There are few days in each of our lives that would be clearly remembered if it weren’t for the startling events of that day. Ice, bright sun, dirty rivulets washing across the road would all blend with another day such as it, except for an event that will never leave one’s mind’s eye.
Paul Crenshaw tells the story of a family tragedy. A little boy murdered by his step-father. An endless personal journey for him, where emotions and sentiments speed up at times with rage and at other times slow to allow a glimpse of compassion or forgiveness but without stopping to let them into the mental mirage. The author collected newspaper articles and microfilm reels in an attempt to review and understand what happened in those haunting days many years ago. With courage that was suppressed for sometime by trepidation, Paul let the information sit for a long while before opening up the cans.
The little boy, a nephew of 18 months, died from child abuse. The step-father was convicted of first-degree murder. The author speaks of having a place within himself deeper than sadness as he reviews the material, it seems he is talking about some kind of wished for mental mechanism that allows him to remember and evaluate but that holds his simple sentiments in check, keeping them from careening to a place where there will be a loss of emotional control. Images of the murderer and the murdered do not go away. Images, detailed images, remain and emote and haunt and never quite leave one’s mind’s eye.
The memory of the day of the funeral once again introduced the existence and metaphor of ice. A bleary memory of the funeral, an eager escape from a stifling house where men spoke of violence, and the writer’s aimless walk away into the woods, away from the sounds that accompany death, into the soothing cold. Freezing air, a fickle air confused of its role of either rain or snow, and the early dark that served as a companion to thoughts which required no light. His reluctant return was respected by solemn silence, except for the ice on the leaves which seemed to accompany him to the misted glow of his grandmother’s house porch light.
Memories of the nephew’s life before death are filled with snippets of the real and fill in the blank imaginaries which help to carve continuity for Paul’s imaginings. Having never been in the house where the boy was murdered, a detailed layout of the inside of the house is imagined. Not knowing the precise details of what happened on that fateful day, a scenario is painted with precision. Images of overgrown, neglected, and empty pepper the section where the imagination takes over for the missing bits.
The most poignant piece for me is when the author tells of his own remarkable family event of consequence. His young daughter is thought to have a deformed skull. Panic and fear set in for both parents. Tests are done and trepidation rises. However, as it is for so many soap-operatic occurrences in today’s modern medicine, this was a false alarm. Their daughter’s skull was normal. The doctor’s skull is the one that needed examining. The point he makes here is that after this near tragic event, which turned out OK, he has no memory of what kind of day it was, how bright the snow was, how the mud mingled with the rivulets.
Memories and imaginings both strain to have another constraint added. Why couldn’t there be a way for fond memories of both the murdered and murderer be kept separate from the events that came after? Why can’t forgiveness intervene and allow for peaceful remembering and silent forgetting? Why can’t sense be made out of the senseless as opposed to murder invading the laughter of a Thanksgiving day? The events watched and waved at fail to foretell the future.
The author’s father has not spoken his grandson’s name since. Sometimes the two of them would stand together late at night in silence, staring into their thoughts, into whatever dreams they could not handle. The family does not mention the grandson’s name. The grave site is unknown to Paul. He would visit that place but he fears it would be for his own comfort and that saddens him about himself. The haunting continues in his own life with his own daughters. He stands in silence in their bedrooms as they sleep. He is there in the morning when his wife gets up. He cannot explain.
His imagination returns to the step-father. How did they pick him up and put him in prison? How did the arrival and days after go? Sometimes the thoughts are tinged with sympathy if not forgiveness. Other times they are painted red, with vengeance in mind, and the possibilities of being incarcerated with violent men. Each frame of this mind clip takes place on a cold day.
He contrasts his dour imaginings with those brighter as he writes about his adult family life. The closeness of his parents to them emotionally and the love for their own daughters. As he starts to flick through a box of photos, it’s not clear, at first, whether they are of the lost nephew. It turns out to be of his own young girls and his reflections. Somehow he concludes that he is less wise as the years go past.
The author Paul Crenshaw closes with foreboding moments. First the imagined crying of the nephew in the house where he was to die. Then a real life moment in a grocery store where Paul worked and the step-father and nephew came in. The little boy was crying until Paul picked him up. He returned to crying when handed back to the step-father. The young man, though not expressing it, indicates that he may feel guilty that he did not foresee the events that would take place a few months hence.