(Note: I changed the picture at the top of my page. Now it’s a picture of the view from Cielo.)
This is what I remember:
It was a frigid winter day. The sky was overcast and maybe spitting sleet. I usually walked to school, but on this particular day my mom drove me because the weather was particularly nasty. It might have been that school was delayed an hour and I lucked out in getting the ride since I would have been leaving when my mom left for work instead of earlier (if she was working then; I’m not sure.) I got in the car and my mom backed out of the driveway, turned and drove up the hill. We rented the lot our mobile home was located on from the next-door neighbors on that side, a widow with two adult daughters. One daughter had a young son. The widow and mother and son were out of town visiting relatives, leaving the other daughter home alone. As we drove up the hill my mom noticed the full milk bottles sitting on their front porch. She told me to go knock on the door and tell Martha (not her real name, obviously) to get her milk before it froze. I knocked; no one answered.
After school I walked home as usual. Again, I don’t remember if my mom was working then or not, so it’s possible I was home alone until after 5:00. Whatever. My dad came home from work, and my mom mentioned that the milk was still sitting on the front porch next door. Can you believe it, a place that delivered fresh milk in glass bottles, in the early seventies? Personally I didn’t understand what the big deal was regarding the milk or Martha’s not answering the door, but there was evidently a great deal going on outside my comprehension. I was told to STAY PUT while my parents went next door to check on Martha. They were gone a while, and when they came home there was a flurry of activity. Phone calls mostly, and my mom in tears. Which upset me. My mom gave me half of a little yellow pill and told me to swallow it so I would stop crying. I didn’t know why I was crying right then, except that I could see my mom visibly shaken and upset. Daddy came into the bathroom, took me by the shoulders and said, “Martha is DEAD.” Just like that, with emphasis on the word “dead”.
My parents had a key to the neighbor’s house and had used it to get in. I was in and out of their house all the time when everyone was home. They had a piano and we didn’t, so I’d go up there to practice. Sometimes I would just go to hang out. The place was interesting, to say the least. I’ve never, before or since, seen a messier place. Months of dirty dishes in the kitchen, months of bills and papers piled on the built-in breakfast nook, dirty clothes and toys everywhere. And there was a very unique smell, sort of spoiled food and dirty diapers, charred something-or-other and talcum powder, and stale perfume. When my parents entered the house, they found it cleaned up. First sign of a problem. They went through the foyer, into the living room. Martha was on the floor, shot in the head. I think they said she was tangled up in the curtains. The gun was there, but it wasn’t clear whether the shooting was a suicide or homocide. Mom and Dad had to contact authorities and somehow get word to Martha’s mother and sister. I think Martha’s death was ruled a suicide, but I’m not sure.
So, what was the big deal? There was plenty, but I didn’t know about it all until twenty years or so later, when I started having nightmares about this town and this family and our family, and asked my mom if she knew of any reason why I would be having nightmares. She took me to breakfast and told me the rest of the story. And there were some very good reasons…