Sunday, October 05, 2008

So Close to Folding

Like an old Holy Bible you clung to through so many seasons,
With the rules of survival in words you could still understand;

When they prove something wrong you believed in so long you go crazy,

And you're so close to folding the cards that you hold in your hand.

Singing, Holy Toledo, I can't see the light anymore,

All those horizons that I used to guide me are gone.

And the darkness is driving me farther away from the shore;

Throw me a rhyme or a reason to try to go on.

- Kris Kristofferson

Dear Rachel,

Well, here we are at an ending, of sorts. Not "closure," certainly (God, I really hate that word), but at least an end to the legal wranglings and the bickering amongst attorneys and judges. Marcus -- now that he's pleaded guilty and been sentenced, I can be a bit less discreet about naming names -- has been sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole. He'll spend the rest of his life confined to a small concrete cell at the Red Onion State Prison.

I suppose I'm satisfied with that, although I suspect that some of the other parents and family members may not be. I'm sure that many were hoping for the death penalty, and who can blame them? Me, I want him to live in a cement box for the next 40 years, unable to see his daughter, to hear birds singing, to hold a woman. I want him to suffer for the rest of his life; after all, that's what we parents and siblings and loved ones will be doing.

The proceedings were awful, reopening old wounds and ripping fresh ones as we learned more about that terrible night. You were the last to die. I never knew that. I had hoped that you were among the first, and that you had had little time to be afraid. But that's not what happened. You were the last; after shooting Candace (three times; boy, that is one tough young lady),
killing Bryce and David, and shooting Jonathan, Marcus hunted you down in the hallway outside of the condo as you spoke to the 911 operator on your cell phone. You were only a few feet from the exit; you could have run, but you stayed to call for help for yourself and the others. Why didn't you run? Instead you tried to hide out in the hallway and call for help and he hunted you down and shot you in the head, the way a conscientious hunter would track and finish off a gutshot deer.

God damn him to hell.

While the hearing was terrible for everyone, including Marcus' parents, family, and friends, it must have been especially awful for the Bauerbands and the Kusas. For us at least, there is a terrible, tragic logic in what happened: As horrible as it was, we saw it growing out of some sort of (never fully explained) conflict between you and Marcus; it was you he was really after as he stormed through that condo, dealing death wherever he went. As crazy as it was, there was something like sense there: At that moment, he hated you and so he killed you.

But what about those two young men? I know them now. Before the hearing, they were just names to me, but now I know them. I've met their parents and their siblings and, in one case, a young woman who is now a widow; we've spoken and we've hugged and we've cried together. I saw photographs of them as they grew up and I heard people speak of them and their dreams. (Ironically, all three of you had recently -- within weeks of the murders -- graduated from either college or grad school.)

What must they think? How much harder is it for the friends and families of these two young men? They can see no logic, however horrible -- because there is none. The boys were so briefly in Virginia, come for a quick, happy visit with old friends to celebrate their recent graduations, before they were shot down by a man who didn't even know them, didn't take the time to meet them, and who had no reason at all to hate them. For the Kusas and the Bauerbands this was not merely a tragedy, but seemingly the random act of a vicious animal, a mad Providence, something beyond all reason. And they would be perfectly correct, of course.

And yet... Lesley and Debbie and I owe much to these people. They were very kind to us when they could have been hurtful. They shared their pain (and allowed us to share ours), when they could have been insular and standoffish. They could have blamed you (and therefore us) for this; it would have been easy to do -- one does seek, after all, to assign blame as a way to make some sort of sense of such horror.

But they did not do that. All of them are wonderful,decent people -- kind, gentle, well-spoken and articulate. I ache for them so. The parents, hurt beyond description and, like us, possibly beyond repair. The brothers and sisters, angry and bewildered, but remembering Bryce and David with love, and even with humor. And beautiful Kristina. So young to be a widow, and bereft for so little reason: This was not a war, an illness, an accident. It was not something of which one could make some kind of sense, however awful. It was a visit from Hell. It was as if Death had tricked her, made her believe that her dreams had finally all come true, or were about to, and then stalked her handsome young husband and laughed as he stole those dreams. And in a way, I suppose that's exactly what happened.

If any of them could ever bring themselves to forgive Marcus Garrett for what he did, they would have to be saints; certainly they would have to be much better Christians than I could ever hope to be. And in fact they do seem to be Christian people, in the best sense of that word. I hope their faith has helped sustain them; I know that I envy them that faith.



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Sunday, October 14, 2007

Old Songs & Memories

Dear Rachel,

It's been a while since I've posted, yes? Perhaps I was thinking it had all been said, that -- at least until whatever illusory "closure" offered by the trial comes to pass -- there was nothing more for me here.

Then again, the trial keeps being continued and Lesley and I and Deb and the rest of the parents and loved ones feel as if we're suspended in amber. Or maybe it's more like we we're suspended in the web of a giant spider; perhaps we'll wriggle free, or perhaps it will consume us.

I surely need no help thinking of you -- I think of you every day -- but fall is here, and today the saddest song in the English language reminded me of you:

Since you went away, the days grow long;
And soon I'll hear old winter's song.
But I miss you most of all, my darling,
When autumn leaves start to fall.



Sunday, May 27, 2007

Dream A Little Dream of Me

And it's fading now, fading away
It's only a dream;
Just a memory without anywhere to stay
- Neil Young

Have you any dreams you’d like to sell?
- Stevie Nicks

Dear Rachel,

Last night I had a dream about you. Oddly, that's a very rare occurrence—or perhaps it's really not; perhaps I simply forget the dreams as soon as I awake, as I forget most of my dreams. It may be that I recall this one so clearly because the anniversary of your death approaches.

In my dream, you and I were traveling cross-country. I don’t know where we were going or why we were headed there, but we were driving your car, I think, and taking our time; just a nice, pleasant, leisurely jaunt of the sort that we never actually got to take together. The majority of the dream—or at least, what I remember of it—took place in a restaurant at which we had apparently stopped for dinner. (You were much better behaved at this restaurant than when you were four years old and we stopped at a Coco’s in California. We happened to drop in right in the middle of a rush occasioned by that chain’s popular senior citizens’ discount. You sipped a hot chocolate and looked around at all the people eating their dinners, your big brown eyes peering over the mug. “Dad,” you said very loudly, “why are all of these people so old?!”)

In my dream, we didn’t know anyone in the restaurant (not a chain this time, but an old house converted into a sort of funky diner) when we first entered, but by the time we were having dessert (and when did either of us, left to our own devices, ever skip dessert?), you had made friends with everyone in the room. This was no surprise at all, of course; that’s just the way you were—outgoing, friendly, gregarious. You couldn’t possibly enter a room without making a new friend or running into an old one. You were simply a companionable person, and a joy to be around.

This was a lucid dream: That is, in my dream, I knew that I was dreaming. I remember thinking to myself, “This is only a dream, but isn’t it a beautiful one? I’m with Rachel again, even if only for a little while and even if only in a dream.” One takes what solace one can find.

I can’t have you back, not ever. But last night we were together again for a few bright, happy moments.



Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Smart's Just Not Good Enough, I Guess

Like many intellectuals, he was incapable of saying a simple thing in a simple way.
- Marcel Proust

Dear Rachel,

I always thought it was funny that you believed I was so smart. I remember you filling out one of those Internet surveys in which you answered, “My dad” to the question, “Who is the smartest person you know?”

It’s natural for a daughter to believe one of two things about her father: Either he’s brilliant, or he’s a complete idiot. Luckily for me, you opted for the former rather than the latter.

As you grew up, I was engaged in what might be viewed as intellectual pursuits. (I suppose that’s a fancy way of saying that I’ve never really worked for a living.) I was a teacher, then an editor, then a software developer, and finally, toward the end of your life, an editor again. To an adoring daughter – and you were always that – I suppose these would seem like vocations that required intelligence and training and skills of an intellectually demanding nature. Then again, you might just as easily have been asking yourself, “Hmmm… How come Dad can’t hold a job?!”

At any rate, while I never thought of myself as stupid, I also never believed that I was quite as smart as you thought I was.

This is especially true now. If I’m so sharp, why didn’t I know you were in trouble? How did I not see that your personal life had gotten to a point at which you were in physical danger? Why didn’t I see what was happening?

This, I know, is part of the dark, brooding blanket of guilt that hangs over all of us who’ve lost a child to violence: We tend to feel responsible for things over which we really had no control. I realize that, but it still pains me that, as well as I knew you and as much as I loved you, there could have been looming in your social orbit a danger so violent, so predatory, and so malevolent. And all without me suspecting that you were at risk.

And now that it’s happened – now that I’ve lost you to that malevolence – I’m not sure I’m smart enough to know how to get through it.



Monday, February 12, 2007

Surviving Christmas

I’m so tired. but I can’t sleep
Standin’ on the edge of something much too deep;
It’s funny how we feel so much, but cannot say a word;
We are screaming inside, but we can’t be heard
- Sarah McLachlan

Dear Rachel,

Well, here it is February, already. I can’t believe it’s been so long since I’ve written. Odd, especially since things have been weighing even more heavily on me these days than before. That makes sense, I suppose, considering that your birthday is coming up, followed closely by the trial and then the anniversary of your death. Come to think of it, maybe that’s why I haven’t been able to bring myself to write.

We got through the holidays fairly well, really; much better than last year. The only disaster came when, on the morning of Christmas Eve, I went to set the table for breakfast. Without thinking about it, I grabbed cutlery for four and headed for the dining room.

But there are only three of us sharing Christmas now.

Amy was upstairs, I think, so she didn’t notice. Lesley did notice, but pretended not to. I quietly put the extra place setting back in the drawer and went out to have a cigarette and wipe my eyes.

Things happen like that. You can be plodding along, thinking you're doing pretty well, when suddenly a huge hobnailed boot comes out of nowhere and stomps on your heart.



Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Inconstant Moon

I'll find you in the mornin' sun
And when the night is new
I'll be looking at the moon
But I'll be seeing you
- Sammy Fain / Irving Kahal

Dear Rachel,

Well, it’s Christmas again. Lots of pretty lights, melodious bells, stockings hung by the chimney with care, carols sung by the choir, and all of that. This used to be my favorite time of year: The family all together (a rarity, what with the two of you in college and living in Virginia and Texas), the two sisters snuggled on the couch (making jokes about Nebraska, usually), great smells wafting in from the kitchen . . . . Secrets whispered behind cupped hands and jokes told aloud.

The holidays are hard, now. We all remember you, and we miss you; what should be a time of joy becomes instead of time of shared sorrow. We’re still gathering at home (Amy having just graduated from TCU—you would’ve been so proud of your baby sister!), but your absence makes it tough to find any joy in the gifts, the family outings, the visits to friends’ homes. We all try to celebrate, but the spirit of the season vanished when you were taken from us. I don’t know if we’ll ever get it back.

It’s getting cold, here in Nebraska, but I still go out on the back deck and I look up at the stars and I wonder which one is you. Which sharp point of silvery, twinkling light is my little girl? Are you out there anywhere? Can you feel us missing you? Do you know how much we loved you, and how much we still love you?

Lesley and I don’t really need or want much this Christmas. We have cars and clothes and a house and toys and, most importantly, we have each other. And the one thing we want most in the world is the one thing we can’t have, of course.



Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Neither Have I Wings To Fly

The river is wide,
I can’t cross over;
And neither have I
Wings to fly.
—Traditional Irish Folk ballad

There are so many, many times during the day that memories of you strike me, often unbidden: I’ll see a young woman who reminds me of you. I’ll think of a song (such as the one noted above) that makes me think of you. I’ll come across a photo. There’s no escaping this and, of course, no one (except for the man who murdered you) is to blame. In fact, there may come a time, I’m told, when I’ll cherish these memories, a time when I’ll embrace them. After all, they’re all that I have left of you. I’m looking forward to that time, but so far it’s not happening. For now, the memories are like bright, sharp knives that twist in my gut.

Then there are memories triggered by something someone has said or done. Usually it’s quite inadvertent: A friend might make a comment about how well her college-age son or daughter is doing. Someone might say something reminiscent of some of the verbal banter in which the two of us used to engage. (“Is that a whine? There’s no whining here!” Or maybe, “Poor… ,” something like the way we used to make fun of whatever problem you might be having by saying, “Poooooor Rachel.” Poking fun at ourselves by poking fun at [and thus minimizing the importance of] whatever “tragedy” had befallen you that week.) A buddy might mention “the kids” or even just talk about an upcoming graduation.

The thing is that when people do this, they almost always realize that they’ve just said something that might be hurtful; they glance quickly at me to see if I noticed, and then they carry on as quickly as possible in the hopes that perhaps I missed whatever it was.

I never miss it. Not ever. How could I? I think of you always. The ache is not as painful as it once was – at least, not usually – but it’s always present. It doesn’t take much to make it flare up; every such comment makes the pain jump instantly from a sort of background ache to a sharp, momentarily debilitating pain.

But I guess I’d rather that than think that I could ever forget you.