The Christmas card came back with a note from the Post Office that forwarding had expired for the change of address. So I went online to find the current address, and, on impulse, decided to Google the name of my old friend and colleague.
We had only been semi in touch over the last several years - pretty much just a Christmas card exchange with update, and the odd e-mail. She'd send a picture of her kids with her card, and it would live on my fridge for a while.
I wish I hadn't Googled her name - which I did, hoping to find out where she was working.
What I found, instead, was that last summer, "L" tried to kill her children, and herself.
The stories about this fell off quickly, after only a few days - just another 'Mom goes berserk' story, the kids lived, etc. It was only ever local news in her city.
The story was picked up again later in the fall, as part of a roundup of incidents in which the economic mess we're in can be pointed to as a causal factor in a series of murders and suicides.
Oh, "L." My heart is breaking for you and the daughters you wanted so badly and loved so much.
I met "L" my first year of business school at MIT.
At that time, she was a university teacher (Stanford PhD) who was considering a career jump to business. She was auditing one of my courses.
"L" ended up applying to Sloan, and my second year was her first year.
We struck up a friendship - we were both a bit older than a lot of the other students: there were only a few of us 30-ish women around. Throughout the school year, we'd grab lunch, see each other at the Thursday "Consumption Function" get togethers, chat over the copying machine in the library.
My first job out of Sloan was through one of "L's" networking connections. A year later she joined the same firm, a small econometric modeling consulting company. We were colleagues for a five or six years, and stayed friends even after we were no longer working together.
"L" was very smart and had a marvelously sardonic sense of humor - especially when we got started talking about some of our road trips with a couple of real knuckleheads from our sales team. Our joint favorite was "F", a very good looking but none too bright fellow who, when he made a call in a new city, always wanted to find a souvenir shop so that he could buy a commemorative plate. Between sales calls, he also liked to haunt expensive men's stores, where he would occasionally buy a suit that cost more than weekly salaries.
If, temperament-wise, "L" wasn't exactly cut out for a corner office career in business, well, neither was I.
Years passed. "L" and I saw each other for dinner and catch-up every once in a while, mostly as part of a larger group of women who'd worked together at the same company.
When I first knew her, "L" was in a live-together relationship with a man with two children, then (I believe) of junior high school age. "N" had custody, and "L" was, for all intents and purposes, the step mother to these boys, whom she'd been with since they'd been toddlers.
At some point along the line, "L" and "N" split. I can't remember the cause. It may have been empty nest syndrome - "N's" boys were in college by then.
"L" was also in a not that satisfying job. I knew other folks who worked at the same place, and most of them had the same complaints about ownership/management. I had interviewed for a position there at one point, and was just as happy not to have gotten it, even though I would have enjoyed working with "L" again.
"L" was unhappy, "L" was drinking, "L" called me one day - a cry for help. I went over to her place and it was a chaotic mess. We talked. We took a walk. She felt better.
Should have I spotted any incipient psychiatric problems?
Maybe, but I didn't.
I saw drinking. I saw depressed.
She was in her mid-40's, newly single, in a crappy job.
There was quite a bit to be down about.
"L" pulled herself together enough to get herself sober. She went to some resort-y kind of place in New Hampshire, and I remember she was there over Christmas. I sent her some home-made cookies, and a paperweight that held a dandelion puff, wishing after I'd sent it that I'd gotten myself one, too.
"L" came home, stayed sober, went to AA, got a dog - and decided that it was time to move.
She wasn't from around here, and she wanted to be closer to her only sibling and her mother.
She found a job, moved out "there", and we stayed in touch.
"L" came back to Boston a couple of times, and we had lunch or dinner, very much enjoying each other's company, and talking about our jobs, our lives, and books. (That PhD of "L's" was in literature.)
Things seemed to be going well, but "L" was longing to be a "mom" again.
She decided to adopt a child from overseas.
I wrote a reference letter for her.
I can't find a copy - that was many PC's ago - but I'm pretty sure that I mentioned "L's" overcoming her problem with alcohol as a sign of her strength.
"L" was ecstatic when she brought "R" home.
She came back to Boston once with her, when "R" was five or six. "R" was a smart, quiet girl - a little shy, very sweet.
"L" wanted "R" to have a sister, so she adopted another little girl, "K".
"R" and "K" were only a few months apart - beautiful girls, the two of them, although "K" was the more classically pretty child.
I'd hear from "L" every year at Christmas, or around our birthdays, which were only a couple of days apart.
I knew that her mother had died, that her sister was sick, that her job situation wasn't all that great.
But she'd gotten a nice house, and she had her girls.
Why, you might ask, am I using "L" instead of my old friend's name?
Only because I want to respect what shred of privacy that she and her girls still have - and because I don't want any of the people who so brutally commented on her, in one of the online news accounts of her brutal acts, to find my blog.
I don't want to hear from anyone who called "L" a freak; a pig; an evil monster; a crazy old bitch; a witch; a self-centered, lazy, piece of shit who doesn't deserve to live, but who should instead rot in hell (dining next to Saddam Hussein).
Although maybe if I didn't know "L", I'd be thinking the same thing. (I do know that, even if I'd thought it, I never would have written it in a comment.)
And as for 'rot in hell': if "L" recovers her sanity, I'm sure that she will rot in the hell of her own mind for the rest of her life.
Here is what "L" did:
Completely overwhelmed, suffering from major depression, compounded by job loss and home foreclosure, and -yes - drinking again, "L" sought psychiatric help, telling the people who treated her that she was a danger to herself and her children.
Somehow - did "L" convince them that she was only kidding? did they just screw up? - they sent "L" home.
A few weeks later, "L" slit the throat of one her daughters, then went after the other one with an axe. She then tried to kill herself.
Fortunately, both children survived the attack.
I'm not sure whether it's fortunate that "L" survived her suicide attempt, as well.
Since seeing this news, I have been feeling the same sensations I last felt after 9/11 - that stunned, shake-my-head-in-disbelief, no this can't have happened feeling of upset, of confusion. And the same type of obsession: reading the same stories over and over again, searching for meaning, searching for clues, trying to make some sense and shape out of it. The same way I did for weeks of looking at those terrible planes, those Towers' collapsing, those ghost figures running through the smoke and ash.
This is, of course, a smaller story.
But it's so personal.
Oh, "L", I hope that "R" and "K" survive intact, that good people take care of them, that they grow to understand that while what you did was terrible, you are not a terrible person. I hope that they don't blame your attacking them on themselves, on the stress that having children - of fearing that you'd failed them - placed on you. I hope that, if they were guilty of any of that typical pre-adolescent, back-talking, eye-rolling, disrespectful behavior that even the sweetest of children are capable of, that they don't blame themselves for precipitating the attack that nearly took their lives.
I hope that they are strong enough to get beyond the terror they must have felt at your hands, that they grow up capable of loving and trusting.
"I'm a bad mom," "R" told the police you said as you tried to kill her. "I have to do this."
Yes, "L", at that moment you were a very bad mom - that whatever madness had overcome you was making you be one.
I hope that "R" and "K" find strength in each other. In the fact that they survived. In "R's" fighting you off, and running, somehow, grievously hurt as she was, to a neighbor's for help.
I hope they understand that you loved them.
I hope that they,the only people who can really forgive you (other than yourself) find the grace and generosity to do so.
Oh, "L", I hope that you get well, and that when you do get well you will forgive yourself.
Every time I read about a murder-suicide, I always ask myself why the person didn't just kill themselves first and be done with it.
I'm asking that here, too.
It can only be evil or insanity.
Here, oh, "L", it is insanity - for what else can explain a loving mother, a good, kind generous person, trying to kill her children.
The violence, the brutality - what insanity fueled the rage (or is it rage that fueled the insanity?) that had you choose such a violent, brutal means to kill your daughters? Why not, I ask myself, an overdoes of pills, crushed into ice cream. Every one dies peacefully, in their sleep.
Of course, if you'd chosen that path, your girls might not have survived.
(I'm thinking about how many times I've used the expression 'It's not as if he's an axe murderer.' Now I know someone who is an axe murderer - or at least tried to be one. So what, exactly, does axe murderer mean, when it's applied to someone like "L".)
Oh, "L", I hope you get the care that you need.
I hope that you get better, and that when you do you have the strength to accept what you've done, to live with yourself, to not just give up and sit staring out into space for the rest of your life - a life that is, of course, now in ruins - but ruins from which I am so hoping that something can be salvaged.
I think about the things that "L" may never experience again: walking barefoot on the grass, ordering her favorite flavor of ice cream, hugging her child (and having the child hug back). No decorating the Christmas tree. No complaining about the knuckleheads at work. No rollerblading - which "L" loved to do.
I hope that "R" and "K" grow up and are able to experience great joy and happiness in their lives. That they grow into the kind, generous, smart women you want them to be. That they both find love. That they are not crushed and overwhelmed by what they have just gone through (and are, of course, going through still).
Oh, "L", I'm not the praying type, but if I were I would be praying for you. And for "R" and "K".
My heart is breaking for all three of you.