By the time I got there it was like it had been erased.
It was the Tuesday after Labor Day weekend. I was back to work, busy as hell, considering staying a couple hours after 5pm to catch up on some stuff. I typically don’t answer calls to my personal phone when I’m at work unless I have reason to believe they’re important/time sensitive. If Matthew calls me, for example, I answer – because unless something is seriously pressing, he texts. I definitely don’t answer calls from numbers I’m not familiar with.
I’d gotten two calls that day from a number I didn’t know. I remember noticing the first one when I was on my lunch break, taking a walk with a coworker/friend, and I paid zero attention to it. If I’d answered/listened to my voicemail while still on my lunch break the day would have gone very differently.
Fast forward to 5pm. I pick up my phone to text Matthew to let him know I’m going to stay for a while to get a bit more work done. I notice a Facebook message from a friend of Mom’s; someone I knew and liked but wasn’t close with on my own, someone who, at the time, didn’t typically message me. The gist of her message was “I’m so sorry about your mom, let me know if I can do anything.” I messaged her back to say “I think you know something that I don’t, can you tell me what’s going on?”
Then I checked my voicemail. Two messages from an investigator with the homicide unit. Of course by then I’d figured out what was going on, but those voicemails made it real.
I had a brief panic attack at my desk. I called Matthew. Maybe for someone else the next week would be a blur, but for me it’s etched in my memory in extreme detail. I’ll probably end up talking about varying aspects of it over time, but right now I want to talk about the scene.
I didn’t go to the apartment that day. When I got in touch with Mom’s landlord she told me that I could come over to the apartment at any time but that she recommended I wait until the next day, after the hazmat folks had done their thing. Of course the body had already been removed – that was part of the major hubub that was going on during the time the investigator called me twice; the chaos that I completely missed out on after Emily (who I never, ever would have wished this on) found her, three days after she shot herself. But the mattress was still there. I’m sure it wasn’t just the mattress, but that was what the landlord kept referring to. She recommended I didn’t go over until they had taken the mattress away.
And so I didn’t. And of course that was the sensible choice. Why on earth would I want to go over and see that? And I can’t go back in time, I can’t view alternate universes like split screens and try to determine which causes more trauma in the long run, so I’ll never know for sure – but I probably made the right choice. I made the sensible choice.
But when I did go over, later the next afternoon, it was like the entire incident had been erased. Most things were as they had been the last time I’d been there, just over a week prior. A few pieces of furniture were nudged out of place. Sundance, her cat, was losing his shit for lack of companionship. There was a black rubber glove sitting on one of her dressers. I couldn’t bring myself to move it. I don’t remember now if I ever did or if I let the junk removal company take it away after we’d salvaged everything we could. I couldn’t bring myself to move it because it was evidence, it was a sign of what had happened.
I never could find any sign in the bedroom. The mattress was gone of course, so it isn’t as if the room looked the same as it had before – the empty bedframe was certainly a testament of sorts. But my first time in there I couldn’t help it, I searched obsessively for something. A splatter of blood on the carpet. A shard of bone stuck to the wall. A piece of brain leftover on a cabinet. Anything. A sign.
And damn but those hazmat folks did their job well, because I never found anything. Not a damned thing.
When I talked to the investigator about the things he’d confiscated I told him I had no interest in the revolver – I don’t know if he would have given it to me even if I had asked; I’m not sure what the laws are on such things but I’m guessing there’s at least a chance that Mom wasn’t supposed to have it anyway. It had been her father’s service weapon; I doubt they want those things just floating around willy nilly. But I didn’t pursue it anyway, didn’t ask.
I considered asking for the bullet. I have no idea where it would have ended up or what it would have looked like. Was it still in her head when they took her away? I didn’t find any evidence of that in her bedroom either. No holes or cracks in the walls or ceiling. Did the hazmat people fix something? Or was it still inside her when they did the autopsy? Would they have given it to me if I’d asked? Would I have regretted asking for it? Do they still have it somewhere in a baggie with her name on it?
Emily found her – Emily my ex, who I’d fallen out of touch with, but who had become, ironically, good friends with Mom. She and I have reconnected since then, and she’s probably the person I would have least wanted to walk in on a scene like that. I can’t begin to imagine or calculate the damage it did to her.
And yes, I wish it had been me. If someone had to find her, I wish it had been me. Maybe alternate-universe-me who did find her desperately wishes that she hadn’t, but I think that even if it had been me and the sight had caused me nightmarish trauma that I never would have wished it on anyone else.
It probably would have been best, objectively speaking, if the police had found her. In some ways she was so prepared, so cognizant – she left notes with my phone number, the phone numbers of people from her church; she left a note on her door stating that the door was unlocked, and, thinking that her downstairs neighbors would be the ones to find her (they heard a noise they told me later but had no idea that it had been a gunshot) said that perhaps the husband should keep the wife from going into the bedroom. She left a series of DVDs that she’d borrowed from Emily on the kitchen counter with a note stating who they belonged to. It was all so very well planned.
If she’d only called the police beforehand – “This is my name, this is my address, I’m going to go shoot myself in the head now, goodbye” – then she could’ve been found by someone with no connections to her, someone who was professionally prepared for the situation. That probably would have been the best.
I probably still would have felt that it should have been me. Her friends, other people who loved her – they’ll never forget her, she’ll always be with them in some form – but it’ll probably be far easier for them to let go of the how. Of the scene. Of the knowledge of how it happened (“Gunshot Wound of Mouth” the Death Certificate said).
Someday it won’t seem so immediate for me. Maybe someday I’ll even be able to let it go. But for now I just can’t help but think that my brain whirring around conjuring up images of what that scene was like is, in some ways, worse than it would have been if I’d walked in on it. Maybe I’m wrong. It’s impossible to know. If I’d walked in on it, it would have been horrible. Maybe I would have screamed, thrown up, had a breakdown – maybe I would have had nightmares – and I’m certain I never would have gotten the image out of my head. But I still can’t get it out of my head, it’s just an imagined version. And I didn’t have that explosive moment, that extreme revelation – my grief has come in fits and starts, stunted moments – I feel like if I had had a huge dramatic moment of vomiting and horror that maybe I could have excised something. Maybe it wouldn’t be stuck in there still. Like the cold clean apartment with the single black rubber glove where it almost seemed as if nothing bad had happened.