They met on a blind date. It was a whirlwind romance. In ten years they had six kids, I was number four.
She had no idea he’d be so abusive.
In 1957 they moved into a little house in Arlington, Virginia. My father got through the days with at least one bottle of vodka. My mother did her best to get away from him. She called the police, we escaped to hotels, but she always went back. She said she felt safer knowing where he was.
One April night when I was ten, he held her at gunpoint at the dining room table. She got away and locked herself in their bedroom. All night he tried to get in. By morning he was enraged. With a sledgehammer, he beat down the door. She closed her eyes and fired from the small pistol she had squirrelled away. My father stumbled into my brother’s bedroom, fell to the floor, and died.
Not long after the dust settled, Mother moved us ten miles south and a world away. For me, it was the start of a whole new life.
Unable to sell the old house, it sat vacant for months. People broke in and camped. They vandalized the walls and fixtures.
One Saturday morning, Mother dragged us back to clean. By early afternoon, I escaped to the front porch. A young boy I’d never met walked up. With his hands shoved deep in his pockets, he shuffled his feet, looked down at the sidewalk, and shot glares up at me. After a few minutes, in one run on sentence, he blurted out:
“A woman shot her husband in that house, then she buried him under the picnic table in the back yard, and he comes back and haunts the place.”
For the first time in my life, I got slammed with the pain of gossip. How, I wondered, could I ever explain the tragedy that happened behind these walls? How my father’s death broke the spirit of my mother. And damaged the souls of the siblings I loved.
To this day, I get squeamish when conversations turn to gossip. When I find myself adding my part, my stomach churns. I’ve never quite figured out how to back out without sounding self-righteous. More than once, I’ve been accused of being naïve for refusing to believe that so and so is sleeping with him or her.
There’s always more to every story. And always more people whose feelings can get hurt. This story is my reminder to keep things to myself. To honor other’s secrets. And to not add to the ever present gossip mill.