Friday, September 25, 2009

The Not So Equanimous Equinox

It has been no secret the extent to which I am enamored with autumn. There isn't a single thing about it that I don't adore. My love for this time of year probably oozes out of my pores and I couldn't hide it if I wanted to.

Fall also carries with it a dirty little secret. For twenty-one years, this secret has held me in its clutches and it shakes me, rattles my brain, and thrusts me viciously into a deep dark hole for a few weeks at the onset of every autumn. I am always aware of its approach and of its presence, but I seem to be helpless against the tentacles that lash out at me and which inevitably seize me in their grip, temporarily paralyzing my joy.

It was Halloween night, 1988. I was five months pregnant with my first child and living in a
studio apartment in Colorado Springs, Colorado. I knew exactly one person in town and my then husband, who was in the Army, had just left for California on a month-long training exercise. Having only recently turned twenty, I felt deeply alone and more than a little depressed that my beloved Halloween was being spent sitting in an apartment desperately hoping that trick-or-treaters would be on enough of a sugar high to hike it up three flights of stairs to come visit me and my massive bowl of candy. No such luck.

I'd almost given up all hope of having any little devilish costumed visitors when there was a knock at my door. My heart raced a little as I jumped up and grabbed the bowl of candy. I opened the door and there stood my uncle. I was confused. I'd seen this particular uncle a total of maybe six times in my life and now there he stood. I smiled a bewildered smile and invited him in. My head was swirling. This uncle had a reputation in my family of being kind of jokester and as a kid, I'd always liked him. So, although a bit befuddled by his sudden presence, I was happy to see him.

We sat for a few minutes discussing what his kids were dressed as for Halloween and I think the weather was mentioned. I don't really recall what was said because I had a constant voice in my head that kept saying, "What is he doing here? What is he doing here?!" The answer came almost immediately.

My uncle looked at me and with the casual tone usually reserved for inquiring of someone as to how they're feeling or how they're enjoying the unusually mild weather, and said, "Your mom called and thought that I needed to come over to be with you so that you'd have family here." I thought, "That's odd. Mom knows that my husband just left for a month and that I'm lonely, but I don't think I'm so distraught that I need a long lost uncle to come sit with me." And then...he said it. "Your dad killed his girlfriend and is in jail." I sat there stunned. Then, slowly I smiled. This was a joke. My prankster uncle was playing a joke on me. I think I said something like, "What?" And, I said it with a smile on my face.

My uncle never took his eyes off me and said, "Your dad shot his girlfriend. He's in jail and your mom thought that I needed to come over and be with you when you found out." I knew he was serious. I don't remember anything else. Somehow, over the course of the next couple of days, I managed book a flight to Oklahoma. I'd never done that before and don't remember making all of the calls to talk to the airlines and to my mom and sisters to arrange to stay with them for a month.

The month of November was spent with my family and from what I can remember; we barely spoke of Dad and what had happened. My mother didn't speak of him because just a couple of months before, she and my youngest sister had fled Illinois where they and my dad were living. Life had become unbearable and my mom had discovered that my dad was drinking...again and was having affairs...again, so my mom had loaded up the car and taken my sister and high-tailed it out of there. Needless to say, she wasn't in the frame of mind to be discussing my dad.

At some point while I was in Oklahoma, my mom received a call from the people who owned the trailer that my parents had lived in while in Illinois. My dad was a horse trainer and moved twice a year between Oklahoma and Illinois with the racing season. The couple who owned the horses he trained had provided a small mobile home that could be transported back and forth twice a year. The trailer was from where my mother had fled, and in which, my father had committed murder.

According to the owners, the police had released the trailer after having gathered all of their evidence and they had brought it from Illinois, back to Oklahoma. They were now calling to see if my mother wanted to sort through it and take any of her belongings before they had the trailer destroyed.

To this day, I have no idea why my mother went to that trailer. But, go she did. And...she took me with her.

Had the handprints on the walls been smaller, they would have looked not altogether unlike those first finger paintings that children make by dipping their hands in paint and pressing them onto paper. But, these handprints weren't small. They were exactly the size of my father's. And, instead of the bright primary colors of children's paintings, these handprints were brown. The color of brown that only exists after blood dries.

The handprints traveled, in reverse, through the kitchen into the bathroom and up the tiny set of stairs into the bedroom. We followed. I wish we wouldn't have. As we walked into the little bedroom, we walked smack dab into the scene of the crime. I've never seen anything like it and hope to never see anything remotely similar again. The human body produces an immense amount of blood and shooting someone in the head with a shotgun has a way of quickly and violently dispersing that blood.

As I turned around to head back down the stairs, the handprints on the wall were now facing the correct direction.

My mother picked through the closets and cabinets and filled up a small box with belongings to take away with her. We stopped by the horse barn on the way to the car and my mother stood and cried and patted the horses. She couldn't and wouldn't allow herself to cry for my dad and for all that had been lost, but she sure as hell could cry for those beautiful beasts that she loved. She knew that she'd never see them or my dad again, but those lovely animals had never hurt or betrayed her. This was her goodbye.

My goodbye was still far off in the future. My father was sentenced to twenty-six years in prison. He spent thirteen of those years behind bars and I spent those thirteen years writing faithfully, accepting collect phone calls so that I could spend a few uneasy moments every month or so speaking to my father, and sent small amounts of money when I was able. I ordered books that my dad wanted to read and had them shipped to the prison and acted as his receiving agent for packages containing book and letters he sent out of the prison when they would make him thin out his possessions.

Strangely enough, my goodbye came after his release from prison. It was in autumn. That's a different story though.

People who know me well and know my story, have asked me how I can still love autumn. How can I not? If anything, I appreciate it more and really relish each little lovely thing about it. I have not managed to escape the psychological impact of what happened in my family, but find it only mere coincidence that it occurred in the Fall. If it had happened in the winter, it would be unbearable because winter depresses me anyway. Spring or Summer...who knows? I suppose there's always something with which you can associate an event. I have two daughters with birthdays in the spring and my birthday is in the summer, so no matter when a tragedy occurs, there's always something there to remind us, isn't there?

So, Dear Friends, if I've not been commenting on your posts and you haven't seen me around The Land of Blog much lately, now you know why. Some years hit me particularly hard for some reason and this year really knocked me for a loop. But, I feel the upward movement of my soul as it struggles to break free and I am waiting with hopeful anticipation that very soon, my days will be spent not in some quiet secret mourning, but in joyous celebration of living.


~JarieLyn~ said...

Wow. That is a horrific tragedy to carry around emotionally. You seem like a strong person though and it's good that you can share.

AmyWW said...

Amy dear, you are loved. I hope you know that.

The Bug said...

Oh Amy - I'm glad that you're keeping Autumn for yourself. You're right - my mother died in March, my birthday month, but it really didn't matter when it happened.

Sending you a virtual hug.

Amy said...

JarieLyn: My story is not as horrific as so many others out there, I know, but it certainly has impacted my life. There was so much shame that was carried for so long. I think for the most part, the shame is gone, but the imprint remains.

Amy: Thank you. I don't always know it. Thanks for telling me.

Bug: The hug was both needed and appreciated. I think that taking these skeletons out of our closets and shaking them out and looking at them in the light of day, helps us see them for what they are. Those skeletons just seem so much more frightening when locked away in the dark closets of our hearts and minds.

lakeviewer said...

You've gone through a lot. This season will forever remind you of all you lost.

Amy said...

Rosaria: Of course, you're right. But, I refuse to let myself be defined by it anymore. I used to feel like the girl whose dad was in prison. Now, I'm just the woman who remembers and feels the leftover ache.

By the way. I love your new profile picture. It's just perfect.

Maithri said...

I feel you boldly spiral down into the ache within the ache...

As you Reach back to touch the soft heart of your own pain.....

Its so hard to do...

And yet the truth you have found IS the truth

... We are not victims... We are survivors...

Yours is a story of the indomitable human spirit...

The fire that cannot be quenched.

You have taken the inevitability of autumn....and given birth to spring...

All my love to you,

Keep burning through the night,


ellen abbott said...

Wow, Amy. What I thought when I was reading this was how lucky for your mother and sister that she left when she did. It might have been them.

The imprint, the leftover ache will also heal in time. There will be an autumn in the future when you don't remember, when it doesn't drag you down. You may not even realize it til later.

Amy said...

Maithri:*sigh* Thank you. You always know the right words to weave together to make a bandage for my heart. Thank you, thank you.

Ellen:I've thought that same thought no fewer than a million times. About two years after my father went to prison I had a dream that I was with my mother and father in our car and we were all happy and laughing. We stopped at a gas station so I could go get a drink and when I walked out, I saw my father shoot my mother and turn the gun on himself. I woke up sitting straight up in bed and screaming. I let all of those "what ifs" go a long time ago because I figured the "what is," is difficult enough! And, I hope you're right. Someday, it will just all fade into the background like mist.

Aunt T said...


As I sit here reading this, in a place where fall is in full swing, my heart goes out to you. I think reading this story, makes me know and understand you so much more. You are a very dear friend to me....I know I don't say it enough....and I don't see you enough....but know you are always in my heart and mind. Virgil and I love spending time with you and Eric. Your past is nothing to bring shame upon you. Those actions are not yours to bare, even though it is so difficult not. This does not change the strong, beautiful, smart woman you are!

Love ya,

Amy said...

Ronda: Thank you so much! That's terribly sweet of you. I understand what you're saying completely and have convinced myself of it, but you'd be surprised how some people react to me when they find out. I've learned to shrug it off for the most part. I'm not the only one who's had a daddy in the klink, for pete's sake! I really do appreciate you so much, Ronda. Thanks a million.

Essie the Accidental Mommy said...

I guess if autumn is about dramatic changes, and sort of 'shedding' everything in order to take a break and then start over, maybe that is your connection.
Good luck to you.