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Winter 2009 [Issue No. 15]

MEMOIR

 

 

My Son Dies Hard ▪► Grant Flint

[Final Issue]  ▪  [Download PDF*]

 

 

 

The terrible newspaper headline is here beside me on the bed. As if it happened to someone else, not me, not my family, not my son. 

WOMAN KILLED AFTER DECADE OF

RELENTLESS HARASSMENT

 

"Obsessive crush," the newspaper says. "Love obsession" … "murdered in brutal attack" … "plotted his quarry in the dark bedroom with a flashlight taped to the gun barrel" … "stabbed her and her husband, repeatedly, shot them eighteen times with a .22 rifle."

The husband, badly injured, told police my son said, "I love you, Melanie," over and over as he killed her. "I love you. I love you, Melanie, love you --"

 

 

I have to keep thinking. The police will be coming here. Have to take care of business. I’ve been to the garage, got all of his chemicals, dumped them into the toilet. It took a long, dangerous time. Dump, flush. Dump, flush. Some caught on fire when they hit the water.

I found his secret storage chest, double-locked, buried behind storage boxes. Pried it open. Found the letters the girl had written to him. Found the death list, the journal in which he listed observations about each person to be killed, what hours they were home, which windows were left open.

His journals. Three sets. The real one in that chest. Middle secrets in another journal hidden under his mattress on the floor, next to my bed. My son.

The least-cruel journal lay innocently on his bed. Abstract theories linking everything in the physical universe and universe of thought. Mathematical equations.

Went to the hills this morning, the most innocent journal read.

Now I wonder squeamishly -- one night not long before, he was eager for me to accompany him, drive there in the car, high up in the hills to the eight expensive new houses recently burned down all at once by an arsonist.

We got out, walked gingerly down amidst the charred ruins.

"Look!" my son said excitedly, big grin. He held up a black, charred piece of wood. Formerly a 2" x 10" floor joist, I guess.

At the time I was uneasy. Now I am sick to my stomach.

And the rifle. He wanted me to practice target shooting with him, again up in the hills, shooting tin cans with the .22 rifle. Where did he get it?

"Garage sale," he might've said. I don't remember. I want to forget everything.

The detective called and told me about the murder. Warned me to lock the doors.

Four newspapers called within hours.

"Don't you want us to hear his side of it?" they asked, each of them, one by one. "And your side?"

I told them nothing.

He wouldn't let go of the girl. Hounded her for ten years, since they were both 12, there at that group "home" for maladjusted children. Where his mother and her husband sent him.

Hounded her, tracked her down all over the country, harassed her, clung to her, wrote a song to her, gave her all of his pitiful earnings, wanted only to see her now and then, even after she was married, had a baby. Stayed outside their place night after night just to catch a glimpse of her, coming and going. Gave her money, all his money. Then she said "no". No more. Stay away.

Killed her.

He asked me for money the night of the murder. I had borrowed two hundred dollars from him six weeks before, because my wife was not working and was draining me for ten bucks a day for cigarettes, booze, and so forth. (She's gone now, again. On the road somewhere. The divorce finally came through, all done, clear. And she got close to $19,000 because her father died.) So he asked me for money the night of the murder. Three nights ago.

I didn't have any cash on me. I gave him all my loose change, all I had in the drawer. Quarters, dimes, nickels, pennies. Maybe six or seven dollars’ worth.

He was disappointed. Nervous, depressed.

"I'm sorry," I said. "All I've got."

 

 

Her funeral may have been today. Yesterday, I called the funeral home nearby to see what the cost of cremation for him will be. So long I hoped. Now, no way out for him. They'll kill him. Or he'll kill himself. After killing all those people on the list. And maybe us. My son.

He called Friday night. Cool killer.

"Did you hear about it?"

Brief, on, off. I can't say any more about that. It sounded like he was calling from a sound-proof box. Spooky quiet, almost as though he were calling from beneath a blanket.

Second call, later. Deep remorse, terrible depression. Short. Hung up.

He has a key, so we've put a chain on the door. But he could easily break the bracket inside the door with a screwdriver. But the dog will whimper, give us a few seconds to call the police. They say they're patrolling close by, would be here within thirty seconds.

Three of us here. My karate son has his BB target gun by his bed, and he gave me the other rapid-fire BB gun. My little boy, ten, from the second marriage, stays in my room now.

The detective sergeant has all the names on the list. One of the names is the supervisor at Jack in the Box who fired him. The heads of the group home, the one ten years ago, and the one where she stayed later, where they wouldn't let him see her -- they're all hiding out now, the sergeant said, living elsewhere while this goes on. Seven names on the list.

His half-sister is hiding with her grandma.

The guy who once kidnapped my daughter is on the list. The kidnapping was years ago. She’s mostly over that. Now this.

"I love you, Dad," my daughter says at the end of each talk on the phone. Of us all, she is most shaken.

 “Terrible burden on you,” my mother said yesterday on the phone. Yes, mother.

 Karate boy -- man, 19 -- is suffering silently.

Just a month ago, my oldest son, murderer now, on the loose, stalking -- he and my older children all took me to the movie, "On Golden Pond," to celebrate my birthday. At the end of the movie, my daughter saw my attempt to control my tears, hugged me for several seconds.

In all our pictures, my oldest son never smiles. Always the sullen, hard look. Now that seems less unusual.

We’re all very frightened.

"Will he come here?" my little one asks.

"I don't know," I tell him. "I don't think so. Anyway, he likes us."

A policeman may read these notes soon. All of us here dead. He may wish to kill not only himself now, but his history.

He may use his high IQ, genius level they said, to --

"I believe he's trying to set up a suicide, have us kill him," the detective sergeant said. My son had called them, taunted them, said he was coming to the murdered girl's funeral. Was coming to Kaiser Hospital to finish off her half-dead husband. He spared the baby that night--

 

 

Four nights since the murder. However friendly he was to us, each of us, we are afraid.

"Getting the people on the list," the detective sergeant said on the phone, "will be anti-climatic to him, I think. He started at the end, killing her."

"I don't know," I told the sergeant.

"Anything," the sergeant said, "anything you could tell us might help."

"Yes -- I'll tell you," I could've said. "He's been persecuted by the world, he thinks, since he was three months old. Has a completely twisted view of everything. Everyone in power is evil, men are evil -- women are victims, innocent, as he is. Life is terrible, meaningless.

"He is somewhat autistic, somewhat schizophrenic, one in 10,000 for brightness -- what in the fuck do you want to know? He's my son. I love him. He's innocent, for Christ's sake. All he wanted was love. Love from one person -- to make up for --"

 

 

It's the waiting that gets us. The longer he waits, the deadlier he is. Only one murder separates any of us from letting loose to break all taboos. We have to consider him crazy, capable of anything.

 

  

 

Now the worst has happened. I write it down to keep from dying. I can't stand any more of this.

Please, Jesus. No more.

Two hours ago, less -- I haven't told his brothers yet.

"Is there anything you want to say?" he asked me on the phone. Third call. The last, I guess.

He told me he was going to kill himself.

"Is there anything you want to say?" he asked.

My head spun with terror, anguish. I groped for something. "We all love you," I said. "We understand. We love you."

And then I said something so weird it must be true. "You've been real good to us." My voice broke. "We love you."

"Goodbye," he said.

I sat there, shaking. My son, my son. And a cruel part of my mind knew what I had to do next.

I called the detective sergeant. He has been kind, patient. I had to warn him.

"It sounded like the airport," I told him, trying to keep clear enough to finish. "I'm afraid he's at the airport. It's terrible to think of, but you better check. He's made bombs before. He could be getting on a plane."

 

 

"I'm sorry I have to tell you," the detective sergeant said three days later.

It was April Fool’s Day when my son killed the girl. Ten days later, Easter Sunday, sunrise, my son killed himself. Jumped thirty-six stories from a tall, stark building. Was "John Doe" for three days until they matched his fingerprints with those of the one-million-dollar murder warrant suspect.

Cab driver across the street heard the scream, looked up, heard the body hit the pavement.

The note in his pocket, said:

 

 I want to be

 cremated. I want

 to be put as close

 to Melanie as

 possible.

 

 

My first-born, my dear little son, was sent away to the group home by his mother and stepfather. Twelve years old.

I drove 170 miles often to see him. He did well at first. He fell in love, first love, puppy love, final time, with the girl there. Melanie. Fell in love forever, compulsively, never changing for ten years, until he killed her.

 Enrolled him at Cal Berkeley. No high school credit. Scored extremely high on SAT, so they let him in.

Got him a studio apartment near campus. Everything great. Then Melanie wrote him several letters, embroidered a pillowcase for him -- in the chest now. Went up to visit her. Group leaders wouldn’t let him in.

Two days later: "The police called me!" his mother screamed in agony, blamed me. "He's done it again."

Thirty-thousand dollar fire. On campus.

 

 

"He punctured their basketball," the prison guard/counselor told me in disgust when I visited three months later. The other inmates didn't like that.

The prison authorities now sent my son to the mental institution at Napa. "Paranoid schizophrenic," the psychiatrist said. They gave him strong drugs that he vomited up when out of their sight.

I visited him often at Napa. There were drugged men sitting listlessly or walking aimlessly in a stupor. Talking to unknown listeners.

 

 

He escaped. Came home. I was deathly afraid the authorities would come after him. They didn't. They didn't even call. Nobody wanted him.

My son slept in my room on a mattress on the floor. Our dog, Poochie, a voiceless Basenji, slept with him. My second wife, alcoholic, left -- for good, this time.

My son had long hair, never bathed. I have one of his shirts, unwashed, from those days. It is in a red suitcase.

"What if you die and your children open it?" a friend warns me.

My children will have to handle it. The death list. The brilliant journals.

He studied advanced theoretical physics, constructed mathematical formulas to explain life, read constantly. Watched cartoons with my youngest son. Was civil, vacantly loving to my middle son, the karate instructor. Accepting, vaguely loving to my daughter, an artist, now on her own.

He took Poochie, his beloved dog, to the veterinarian college upstate to try to save her life. She died.

 

 

Trying to be tough, people wondering why I don't break down. On the morning after the detective told me my boy was dead, I went down to buy the papers. Suddenly, going there, my throat ached, tears streamed. "My little boy! My little boy!" Holding hard onto the steering wheel.

 

SUICIDE ENDS HUNT FOR “LOVE KILLER”

 

At work, people were very kind. I handled it as well as I could.

Picked up the ashes at the funeral home. They validated my parking ticket. Warned me the ashes were heavy. About eight pounds.

Back at the car, very slowly, I removed the lid from the round, gold cardboard box. Bone chips in a plastic bag. Odor, I guess. Remembered my dead boy's chemical experiments. Bone chips, the size of a bean or so. Clean. Fibrous.

Know now why professionals are needed for funerals.

Broke down again, trying to drive home. Gasping, holding onto the steering wheel, an anchor. Bawling, sniveling, drowning like any six-year-old out of control, as children and cowards and women cry.

 

 

My son's bed next to me on the floor, his clothes, papers are all untouched. A comfort. As long as they are there he is alive. I can touch easily where my son touched a few days ago. He is there.

 

 

Nothing left to do but bury the ashes. Say goodbye. My 19-year-old son, normally not compulsive, was determined we would bury his brother's ashes at sunrise. We started for the lake at 4:15 a.m. I remembered that was the time of day he murdered the girl. Strange.

We got there shortly before sunrise. We walked over a little dam, carrying a shovel, flowers, the golden box of ashes, letters each of us had written to my dead boy.

We found a spot on the side of the hill overlooking the lake. Birds were waking up, sound of meadowlarks, silent lake, tall trees, the same rope suspended from a tree the dead boy and I used years ago to swing out and drop into the water.

Dug a grave between two huge boulders. My daughter made a nest of the flowers. She poured in the ashes, bone fragments. We read silently the letters we had written to our dead son and brother. We cried, clutching each other. My ten-year-old son was uneasy, watching us crying.

My daughter put the letters in the grave. I put the dirt back in. We put small stones, then large stones on top. My son used a stone to carve the initials of his brother on one boulder, those of the dead girlfriend on the other. The sun came over the hills.

We went away almost happy. We had said goodbye the way he would have wanted. We went into town and had a large breakfast. We were even smiling.

 

 

After breakfast, we drove back to the city. We found the building. We took the elevator to the 36th floor. We should have gone to the suicide place before the burial, but in real life things can happen backwards.

On the 36th floor I noted the blinding effect of the sun upon the rain pools on the acres of rooftops below. Saw the cross my boy saw atop the church far below.

My children and I went back down the elevator to the street. My daughter placed a rose on the pavement in front of the hotel. She believed she could see a stain there.

My children and I left the scene, looking back once. I twisted in my pocket the bent key that was found on my son's body.

"Goodbye," my daughter said to her brother.

Goodbye.

 

 

They approached me gingerly, over the telephone. The counselors, group-home heads, psychologists, the psychotherapist -- the seven on my son's death list.

"Could you meet with us? I know what a terrible time this is for you. But it would help. To tell what you know. Why we failed."

 

 

I met them at 2 p.m. in a hotel on Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco.

"Can you help us understand?" the group asked me. They felt my pain, they were gentle, but they didn't understand at all. They had been under police protection, terrified for days after I gave my son’s hit list to the detective.

I was a cold fish, looking at them. They came to me for help? What else did they want? My son, dead.

"Do you want to know why your magic doesn't work, assholes? Have you lost confidence in yourselves? Are any of you within 20 I.Q. points of my dead son?"

But I didn't tell them that. Felt sorry for the miserable bastards.

"You're not to blame," I told them generously, damning their souls. "You tried to help him, everyone did."

They actually relaxed. I saw it in their bodies. They should have been comforting me. Not me, them.

"I'm not to blame either," I said, calm as a judge. "Or his mother. Nobody is to blame."

Nobody. Nobody.

 

 

My daughter has saved me, these last days. And my brave 19-year-old son has saved me. My 10-year-old has helped by keeping me busy.

The four of us have had three meals together. Once here at home, once at an Italian restaurant, and this morning at the pancake house across the bridge, near where my daughter lives.

Death sniped at me directly this morning, daring me to face it directly. I sat there with my surviving children, and we ate pancakes, eggs, and bacon. I drank too much coffee.

I changed from one moment to the next. Guiding the conversation back to my dead son, remembering his joys, idiosyncrasies, escapades, naughty sense of humor -- I came suddenly to the drop-off of black hopelessness, my voice cracking like a child's.

My daughter's face was anxious.

"It's such a nice day," she said. "Stop off on the way home. At a park somewhere. Lie in the sun. Lie on the grass in the sun."

She and her brother were going off to her mother's relatives. To comfort and be comforted.

 

 

My daughter had a lovely dream the night my son died. We think the dream could have occurred at the exact time he jumped, because people dream more at that time, sunrise, than any other time.

In my daughter's dream, she was looking down and saw my son below. His eyes were strange. He looked sad, lost, tortured.

She beckoned for him to come up.

He came up to where she was and suddenly he was transformed. She had never seen him happy like that before. The full intelligence of his eyes was at last free, and all his potential was released. He was radiant and at peace.

Now I am at peace also. The tears well up in my eyes. My throat hurts. I love my dear dead son so much. I believe somehow that he has triumphed, that in his Easter sunrise leap he arose from the crumpled body to join his sweetheart somewhere, somehow.

Today, as the final measure of my devotion to him, I believe.

 But tomorrow, the anguish will return. My son dies hard, so hard. How many times must I bury him?

 

 

 

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