keys. He smiles at me when I catch his eye.

     “Hello, hellooo.” A man’s voice drawls. I spin around to see who is talking to us.

     Mommy squeezes me tighter and keeps walking. “Hello.” She replies. Her voice is short. The way she sounds when she talks about the people on the news who make her mad.

     “Hey, hey, don’t rush off.” The stranger says and my mommy stops suddenly.

     I don’t want her to stop. I want to tell her to take me home, but the words are stuck in my throat.

     “Come on guys, we have our baby with us.” My daddy says.

     Suddenly I’m scared, because I know then that my mommy and daddy are scared.

     That’s when the memory starts to change. Things slow down, sometimes even freezing on a single image. My psychologist said that that’s normal during stressful situations. The rush of adrenaline causes memories to imprint more clearly. It can distort those memories as well, making some parts more prominent than others.

     “You do have a baby with you, a pretty little girl. Hi, pretty girl.” The man says more, but I can’t remember the words. My five year old mind only knew that the man said he was going to hurt me. I remember a burning sensation up my back. It was the physical sensation of terror. That feeling would have meant the rising of my hackles to scare off an enemy in primordial days. But on the back of a little girl, it only translated as terror. Terror that my mommy and daddy couldn’t protect me from the men who’d suddenly invaded our sleepy evening.

     In that endless moment, my whole world changed. If what came after hadn’t occurred, that change still would have. Because in that moment I knew that monsters were real and that I wasn’t safe anymore.

     I can’t imagine why they did it. What did they feel as they stalked us through the parking lot? What did they talk about? Did they have a plan for who would do what? Those questions will go unanswered. Those men are dead and can’t tell me why.

     As the man’s words hung in the air, and the heat crawled up my back, I lifted my eyes slowly, so slowly, up to my father’s face.

     Then my mother exploded.

     I know she couldn’t really have exploded, but my memory isn’t affected by logic. It tells me that an explosion burst off of her, not that air rushed past me as I was thrown to my father. There was a sonic boom, not her bellow of ‘RUN’ and my tiny racing heartbeat filling my ears.

     Then I see my father’s face as he catches me. It’s ‘The Scream’ by Edvard Munch. It is a caricature of my father’s face. Eyes open wider than eyes could really open, and his mouth a crooked black cavern in a face too pale to be alive. It was horrifying to me. And that moment seemed to last incalculably.

     My father caught me to him, but he didn’t run. He just stared beyond me.

     I turned slowly, slowly. The air was thicker than jello, and time was bound in rubber. The seconds lasting minutes, and the minutes hours. And I knew that they were hurting my mommy.

     My father couldn’t stop me from looking, he was frozen, unaware of the hard, clutching hands he held me with.

     Then I saw her. My mommy.

     One of the men was already dead by the time I landed in my father’s arms and spun to see her. She’d tackled him, grabbing hold of his head and falling with him. She broke his neck, spun his head around and left him staring sightless on the ground. She was on top of the second one by then, biting his throat out. The third man was standing above her, his legs wide apart as he stabbed her over and over. She didn’t even flinch. When he kicked her off of his friend, half of the the throat she was biting came with her.

     The man seemed to freeze when he saw what she’d done. Everyone was frozen except my mommy.  She sprang at the last man from the crouch she’d rolled to. The top of her head hit him between the legs. To my young mind, it looked like a bull lifting an awful matador, like on the show my daddy watched. My memory almost tells me that it was a bull and not my mommy. But I remember right. It was her.

      The man went down with a strangling sound, no scream. The fight became eerily quiet. She punched him over and over in the face, thunk thunk thunk. Her arms seemed to have those spinning cartoon tracers around them. I’m not sure where that part of the memory came from, maybe the tears in my eyes or some embellishment added later by a child’s mind trying to make sense of what I saw.

     He caught her arms, giving up on the knife in his instinctive need to stop the beating. Without pause she threw her head down like a hammer, over and over. Crushing his face in.

     Then she stopped and turned to each of the men in turn. They didn’t move. She turned to us. “Are you okay?” I see her lips move, but I can’t hear her. I don’t realize that I’m screaming. Her face is a mask of blood.

     My daddy squeezes me, “It’s okay, baby, it’s okay.”

     He doesn’t go to my mommy.

     “Mommy!!” I scream.

     She crawls toward me and collapses. My daddy finally rushes to her.

     Everything leading up to that moment was a blur of time compared to the wait for the ambulance. My daddy ran with me across the parking lot and left my mommy alone on the ground. He called the police on a payphone and held his hand over my screaming mouth so that he could tell the dispatcher where to find us. He finally dropped the phone and ran back to her. I somehow thought she’d be gone, but she was still there, lying face down with the three men surrounding her.

     My mommy smiled at me when we got back. She reached for me, but I was too afraid to touch her, clutching on to my father’s side. My daddy said he didn’t know what to do, and he was crying. I was crying too, my throat raw from screaming and my jaw sore from being locked open with the noise. She quietly told my daddy how to push on the holes in her back, and encouraged him until her breath didn’t work anymore. It came in gasps, then quick pants, then a whispery hiss until it stopped entirely.

     Then he started crushing her chest. I know now that he was trying to save her, but at the time it seemed that he was pushing too hard, trying to wake her up. Hurting her when she was already hurt. He didn’t have time to explain as I yanked on his shirt, screaming for him to stop. He shoved me away and kept working.

     He might as well have set me adrift, alone in the universe. I was suddenly by myself in the dangerous darkness. Abandoned by my father and unable to reach my mother. I cannot convey the total panic and devastation I felt, sitting by my father who had pushed me away.

     The sirens whined softly in the distance and my father started screaming ‘HELP! HELP ME!’ 

     Then I screamed for help as well, repeating that word was all I could do until there were lights flashing over us and people running. They finally pushed my daddy aside, asking questions, so many questions. My daddy grabbed me up and cried into my neck.

     It begins to get blurry at this point. I remember them loading my mother on to a gurney and taking her away. I remember the bright lights on stands that the police set up around the parking lot and the white sheets over the three men on the ground.

     My father talked to a policeman about what happened and signed papers before they let us leave. I was afraid to be alone in the back seat, so my daddy let me sit up front where mommy usually sat. I remember waking up in my daddy’s arms as he carried me into the house and that our dogs were jumping around and happy to see us. I was mad at them for being happy when mommy was hurt and I kept asking my daddy when mommy would be home.

     “Soon, honey.” He said. But I could tell that he was lying.

     My mother survived the attack.

     I was able to visit her the next day in the afternoon. She was pale around the cuts and bruises on her nose and forehead, and her skin seemed to hang on her face. Her eyes were closed as my daddy carried me into her hospital room.

     When she looked at me, half the weight of all that had happened rolled off of my shoulders.

     “Hey, sunshine, how crazy is this? It’s like being in an adventure story. Come and cuddle me, sweetness. Tell me what you’re thinking.” She held her hands out and my daddy set me on the bed amidst the tubes and wires. She smelled like the antiseptic hospital soap and plastic tape. She was lumpy and my daddy fussed that I was going to hurt her. I remember trying to pull away.

     “Oh, please, like anything can hurt me worse than I have been.” Then she lifted me a little and flopped me onto her lap. She pressed her cheek to mine and sighed against my ear. It was our special hug. It was the way she held me at night, and I breathed in the scent of her perfume, still lingering in her hair. I swear you could have seen the cloud of pain and worry as a measurable part of my exhalation. It felt that thick and heavy. But with her words, she made it better.

     And every day she made it better still.

     She finally came home, stiff and limping, but alive. She always had a smile for me. Always had encouraging words. She was able to get me to talk about my feelings without making a big deal about it. She let me heal in my own way, and showed me that she was healed as well. There was no secret pain in the eyes she turned to me, no extra precautions when we played outside that kept the fear alive.

     It took me a long time to reconnect with my father. I blamed him for not doing more than he’d done. He’d just stood there and watched them hurt my mommy. How could I forgive that?

     But my mommy didn’t blame him. She and my dad were always laughing together and touching in simple ways. In time I allowed him back into our circle. My daddy loved me, and I loved him.

     I was shielded from the aftermath and all the legalities associated with killing in self-defense, and so, eventually, the incident slipped away.

     It was only as an adult that I went back to that night. I wanted to see what the news had said about it.

     I couldn’t find anything. I Googled every keyword I could think of. Nothing. I called the local paper and asked how I’d find back issues from that time. They hadn’t been converted from microfiche yet due to budget constraints, so I’d have to schedule an appointment to search through them. It was amazing to me that the story of that night hadn’t been bigger, more easy to find. It should have been a Lifetime movie, at least. But, no. It was like it never happened. And for a little while after that, I almost believed it hadn’t. Could I have imagined it? Or misremembered the details?

     I finally talked to my mom about it after I’d been mulling my questions over for a few weeks.

     “Mom? Can you tell me what happened? When you killed those men.” After I said the words, I wanted to take them back. I didn’t want to bring up anything that hurt her, and it had been so long since we’d talked about it that I wasn’t really sure how she felt.

     “Well...” She sighed. “We’d gone out to eat at the marina. We were walking to our car when we were approached by those men. They said they were going to hurt you in front of me, so I stopped them.” Her face tightened at the memory, and something jarred in me at her words. That sounded right. I remembered thinking that they were going to hurt me.

     She started over at that point. It seemed that she’d needed to just get the whole thing out quickly before she was able to go back and examine the details. She spoke of the long walk from the crowded restaurant, no parking for over a block. And how unprepared they’d been for the attack. She paused at that point and I could see that she was reliving the memories. How could I have wondered whether talking about it would hurt her? Of course it did. She’d just always seemed so strong to me, I forgot that she was a regular person.

     “Your dad was in therapy for years afterward. It was a two-fer.” She said, laughing. “Dad went to the shrink and brought home his advice for me.” Her teasing voice was meant to soften the painful revelation.

     “I have the original police report if you’d like to see it.” She offered. I accepted and let it drop for the time being.

     She gave me the report as promised along with a file that showed how the investigation had dragged on. There were a lot of notes from someone named Mike. He was keeping them informed about who the men were and other details that only a cop would be privy to. One of the notes had been underlined and written in all caps: ARRESTED ON CHARGES OF RAPE AND BATTERY.

     My father’s statement from that night was chilling, and matched my mother’s from the next morning. They saw the men coming. Saw the knives in their hands. They hadn’t simply threatened me, a five year old child. The quote was that they’d “slit my parent’s throats, and fuck me screaming while they died.” No wonder my mother had responded so animalisticly. The report said that she’d broken the first man’s neck. She’d grabbed him and spun his head around with her knee on his chest. It was something you saw in the movies and always wondered if it were really even possible to perform. Apparently, when your child was threatened, it was.

     The second one she bit in the throat, crushing his windpipe. That’s the one that I witnessed. And the third one died of brain trauma from being bludgeoned with her skull.

     It was astonishing. She was just a regular woman, not some kung-fu master or a super-hero in disguise. Back then she’d gone hiking with my dad and ran around after our dogs and me, but that was it. No weekend weight lifting or martial arts classes. Yet she’d somehow found an untapped strength to kill three armed men in defense of her daughter’s life. In defense of me.

     I thought back to all the years after the incident. The birthday parties, and sleepovers. The crafts, and cooking lessons, and quiet talks. All her goofy dance-moves and songs. How she always made me feel special and loved.

     How had she done it? How had she recovered from that? How had she managed to raise me in an atmosphere of acceptance and hope when something so devastating had occurred?

     When I questioned her later, she gave me the same answer she gave me each time I couldn’t fathom the depth of her forgiveness, or patience.

     “Because I love you.”

     Obviously there was more than that. My father’s support, and my grandma’s encouragement. She said that it was hard for her to sleep for a long time and that healing took years. But eventually she did heal, and deciding to get better was the first step.

     It wasn’t long after I brought up that night when my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I want to write about the anger and helplessness I felt. But those words, those careful, simple words, can never convey the true depth of my emotions. To lose this amazing woman now? So young? After all she’d been though...

     She chose to fight for the extra two months the doctor promised her with medication. She wasn’t scared to die, she just wanted to live. She suffered the effects of the drugs with her usual aplomb. Smiling and teasing to the end. We were able to squeeze in three amazing trips to Europe and Hawaii before she was ready to let go. We had so many long talks with dad holding her in his lap, her scarf-wrapped head resting against his chest. But there weren’t enough. Could never be enough.

     In the end, when she was gone, I walked out and stared at the street in front of her house. Every detail of that day is burned into my memory with crystal clarity. It was early afternoon on a late summer day. I could smell fresh cut grass and the smoke from a barbeque. There were two little boys riding bikes up the street. A shiny red car drove by. Birds were calling from the trees and the sky was brilliant blue.

     I took it all in and was shocked that the world hadn’t even noticed that she was gone. That the most wonderful woman you could ever meet had died and all of these people didn’t care.

     The wind should have stopped blowing. The sun should have dimmed.

     But no one noticed. No one knew.

     That’s why I’ve written this. Not because the story of the killings should be read, that’s just the sensational part of a different story. But because, if I could just hold a snapshot of my mother up, not of her face, but of her soul, this incident would be it.

     She was... inexpressibly strong. Unconquerable in her love. There aren’t enough words to describe her. Remember when Russia didn’t have a word for peace? There needs to be a new word for the character of a person with all of her attributes.

     I hope that anyone reading this feels a twinge of loss. That they didn’t know her. That she’s gone.

     And I also hope that I can be as strong, and brave, and funny, and optimistic, and smart, and loving as she was one day.

     As my mother who killed. For me. For love.

     This story is a work of fiction based off of many of my and my families experiences.

     The woman that I lost that beautiful day was my grandma, Lois Margaret.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The universe is queerer than we can suppose.

I read that there are hundreds of billions of galaxies in the observable universe, and that each galaxy, including our own, contains hundreds of billions of stars.
Each star has the potential to harbor life sustaining planets.

We're talking, minimum, 10 to the 24th power of stars that we know of.
10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 known stars.

Mind boggling.

J.B.S. Haldane is a biologist from the 1800's who said, "Now, my own suspicion is that the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose. I suspect that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of, or can be dreamed of, in any philosophy."

In all the vastness of the space that surrounds us, right now, circling those many many stars, I have to believe that the worlds of our imagination exist and are dreaming right back at us.