In November of 2010, my parents celebrated their 40th Wedding Anniversary, and my mother posted “Lordy, Lordy, look whose marriage just turned 40!” on her Facebook timeline. It would be her last. It reminded me of when my mother, herself turned forty. We lived in the backwoods of Mississippi, a little town called Van Cleave. It was a forty-five minute drive north of Biloxi, which my mother commuted Monday through Friday to her Civil Servant job at Keesler Air Force Base.
As a surprise for her birthday, my father’s idea, signs were taped to trees alongside the short road in the Lake ‘O Pines subdivision that she drove to get home that read: “Lordy, Lordy, look whose turning 40!” It is so amazing to me how the mind and memory work, how a connection in my brain sparked this memory and put these two separate moments in time, together as one.
It was December 20th, 2010, I had been making baked goods for the holidays like I love to do every year, when I received a call from my sister, Julie. She wanted to know when I last spoke to my mother. I told her that it had been a week or so ago. I knew, right away, from the tone of my sister’s voice, that something was terribly wrong. I had known, for years, the capabilities my father possessed and I then suspected that he had done something terrifyingly horrific to my mother.
Two nights earlier, I was suddenly awakened from a deep, sound sleep, like a buzz of electricity, and was unable to fall back to sleep. I feel now that it must have been a telepathic message from my mother that she was in danger. It was very peculiar.
I told my sister of the last time I spoke with my mother. Our conversation was a sterile one. It was one I had become so used to having with her so many times before. During these telephone conversations with her, I knew I was speaking to a person, whose spirit had been broken into complete submission; someone who had given up any hope of ever having their very own self. She was a piece of clay, dried hard throughout the years into a formed shape that suited only its sculptor.
We talked about the weather, and how she was getting more excited about the coming of Christmas, and the presents she wanted to get for my nephews. She was so happy when hanging out with her grandchildren. On our last phone call, she sounded like she always did when she wasn’t speaking in the presence of Jay, different; free.
When he was near her, her telephone conversations would seem happy and upbeat, but I had always known that it was forced and faked. Everything that she said and everything that she did, was to appease, and keep at bay, her Master. Jay. She would usually make references to interject him into the conversation. If confronted with a subject, during a telephone conversation not fit, in her mind, to share with Jay, she would blurt out a random and unrelated sentence to quickly change the subject without his detection. She had become a pro. My sister and I could always, I mean every, single last time, tell if Jay was in the room with her, or somewhere within ears reach, when we spoke with her on the phone.
She also had a “whisper voice”, one that she used when Jay was sleeping. Years of training, much of it through trial and error, taught her the perfect decibel to use when she whispered into the phone during his naptime. She knew the hell to be paid if he were to be awakened from his slumber. It is such a sad thought to know how terribly it must have physically and mentally affected my mother, after forty years in his control. I already knew how it affected me after a mere, but grueling, sixteen or so.
Alarm bells for Julie began, after repeated unanswered and unreturned calls to my mother’s cell phone during the last couple of days had occurred. My parents rented a house in Sun City Center, Florida, close to an hour drive from her own, so an immediate response was not possible. My mother’s brother, Travis and his wife, Alice lived in the next neighborhood over from my parents’ and offered to drive over there right away, to make sure that everything was alright.
When they arrived, my parents’ pearl white Cadillac was parked in the driveway. From all outward appearances, everything looked normal. Travis got out of the car and went to the front door of the 50’s built house nestled deep within the neighborhood of an average retirement community in Florida. He could hear my parents pug dogs barking and running through the house and the television, which was turned way up and very loud, tuned to MSNBC, or some other all day cable news channel. He knocked on the door and did not receive an answer. The police were called immediately.
Julie and her husband, Lance, drove as quickly as they could to my parents’ house. A call was made to the police to warn them of the imminent danger. The police said that they could not enter the residence without a missing person’s report being filed, but that a family member could enter on their own. Shortly, they joined Travis and Alice on the driveway of the house.
Lance checked all doors and windows, which all were locked and secure. The doggie door, built in to the kitchen door that led to the back yard, was accessible. I was on the phone with my Aunt Alice when Lance crawled through the doggie door and unlocked the back door of the rented house on Ojai Street. The same house that would soon become the Christmastime subject of police and media attention.
I heard my sister puppy-talking to my mom’s pugs with excitement, and a sort of relief. Lance directed my sister, Travis and Alice to remain outside until he cleared the house of intruders or danger. I lived in San Francisco at the time, so I could not see what my brother-in-laws face looked like when he came back out of the kitchen door after his walk-through, but it must’ve looked bad. Without warning, I heard a freakish scream in such a way as you might hear a mother scream after finding out her child has just been run over by a car. ”What did HE do to MY MOTHER! What did HE do to MY MOTHER!” my sister yelled repeatedly, and then, I heard Lance say, “Julie, they’re gone.”
I do not remember how the information was relayed, but soon it was clear to me what had happened. My father, the man that I instinctively feared capable of such a thing did it. He shot my dear mother, of whom I worried would someday succumb to just this sort of tragedy, in the head. She laid, as if peacefully asleep, in her bed, dead. Next to the bed, the murderer laid, also dead, from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
The following poem shows the pure denial women in abusive relationships suffer. By this time in their marriage it was clear that Jay was a danger that my mother could not escape.
“The Strength of Our Love”
I couldn’t imagine a day without you
Where would I go and what would I do
For life would mean nothing without you near
You brighten up my days and chase away my fears
It’s been seven wonderful years that we’ve been together
Living and loving, but hurting never.
We’ve seen some hard times, yes it’s true
But together, we always saw them through.
We never gave slack for our faith in each other
For it only grows stronger with each passing year.
The strength of our love grows with each passing day
Although it has been tested many times along the way.
And I know when I’m breathing my last breath of life
I’ll have your love locked up inside
For love doesn’t die when the body does
I’ll carry it with me when I ascend above.
by Lucy Pruett
I think of, and miss my mother every day.
Domestic violence is no longer a skeleton to remain in the family’s closet. It is a serious and deadly condition that can be stopped with the right amount of education and life-saving action. Please, please, please…if you know of a family member, friend, co-worker, or neighbor who is facing such treachery, go to http://www.thehotline.org/, call 1-800-the-hotline, or inform the police right away. Your actions count!