If it is possible to slam a car door carefully, he just did so.
"I can not believe you. Once, just once, that was all I asked." He jams the key into the ignition hard enough to make sparks and yanks the console out of "Park". " But you just couldn't do it could you?"
"I didn't bring the subject up. I was ....watch out for that..."
"I see it! Yeah, well you may not have brought it up, but you sure as hell finished it didn't you?" He gives the Green Chevy the finger as it slides out of view.
Now the silence will start, the air between us twitching and beating out the seconds. I could apologize, but it wouldn't really matter at this point. He'll follow his script, I'll follow mine. In the end, we'll both be sorry. Again.
The passing headlights throw his face into staccato relief, the sudden back lighting makes the edge of his jaw more harsh. Seconds turn to minutes, the muscles in my neck and shoulders begin to relax a little. Maybe he isn't going to take it any further. Maybe he . . .
"Just tell me why? Okay? Just tell me why? We're right in the middle of what had been a pretty awesome evening...a good movie, some truly great nachos and Margarettas...everybody coolin' and getting comfortable...then you step in and just...fuck it up!" He glances over at me at the "fuck", making sure I am taking him seriously.
"It didn't have to...they didn't have....I mean, we didn't have to leave." My shoulders move back up to ear level. "No one else was leaving, and the conversation was moving on."
" Get real Kim! You drop a bomb like 'My mother was murdered.' and you think the evening is just gonna right its self and everyone is going to go back to laughing...we'll all just take a big breath, smile at each other....order another drink for God's Sake? Yeah, right! Best thing I could do was get you up and out of there, so maybe at least everyone else can enjoy the rest of the evening."
"I didn't say it like that. I didn't even say 'My mother was murdered'. Sam asked me what happened and I answered him." I put my left hand on the console between us, hoping he’ll take it. He doesn’t.
“You said ‘murdered’! ‘She was murdered.’ , ‘My mother was murdered.’ It’s the same damn thing. Stops the whole damn conversation….hell, it stops the whole damn night…you might as well shoot everyone with a taser, it gets the same effect! Fuck!” He yanks the wheel to the right and then slams it with his fist. “ God Kim, it was thirty years ago….thirty years…”
“Thirty-two.” I say automatically and then bite my lip.
Thirty-two years and…two months…actually. I don’t allow myself to count the number of days…fourteen. Damn.
“You probably know it down to the hour don’t you? “ He turns his head to look at me, the dashlights paint him green, alien. He nods and looks back at the road.
“GOD.” He says again, but this time it’s under his breath, almost like a prayer.
“She was my mother , Greg.’ How many times have I said this? And to how many people? And that first year, how many times then? A couple hundred, a thousand ? More than a thousand? It was like I thought if I said it often enough, I’d believe it. It didn't work.
“I know she was your mother. And I know you were just a little girl, ten. But God Kim, thirty years! You can’t still be grieving? You barely remember her. You’ve told me that yourself. So why do you have to keep bringing it up….again and again…everytime we meet someone new, or I‘m a few minutes late from work, you ….”
I let his words flow over and past me. I know his script and his feelings as well as he knows mine.
I do remember her. I do have memories. Not as many as I wish...not the ones I would choose, but I have memories.
I close my eyes and see my hands clutching another dish to my chest… I feel my arms lifting up …then the shards are bouncing off the kitchen tiles as it shatters. I grab another one. Eight place settings, and I broke every single one of them waiting for Mama’s friend Rachel to come and take me to the hospital. I already knew she was dead.
“I was all alone. “ I whisper.
“I know Kim. I know. Hell, I’ve heard it so often I would swear I was there with you." But, he wasn’t there. No one was there.
I was all alone that night, waiting for my Mama to come home, but she was late. Really late. Then the phone rang.
The lady from the hospital didn’t know what to do when I told her I was the only one home. Finally she told me that my mother had been hurt and was at the hospital. She asked if there was someone I could call, someone who could bring me to the hospital. When I said yes, she waited while I got the message pad and then spelled out the name and address of the hospital. She had me read it back to her.
She kept saying that she was was sorry to be telling me this when I was alone. I reassured her. I told her not to worry, that I’d be okay, that I was older than I sounded on the phone. I promised to call Mama’s friend Shirley as soon as I hung up the phone . I promised her that Shirley’d come get me.
Finally, she said Good-bye.
She was about to hang up when I asked her. Maybe that’s why she wasn’t prepared. She didn’t have time to think before she answered.
“Are there any brain waves?” I asked. My Grandpa had been a surgeon, I knew about brain waves. Knew what they meant and knew what it meant when there weren’t any.
“No. . . No, there aren't any brainwaves. I’m sorry.” She'd whispered .
I hung up the phone and called Shirley. She said she was on the way. I called my father next . . . then my Aunt down in Florida . . .my mom‘s friend Julie . And in between, I took the dishes out of the cupboard and shattered every single one of them without ever saying a single word.
“ He’d killed before.” I turn my body toward him. The shoulder strap tightens against my breast, and I take my hand back. He isn't ready to take it. “He was only twenty years old and my mother was his second victem.”
“Jesus Kim, you make it sound like the man was a Serial Killer! See? That’s exactly the kind of thing I‘m talking about.
You couldn't just tell people “My mom died” or “I lost my mom when I was ten”, if you even had to tell them anything at all? Oh no, not you,you have to say “ My mother was murdered” , “My mother was his second victem”.
How the hell are people suppose to respond to that? What do you want them to say?” The car accelerates with his words.
He was a Serial Killer. Maybe he's still killing. Have there been any others since then? I can't help but wonder.
“He couldn’t get away with that now days.” I tell my face in the window, then turn back to remind him, “He‘d have lost his weapon after the first one“
“WEAPON? WEAPON! Have you heard to a single word I’ve said? “ I see him shaking his head as I stare into approaching headlights. Raindrops on the windshield make them waver a bit. It wasn't raining that night, the night it happened.
At the hospital, I signed something to give them permission to disconnect Mama's body from the machines. It wasn’t legal, I'm sure , but my Dad couldn’t do it because they were divorced and there just wasn’t anyone else. So I did it. And it was alright, that part's never bothered me. She was dead anyway. No brainwaves. It was a formality.
My Dad made them let me be alone with her for a few minutes, to say good-bye. The woman's body they left me with, the one laying in that bed with all the tubes sticking out of her, surrounded by humming machines and TV screens, that wasn't my Mama. That woman's face, her neck and even her hands, were all bloated, the skin stretched shiney like some kind of bazarre water balloon. Her hair was a mess too and her make-up was gone. My Mama would have hated that. But it didn’t matter , the part that had been my Mama wasn’t there any more.
I didn’t touch her, didn’t even bother saying good-bye, it was too late for that. I just walked back out.
The next day I started telling people the story.
I’ve been telling them ever since.
“ Look Kim, I don’t mean to be a prick about this. I know it was a terrible,terrible experience. I'm sure I can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like to lose your mother that way." Somewhere, back there a little way, he had pulled the car over to the side of the road and put the emergancy lights on.
"I didn't lose her. You lose an earring or even a cat, you don't lose a mother. My mother was taken from me. She was murdered by a sick, twisted man and taken from me. I did not lose her."
"I know you still miss her, that you always will. “ He keeps puts his hands on either side of my face and looks into my eyes, so I will know he is sincere. “ I know you want her death to have meaning, to serve a purpose, but this isn’t the way to do it."
"You make people uncomfortable . They listen to you and they can't help but think about themselves. Maybe they suddenly remember that time they were high, or were a little tipsy, but they got in their car and drove home anyway. Maybe they remember that time they let their friend drive home, even though it was obveous she'd had too much to drink, because it 'wasn't their business" or they didn't want to make their friend mad angry. They end up identifying with the guy who hit your mother, instead of with her.
They listen to you and they feel guilty."
"Not all of them. Some of them will hear me. They'll listen, and maybe the next time they'll remember and they won't make his mistake...."His hand is in my hair, his forehead touches mine.
“I'd like to believe that, Kim, I really would.“ He turns off the engine and unbuckles both our belts so he can take me in his arms. “But I think you've got to face the facts.”
The facts: On Oct. 11, 1975, my 37 year old mother was murdered on her way home from a night class. The killer was 20 years old and had already killed someone else less than a year before. His weapon in both cases, was the car he drove while under the influence of alchohol. Because his crimes occured prior to the creation and efforts of MADD (Mother’s Against Drunk Drivers) and similar organizations, the laws regarding such “accidents” were much less punative. The man who killed my mother lost his license for six months and received a $500 fine. I was ten years old. My mother has been dead for 35 years. I still miss her.