tagged nonfiction

For each of the essays in Tender Tales of Tremendous Catastrophe, I think it's important to give the first-person backstory that each is based upon. I wrote this after hearing it almost 20 years ago, while I was a temporary secretary. It was told to me by a main character that appears in this novelized version of a real event from 1966. I never expected an employer would initiate such an intimate conversation and I was grateful to be invited in. She was obviously haunted and that sensation permeated my mind: my heart went out to each individual affected.

On Being Human - Part 2 of 2

When Donald maneuvered to duck down behind a cabinet, Detective Charles stepped forward to see a clear shot to Donald’s head. Five handgun shots rang out. The secretary in Donald’s arms shot forward to remove herself from harm, flying down onto the floor, screaming every inch of the way at the top of her lungs. Donald convulsed to the floor, still alive. Every shot had pierced his body. After a moment, his body lay motionless on the showroom floor. Detective Charles watched Donald’s life pass from him, his gun still trained nervously downward at Donald’s head.

1:09PM.

The din of cries and screams picked up in a cacophony of primal emotion. Time stood still as shock set in to safely release the living from their shaken states.

Frank Klein pulled up in the Coupe Deville with a stunned expression on his face. He flew out the door and into the showroom, where he stopped stiff as a board. Looking at the carnage, his heart felt like it was on fire. He had just left ten minutes ago and the scene in front of him was beyond comprehension. Coming to his senses, he ran into the bookkeeping office and found secretaries emerging from underneath their desks. He put his arms around a petite blonde and held her, trying to steady both of them in their confusion and pain.

As more police cars pulled around what had become a crime scene, a mysterious presence walked through the door, head bowed. Everyone turned in his direction as he calmly approached Detective Charles, who nodded his head as the two talked. In black cassock and collar, the priest walked towards the living and gently asked if they would like him to administer last rites to the men who lay dead on the floor. His presence was like a beacon of calm. Three dead were Jewish. One Missionary Baptist. Through tears, everyone strained to hear Reverend McCarville’s Latin words, deftly spoken in an even voice that hummed like a bellwether.

The wall-mounted phone in Sally’s apartment rang in the kitchen. She and Elizabeth had been coloring in the living room. Sally’s face tensed up as she looked toward Elizabeth. She kept saying “uh-huh” in a monotonal voice as tears welled up in her eyes. She put the phone down and bit on her lower lip, as if still trying to process what was said to her.

She picked up the receiver and began rotary dialing Elizabeth’s babysitter. The conversation was brief and to the point.

Sally walked over to Elizabeth and sat down next to her gently. Elizabeth looked up from her coloring book to notice Sally had gone sheet white.

“What’s wrong, Mommy?”
“I have to go to Daddy’s office. There’s been a terrible accident there.”

Sally knew Elizabeth was too smart to make up some implausible response. It was never, ever going to be easy to tell Elizabeth her father was dead.

“Your father died today. And so did Uncle Sidney.” Sally began to cry looking into Elizabeth’s eyes. “It’s terrible. Just terrible. Elizabeth, our whole lives are about to change.”

Elizabeth’s tiny frame went taut, trying to take in what Sally said. “No!” Elizabeth scanned Sally’s face.

“Where’s Daddy?!”
“Daddy’s in heaven, Baby…”

Tears trickled down both their faces. Elizabeth struggled to understand what was going on, other than it was very bad. She didn’t know what to say. She kept looking around the room to steady herself and the only word she could emit was, “Mommy?!”. Sally grabbed Elizabeth and held her as she cried.

Just then, there was a knock at the door. Sally carried Elizabeth in her arms to answer. Elizabeth’s babysitter stood there in shock, looking blankly at the two. Sally leaned forward to place Elizabeth in the babysitter’s arms. Elizabeth folded and began crying hysterically. Sally kept biting her lip as she walked towards the closet and grabbed her coat from inside. She kept walking straight through the door as her daughter screamed for her. She pulled the door closed behind her and walked with the weight of the world on her shoulders as her daughter’s muffled cries moved farther and farther away.

La Jolyn Kelly was sitting in the Chicago Police Headquarters cafeteria when a supervisor came down to speak with her. She couldn’t imagine, as he approached, what he wanted. She was on top of her work and knew what she needed to do after lunch.

“Jolyn. I don’t even know how to say this. Your brother is Donald Jackson, right?”

La Jolyn looked confused. Why would her supervisor know who her oldest brother was? And why did he look so uncomfortable, when he always smiled and seemed easy-going?

“What’s going on?”, La Jolyn said dryly.

“Donald was just shot and killed by one of our detectives on the West Side.”

La Jolyn put her hands up to her face to cover her wide-open mouth. A million thoughts were filling her head: she knew this day would come, she dreaded the day this would come, she prayed the news would be Donald had changed his ways, she knew her mother would be devastated. Her eyes filled with tears as she struggled to respond to her supervisor. He stood up, walked over and put his hand on her shoulder to comfort her.

“What happened?”. La Jolyn’s mouth seemed almost too dry to talk.

“He was at a used car showroom when he opened fire with a shotgun.”

“Did he hurt anyone?”

“He killed three men.”

La Jolyn almost involuntarily fell with her head onto her arms over the cafeteria table. She did not want to exist at that moment. There was no processing the amount of confusion, pain and helplessness she felt inside.

“Is there anything I can do for you?”, La Jolyn’s supervisor said softly. La Jolyn simply shifted her head back and forth. He replied, “I’ll let you be. Feel free to go home whenever you’re ready.”

La Jolyn lay there, limp, unable to mobilize. She knew she had to overcome her own darkness to be with her mother when word reached home.

She summoned the will to stand up, tears dripping from her face. No one else was in the cafeteria. Everything around her seemed to be spinning and otherworldly.

Sally Fohrman arrived at Fohrman Motors in the midst of endless chaos. Ambulances, police detectives, family members and the press formed a collage of endless activity. She walked over to Detective Charles and introduced herself. As he was expressing his condolences, a reporter rushed over and stood too close to her face.

“Mrs. Fohrman?! Is it true that Fohrman Motors charged the gunman in this crime extortionate interest for his used car? There’s been a lot of talk about Jews and predatory economic behavior in the black community. Do you have a comment?”

Surveying the scene, eyes darting towards each corner of a place that used to be familiar - now irreparably changed - Sally turned her mind inward, a voice inside repeating, “Please, hold me…” as her mouth remained locked shut.