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A Family Murder Leaves Lasting Mark on 5-Year-Old

Sunday, December 22, 2013

While it led to years of chronic bouts of the crazies and self-medication, her mother's murder didn't rob her completely of a childhood or a future, says Kat Hurley in this excerpt from her memoir "I Think I'll Make It."

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While it led to years of chronic bouts of the crazies and self-medication, her mother's murder didn't rob her completely of a childhood or a future, says Kat Hurley in this excerpt from her memoir "I Think I'll Make It."
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Credit: Tex Texin on Flickr, under Creative Commons.

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(WOMENSENEWS)--Aug. 11, 1983. I am 5. I'll be in kindergarten this year, Ben is going to third grade, Jack will be in seventh. I'm not sure where the boys are today; all I know is that I'm glad it's just me and mom.

We're in the car, driving in our Ford wagon, me bouncing unbuckled in the way back. We sing over the radio like we always do. We're on our way to my dad's office, for the 500th time. Not sure why, again, except that "they have to talk." They always have to talk. Ever since dad left and got his new townhouse with his new girlfriend, all they do is talk.

Mom pulls into a space in front of the office. The parking lot for some reason is practically empty. His cleaning business is all the way in the back of this long, lonely stretch of warehouse offices, all boring beige and ugly brown, with big garage doors and small window fronts.

"You can stay here, sweetie pie--I won't be long."

I have some of my favorite coloring books and a giant box of crayons; I'll be fine.

Time passes in terms of works of art. Goofy, Mickey and Donald are all colored to perfection before I even think to look up. I am very fond of my artistic abilities; my paint by numbers are exquisite and my papier-mâché, as far as I'm concerned, has real promise for 5. All of my works are fridge-worthy; even my mom thinks so. My special notes and handmade cards litter her nightstand, dresser and bathroom counter.

I hear a scream. Like one I'd never heard before, except on TV. Was that her? I sit still for a second, wait for another clue. That wasn't her. But something tells me to check anyway--just in case.

I scramble out from the way back, over the seat, and try to open the door, but I'm locked in--why would she lock me in? I tug at the lock and let myself out. With the car door still open, I scurry to the front window of my dad's shop and on my tiptoes, 10 fingers to the ledge, I can see inside. The cage with the snakes is there, the desk and chairs are there, the cabinets and files are there, everything looks normal like the last time I was inside. Where are they?

No Calls for Help

Then through the window, I see my mom. At the end of the hall, I can see her through the doorway. But just her feet. Well, her feet and part of her legs. They are there, on the floor--her sandals still on. I can make out the tip of his shoe too, at her thigh, like he's sitting on top of her. She is still. I don't get it. Why are they on the floor? I try to open the door, but it's locked. I don't recall knocking; maybe I did. I do know that I didn't yell to be let in, call for help or demand that I know what was going on.

It wasn't her. It sounded like it came from down the street, I tell myself. Maybe it wasn't a scream scream, anyway. Someone was probably just playing, I convince myself. I get back in the car. I close the door behind me and color some more.

Only two pages are colored in this time. Not Mickey and friends, Snow White now. Fairy tales. My dad knocks on the window, startling me, smiling. "Hey, princess. Your mom is on the phone with Aunt Jeannie, so you'll just see her Monday. You're coming with me, kiddo. We have to go get your brother."

Everything I've seen is forgotten. My dad's convincing smile, tender voice and earnest eyes make all my fright disappear. He told me she was on the phone, and I believed him. How was I supposed to know that dads could lie?

Two days later, my brothers and I were at the beach on a job with dad when our grandparents surprised us with the news. "Your mother is missing." And it was only then, when I sensed the fear they tried so intently to wash from their faces, that the realization struck me as stark panic, that I was brought back to the scene for the first time and heard the scream I understood was really her.

A Turning Point

My testimony would later become the turning point in the case--reason enough to convict my father, who in his cowardice had covered all his traces. Even after his conviction, it would be three more years until he fully confessed to the crime. I was 8 when I stood, uncomfortable, in a stiff dress at her grave for the second time--more flowers, same priest, same prayers.

To say I grew up quickly, though, as people have always suspected, would be a stretch. Certainly, I was more aware, but the shades of darkness were graced with laughter and lullabies and being a kid and building forts, and later, learning about my period from my crazy grandma.

I honestly don't remember being treated any differently, by Grandma Kate at least. If I got any special attention, I didn't know it. Life went on. Time was supposed to heal all wounds. My few memories of mom, despite my every attempt, faded with each passing holiday.

I was in Mrs. Dunne's third grade class when my dad finally confessed. We faced a whole other wave of reporters, news crews and commotion. They replayed the footage on every channel: me, 5 years old again, clad in overalls, with my Care Bear, walking into the courtroom. And just like before, my grandpa taped all the news reels. "So we never forget," he said.

For our final TV interview, my grandparents, the boys and I sat in our church clothes in the front room to answer the reporter's questions. I shifted around on Grandma Kate's lap in my neatly pressed striped Easter dress. Everybody had a turn to talk. I was last. "Katie, now that the case is closed, do you think you will be able to move on?"

I'm not sure how I knew it then, especially when so many years of uncertainty were still to come, but I was confident: "Yeah." I grinned. "I think I'll make it."

For More Information:

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