I’m flying to Reno then driving to Susanville in a couple of weeks to meet with the detective on Joan’s case and see what information I can get from her file. I’ve debated about calling her husband to see if we can meet to talk while I’m there.
Thinking of calling Dan brings me back to that warm June morning 31 years ago when, without thinking, I’d chosen black pants and a black top from my closet. I shook my head as I hung them back up. What was I thinking? All black was hardly the festive outfit to wear for the birthday breakfast I was preparing for my neighbor Joanne that morning!
I clicked on the Mr. Coffee. The aroma of the rich brew filled the air as I neatly laid out the pastries on my prettiest tray. The phone rang as I was setting the table. I assumed it was Joanne. “Hey Birthday Girl!” I chirped.
“Uh, Peg, it’s me…Dan.”
If we could pick one moment in our lives where we could wind back and take a different road, that would be mine. Having recently shared with Joan that I’d had a dream that Dan had called to tell me she died, I thought the call was a joke. But even a seasoned prankster like Dan couldn’t fake such a somber tone. Hearing it, I tried to scramble back up that road. “I’m asleep,” I thought. “I’ll wake up and Joan will be fine.” But the coffee kept brewing.
Now the road was warping and rolling and I was on the ground. I fell and pulled my legs and arms into the fetal position, hoping against hope that I had never been born. That would be preferable to the pain beginning to seep in all around.
That call to Dan is just going to have to wait.
After 3 weeks of trying, I finally connected with the detective at the Susanville Police Dept. that was recently assigned to Joan’s case. He admitted he hadn’t yet reviewed her file, but said he would soon.
“I know it’s been 31 years but I’m at a point in my life where I’d like to do everything I can to help you solve my sister’s case,” I said. “I think I’m finally emotionally detached enough that I’m willing to provide whatever insights I can bring to bear on the evidence that you already have and work on my own to dig up more information.”
“Considering the gravity of the case, I’m not sure how much I’ll actually be able to share with you from the file,” he replied.
“I’m willing to work with whatever you have,” I said, hoping he noted my pragmatic tone: surely the last thing he would want would be to hold someone’s hand as they relived their sibling’s murder. But that was the furthest thing from my mind.
For decades, I’d stayed as far away as possible from any details of Joan’s case. Suddenly, I had to get into that file.
Somehow I forgot how tough it is to write when the kids are out of school and what’s left of the long spring grass beckons from the hills.
I like seeing my fourteen year old son and his friends, somewhere between not liking girls and having a girlfriend, sit in a circle joking on the trampoline oblivious as the girls they’ve invited over, eyes covered in makeup, walk past to get their attention. One day soon, maybe even by the end of summer, the boys will break from their circle to follow, but not yet.
It’s early — only the cat, dog and I are awake — but already so warm that I’ve drawn all the shades. The dog pushes her face into my thigh to get me moving. The sun is rising and soon, the heat of the day will move us indoors. But for now, the tall green grass awaits.
Let’s go back to when Joan and I were 12 and 9, halfway to ten. A boy from school — kind of a thug who was bigger than the rest of the boys in Joan’s class because he’d been held back — had a crush on her and followed her home from school. Although Joan could hold her own around girls, exhibiting a devil-may-care attitude that made them envious, boys — especially big boys with loud voices like this one — made Joan watchful and quiet.
I watched from the living room window as Joan avoided the boy around the spherical juniper bush until he grabbed her sleeve and pulled her close to kiss her. When she screamed, I dashed out the front door and rammed head first into the boy’s side.
He turned, enraged. “Who do you think you are, you little twit?” he asked derisively. Joan wiped away a tear.
“Leave my sister alone!” I screamed, face flushed, taking s step back as I raised my fists. Joan laughed.
“You’re both crazy like your mom,” he sneered before spitting into the juniper and sauntering away.
Although Joan put her hand over her mouth as we walked toward the front porch, I could see the smile beneath it.
Now let’s move forward.
Posted in Approaching Neverland, bipolar disease, family bonds, mental health and families, Mental Health Stigma, sister's murder
Tagged Approaching Neverland, bipolar mother, families and mental illness, Peggy Kennedy, sister love, who killed my sister
Joan at my wedding
Why, 30 years after Joan’s murder, have I decided that it’s time to step up and see if I can figure out who killed her?
To be honest, I’m not sure. Could be that the grueling emotional dive of writing my family’s story, Approaching Neverland, prepared me to plumb deeper into scarier waters. Or maybe sharing our story has tied all the sadness and joy, shame and exhilaration of being in our family into a more manageable package that can be tucked neatly under my arm as I descend into the quiet darkness.
It’s cooler down here. Come with me if you like. I’ll take your hand. Let me know if you see something that I don’t. It’s time now.
I’ve been putting off writing this post because I know it’s the first step on a very rocky path. But the encouragement and insights provided by some of the amazing new friends that I’ve met over the past few months through book clubs in discussions of Approaching Neverland is spurring me on. Those of you who have read Approaching Neverland know that my sister Joan was murdered thirty one years ago this month. Her killer still hasn’t been found. So I’ve decided to blog my way into figuring out what happened. Your comments, thoughts and insights will help me see what happened to Joan in a different light, which I believe will be crucial in solving her murder. I have to admit I’m scared of where this might take me. But she would have done it for me.
Loved meeting Joyce Cooling
Saturday’s SF Bay Area NAMIWalk was a huge success, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars to provide free services to families dealing with mental illness throughout the SF Bay Area. Kickoff Speaker Joyce Cooling, the fabulous jazz guitarist whose brother has struggled for years with mental illness, gave an incredibly moving tribute to her brother, her mother, and the folks at NAMI, who she said were a godsend to her mother during her struggle to help her son. Major kudos to Joyce for her tremendous support, to Laurie Williams, NAMIWalk Director, for putting on a fabulous event, and to all the NAMI volunteers who work hard every day to make life easier for families struggling with mental illness. The Approaching Neverland Team, comprised of many wonderful book club friends, was proud to have participated! More information about SF Bay Area NAMI can be found at http://namiwalksfbay.org/
Posted in book club like family, families and mental illness, family bonds, Joyce Cooling and NAMI, mental health and families, Mental Health Stigma
Tagged Approaching Neverland, Approaching Neverland book events, bipolar disease, book club friends, families and mental illness, NAMI, NAMI Walk, stigma of mental illness; family
Over the 5 years that it took me to complete Approaching Neverland, I looked forward to many things: to finally feeling like I’d captured the essence of my family and gotten our story right; to the great feeling of finally being published; to focusing on all of the things that I had neglected while engrossed in writing. But what has truly blown me away is how incredible it feels to have someone really GET what you’ve written exactly how you hoped they would. My meeting this past Saturday with the Bay Area Discussion Group Book Club was full of so many moments of understanding and fabulous humor (not to mention delicious pot roast and potatoes!) that it hit me that sometimes the walls between family and friends dissolve and we’re all left sitting in the living room wondering why the walls were there in the first place and whose turn it is to fix dinner. Can you say grace?
More great news for Approaching Neverland, which just won the NABE Pinnacle Book Award Spring 2010 Award for Memoir!
Would love to have you join me on the set of View from the Bay for my appearance on May 7th! It’s free and should be a blast — you’ll have the chance to meet co-hosts Spencer Christian and Janelle Wang and see all that great behind the scenes stuff!
Here’s how to do it:
Tickets for the show are FREE but must be reserved in advance. Audience doors open at 2:15pm with a cut-off time of 2:30pm, the show is live from 3-4pm.
To reserve your seats please call the ticket request line at (415)-954-7733 or visit http://www.viewfromthebay.com and click on “be in our audience” and fill out a ticket request form. Or click on the link below to go to the online ticket request form. Simply fill out your information and press submit.
Under “comments” please be sure to note “Peggy Kennedy.”