Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Gone Boy

Yesterday's post announced the latest MVFHR newsletter. One of the pieces in that issue, by MVFHR member Gregory Gibson, is about confounding others' expectations about how he should feel or respond in the aftermath of his son's murder. This gives me a good excuse to publicize Greg's book Gone Boy. Here are the book's opening lines:

I always had a knack for making plans. Not long-range plans, but an endless supply of existential ones, in an ongoing calculus of strategy. Whenever the situation changed there'd be a new plan. Sometimes there were several in an hour.

So, it was not surprising that, when the dean of my son's college called, late on a Monday night in mid-December of 1992, and told me there'd been a terrible accident at the college, and that my son had been shot and killed, I soon had a plan.

At first I could not speak. I handed the telephone to Annie, my wife, and as I stood there, gasping for breath, the idea came to me. I was going to drive out to the college and bring Galen back. I was going to spread out his old sleeping bag in the back of the van and lay his body on it. I was going to get the body and bring it home so we could clean it up and bury it, so we could wash those bullet holes with our tears. Three hours out and three hours back. I'd be home by dawn. That was the level at which I was capable of planning.

Annie put the telephone down and walked to one end of the hall, then back, a wild, distracted look about her. This was not one of those revelatory moments in which husbands and wives learn deep truths about one another. Shock had driven us down inside us. The truth was more physical. Annie was standing beside me, as she had been for eighteen years.

She picked up the phone again and called her mother, who gently pointed out to me that my proper place during this time of crisis was at home with my family, not at the other end of the state trying to haul the corpse out of a murder investigation. So I stayed home that night, with Annie and our son Brooks and our daughter, Celia.

Initially, the news of Galen's death was so enormous that we could not assimilate it in any meaningful way. We stumbled woodenly around the house, trying to make the necessary phone calls to relatives and friends. Brooks, a sophomore in high school, went out for a long drive with another boy. We let Celia, our baby, have one last night of untroubled sleep. She was nine years old, the special pet of eighteen-year-old Galen.

We could not cry. We kept telling ourselves that it was a mistake, that it had happened to someone else. We kept thinking, throughout that long and terrible night, that in the morning we'd wake and it would all have been a dream. But when the morning came, it brought a deluge of news reports. Our waking nightmare became common knowledge -- an absurd violation and an inescapable fact. Galen was dead. The radio said so.

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