Sunday, November 11, 2007

I guess the room just got to be too much for her.

Came news very late last night of another death, and one that hit considerably closer to home. Eight years ago my youngest son began a relationship with a young woman I won't name here, to spare her family further pain. It was in many ways a stressful, tortured relationship, but it also produced what was one of the greatest joys of my life up to then: Sophia, our adorable, beatific granddaughter. Or so we thought. Two years later (we spent one of those years helping raise Sophia in our own home, amid her parents' ongoing dysfunction), we learned that Sophia's mother had duped my son, and us. And overnight, she just walked out of our lives and never looked back. My struggle to come to terms with all this would include pieces written for Good Housekeeping and The New York Times Magazine. But it never really "went away." To this day, I stare across at a wall graced by at least a half-dozen special photos of my Sophia.

Last night my son phoned at almost midnight; he'd heard from mutual friends that Sophia's mother was dead. A suicide, they think, some months back. (She would've turned 30 a few days before Halloween. In fact, on that very day two weeks ago, my wife voiced the wish that "I hope you're having a nice birthday, wherever you are." Kathy understands pain and confusion, and always had a soft spot for Sophia's mother.) I found out in the obituary that in addition to Sophia, now 7, the tragedy orphaned a second little girl, a 2-year-old we hadn't known about, of course.

I will remember Sophia's mother as a fun-loving girl with a bright, beaming smile that almost (but never quite) hid her anger and heartbreak, a girl who—as seems so often the case these days—had to grow up way too soon and deal with things children should not have to deal with. We left off on bad terms, and if I could see her again today, I would hug her and tell her that I hold no hard feelings about any of what happened. I guess she did what she felt she had to do. Both then and now.

At moments like this I'm reminded of something another great American author, John Steinbeck, once wrote: "There are some among us who live in rooms of experience we can never enter."

12 comments:

The Crack Emcee said...

Jesus, man, I'm sorry.

a/good/lysstener said...

That is such a disturbing and touching story, Steve, I am so sorry. Not just about the present tragedy but what you suffered years ago with first losing your granddaughter. It sounds like this girl and her life was basically a mess and you and your family just got caught up in it somehow. I feel for all of you, and her innocent babies, and for your son, and of course for her.

A terrible thing.

Cosmic Connie said...

What CMC and Alyssa said, Steve. I'm truly sorry for you and your family, and, as Alyssa said, for her (and her family) as well.

A_long_time_reader said...

My condolences Steve. May she finally be in peace.

Your PR Guy said...

Now that Sophie and her sister are alone in the world. What will become of them? A seven-year-old girl should never have to face life without her mother, especially knowing that she committed suicide. Nor should her sister.

The one thing that haunts me about this -- and I'm sorry you're the one reporting it and baring the pain and continued loss -- is Sophie living without her mother.

My mother experienced the same with her dad. At 36, he was found in his hotel room. He shot himself. My mother -- 12 at the time -- lived with that tragedy until last year, when she took her life too.

Death is bad and painful and, well, just horrible. You have my symthpathy, and Emily and I will keep you in our hearts and prayers -- hoping you, your wife and son -- as well as -- Sophie's other grandparents will find peace.

All this makes me sad...

Steve Salerno said...

I guess it's one of the Kubler-Ross stages, but this morning I'm just so freakin' mad I could spit. I am, in fact, furious, and no one should be this furious at 5:40 a.m., when I'm starting this comment in Word (to transfer it over, later).

You see, there is a memorial page set up to "honor" this woman's memory, and as I read that page over and over, day after day since I heard the news, confronting myself with what happened here—to make it all sink in, I suppose—it occurs to me that you can also read everything that fed into this horror in that memorial page itself, and in the comments thereon, and in the various referral pages of the friends who commented. You can size up this woman's world and the tragicomic way she lived her life...and you can't tell me that that didn't figure in her death. (Again, out of respect for the family's privacy, I'm not going to give out the web address. That somewhat compromises the impact of what I'm trying to say here, but I think you'll get a pretty good idea of the point I'm making.)

This girl lived in a climate in which one senses, first of all, an outright disdain for proper English, literacy and education as a whole. (I find it darkly humorous that at one point, someone writes that the girl embodied the very meaning of the word "F.R.E.I.N.D.") She lived in a climate in which the man to whom she was engaged at the time of her death, on his own page, lists as his "most admired person," and I quote, "the guy who invented beer." (Also on his own page, his sister writes, "Get your liver ready, sis is coming to town")...a climate in which another young woman who's been with her boyfriend for five years in a relationship that has already produced two kids writes that they are now "thinking about getting engaged"...a climate in which "bettering yourself," apparently, means stepping up to a single-malt Scotch...where the highest kudos go to whoever can get drunkest, fastest (and special bonus points for anyone who can successfully imbibe some portion of that in a moving vehicle without getting stopped by police)...a climate in which kids who still have several years to go before reaching 21 reminisce about their favorite night out drinking with the girls...a climate in which, overall, mourners seem to measure out their remembrances of a dead young woman in shots of tequila or sly references to the number of people of the opposite sex someone "partied with" over break.

Look...I understand that no one puts together a Myspace page as if he or she were composing a resume, and also that at least some people on this page are making a purposeful effort to be "light," thereby taking some of the sting out of this tragedy (as if...). But does this really represent what we admire and aspire to?

Given that most of these people appear to be somewhere between 18 and 35, is this the generation we've raised? I'm tempted to just dismiss all this as a singular artifact of trailer-trash "culture"--but I also know that I hear many of the same characterizations from people who are now in college. College.

And then we wonder why our young people turn up dead, one way or another, in DUIs, or fights that didn't have to happen, or fraternity initiations. We wonder why so many babies are having babies, trapping themselves in lives they shouldn't have to be living; sentencing those wee ones to another spin on that same, sad merry-go-round.

Though I admit that none of this is a way of life I can comprehend for me, understand that I'm not saying what I say here as a moralist. I'm not. I'm saying it as a pragmatist. This kind of approach to life does not work, for most people. Not long-term. There is always a price. In jail time, in lost opportunities, in needless violence, in dysfunctional relationships, in innocent babies that never should be born into the circumstances they're born into. The way of life these people pursue is not happiness; it is, rather, the abandonment of reason. Happiness and the abandonment of reason are not the same. In fact, the latter often precludes the former.

She broke our hearts, this young woman, and she did it many times before she took away the little urchin we thought was ours, and then ultimately took her own life. But my wife and I loved her—we truly did. Many of the people on the memorial site say they want to do something for the two young daughters left behind. If that is true, then I beg you: Get those girls to "hang out" with different types of people. Urge them to learn something: about the language, about history, about politics, about art and music, about more than just the ratio of ingredients in your favorite alcoholic beverage. Teach those beautiful little girls such things, so that maybe someday they can make a good first impression when they interview for a job at something beyond minimum wage. Maybe they can get married before having two or three kids. (Imagine that!) Maybe they can break the cycle.

I am sick of it. And I am sick of seeing it rampant in the culture and having to turn the other cheek or even nod and smile as this mindlessness is held up as the epitome of being "young" and "kewl." This morning, I am thinking we need to start over. I am sick of watching young people live disordered lives, and then die.

a/good/lysstener said...

Wow, Steve, that is really something. Quite an indictment, and a true statement if ever there was one. You should've written is as an actual blog item. Anyway I am going to send the page to "some people I know" and tell them to read that comment. I don't think it will make a difference and they'll probably attack me as a goody two shoes, but they need to hear it anyway. Thank you for writing that. Again, how tragic for those poor girls.

Mike Cane said...

>>>Given that most of these people appear to be somewhere between 18 and 35, is this the generation we've raised?

Yes. It is.

And that's only the half of it. You wouldn't want to see what their *parents* would post.

I'm sorry for your loss.

The Crack Emcee said...

Steve,

I'ma take advantage of your anger here and suggest that less "open-mindedness" is what's needed in our culture. There IS a right and a wrong, and you're recognizing the wrong inherent in this. And I don't blame you a bit.

I'm judgemental because someone needs to be judgemental - to be the adult. I can't tell you how many times a day I'm at work, looking at mothers working with unruly kids, who respond - immediately - when I lower my voice and tell them to chill. That's what men are for, in my opinion (As you all know). The kids get sheepish and want my approval, which I gladly give, once they decide being reasonable is an option - not before. Sometimes I give the mothers advice on how to lead their kids ("Make every exchange a transaction because he/she wants to be good") but, usually, I just let the mothers stare at me like I have some magic power or something. I don't:

I'm just being a "Man".

To give that up - for "open-mindedness" - is a crime against a functional society.

RevRon's Rants said...

Perhaps a more mature balance of values - tempered with a bit of that horrible open-mindedness - would lead to kids growing up with the ability to more effectively navigate through their lives, without being stunted by an overblown need to rebel.

I've seen just as many kids messed up by overbearing parents as by parents who couldn't be bothered. And the end result is equally destructive. But I guess it's easier for some folks to follow a knee-jerk emotional reaction - or to avoid acting at all - than to actually think through to the inevitable results of their actions. It's the universal cop-out, shared by the New Age and the Old School followers alike.

RevRon's Rants said...

Perhaps a more mature balance of values - tempered with a bit of that horrible open-mindedness - would lead to kids growing up with the ability to more effectively navigate through their lives, without being stunted by an overblown need to rebel.

I've seen just as many kids messed up by overbearing parents as by parents who couldn't be bothered. And the end result is equally destructive. But I guess it's easier for some folks to follow a knee-jerk emotional reaction - or to avoid acting at all - than to actually think through to the inevitable results of their actions. It's the universal cop-out, shared by the New Age and the Old School followers alike.

gabagool said...

Mr. Salerno
I ABSOLUTELY understand you anger with that bunch of posts......Their posts are childish, spoiled and immature, BUT, I would be willing to bet that the people posting such garbage ALSO think, at 30, that they have figured out EVERYTHING there is to figure out about ALL THINGS.....and that us older people are all idiots, racist, homophobes, elitist has beens. Basically THEY KNOW EVERYTHING.

But, I must admit, I used to think that a strong, involved parent, when who has rules and sticks by them will raise a child NOT like those you are so angry about. But, as I have gotten older, I see that this thought is just.....so.....wrong. I wish it wasn't'. It seems that individual personal traits has a huge part in what a kid becomes. You can play your best ward cleaver, and if your kid is born with certain traits, traits that are LESS than admirable, well, then....YOU LOSE.... Because you can have another child, do the exact (or as exact as possible) things and Whalaa.......a great kid, student....person.

I tell you what though, its getting easier and easier to be a mysanthrope.