It was a Monday — March 19th, 2007. Malcolm and I we were both up and about. My husband had already left for work over an hour earlier. He didn’t get to see Malcolm that day. Malcolm came through the kitchen, grabbed a section of the newspaper and headed to the bathroom. I called out, “Bye Malc, have a good day.” as I left. I remember thinking that I wanted to say, “Love you!” I sometimes did, sometimes didn’t. Sensitive to the fact that living back home with one’s parents for graduate school was hard enough without a doting mother. It was something we all said frequently. Only not that day. Not that day when it would have meant so much to me later to know that I had.
He went to two of his classes at UNO, he handed in a paper. But instead of going to his afternoon job on campus he came home picked up two photographs, one of him fishing at Percy Quin, one of the four of us taken years before, our last formal family portrait. He put the pictures in his backpack. Then he drove to the lakefront lay down on the levee and shot himself in the heart. It was 3.30 pm.
A friend of our neighbor heard the shot and called our neighbor to say a young man had just shot himself on the levee near her house. A short while later an unmarked car drove up in front of our house. Two men got out. One was wearing a loud printed shirt, one was in a coat and tie. That shirt bothered me. That’s no way to dress to come to someone’s house on serious business, and it looked from their faces like it was serious. They asked if Malcolm lived here. They asked when I had seen him last? I didn’t know who they were, so I asked them for identification. They went back to the car and I called my husband to the door. He was at the kitchen sink washing dishes. It’s something about Malcolm, I said. What is it? He asked. I don’t know.
They showed us their identification. Can we come in? We saw no way around it, so we said yes. We all sat down at the kitchen table. They produced Malcolm’s backpack. I couldn’t take my eyes of the blood smears on it. Do you have a recent picture of your son? Is this his wallet? We’re afraid your son is dead. Darkness. Words … more words …We found his body… shot … looks like he took his own life … words … crying … I don’t understand. My husband standing next to me, hugging, sobbing. Then sitting again. We want to see him. I’m sorry his body has been taken to the morgue. We will have his body sent to the funeral home. You will be able to see him there. His body… not him. Already a body, not a person. Here’s a phone number. You can call about the autopsy. What do we do now? You’ll need to make arrangements. Arrangements? For the funeral. They should release his body by Wednesday. You can arrange a funeral for Thursday or Friday. Funeral. We have to arrange a funeral. For our son. We have to bury our son. How do we do that? Call this number at the funeral home, they will help you with all the arrangements. Arrangements. Such a clinical word. Thank you. We’re sorry for your loss. They really say that? Like on Law and Order. Sorry for your loss. Loss. We have lost our son. Can’t we find him again? When is Malcolm coming home? He should be home by now. I don’t understand.
They left. We had to make calls. First Tommy and Sharon, the closest family members, just around the block. They would help us take the next few steps. What are the next few steps? Calls. We have to call our son James. Oh God. How to tell him. But we have to tell him. Word will spread fast. We looked up phone numbers on the website, called the dean of students, phoned James, talked to his friends, made sure he was not alone. He would get someone to come home with him. Good. Good.
Family started arriving. Talking, crying, hugging. Friends started arriving. My boss from work. But I was gone by then. Walking to the levee. They had been talking about Malcolm in the past tense. I couldn’t bear it. Don’t bury him so quickly. He isn’t cold yet. He could still come home and tell us it was a mistake. He didn’t mean to do it. The night isn’t over yet. Let me go to the lake, maybe I can find him. Maybe he is just lost. I walked for blocks in bare feet. Didn’t notice until the shells on the levee. Sat on the top of the levee in the dark, looking out at the lake. Darkness. Is this where he died?
There had been a note in his bag for us. It had a smudge of blood on it, as if they had tried to wipe it clean. It’s not your fault, it was never your fault…I will be where the water meets the shore. A poet even in death. Trying to take care of us with a promise to be at the water’s edge. But he wasn’t there. I looked and looked. I walked up and down the levee, he wasn’t there. He lied.
Voices calling out to me, but I didn’t hear them. People had gone looking, taking another path to the lake. I didn’t see them. It was dark. Later I walked home. Not aware yet of the ant bites on my feet. I would feel that pain later, with all the rest.