When my foster sister sent me a package, somehow I just knew there was a grenade inside. I held onto it for over a month, and a few nights ago I finally looked. It was a scrapbook that Little Honey put together of all of my big life moments after high school graduation. Among the photos and graduation invitations was this:
I spent my last semester of college in London studying Shakespeare. On my first and only blind date, I met a British Army Captain named Derek Hull. At first I didn’t like him much, but he eventually grew on me due to his penchant for grand romantic gestures. (I once went to the loo in Victoria station and found him outside waiting for me with a giant bouquet of red roses) Before I went back to the states, he asked me to marry him, and I said yes! He asked for my dad’s blessing over the phone. We’d only known eachother for a couple of months, so it was quite a shock to my family when I returned from Great Britain engaged. We began plans for our wedding from opposite sides of the pond. Derek wanted to print up our wedding announcement in the London Times, and asked for my mother’s name to complete the ad. I suddenly felt upset, and asked why he had to put her in the ad at all, since she had died before I was two. Later that day, I was talking to my cousin about it and she blurted out that I almost came to live with them after my mother committed suicide. I was 22 years old and my family never thought to mention the truth about the way she really died. It was like starting over from scratch. It stopped me in my tracks. Here I was about to graduate and get married, and I didn’t even know who the hell I was or where I came from! Everything began to unravel, including the engagement.
My foster mother suggested going to the Ingham County Courthouse to obtain my mother’s death certificate. She told me to wait until I got to her house to look at it, but I glanced down at it while I was getting the money out of my wallet to pay for it. “Death by Strangulation” is what it said. I walked out of the courthouse in a daze. The leaves were brown and crunched under my feet. Nothing would ever be the same again.
When I got home, I called everyone in my family. I wanted them to tell me about my mother, but that just made it worse. My grandma said that I had been a terrible toddler, as if I somehow drove my mother to kill herself.
My mother took me to the neighbor’s house and asked if they would babysit so she could do an errand. Then she went home and hung herself in the basement with our dog’s leash. She supposedly left no note, tho I am very skeptical about that. I know next to nothing about her. Because of the shame around suicide, no one would speak of her. The only comment that ever helped me came when I met a friend of my mother’s at my grandparent’s memorial. She said I had my mother’s voice.
I know she was a nurse for awhile. I know she loved animals and had a pet raccoon as a child. I know she met my dad in a class at the bird sanctuary in Gull Lake, MI. That’s about all I really know of her. I remember once I sent my dad a questionnaire with all of my questions about her, but like so many important documents: I lost it. And now he’s gone and I can’t ask him anymore questions.
In 2001 I told my dad about my grandma’s “terrible toddler” comment, and how I felt at fault for my mother’s suicide. He told me that my grandparents ordered an autopsy, and a huge tumor was found in her brain. The tumor was so large that my dad was approached by the Smithsonian Museum and asked if they could have her brain and the tumor for future study. Being a scientist, he agreed to the arrangement.
After receiving that news, I decided that I wanted to track down her brain and visit it. I know, it sounds crazy. I called the Museum and began working with a nice man there to try and track down her sample among the thousands of others in the museum. (The pathologies collection dates back to the Civil War.) There was lots of paper work involved; I had to find the original autopsy report, etc. It wasn’t easy since all of the documents were so old by then.
Then 9-11 happened…
It turned out that the Smithsonian was in charge of a lot of the body identifications from the twin towers. So I had to give up the search and let it go. Although she’s long gone, the mystery of Mary Louise Bryant lingers on, as does the mystery of me….