Tuesday, December 28, 2010

I Become the Murderer's Mom

I walked back to the car seeing nothing but the putty-colored wet sidewalk under my feet.

As I walked by the door to the lecture room where the parents were, I heard a woman give a wail of grief. I shivered at the pain and terror and wondered if it was Angela.

I tried to avert my eyes from the memorial wall that was taking shape along the plate-glass windows of the cafeteria. The flowers and photos and teddy bears forced themselves into my vision, the flowers already broken and wilting, the photos with their colors dripping like tears. The teddy bears looked at me with their hard little eyes, asking, as the detective had asked, “Do you know why your daughter might have done this?”

In the parking lot, wires meandered like snakes from media trucks to lights and monitors. As I stepped among them, focused on the simple task of not falling down, something dark appeared in my vision, and I jumped back.

“I didn’t mean to startle you,” a woman said.

I looked up to find one of the newswomen with the perfect hair holding out a microphone and looking at me with a friendly and sympathetic smile.

“I wonder if you would be willing to share your thoughts on the events here today.”

I stared at her for a second or two while I waited for her words to get translated into something I could understand. “Share my thoughts,” I repeated. In the monitor just off camera, I saw an old, old woman, bitter, frightened, and scary. I looked around, wondering where that horrible woman was, and then I realized it was the murderer’s mom. I turned my face away and walked back to my car.

How could this have happened?

I remember the helplessness of holding her tiny, writhing body, racked by colic, as she flailed in pain. The neighbors upstairs would pound on the floor to protest the noise. I was an 18-year-old mom with no experience, no family, no friends nearby, the baby’s dad on the road. She was tiny, red, anguished, and when she finally did fall into an exhausted sleep, I would put her on my bed and curl around her, sheltering her with my body without touching her, for fear of waking her from her sleep. And I would sob silently at my inability to help her.

My phone rang, and Chloe’s name showed on its little screen. I thought of letting it go while I recovered myself, but then the morning’s missed call from Melody came back with all its unseen horror, and I picked it up and made my voice as neutral as I could. “Yes?”

“Mom?” Her voice was tinny, echoey -- the unmistakable sign of a call from the girls’ bathroom -- and she was sobbing so hard that she could hardly get the words out. “There’s a -- video -- Melody -- Have you heard?”

“Shhh, shhhh,” I said, going into the same routine that didn’t work with colicky Melody. “Yes. I know. Take a deep breath. Wait for me in the office. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

I blew my nose, dried my eyes, and went to deal with the daughter who hadn’t committed a murder -- yet?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Questions about Melody

Neither of the two men looked back at me as they walked. Our footsteps echoed in the empty corridor, and my feet were still cold and from standing in the rain. But mostly I saw the backs of their suits, dark as black in the greenish hallway light, as if they were a couple of undertakers and I was being taken to see the casket.

We walked down the hall and up to the second floor to a corridor of office doors. One of the men unlocked an office door and went inside. The second held the door for me, and I was surprised at how young he was and at the laugh wrinkles at the corners of his solemn eyes.

The first man sat at a desk in a cramped little office overflowing with books, papers, South Pacific folk art. His face was framed between two towers of books, their spines facing him, their pages a riot of sticky notes and loose papers. The nameplate on the desk said “Martin Radwell.”

The other man left and closed the door behind him.

He nodded toward the only chair in the room not covered in books and papers, and I sat down. He flipped through some papers in a file for a minute.

“Are you Martin Radwell?” I asked, more to break the ice than anything.

“He’s dead,” he said, not even looking up. “Killed this morning.”

“Oh,” I said and stopped, because there was nothing else to say.

“I’m detective David Campbell,” he said, “and I’m leading the investigation on the shooting this morning.”

I kept trying to prepare myself for the sentence beginning, “We have bad news for you.”

Instead he said, “What can you tell me about your daughter?”

“Wait,” I said. “You wouldn’t be asking me that if she were dead, would you? Does that mean Melody is alive?”

He continued to give me that look, detached, appraising, watching for something that I didn’t know I was doing. “Yes,” he said, neutral as a light post, “she’s alive.”

“That’s such a relief,” I said, collecting my purse and standing up. “Can I see her?”

“Not right now, Mrs. Davidson. I do need to ask some questions.”

“Melody --” I said. My knees gave way, and I found myself in the chair again.

“Do you have any idea why your daughter might open fire on a cafeteria full of students?”

I can’t finish this right now.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Falling Water

If the shooting was at 10:15, and I got to the campus at 11, then we parents must have been standing in the rain for an hour and a half or two hours before they opened a lecture room and let us sit down.

Every once in a while, an administrator would come to the podium, looking shell-shocked and dazed, and say something about how devastated they all were. There would always be at least one voice, a man on the verge of tears, telling her -- the administrator always seemed to be a “her,” but never the same one -- to shove it. He wanted answers.

Of course we all wanted answers. The administrators, too. But there were no answers.

There were plenty of rumors. The shooter was a student. The shooter was from off campus. The shooter was angry about a romance gone bad. The shooter had a pistol. The shooter had a rifle. The shooter killed himself. The shooter tried to kill himself and failed. The shooter had been killed by an off-duty police officer. The shooter -- this one was greeted with derision -- was a woman.

One administrator came in with a clipboard and an assistant and told us we could sign up for information. If they found anything about our loved one, they would know where to reach us.

We all lined up to write our names and the name of the child we were waiting for. When I got to it, the list was worn with much handling and some of teh ink was blotched with tears.

Over the hours, the lecture room had filled up. There were nearly a hundred parents waiting -- waiting for bad news about five kids and good news about all the rest.

So it didn’t take long for it to register that Mr. and Mrs. John Smith were waiting in the lecture hall to hear about Johnny, while Johnny was frantically calling both of their cells and the home number. When the word came, Mr. and Mrs. John Smith would be called to the front, like winning contestants in a game show. There would be a whispered conversation, and and little cry of relief, and they would be led through a back door while the rest of us waited and watched.

When the call came for Claire Davidson, I hardly recognized it. Angela did. When the assistant asked, “Is Claire Davidson still here?” she gave me a little shove with her shoulder, and the significane of my name registered, and I sprang to my feet and hurried to the stage.

The whispered conversation was short. I said, “Claire Davidson,” and after a brief, unreadable look, the assistant pointed to a side door where two men in dark suits stood. They gave me no indication that I could give the little cry of joy.

I looked back at Angela, but she looked through me, her long hair still trailing water and her eyes looking into the distance beyond the stage.

I walked out the door and into the empty hallway behind the two stern men in dark suits.

Monday, November 15, 2010

'My Baby'

Angela and I stood together shivering, more from the chill inside ourselves than from the weather, talking to the other parents as they gathered at the door, waiting. They all have a story to tell, of when they saw their child last. Child -- at times like this, the hulking 240-pound linebacker becomes, once again, “My baby.”

I had ignored Melody’s phone call. The memory lacerated like a whip.

At a time like this some people talk, and some don’t. Some tell stories, and some complain that nobody has done anything about this. “This” might be the weather or the newspeople or the presence of the kids milling around or the fact that we were standing in wet grass soaking up rainwater in our shoes or the unresponsiveness of the administration.

But I know the “this” they’re complaining about. The complaints serve to drown out the pain, but they’re really about the fact that someone has mercilessly, maliciously gunned down five people who had not taken their lives into their hands, but had had them ripped away anyway. “This” was the pain of human existence from the time of Cain and Abel, and it’s not the fault of the weather or the news reporters or the administration.

It’s one person in pain and malice who pulled the trigger.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Waiting for Truth

I had to park the car a long walk away, because the parking lots near the Student Commons were all full.

It gave me time to look for Melody’s cape in every group of kids.

The whole time I was walking, I had an argument going on in my head. One side said I was being silly. The news report said there were five dead. What are the odds that one of them would be Melody? The other side said that if there was a chance that Melody was hurt, I wanted to be there. As I kept walking, the side that said it was silly withdrew to a vague warning that I was going to feel stupid when I saw Melody’s next blog post.

As I negotiated the maze of wires and cameras toward the administration building, I was accidentally captured on video, and I saw myself on the monitor. My black raincoat was, as my mother often pointed out, “not my color,” and the drizzle had made my hair into a Medusa-like fright, and my worry over Melody had made my face like an old, old woman’s. I was embarrassed at even thinking about such things at a time when there was so much devastation, and it made me feel a little more sympathy toward the female TV reporters, carefully guarding their coifs under huge golf umbrellas.

And then I saw Angela Nehman, waiting in line at the administration building, so after a quick look around for watching police, I ducked under the crime scene tape and went over to see her.

Angela has been a neighbor of ours since we moved into our house 17 years ago. She has a daughter the same age as Melody, and when I saw her there, I knew it was for the same reason I was.

We gave each other a hug, and I asked about Kelly.

“I just saw her this morning,” she said, with tears coming quickly to her eyes.  “She said she was meeting her roommate for coffee at the union.” She broke into sobs so that she could hardly get the words out. “I know she was there, and now no one will tell me anything.”

“Oh, Angela,” I said, “I’m so sorry. Maybe she went to Starbucks or something instead.” But she gave me a look, and I stopped. She didn’t want polite, hopeful lies, and I didn’t either. We were here for the truth.  If we wanted illusion, we could be home pretending it didn’t happen until the truth dug up our hiding place and hacked us into pieces. No.  Better to meet it without armor but with five smooth stones.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Vortex of Insanity

I heard the news on my way to the Women’s Life Center.

A shooting at Clackamas Communitiy College. Tears were pouring as I drove over the Oregon City Bridge. I thought of all those kids I see from time to time when I give Melody a ride because her car has broken down or she’s running late or she feels that she just can’t stand to ride the bus again.

And then of Melody. After she turned from the car, looking at me from dark, dark eyes under spiky purple and black hair, she would walk away in her ankle-length purple wool cape among the blue jeans and tattoos, looking from the back like a fairy princess in Doc Martins. Her long strides cut through the crowd like a knife.

I phoned the Women's Life Center and told Gramma Joan that I wouldn’t be there. Grandma Joan said she understood, as if there were any other answer, and I drove up to the campus.

It was a gray-on-green day, and the long curving drive to the hilltop campus was filled with parked cars, news vans, police cars. People milled around, walking toward the school, talking with each other, pulling news gear out of the vans. The mood was an odd mix of aftermath of a tornado and county fair. I felt like I was being pulled into a vortex of insanity.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

I Miss Melody's Call

Melody called this morning. I saw her number on the caller ID and just didn’t want to answer it.

It was breakfast time. Rick was having problems with his tie. Chloe had put off getting a permission slip signed until the last minute, and Sam was trying to slide his Gameboy into his backpack without our noticing it.

The phone rang in the middle of all that chaos, and I ran to catch it. I’m still jumpy from the anonymous text, even though it came on my cell phone. I didn’t want Chloe to catch the phone, because I didn’t want her exposed to that.

Truthfully, I didn’t want Rick to catch it either, but it was because he had lost his sympathy for Melody, although he would express it that she had worn it out.

Anyway, before I picked up the phone, I glanced at the caller ID and saw Melody’s number, looked around the room, and flicked off the ringer. I thought I would call her back when everybody was gone.

I didn’t want to lie to them that it was a wrong number, although I was prepared to. But they didn’t seem to have noticed. Rick was reading Chloe’s permission permission slip, and Sam was sitting with his backpack in his lap, looking pleased with himself.

Rick looked up from the paper and stared at Chloe with amazement. “Your high school is putting on Sweeney Todd?”

“Dad,” she said, in that roller-coaster intonation that is a teen-ager’s cross between wheedling and disdain, “it’s a classic.”

“Whatever happened to Much Ado about Nothing?” he asked.

Chloe roller her eyes. “That’s so old.”

“What are these people thinking?” he said, more to me than to Chloe, who couldn’t see anything except how stubborn we were.

I stood by Sam’s chair with my hand outstretched.

“Mom!” he said. “That’s not fair. I only play it at lunch and recess.”

“Hand it over, Sam,” I said, “and go catch the bus.”

He was still muttering about the unfairness of it all as he slammed the door behind him. I put the Gameboy in the hall closet and came back to find Rick and Chloe still in intense negotiations.

“Mrs. Lovett?” he said.

“It’s the second biggest role in the show.” She turned to me. “Mom, tell him I’m not going to go out and kill anybody.”

“She’s not going to go out and kill anybody,” I said. “I’d rather see her in Bye Bye Birdie myself, but this is --”

“This is my big chance,” she said, cutting me off. “To get into the spring musical as a junior.”

“We need to think about it,” Rick said.

“Mom,” she wailed. “If I don’t turn the permission slip in today, Ms. Casey will give the part to Emma Hardwood.”

“How do we know Emma Hardwood’s parents aren’t asking why Chloe Davidson shouldn’t get the part?” he said with a logic as icy as a January wind down the Columbia Gorge.

“It’s just a play,” I said, “and she’s a good girl. That’s got to be worth something.”

He stared at me in surprise and then back at Chloe, suddenly making puppy-dog eyes. “I can’t believe this,” he said, softening. “Well, you sign it,” he said. “I’m going along under protest.”

“Oh, thanks, Daddy,” she said, throwing her arms around his neck. “You won’t be sorry.” She grabbed her bag and ran out the door.

“What was that all about?” he asked when she was gone.

“Thinking about Melody,” I said. “How hard it was to get her involved in things, how happy I would have been if she had really tried for anything.”

He shrugged. “We’ll see how it works out, I guess.” He shook his head and left.

By the time I got the breakfast dishes done, it was time to leave for my work at the Women’s Life Center, and I forgot all about Melody’s call.

Or maybe, if I’m honest, I really didn’t want to talk to her this morning.

Yes, love and anger can occupy the same space. Maybe I should remember that the next time I talk to Melody.