I had to get a hammer to fix a drawer in my dresser.
I’m not so good with hammers.
Ten years ago next week, my childhood best friend was brutally killed with one, and it’s made it hard for me to use them ever since.
Susan Barber. Oh Susan, I miss you.
It’s hard to get up the courage to tell someone when you suspect something horrible, or something apt to be horrible, is happening to someone you love. But you always have to tell someone.
I wish I had when I watched horrible things happen to my mother at my father’s hands. My father finally went to jail (on unrelated charges, of course) and that put an end to it.
And I really, really wish I’d listened more carefully when Susan talked to me about her boyfriend.
I was in college on the other side of the country, I had new friends and a new boyfriend myself.
I read her letters too quickly and responded too slowly.
I’ll never make that mistake again. A few years later a friend of mine was in an unhealthy relationship. I didn’t get a good feeling about the guy. I told her so. She’s not the type to get offended by that kind of stuff. We’re closer than ever, and now she’s got a restraining order against him.
You won’t offend your friends. You have to do it.
Sigh. We learn and grow and muddle through. We hopefully get more courage as we go along.
Not Susan, though. She died of massive head trauma, her skull cracked cleanly on a concrete floor by a man she loved, a man with a hammer.
Afterward, he freaked out. It was an accident. Well, it got out of hand. He fled to his parents’ house, then he went to Mardi Gras. They had fought because she was in law school and had work to do, and he had wanted her to go to Mardi Gras with him. She was going to become an animal rights lawyer, you see. She was serious, ambitious.
After Mardi Gras, after Susan’s bloated and beaten body was found days later, the police finally tracked him down. He pleaded what men who do things like this plead, temporary insanity I believe it was, and he spent six years in prison.
I stopped following the case after he was sentenced. I have no idea if he got out early, or killed someone else in prison and is still there. I have a file of articles about the situation, but I don’t want to dig them up, Google his name, figure out what ended up happening.
Susan, you woulda liked her.
She was smart, and cool. Fearless, that one. But she was 5’2″, a tiny Korean powerhouse. No matter how much power you have in you, you can’t stop a man a foot taller than you with a hammer.
Ten years ago, I was working at Bloodroot, taking the train in once a week. (I lived in New Jersey then, so to get to Bloodroot I’d take a bus to NYC, then a train to Connecticut. I really loved working at Bloodroot. The commute didn’t phase me at all.) The day after I found out about Susan, I remember commuting through Times Square, walking to Grand Central Station and just staying there for an hour, missing my train and catching the next one, sitting on the floor under that great ceiling, staring at the stars.
Over time, your life becomes mapped with these permanent bruises. The things you know not to touch. The ceiling at Grand Central is one of those places for me. I still take the train in to the city, but when I’m walking through that beautiful room, I get so quiet. It’s my monument to Susan.
Eleven years after watching two buildings transform to ash in front of my eyes, and I still walk blocks out of my way to avoid the spot.
I left my home state in August 1996, and I know I’ll never go back. The entire state is one big bruise. Once in a while I’ll fly to LA, and the pilot will announce the Grand Canyon visible below. I know better than to look.
Ten years since Susan was killed, and I still don’t use hammers much. I fixed the drawer, but I used a rubber mallet to drive the nails back in, if you want to know the truth. I know myself. I’m the one who bought the mallet, so I had an alternative to the hammer. You might think it’s a distinction without a difference, but I just do whatever the hell I need to do to keep my mind out of the dark places. The mallet helps.
I know what not to touch, the places my heart can’t go.
I miss you, Susan.