Riding Life!

Riding Life!
Life is like a wild horse--Unless you ride it, it will ride you! (from the movie: "Princess of Thieves.")

Sunday, February 6, 2011

C: Tragedy Sometimes Just Happens—It Just Does…

random-thoughts Here’s the way my rabbit-trail brain works:  Yesterday I finished up a divorce case that closely paralleled my own life.  It started me thinking this morning of the strange twists that life takes, totally out of our control.  Then, I started thinking back to things that I have witnessed over the years, instances where life just took off on its own; and one childhood memory came to the forefront of my thoughts.  I talked about it with Son over breakfast this morning and, surprisingly, he said, “Write about that, Mom.”

In 1962 I was ten years old.  John Kennedy was president, we were terrified of communism, gasoline was $0.28 per gamarilyn-death-431x300llon and Marilyn Monroe died.  (Confession: I had to look some of this up—my memory is  not that good!).

Notwithstanding a fair amount of adult turmoil in my home, I was living a pretty good childhood.  An integral part of that was my friend down the road, whom I will call “Jeannie.”

Jeannie was another budding equestrienne.  She and I would saddle up as early as we could each morning and spend entire days together on our horses.  We rode every, single day that the weather permitted.

Jeannie’s parents were an anomaly in my circle: they both had college degrees.  Her mother was a registered nurse and her father, “JC” a reporter for ounurse_clipart_picturer local newspaper.  I spent lots of time at her house, as she did at mine.  Remember starched, white nurses’ uniforms with white stockings,  shoes and caps?  Well, I remember Jeannie’s mother wearing these.

I was vaguely aware of adult problems in that house, too—JC was almost never without a can of Schlitz beer.  But at that age, we left those issues to parents.  Jeannie and I were bent on having a great growing-up.

One year Jeannie had a “bunking party” with four other friends and me to celebrate her December birthday.  Her parents had just added a new den to their home, complete with fireplace, and we girls snuggled down there in sleeping bags and on pallets of blankets—that is, we did way into the night.  It was traditional at these parties for us to stay awake just as long as we could, and woe be unto the girl who was first asleep, as pranks abounded for her.

So, when morning came, we were all exhausted and fast asleep on the floor of the den.  JCsleep came down through the den to get his Sunday morning paper.

The new den door had one of those locks that you can open from the inside without noticing that it is locked, but it locks you tight-as-a-drum out if you don’t unlock before you pull the door shut.  And that is just what happened to “JC” when he went out that cold December morning.

When JC turned to come in and found himself locked out it apparently infuriated him, but instead of ringing the doorbell to wake one of us to let him in, he marched himself to his workshop and grabbed an axe.

Imagine being a ten-year-old girl and awakening from an exhausted sleep to a man splintering the door in with an axe, shouting obscenities at the door as if it were a live enemy, and occasionally just screaming primal utterances of rage!  We had no idea who it was. 

I clearly remember us all sitting up, stock still without the presence of mind to run—not a one of the six of us.  I recall seeing the brass door knob fly off the door, skittering across the tile floor of the den in pieces.  I remember the axe blade showing at one point, coming through between the door jamb and the door, which was splintering with each blow.  Many years later, when I saw “The Shining,” I’m sure it had a deeper impact on  me than on most…


Jeannie’s mother had also been asleep, so it took her a minute or two to register the noise and get to us.  She herded us up the two steps through the kitchen, into the living room.  I remember the fright I felt as she calmly told us to stay quiet but if she instructed it, we were to run out the living room door and to my house, which was the nearest of any of the girls’ homes.  All through this, we could hear the sounds of rage and the hammering at the door.

I don’t know how, but Jeannie’s mother was able to calm JC, making him coffee in the kitchen while we huddled together out of sight just around the living room wall.

I don’t recall how we got home that day, and I can only imagine how the other parents felt when Jeannie’s mom and their daughters filled them in on the events of that morning.  It was the last time I stayed with Jeannie overnight (Duh!).

Very shortly, before school started up again after Christmas, Jeannie, her mother and her brother moved 250 miles north to be with Jeannie’s grandparents.  Their house went up for sale.  Her horse was sold and another purchased from near her new home—a beautiful paint I remember named “Chief.”

Jeannie’s mother filed for divorce and JC was hospitalized, receiving a diagnosis of Schizophrenia.  Within the year he was dead of a self-inflicted gunshot.

Later I learned what I had thought from observation: that JC had not always been so sick.  He had been a charming, great guy when Jeannie’s mom and he married.  He had been an attentive, loving father.  His children loved him dearly. But he began to slide into illness over the several years prior to this tragedy.

My own mother recalls Jeannie’s mom confiding in her of the deepening of JC’s illness and her quandary over what to do.  Do you stay by the side of the man you love, trying to find help that he constantly resists?  What about the children?  This axe-to-the-door event was probably one of the the proverbial last straws, a clear message that she had to get her children to safety.  My mother remembers the last time they spoke of this, Jeannie’s mom saying, “I promised God last night that if He allowed us to live through the night, I would get my children out of this.”

Years later, after high school, Jeannie showed up at my father’s law office, seeking—and getting—JC’s medical records.  She was, it seemed, fearful that she, too, would fall victim to this madness, afraid it runs in families and that she or her children might succumb.  Sadly, I have lost touch with Jeannie, so I don’t know the turns her adult life has taken.

It’s just life, isn’t it?  Any illusion of control we have is just that: an illusion.  These children did not deserve a sick father, no one—not even JC, himself—did anything to bring it on.  It’s a symptom of a fallen world and a warning to us all that we do not know what’s around the next corner.


Best to try to hold onto something solid…it’s a great recommendation for faith that Someone Else, a higher power who is wiser than we, has some kind of plan that can make sense of this sometimes senseless life.  I admit, that raises the question of why Someone Else would let such things happen, but that’s a whole ‘nother post, isn’t it? 

So much for childhood memories…C


Karen said...

You just touched on the very question that makes ME question faith. But yes, tis another post entirely.

What a powerful post and a touching story. Perhaps you can find her again...on facebook? You never know what it might mean in her life to have a dear old friend in the picture again.

Vee said...

This hits so close to home that I find myself unable to add much of any value to the commentary. My concern is always with the barbaric ways that we "help" the mentally ill. They get NO help unless they want it and they DON'T want it in that frame of mind. It's a hellish state of affairs. There has got to be a better way though it means a complete overhaul of the current system. (Without faith, I myself would've thrown myself off a bridge sometime ago.)

I hope that Jeannie is living a wonderful, healthful life and her children also.

Kathy's Klothesline said...

So many questions without answers. S odd that I would read this on this particular morning after my unsettling night.

Anonymous said...

Dee from Tennessee

Yes, this illness is tragic beyond words. I've seen first-hand from a sister-in-law's brother the devastation -- beyond words. This particular man is now in his late 50s and has lived this sad, sad life for decades now. I do hope that your friend and her siblings have had a "good" life despite it all.

Zuzana said...

As much as I want to feel that I have a control over my life, I realize, the older I get, that I have none. All I have are choices. I can make these to the best of my knowledge and trust my instincts when I make decisions. Whatever happens I have to deal with and realize it is my destiny.
Beautifully narrated story, I enjoyed it and can image your terror being subjected to a "Shining" like scene in real life.;)

Ayak said...

Having worked with schizophrenics for years, this story brought back a few memories for me too. Mental illness is the silent illness. Often no-one sees it until it's too late, whilst the person suffering it often does so in silence, until incidents such as these, then all hell breaks loose.
A very sad story C. Thanks for sharing. The more we talk about it, the more it helps people to understand and not discriminate.

Immigrant Daughter said...

Such tragedy is sad. Your son was right it is a story that needs to be told it is too bad not enough people will hear it. There are things we have no control of, but our choices are ours and they do effect others. ID

Suzanne said...

Yes, control. stability and security are an illusion we create for ourselves. If we thought about the terrible things that could befall us on any given day we would NEVER get out of bed.

My terrible childhood memory was about some neighborhood playmates who were, in all our eyes, the golden children. Their father was a judge and they were wealthy, the only people for miles around with a swimming pool in their yard, an in-ground pool at that.

One summer they left on a dream vacation. Whereas we would go to Wisconsin to visit grandparents, they were driving to the west coast with stops at all the great sights in between Chicago and L.A. They stayed in the fanciest hotel in Las Vegas and while their parents slipped downstairs to grab a quick dinner - two of the three girls were murdered in their hotel room by a deranged employee who had a key to the room. The littlest one survived only because she rolled under the bed and stayed quiet. Two days after she was murdered we received a postcard in the mail from our friend, mailed days before. It was quite a mental task for a child of 10 to try and understand that her friend was murdered!! It was awful.

Reminds me of the book, "When Bad Things Happen to Good People"..... or children.

Sandra said...

A sad, thought-provokijg post, C. I hope Jeannie and her mother and brother found happiness.

Anonymous said...

That story would make an interesting movie. My dad was an awesome man -- good husband and wife -- but my uncle wasn't. We remember some strange times at his house. It would be interesting to know what happened to your friends. Stay warm and safe.

laurie @ bargain hunting said...

I haven't visited in awhile. What a story you told! I remember things shocking me when I went to visit in a friend's home, but nothing this horrifying! You did such a good job of telling the story and of relating it to the way our lives take unexpected turns. and you are right, sometimes it just happens. This was a very thought-provoking read. laurie

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