Black Friday

This is a little late, seeing as Black Friday was yesterday.  But the day after Thanksgiving means very little to me in the way of shopping.

But it is forever one of the days in my life that I will never forget.

The funeral home that I worked at didn’t allow us to take the day after Thanksgiving off.  Typically, is was just a very busy day.

But Black Friday 2004 bypassed busy and went right off into the surreal.

It started quiet.  Eerily so.  The morning passed without so much as a phone call.  We all had that sick, uneasy feeling in our guts, knowing that some psychic groin kick was in the works.

I ate my lunch.  We spoke of the quietude, and took bets on what was coming next.

And I never would have guessed it.  Not in a million years.

I went back to the main desk after lunch, the phone rang as I approached.  My colleague grabbed a first call sheet and started scribbling down information.

And so it begins.

He finished with the first sheet and grabbed a second one and started filling it out.  He motioned to me to look at the finished one.  I vaguely recognized the name, but couldn’t place it.  I looked over his shoulder to see him writing the second individual’s name.  The same last name.  A husband and wife.

And then the words “Murder-suicide.”

I racked my brains trying to figure out the name and how I knew them.

I was still pondering that bit when the phone rang again.  The funeral home’s owner answered it.  He came out of his office with an awful look on his face.

“There’s a Chesterfield detective on the phone, and he wants to talk to YOU.”  He gave me a look like “what did you do?”

Hopefully the look I gave him in reply said “I haven’t a fucking clue” because I didn’t.

“This is Lt. So and so from Chesterfield Police.  I am investigating a murder-suicide in our jurisdiction and I have some questions for you.”

He then prattled off questions about how did I know these people; was I aware of what was planned, when did I last speak to them, et cetera.

I answered honestly.  I knew the names but couldn’t place them, and no and I don’t know.

Finally, when he was done questioning me, I asked him why I was being contacted.

His answer:

“Because your name was mentioned in the suicide note.”

Bam.  I couldn’t speak.  I could barely think.  A pure WTF moment if there ever was one.

And apparently, they left several of my business cards laying about.  My cards and the suicide note were the only pieces of paper in the house that hadn’t been shredded or destroyed.

He asked me to let him know if I thought of anything else.  I don’t remember what my response was but I numbly hung up the phone.  My employer looked at me kindly, and asked what was going on, so i told him what I knew.

“Well, that’s a first,” was all he could say.

The rest of the day, I kept trying to remember this couple.  I even went through the stack of thank you cards that I had received from clients to cheer me up when I got low.  I was about three cards into the stack when I saw their names and all came back to me.

They had come in that past summer to buy a wooden display case for the woman’s son from her first marriage who had committed suicide himself earlier.  He was a military veteran, and they wanted to keep as many positive things about him as they could.  I helped them select a flag case and gently placed his flag into it when it arrived.  They thanked me and we all went about our lives.

Until that Black Friday.

The details started to filter through to me during the arrangements with both families.  They had mailed out letters (postmarked Tuesday) to various relatives telling them what they were going to do.  The letters were timed to be delivered after the holiday when it would be too late to stop them.

Concerned relatives called the police after the letters were received, and their decomposing bodies were discovered.

Each family was a challenge.  The husband’s family seemed to believe that I had some prior knowledge and/or was profiting from this situation somehow.  Like I would get a commission based on people mentioning my name to the funeral home or something asinine like that.

The wife’s remaining son and her ex made the arrangements for her.  My main memory of that was my having to run to the bathroom literally every five minutes because I was doing the wonderful pre-colonoscopy “cleanse” and it hit me smack in the middle of the arrangement.

The husband’s brother was insistent on seeing them.  He wouldn’t believe that it was them until he saw them first-hand.  I tried delicately to explain how he really did NOT want to see them in their bloody, decomposed state.  He insisted.  Finally I agreed, but with the warning that he was going to sign a disclaimer and that the viewing was going to take place in our lower garage away from the main building.

“Why?” he asked.

Because of the smell, sir.

That was apparently enough to change his mind.

He insisted on going to the crematory and watching the cremation take place.

I took them together in a companion urn to the cemetery for burial with both families present.  As I left, I felt a tremendous relief.  I was done with that mess.

Or so I thought.

About a year later, I was manning the main desk and took a call from a woman, asking me if her brother’s car was in our parking lot.

I checked the lot and saw none, so I called her back and she informed me that her brother was down the street from us and had called her to tell her that he was coming to our parking lot.

To kill himself.

I quickly advised her to call the police and give them that information and that I would keep my eyes out for his car.

She called back about a half-hour later to see if he had shown up.  He hadn’t (thank you Jesus) and she then informed me that she was the sister of the woman who died with her husband the previous year.  This was their brother she was looking for.

Oh.  My.

I asked her how her nephew (the wife’s remaining son) was coping.  I wasn’t prepared for what she said next.

“Oh, didn’t you hear…”

No I hadn’t.  Apparently he got into an argument with his wife, and in a rage went upstairs, grabbed his shotgun, came back downstairs, stuck the barrel in his mouth and pulled the trigger.  In front of his wife and her teenage daughter.

An entire family.  Wiped out by separate murders/suicides.

I don’t know how to end this, except to say that I think about them every Black Friday.

And for those of you wondering whether this is fact or fiction, there is a reason I didn’t put names in this.  Out of respect to the remaining relatives.

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Will Ferguson Burn?

I have purposefully avoided writing about the situation here in my fair city.  As a young man, I watched LA burn on CNN in the aftermath of the Rodney King verdict.

Never once did I dream that such could take place in St. Louis.

For you out-of-town folk, the view you are getting of Ferguson (and by default, St. Louis) is that we are one big impoverished area just ripe for unrest.

In all truthfulness, Ferguson is a nice little area.  I dated a woman from Ferguson before I met my wife and spent a lot of time there.  I used by snacks, gas and cigarettes at the Quik Trip that famously went up in flames during the riots.  It was/is a mixed ethnic community where working class and middle class lived peacefully together for the most part.  I’m sure that there were incidents that fouled the Utopian dream, but I never felt unsafe.  (Even when a guy I stopped to help in the middle of the night that threatened to kill me – but that’s another story for another day)

All of that changed in August.  I happened to be in the woods of Wisconsin when the shooting occurred and watched the initial reports on the news.

I was sad.  And angry.  But mostly sad.

I was sad that the Ferguson I knew and liked is gone forever.

I HATED how different factions tried to spin the narrative to suit their own agenda.  Especially the reprehensible Photo-shopped abominations that painted Michael Brown as a gun-happy gangster and the bogus pictures of a beaten man in the hospital that was supposedly Darren Wilson that have since been debunked.

I equally hate how police officers have been painted with a broad brush as trigger-happy hillbilly morons jest itchin’ to shoot.  I know too many cops to allow that to pass without mention.   Mainly they are ordinary people doing an awful job and just want to get home alive.

That being said, there are good people and bad people, good cops and bad cops.  What amazes me is the amount of gray area there is in this situation.  I am NOT passing judgement on this situation, let me hasten to say.  I am not a member of the jury, nor was I a witness nor am I privy to any special information about the case.

There are a lot of unanswered questions that I have.  IF Darren Wilson killed the man wrongfully, let him go to prison and experience the treatment that convicted cops get from their fellow inmates.

IF Michael Brown did indeed attack the police officer and try to take his gun, then there is little I can condemn the officer of.

But those are both big IF’s.

I don’t have a horse in this particular race, except for the health and well-being of my fellow St. Louisans and the good people of Ferguson.

I hope that the protests are as peaceful as possible.  I hope that their right to free speech is carefully protected.   I hope that some good comes of all of this.

I hope that the police are safe and get home to their families at night in one piece.

I hope that no more lives are lost.

The announcement is coming any minute now.   I hope Ferguson burns no more.

I hope.