( For Kay and every single woman who has ever been caged )
~~~~~When the devil executed my sister, it was like any other day.
I was mowing the lawn, listening to Ken Follett’s, Pillars of the Earth on my headset. I was at the part where the young boys in the castle were throwing rocks at poor, innocent cats just because they could. I was baking mandarin chicken in the oven for dinner. The sun was warm and luminous upon my face.
I received the call at 5:15 PM. “Did you hear…did you know…He shot…Mike killed Kay…Your sister K-k is dead….”
In that instant, the light splattered to the ground in ugly, yellow puddles. I dropped to my knees, lost my breath, and something deep from within my core reserved for dark moments like those, punched me directly to the pit of my stomach
“Oh, God, God, God help me.”
I was wearing a red tank top with Lady Gaga on it and Old Navy shorts. My hair was in a tight bun on top of my head. Why do I return on irrelevant, insignificant things? Was this part of the mourning process, the numbing process, where I was supposed to remain unbroken, not place my head inside an oven, or deposit rocks inside my pockets to drown myself in Lake Superior?
One is never equipped for something of this magnitude, this huge transformation. I recall wondering why God doesn’t give warning, blow trumpets, shoot lightening, send verses, prepare us for these disasters before they happen.
However, thinking back—I now see He did.
A couple months before my sister’s murder, we had gone to a film called, “In Her Shoes” a book originally published by Jodi Picoult. The older sister recited a poem, I Carry Your Heart With Me by E.E. Cummings to her younger sister at a family gathering.
i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
no fate(for you are my fate, my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)
I nudged Kay hard in the ribs and whispered, “You will be reading that at my funeral.”
She smiled, almost knowingly, “No, you will be reading it at mine.”
As you probably figured out, I read the poem at her funeral, or at least, I was told I did by several people who were there. I can’t seem to recollect much about the day of her funeral, except an insidious heaviness of a million sad stones and standing at the church podium like someone from the walking dead. Yes, in case you don’t know, one can live with half a heart, a segment of a soul.
I had gone to Kohl’s to buy a dress. Why did a dress matter when my sister had been murdered? Inside my mind, or was it outside my mind, I continued repeating, “My sister is gone. My sister is gone. My sister is gone,” as if I couldn’t believe it myself, as if I had to remind myself of this new, absurd, inconceivable life that was thrust on me, my family, the universe.
While in the car, I asked my husband, “Did he really kill Kay? Is this really happening?” When he answered yes, I wept like a baby all the way to our destination until he pulled into the parking lot.
Wiping the snot from my nose, I asked,” Well, if this happened” “Why am I still breathing?” I couldn’t understand how everybody could keep moving, how the earth could keep spinning, how the clock could keep ticking. I finally understood what Auden meant when he said, ‘Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone, prevent the dog from barking…silence the pianos.’ Sometimes you must experience something before you truly comprehend.
The day of Kay’s funeral, the sun shone brightly in the sea-blue sky, the birds sang songs, butterflies floated in the garden, and the blood of my childhood flowed through my veins reminding me I was still alive.
I sat at the mirror lining my eyes coal-black, smeared on bright lipstick, brushed and sprayed my hair. I wore nylons because that’s what people are supposed to do, how people are supposed to dress. All for nothing. None of these tasks made sense, had any meaning when my sister was almost in the ground.
I recited the poem at her funeral instead of something by Kafka or Plath, which seemed more fitting, more real. Before I read, I gazed out into the crowd of people, so many people waiting, like blurred negatives of shadows and shapes and colors. Some were blotting their cheeks with Kleenex, crying, staring at me with great pity, and presumably relieved I was standing there instead of them.
“My sister is dead.” I finally said. “Her husband killed her, and she is dead. And I don’t know where to go from here.”
“I Carry Your Heart With Me” was carved on the gray marble of Kay’s headstone. Who could’ve imagined how significant E.E. Cumming’s words would’ve become? Who could’ve imagined the man who ate Sunday dinners with us would, in the end, stop her beautiful heart from beating?
I couldn’t visit my sister’s grave for a long time, not in that place, not with her bones covered inside the cold Minnesota soil. However, after several months, or was it years, I awakened from another sleepless night, turned to my husband and said, “I’m ready. I’m ready to go see Kay.”
We drove to Oneonta Cemetery early in the morning. We searched the long and winding paths, like the yellow brick road without a wizard to guide us—stone after stone, row after row, name after name. I couldn’t believe how many dead people were crowded together like lost, lonely sisters.
“Here,” I said.” Stop. Stop, here she is.” Next to her gravesite were pink hydrangeas’, scattered white daisies, notes of stationary paper, and somebody had placed a “stop domestic violence” bracelet near the date of her death. It was liberating and heartbreaking at the same time, like something light and dark mixed together.
“Did you notice the row she’s in?” My husband asked. I looked past the lines of marble to the left corner of the trail and laughed when I noticed the wooden sign. I’m not sure if this behavior could be characterized as a form of insanity, or the beginning of a spiritual awakening.
But I laughed and lifted my hands into the endless blue sky because she, my beautiful sister, was in row E. E.