Chapter 1 – Sweet, Silent Darkness

This is not what I was expecting. No brilliant tunnel of light or conversant ghostly figures of dead relatives beckoning me with wide smiles and angelic faces. No, all I get is darkness. Sweet, warm, darkness and deafening silence.

You’d think at least my mother would show up, arms folded across her chest, her Catholic toe tapping impatiently, her eyes fighting back tears.

"I knew there was something wrong with that man," she would say, barely audible. "It’s okay, kudka." She’d unfold her arms before gently but firmly hugging me like only a mother can. Then she’d guide me towards the light. "Come with me. Your father is waiting. Everything’s going to be fine." Nope, nobody, nada, zero.

This must be limbo. Why did I get limbo? I was baptized the day I was born, the runt in a premature twin birth. Didn’t that ensure my entrance into the kingdom of heaven? The story goes the doctor said I only survived by the grace of God. I went to Catholic school all the way through 7th grade. Attended Sunday mass religiously, confession afterwards. Since the age of eight I was good at making up lies of sins I had committed, to satisfy the mysterious priest in the boxy confessional that I was truly sorry for what I had done, and God would absolve me of my sins after I silently recited three Our Fathers and five Hail Marys as my penance.

I think overall I was a good person. I kept the Ten Commandments – for the most part. Okay, I admit, there were the wild years, but I was in my early twenties. It was the 1980’s. Got a bit on the crazy side for a Catholic girl, but I reined it back in. No arrests, and I made it through college. That’s all you can hope for right? That and not burning the house down, which almost happened once. And who didn’t make mistakes? What was that about simple sin and mortal sin? I can’t remember. No one in my family has ever been murdered that I know of.

How could I have been so stupid? Sometimes I caught a flicker of something dark and foreboding about him. But no, I got caught up in the allure and excitement of living in foreign countries, not knowing it was only scaffolding I was seeing, scaffolding built by lies and deceit and self-loathing. And I fell for it – young, naïve and stupid. Year after year of living with him I saw glimpses, then one day the scaffolding came crashing down and I saw the truth, but it was too late. I was trapped with no way out. How naïve I was to think that American freedoms traveled with me overseas. I thought, Oh, I’m American, I can go home anytime I want.

"There’s nothing we can do to help her. She’ll have to find her own way out." My family couldn’t believe the words of the consular officer at the American Embassy. When my brother told me I was dumbfounded. My children and I are American – only American. We want to go home, back to our country of citizenship. I didn’t commit a crime. Our basic human rights to safety and security in our own home have been invalidated by a mad man. We are prisoners, and the people I thought would help, the ones who whisper amongst themselves about our plight, now pretend they don’t see or hear and have turned their backs on us.

So I am alone trying to protect my three beautiful sons I can’t even keep safe in their own beds. Their sweet, innocent faces shine at me from silver picture frames, smiles hiding the wreckage of their short, traumatic lives. Mothers are supposed to keep their children from harm. I tried so hard every damn day, but I failed. Their little voices telling me they wanted to leave, tired of the anger and the rage that ravaged their small bodies, and I kept promising them we would. I promised the boys we would go back to California and have a puppy and a kitty and a backyard with grass for them to play in. We would run back to the place I ran away from so many years ago looking for something better. I promised them we would go. I lied an unintentional lie.

My life is not flashing before my eyes. Isn’t that supposed to happen? I should be seeing the ranch, cowboy boots, dirt roads, my horse, my big 80’s hair, past lovers, best friends, cities I’ve traveled to, and major life events rushing in front of my eyes like Technicolor tickertape. I am not seeing St. Peter opening the pearly gates for me either. All I see is darkness. Maybe when you are murdered there is a different heavenly protocol the nuns didn’t teach us in catechism.

But it won’t look like murder will it? He will probably throw my body off the balcony, call the police and say I was depressed, killed myself, and that will be that.

I saw a woman murdered like that in this country before. A murder made to look like suicide. She was a young housemaid. Splattered like a bug on a windshield face down on the concrete, her long black hair a tangled mass of blood and shattered flesh, the contents of her purse scattered yards away, barefoot. That seemed suspicious to me. Who thinks, I’m so depressed I’m going to go throw myself off this balcony now. Oh wait, I forgot my purse?

From the window of the fourth floor of my office I watched as her sister came to identify the broken, contorted body. She physically collapsed, wailing in emotional agony. No going to the morgue here. Let’s traumatize the next of kin by having the body identified at the bloody scene, after it has been left for hours in the scorching midday sun in front of a gawking, sweating crowd. A morbid circus sideshow. I felt the sister’s anguish, and the tears I had been holding back finally burst forward. I sat sobbing, not only for her and her sister, but for all of us who were trapped by their own personal tyrant in this country.

A customer, a local, came into the office to meet with me. He said he spoke to the police on his way up. The police said her ‘sponsor’ had said she was depressed and committed suicide. No confidentiality here either, I guess. I asked him what they would do next.

"Well, they’ll have to get a new housemaid," he replied. His exact words.

I stared at him in stunned disbelief. He said it with same emotion you do when you need to replace a can opener. A disposable woman, simply go get a replacement off the shelf. I hid the nauseous feeling in my stomach and disgrace for his lack of humanity.

When the meeting ended I moved back to the window to check and see whether the splattered housemaid was still there. She was. The sun had moved enough around the building so at least she was in the shade, and someone had finally covered her remains with a sheet. I couldn’t work. I closed the office early making a wide circle around the thinning crowd to go home and hug my three precious boys.

When I walked to the office the next morning they had picked up the housemaid’s torso and limbs but the blood splatter, now dried, and pieces of her flesh that had scattered on impact, remained. Two little boys on bicycles, maybe eight years-old, rode around in circles clinging onto strands of her long black hair swinging it through the air, pieces of scalp still attached to the ends, laughing. I felt repulsed by their young disregard for a woman’s life. I wanted to grab them by the shoulders and scream at them though my tears, but I didn’t dare. They were riding next to a mosque where an imam was slaughtering a sheep with more reverence than was given to the dead housemaid.

Perhaps because I am an American woman and not a housemaid, I will get a little more respect after he throws my already dead corpse off the balcony? Maybe they will cover my body sooner or at least pick up all of my splattered bits off the concrete? Maybe the American embassy would call for further investigation? My family has been to them so many times begging for help. My death would certainly be suspicious to them. My family would know. They would know. Thank goodness I had told them.

But most likely the police report will be what he said happened; she committed suicide. My dear boys will be left alone with the monster – the murderous monster who will now play the grieving widower to the hilt. Silently smug knowing he had fooled everyone, reveling in the outpouring of pity and sympathy like a pig wallowing in mud.

My mind comes back to the still, silent darkness. Almost liquid darkness. Oh crap. Am I in someone else’s womb already? Is reincarnation that instant? Can I get some down time here? Maybe sit out a decade or two? A new life will be welcome after years of insanity in this one. The rage, the anger, the threats. At least I don’t have to see his contorted mouth spewing insults at me or feel his two hundred and fifty pound body slamming into mine with fury. His killing me is no surprise. It happened remarkably quickly. But he called in my baby, my sweet, innocent seven year-old son to watch.

Oh my God. My boy just watched him kill me. The thought is agonizing. How can I be dead if I’m having thoughts? Can a soul think? This is all so confusing. Maybe I’m not dead, merely held in suspended animation. Maybe it is a gift from God giving me a momentary reprieve from the daily madness of existing with a psychopath. The one minute a boxer gets between rounds.

Do I want to go back into the ring for yet another round of the fight for our daily survival? I am so damn exhausted, I feel like I am crawling on my belly, too weak to stand up. I don’t know what God wants from me anymore. How much more suffering must we take before he sends us an angel, an intervention, a miracle? I think of the words of Anais Nin: I postpone death by living, by suffering, by error, by risking, by giving, by losing. What if I don’t want to postpone death any longer? Who will protect my beautiful boys if I give into the sweet, silent darkness?

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