Yesterday was the fourth anniversary of my parents’ murder, and today is the fourth anniversary of when I got the news.
Because the house was a crime scene, we were told that we should probably wait a couple of days before we got there. We needed access to the house to look for insurance papers, wills, and other such items, but the police also let us know that we should probably wait until the scene had been cleaned up. They told us that my parents’ homeowners insurance would likely cover the cleanup, and that the insurers would refer us to a cleaning service. Mrs. M made the appropriate phone calls — she handled many, indeed almost all, of these details as I moved and thought in slow motion, trying to gather facts.
I had been teaching two classes that summer term, which my colleagues graciously agreed to take over, so I went to my office and sent out syllabi, lecture notes, copies of my old exams, and assignment specifications. When I got back home, Mrs. M had laid out a wide variety of family photos to take to the visitation. I looked at the pictures of Mom and Dad on trips, at Christmas celebrations, and the like, and smiled as I wept. I leaned against the doorframe between the hallway and the living room, and room, and said, “[Mrs. M], are you trying to break my heart?”
“Do you not want to take the pictures?”
“Oh, yeah, I do. It’s just — it’s just everything.”
A phrase that came to me many times during those early days was “It is what it is.” I know a lot of people hate the expression, but I used it a lot anyway. I meant that the essential facts — the deaths of my parents, the rupture in my life, the shock and horror — were immutable, beyond my control. All we could do was accept those facts and get through to the best of our abilities, and hope we made it out the other end. At that point, however, my abilities were slim indeed.
We drove to Eastern Kentucky on Sunday, dropping the Spawn off with her surviving grandparents, my wife’s family. Mrs. M spoke to one of her brothers, whose son is near the Spawn’s age, and they agreed to bring the Spawn to Lexington for pickup when it was time to drive to Nashville for the funeral. From there, we went to a hotel in Northern Kentucky, where Mrs. M and I met and were interviewed by two of the detectives.
Among other things, they told us that we probably shouldn’t go into the house right away. The scene had not been cleaned, of course, and there were still investigators working elsewhere in what had been my family’s home for nearly 31 years. And their searches were thorough. We were told the place would be a shambles — closets emptied, things moved around in other rooms, that sort of thing. We told the police where we thought the papers we needed were. Ultimately, we figured out that we could have access to my parents’ bedroom — the crime scenes were in the kitchen and the stairwell/downstairs area, and the bedroom could be accessed out of the lines of sight of either, thanks to a sliding glass door my father had installed from the bedroom to the back deck. While we looked around in there, the police would bring any files they found from the locations we requested.
We agreed to meet at the house the next morning, and got there about the same time as the police and a ServPro cleaning van. A detective entered the house and let us in through the sliding door. The first thing I noticed was how cold the house was, and I figured out why. The second thing I noticed was that the radio was still on the local public/classical station. And I sat on the edge of the bed and wept again.
After a bit, a deputy brought us a drawer full of folders from Dad’s downstairs office, and we hunted through them, looking for the papers we needed. Other drawers were brought in — from a china cabinet in the living room, from a kitchen drawer, and we finally found the insurance information. Again, Mrs. M started to make phone calls so we could have access to the money we’d need for the funerals. (We finally got the call telling us we’d have use of the insurance money as we were driving to Nashville. Mrs. M wept with relief.)
We spent a couple of hours in the bedroom, as the sound of the cleaners at work filtered from the stairwell and the other end of the hall. Eventually, they were done, and they asked Mrs. M to take a look and make sure the work was satisfactory. Some carpeting had been removed, as had a bit of wood tile from the kitchen. There were things, they said, that they just couldn’t save.