Causes

Nobody Would Have Been Surprised If I Had Died

died

It starts somewhere. It starts in the home. I know what a mass shooter can look like.

First time I saw him, I was 13. The sun wasn’t even up yet and I was wearing my track uniform. I poured myself a bowl of Peanut Butter Captain Crunch, turned and there he was, sitting at the round pale-blue Formica table reading the newspaper and drinking a cup of coffee.

He was a large man. Wavy hair and beard intertwined with strands of black and white. Blue-blue eyes. A department store Santa. He smiled at me. Introduced himself. I was late for practice. So I told him to wash his dishes before he left.

My mother met him the night before. The bowling alley was the place-to-be in our small town, with a crowded bar, nightly bowling leagues, giant trophies and a video game arcade. Normally we went with her, gorging on pizza and Dr. Pepper, but my youngest sister was sick. So my mom went alone, met him and brought him home.

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She’d been looking for a man for a while. She was a mother with three little girls. She did not have a job. That was a lot to take on for anyone. Her second marriage had ended a year earlier. He started sleeping in her bedroom every night after they met. A few weeks later, I woke up to find them both gone. It was Christmas Eve morning. She’d left a note. They had gone to Vegas, a four-hour drive. Watch your two younger sisters, please. They’d be back that night.

I wasn’t mad. I was hopeful. She was lonely, she was drinking more and the laundry was piling up in the garage. He lifted her up, easily, and swung her around the room, happily, and he bought all three of us brand new bicycles. I wanted it to work out for her this time. We all did.

I woke up before dawn on Christmas morning and they still hadn’t come home. The Christmas tree was decorated and the red and green lights were blinking expectantly, but the cookies and milk were untouched. I ate the cookies, drank the milk, and then stole her money from the cigar box.

I rode my new banana seat bike that he bought me in the dark to the 7-Eleven on Grand Avenue, where I bought presents on behalf of Santa.

I bought records for my two sisters. The 45’s of I Think I Love You by The Partridge Family and I Don’t Like Spiders and Snakes by Jim Stafford. The three of us had a band called “Wonder.” I played the drums on the back of a set of silver pots, while they played the tambourine and maracas. Our mother was best and only audience. At the store, I bought as much candy, soapy bubbles and plastic toys as I could afford. Then, I bought one more thing. A gift for my mother. The .45 record of You and Me Against the World by Helen Reddy.

“When all the others turn their backs and walk away

You can count on me to stay…”

I wanted her to know I would stay.

“And when one of us is gone

And one of us is left to carry on

Remembering will have to do…”

I wanted her to know I would remember her.

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Katherine Fugate
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Creator/ExecProd of “Army Wives.” Screenwriter of “Valentine’s Day” & “New Year’s Eve.” Joining Forces w/ Michelle Obama. Activist. Madeleine’s Mom. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter.

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