Three years ago today, on November 10, my Aunt was murdered by her common-law husband. Inspired by this Brave New Traveler article titled A Moment of Reflection For Women The World Over, I decided to share this experience for the first time online.
I logged onto Facebook today to see status updates from aunts and cousins, reflecting on how the world changed because of this event. I thought about my father, whom I still haven’t seen cry, and how his life has been affected. I think about her children who have to deal with the consequences of one man, and I think about their children who will grow up never knowing their amazing grandmother. Because of one man.
The following is an essay I wrote for a creative non-fiction course two years ago. I was completely unprepared for the difficulty of reading the piece aloud, but my peers were incredibly supportive and it still remains one of the most raw essays I’ve ever written. The strength of my family is unfathomable, but this essay is mostly about how it changed the dynamics of “home” for me. I’ll perhaps never share it with my family, because it’s entirely my own thoughts and reflections, which I feel is somewhat selfish compared to the magnitude of devastation that hit her children.
As Christine Garvin quotes about the regeneration of the soul: “But what can also help it to regenerate are the men who understand it’s not about protecting the women you love – it’s about changing the mindset of the men who don’t love women.”
A year ago I headed home anticipating a familiar bed, warm hugs and a hot supper. I squeezed myself between twelve other students on the bus and we sang songs for six hours. We turned onto the Bay d’Espoir Highway and our sighs were collective as the sky cracked open and the sun reflected the clouds with ice-cream colors of pink, and purple, and blue. God’s Country, my home.
But I awoke the next morning to the panicked voice of my mother, and the telephone ringing. I peered out the window at my father, leaning against the rail of the patio while a friend delivered the news. His face was pale, eyes downcast.
My father’s family began pouring in from all corners of the country, relatives I hadn’t seen in years. They still found time to compliment me, to comment on my hair, to engage in conversation. Nearly a family reunion, twelve brothers and sisters, until my aunt’s children showed up in a flurry of tears.
A week went by before funeral arrangements could be considered because the circumstances were complicated. The day the funeral home was opened, we were allowed in groups into the small room where my aunt’s casket lay open for just one evening. I took my father’s hand.
She didn’t look like any relative of mine; her red curls were all wrong, her face too waxy. The smell of embalming fluid was overpowering, like green peppers mingled with the stench of roses and too many flowers. I couldn’t tear my eyes off the purple silk scarf covering the gaping hole in her neck.
I wanted to be strong for my father, so when the tears slipped from my eyes and over my cheeks I felt guilty that he was tearless and patting my shoulder in comfort. Then the guests began pouring in, mourners offering their goodwill, but the outside world was as obscure as the events that had taken place that night on the hill.
The man who committed the act is unheard of, unimportant, although he had been a part of our lives for years. His memory was extinguished once he finished himself off, just seconds after aiming the high-powered rifle at my aunt across the street. Enough force to kill a deer from a mile away, and the witnesses certainly knew it. They certainly knew that her life was over while they cowered behind the water tank, splattered in blood, crying for fear that they would be next as the SWAT team moved in. The thing that hurt my family the most was the image of her laying there, for nearly a full day, while the investigation was carried out. Just laying there in the rain on a patio all alone, her curls sodden while the town passed rumors.
The preacher told us not focus on the nature of the death, but to celebrate her memory. But in a community of 1200 people, rumors build steam until they erupt into ghost stories. My father bought her little blue van, and my brother’s friends refused to ride in it. I sat in the driver’s seat, thinking it didn’t matter who drove it last. I pulled open the ashtray and there was a single cigarette butt with a red rim of lipstick around the end.
My family spent as much time as they could together in that week. Food came from all sources and so we busied ourselves by eating molasses buns, hot chili, and chocolate cakes. Somehow my aunts and uncles still found things to laugh about, and somehow my cousins laughed too.
My grandmother who suffers from Alzheimer’s does not remember her children’s names, so nobody thought she would remember her daughter’s face in the casket. Months later she was still rocking back and forth in her little rocking chair beside the wood stove, mumbling her daughter’s name. I remember my uncle’s shaking hand as he placed it on the casket, lingering it there like just one second longer would make a difference; I remember my father quietly sipping his rum and coke on Christmas Eve, whispering, “Jenny’s comin’ on strong tonight.”
All this, in God’s Country. My home.