POSTMORTEM by Laurel Saville
By SMW Staff
Sometimes listeners seem to draw a blank, as if this information has rendered them not only speechless, but also thoughtless. Other times, there is a slight lift of a chin, a raise of the eyebrows, and I wonder if they are doing some emotional addition, thinking that knowing this about my mother suddenly explains something about me. Sometimes I see lips start to work over unformed questions, questions I imagine are difficult to ask. The rarest times are those when the listener swallows, waits to see if I’ll offer anything else, says just a small word or two that’s not quite sympathy, but lets me know that he or she doesn’t need to, or perhaps, doesn’t want to hear more.
But I always feel I need to say more. Like I need to put this information into some kind of
understandable context, to explain my mother’s life by explaining how she got to her death. I want to help other people assimilate this news, help them get over it, or let them feel they’re helping me get over it. I sense I need to reassert myself, to show somehow that I’m the same person after they got this information as they thought I was just before they got it. At the same time, I don’t want to explain anything at all. I’m still just a little wearied by the fact that of all the burdens my mother put on me while she was alive, the worst one continues after her death, precisely because of the way she died. I also don’t want to say anything more, because I don’t feel I have what I imagine are the appropriate emotions to attend to this information, the expected sensations of loss, horror, and sadness. I never have and still don’t see either of us as a victim of her murder, or her murderer. I don’t really fully understand what it means to be the daughter of my mother, much less the daughter of a murdered woman, anymore than any of us fully comprehends the myriad ways our parents shaped us. More often than not, I simply say that my mother is dead. But then, I feel like I’m lying. Sometimes I say she was killed. But that’s dissembling. Other times, I say I don’t want to talk about “it,” or say, “Some other time. Over a beer or six.” But then, I’m hiding something. Not just something about her, but something about me.
Sometimes, I don’t say anything at all. Then I feel invisible.
I’ve met two other people who had parents who were murdered. These deaths were freakish and calamitous endings to lives lived in the relative comfort and safety of upper-middle class suburban successes. In each case, the death was sudden, tragic, the almost
incomprehensible loss of loved ones who were in the wrong place at the wrong time and paid with their lives, leaving family members to try to carry on with theirs. These stories seem to have a clearer dramatic arc that allows the listener to move from shock at the violence to sympathy for the living.
It’s a long story, the tale of how my mother got to be a woman who was murdered. She
had all the raw materials that should have foretold a life of accomplishment and happiness. For a while, she had all these things. But before her life reached a credible apex, it began to dip and then tumble downward. My mother was once a beauty pageant winner, an artist, and a fashion designer. She ended up a bloated, ranting, alcoholic street person, stabbed and strangled in a burned-out building, her sundress hiked up around her waist, her panties caught around an ankle, her ancient, tiny, one-eyed dog standing guard over her body, growling at the police who were called to the scene.
Only, that’s not the story I tell people. When I tell it at all, I offer a shortened version: a talented, beautiful woman is beset with alcoholism and mental illness, which leads her to the streets, and she ends up murdered by another street person. I tell myself that I don’t want to burden other people with too many searing and ugly images. More likely, these memories are a kind of emotional loose tooth—the pain of playing with it is somehow comforting, and as much as you push at it, you don’t really want the tooth to come out, you don’t want to share this small prize with anyone, not even a benevolent fairy. After all, this is my mother we’re talking about. As her daughter, I belonged to her; as my mother, she also belongs to me. I don’t have her anymore, but I still have her story.
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