I have a bone to pick with my son.
For more than three decades I held on to his special baby things: his “wedding hankie” bonnet and the little yellow outfit he wore home from the hospital, his yellow brush and comb, two buntings, a navy wool coat and hat my mother made, the little blue and white leather newborn saddle-oxford shoes, the outfit he wore on his first birthday, and bunches of other nice clothes and shoes and blankets and gowns and booties. Even his stuffed raccoon pillow without the stuffing. And his well-used Winnie-the-Pooh blanket. They were all so wonderfully 1970’s special, and I knew he’d want them one day.
At Christmastime I boxed them all up and took them to the celebration around the lighted tree. My son and daughter-in-law were four months away from twins. We’d all enjoy going through the box and looking at these tiny baby things, and they would have meaning and purpose now.
Of course, I didn’t really expect them to bring their newborn son home from the hospital in the same outfit my son was brought home in. Not much anyway. It was two-piece, yellow polyester-crepe material, white pointed collar, with a tiny choo-choo train on the front. It would have been so special for this new baby to wear it home, too, but every parent deserves the right to choose something fresh and new … and in style, from the appropriate century and millennium. When I mentioned the option of using the old, I was told, “We want to pick out something new.”
Okay. Fine. Why would anyone want something new when they could have something special? Though old. Think of all the times all through the years we’d be able to say, He wore the same suit home from the hospital that his father did. I didn’t say it; I just thought it.
We did use the “wedding hankie” bonnet, however. The baby boy wore the same bonnet home from the hospital that his father did. (That’s a separate story.)
“Will you wash it?” Nicole asked me from her hospital bed.
“I’m not sure it was ever washed for my son,” I told her. But I washed it, carefully, by hand, and placed it around a balled-up wash cloth to dry.
After the babies came home, I looked through the nursery chest-of-drawers and in the closet … and I didn’t see my son’s special items.
“Where are all your baby clothes I saved for you?”
“They’re in a box in the top of the closet.”
“The top of the closet? Why aren’t you using them?”
“Well, we might take them down and put an outfit on the baby for a minute and take a picture of him in it … but, Mama, they’re old.”
“But they’re still good!”
“We do want to hold onto them … they’re vintage.”
Vintage. A dated object. Old-fashioned or obsolete.
At first bathtime a brush was needed. I placed the “vintage” yellow brush on the countertop next to the kitchen sink where we were going to sponge-bathe the baby.
“Mama, we can’t use that old brush on the baby’s head!”
“Why not? I washed it. With soap.”
Much laughter ensued. Deflated, I ended up returning to the nursery to retrieve the NEW white brush that came over here on a boat all the way from China, weeks in route over a nasty ocean, and was NOT washed, I might add.
I understand washing. I birthed my babies in an era during which we had to sterilize everything. We spent more time cleaning and sterilizing than we did taking care of babies. Yet I remember scads of times, seeing other parents — not me, of course — pick up a pacifier that had fallen on the floor and give it a fffft-fffft brush-off on their shirttail, like that was going to wipe off all the germs.
Dirty. Clean. Old. New. Vintage.
A few more photos…
This is the little boy who will carry on my father’s surname and nickname, the name I grew up with, the name I still use, the name that goes with my published stories and on the covers of books. This is the little boy who carries forward my husband’s pen name. This little boy, 4 pounds 4 ounces, has some big shoes to fill. Big shoes.
…I have pictures!
It was about 7p when my son called. Nicole thought her water broke. She described what happened.
“I think you’ll be having babies tonight,” I said. I’d just told my son a few days ago the babies would come by the 10th, because there’s a full moon on the 9th.
Nicole went to the bathroom, then returned and announced, “My water definitely broke.”
“Get your stuff, we’re going to the hospital,” my son said to her.
I went to fill up with gas, cried, laughed…did I eat supper? I don’t know. I walked around the circle to gain some calm. It didn’t work.
8:30p, my son called. They were in the birthing suite and he was handed a gown.
8:59p — they’re getting ready to go back to delivery. She’ll be having a C-section, as planned. I’m missing it. It came during Week 35, not 37, as planned. I’d hoped to be there. I went with my son through his first delivery — when Buffy had her litter of puppies. We had to break the sac on the first one because she didn’t know what to do. Then a few years later when Julie had her litter, he was about eleven and with her the whole way. She decided to deliver under our workshop in the backyard, which was supported by concrete blocks, leaving a span of about twelve inches. Julie waited out the day in labor in the center of that crawl space, and my son was under from the shoulders up, with a book, reading, while she labored. He was there for her. All day. I knew from that moment on he would be a good father.
9:24p. No word yet. Karen, the sister-in-law, is assigned to call people. “Tell her to call me first,” I said. It’s so hard to sit here and wait. I’ve baked dog cookies, I’ve nibbled on M&M’s, I’ve unloaded the dishwasher, I’ve breathed deeply, I’ve got four phones sitting around me. I only need one. I’ve got a headache.
9:41p — a text message. “Theyre here.”
That’s it. I’m a grandmother. I don’t feel like one. I’m a grandmother. Oh my goodness. What do I do? Cry? Laugh? Breathe…
I’m a grandmother.
Blue skies, green grass, and the scent of blooming flowers…
I lived next door to a serial killer.
Many summer evenings, I sat on his front porch in a white rocking chair, sipping lemonade or iced tea with his wife and our widowed neighbor from across the street.
He killed them both.
Every April 5, I think of Amy and feel compelled to share with the world a memory of two beautiful women who should be here right now. Here’s to you, Amy Vick and Kathy Beadle.
April Is Amy
April doesn’t come and go any more without my thinking of Amy. Amy was my next-door neighbor in the Maplewood subdivision in Franklin. One night as I slept, she died. April, in 1993, was when it happened, a week before Easter, when the rest of us were thinking about new white shoes, chocolate bunnies, and marshmallow eggs.
It was an accident, her husband said.
“This 31-year-old white female was found in the family hot tub . . . Foul play has not been ruled out,” the police report said.
He was the prime suspect.
Neighbors gossiped, said it was murder, that he did it. Not me. I believed him. After all, he was a church-going man, an editor of religious books, he told me. And his house stood fifteen feet from the lilac bush at the corner of my house. My son played on the trampoline in his backyard, and I caught lightning bugs with his son. How could I be so close to a murderer? How could I let my child play in a murderer’s yard?
At the visitation, I stood with him at the coffin. “Everybody says she looks natural,” he said. “She don’t look natural, she looks dead.”
Amy wore her wedding dress of white satin and lace. Her hands were crossed on her chest, her shiny red fingernails stark against so much white. Her dark chestnut hair looked out of place against a pillow of white satin.
Two detectives sat at the back of the room, watching.
At the funeral, I stood on a grassy hillside under a maple tree. The heels of my pumps kept sinking in the damp ground. Everyone there was young — twenties, thirties, maybe early forties. Our hair whipped around in the spring wind. The widower walked out the back door of the funeral parlor and up the long path to the grave, his little son beside him. His navy blazer kept blowing open, and he kept pushing his hair back in place. I felt sorry for him. I turned toward the preacher, who read Scripture from a leather Bible, and bright white sunshine blazed in my face. I closed my eyes, shielded them with my hand, and I could see the outline of the people gathered there on the backs of my eyelids. The words of Skeeter Davis came at me. Why does my heart go on beating? Why do these eyes of mine cry? Don’t they know it’s the end of the world?
Amy was put under in the moist dark earth, a world where bugs and worms crawled and tunneled and carried on their daily lives. A different world under our world of sunlight and laughter and thunder and madness. She was too young to go there.
Her death was ruled accidental.
The years rolled by, and I quit thinking about it. I never went back to the cemetery. I even moved away from the blue house where Amy drowned.
But as the calendar flipped over into April, 2003, it all came back. Like the Maplewood lake that yearly went through a cleaning process by turning itself inside out, the bottom coming up to the top and big nasty brown chunks floating on the surface for everyone to see and smell and live with, it all came back up from the bottom of my mind. Thoughts of Amy kept coming at me, and I couldn’t make them stop.
Do you believe people come back from the dead? I do. She did. Amy prodded me from the other side. The pull was so strong I didn’t have a choice. I had to go to the graveyard.
“I’ve got to visit Amy’s grave,” I told my husband. “Go with me.”
On a cold April Saturday, we drove down Columbia Pike to the memorial gardens. I remembered the grassy hillside, the maple tree, the approximate location of her grave. We walked up and down every row, checked every marker for her name, but couldn’t find it. I went to the office for help.
“It’s #148,” the young funeral home man said. “In the Garden of Prayer.”
“I looked all over that section and didn’t see her name.”
“Meet me up there. We’ll find it.”
I watched him climb up the hill, stop, look around, scratch his head, hold out his hands in a shrug. “There ain’t no marker. She’s right here, though.” He pointed to the spot. “And she’s buried north to south.”
A chill went over me. No marker. Nothing to show that someone lay beneath the cold spring grass. Nothing to show that a life was lived, a person was gone. You couldn’t even tell a grave was there. It was seamless.
Amy was lost to the world.
No one deserves to be buried, then forgotten.
“Can you look up when she died?” I asked the funeral home man. I’d forgotten and was hoping to see it on her marker. “I know it was in April because my son was home from college on spring break.”
“Yeah, stop in before you leave.”
When I later entered the office, a man with a mustache and a woman with red lipstick stood shoulder-to-shoulder to the young man. They stared hard at me, didn’t even blink. I wanted to run out the door and keep on running up the pike. Why were they looking at me like that?
The young man shifted nervously, cleared his throat. “Ma’am, she died April 5, 1993. Ten years ago today.”
“Oh God.” My lips formed the words, but the sound didn’t come out.
Ten years. Ten years to the day.
Amy came back on the tenth anniversary of her death because she wanted me to know her plight. Her husband got away with murder and left her in an unmarked grave.
I thought of Amy’s car wrecks two months before she died. Two of them, eight days apart. The first one, she skidded in gravel and hit a piece of machinery on the side of the road. She had glass embedded in her face and arms and was all scratched up.
The second accident, her car rolled down an embankment and caught fire. She managed to free herself while patting out flames. “Smell my hair,” she told me, as I stood by her bed. “I’ve already cut my bangs, but you can still smell fire in my hair.” It got singed, along with her eyebrows and eyelashes. Her knee was injured, too.
“Amy, what are you trying to do—kill yourself?” I asked her.
When she went to the hospital after the second accident, the glass was still embedded in her face from the first wreck.
Fifty-one days later, she fell out of a boat on Lake Barkley and had to swim to shore. That same night, she got in a hot tub and met her fate.
I can’t understand. No, I can’t understand, how life goes on the way it does.
Had her husband made three attempts to kill her before he succeeded?
Amy’s widower went on with his life. He took up with the young widow across the street. President Clinton spoke of them in a State of the Union address — how Tony had placed an ad in worldwide newspapers when he was seventeen, beginning a search for a life-long mate, and now he’d miraculously found the woman of his dreams. They moved to Knoxville together. Two years later, she went missing. I saw the story on the five o’clock news, her picture plastered across the screen of my kitchen TV. I was cooking spaghetti, and I held up my wooden spoon and proclaimed, “He did it. He really did it. He killed them both.” His new bride’s body was found eleven months later, buried in their backyard, entombed in concrete under landscaping stones and timbers. She had been strangled.
He disappeared, then was nabbed up north, attempting to shoplift a suit from a bargain store.
He was tried for murder, given a life sentence.
Amy’s case was re-opened.
He made a surprise appearance in Circuit Court and was sentenced to life in prison without parole. He pleaded “guilty in best interest,” not an admission of guilt. The plea kept him from getting the death penalty.
He never said he did it. Amy never got her day in court. Justice was not served in her behalf.
April, in 2004, I went to the Franklin courthouse, pulled the records, spent a week reading through them, learned Amy’s father died suspiciously and so did her aunt.
Seven months later, Tony called a reporter from Channel 4 News and confessed to Amy’s murder.
April, in 2005, I visited Amy’s grave and saw that someone had placed a marker there.
Amy got her due.
And Skeeter Davis was now buried a few rows up.
I came home early today, hoping to beat the third severe thunderstorm destined to pass over my house. Thunder boomed and rocked the house. I could feel the vibrations in the floor. That was just the beginning of it.
I called my mom to check on her, as I do every evening…and every morning while dressing for work. I’d planned to tell her about my excitement of the day…how I tracked the storms on the computer, how the tornado sirens sounded, how our office staff went to the stairwell to wait out the storm. But when she answered the phone, she said in a very disturbed voice, “I’ve got real trouble.”
“What is it? What’s wrong?”
“I got a bill from a company called HealthSpring, saying I owe them $300. It’s a premium for insurance –”
“Give me the phone number and any ID number on the statement.”
She did and I called the number, thinking it would be an easy fix. Boy golly, was I ever wrong.
“She’s got prescription drug insurance with HealthSpring, and she’s had it since May of 2006.”
“No, she does not. She doesn’t take any prescriptions, she doesn’t want Medicare Part D, she never signed up for Medicare Part D or for HealthSpring. Remove the $300 and take her off your list.”
“No, we can’t do that. Medicare signed her up in May of 2006.”
“So, in almost May of 2009, she’s getting her first bill? Give me a break. She’s not going to pay this bill. She did not ask for this coverage. She does not want this coverage. She never even knew she had it. Give me a reasonable solution here.” My voice got louder as I ranted on.
“What I done to you? I’m just trying to help you. I don’t know what I’ve done to you.” She whined into the phone like a hurt creature.
“Hey, I’m the customer here. I’m coming to you with a problem. Fix it. Give me an answer here. Your company is harrassing my mother and upsetting her by sending her bills she knows nothing about. If you are trained to work in an insurance company, you should know how to deal with irate people like me. Give me an answer! Give me some help here!”
“What did I do to yooooou?”
“You are the face of HealthSpring. HELP ME!”
She hung up on me when I was getting nowhere with her and said the f-word. I called back and went through the whole thing again with a second person. All these freaking people at HealthSpring know to say is that She has been signed up since May of 2006. And when you say I don’t care, it’s a mistake, take her off, all they can say is No, she was signed up. They cannot tell you why she was signed up three years ago and has never gotten a bill. In fact, they couldn’t tell me anything much because I didn’t have Power of Attorney for her. Okay, I can understand that.
[But…it goes downhill from here…]
The second HealthSpring woman hung up on me when I said damn. Can’t these people handle a few damns and hells from someone whose mama is troubled and upset because of a bill she got in the mail that she wasn’t supposed to get? Finally, I called back a third time and got Andrea. I told her to please not hang up on me because two people already had and I was a little upset (okay, a lot upset!) and needed a solution for my 87-year-old mother. Andrea had the same script as the other two, but ended up telling me that Medicare signed my mother up — in May of 2006 — and they had the right to do that because she had been on “assistance.”
“Wait, what? What do you mean ‘assistance’?”
“She’s never been on that.” I explained to her that when my father was ill with dementia and needed a nursing home, we were advised to try to get Medicaid and applied, but my parents were denied because they had too much money.
Wait a minute. Does this mean if you ever did get anything from the government, they OWN you forever after and have the right to sign you up — and make you pay — for anything they want you to have, whether you need or want it at all and you have no say? Sounds so to me. God help us.
“She never got one penny from the government.” I was livid. I was enraged. Explanations, pleas, facts, truth, all shot to the wind. Nothing mattered.
“My records show–”
“I don’t care what your records show; they’re wrong! Make a note on my mother’s file that she will not be paying that bill! Write it down!”
Andrea advised me to call Medicare and gave me their number, and I hung up [without cussing, I think] after she [supposedly and hopefully] lodged a complaint for me against HealthSpring, most particularly about how their trained staff is too inept to deal with and resolve problems for the customer and how they push back problems onto the customer and how they don’t want their OWN tender feelings hurt. Doesn’t matter what they do to your aged mama and how she can’t sleep at night because she is troubled.
So, it stands. A prescription drug insurance company has the right to keep you on their rolls and charge you and send you bills, even though you never signed up, had no knowledge of being signed up…for three years…and don’t need and/or want the service they provide.
Things really got wild when I called Medicare. I got Jason first. He told me his records showed my mother got “assistance from the government” and so they enrolled her in the drug plan.
“Since when did YOU get Power of Attorney for her? Nobody will tell me anything about her situation because I don’t have Power of Attorney, yet you can sign her up for prescription coverage without her knowledge or consent? Where is the logic in that? Tell me something that makes sense here! C’mon, I don’t have time to call the insurance commissioner or to write my congressmen or to call Obama. Help me here.”
“Well, between November 15 and December 31, you can call back and dis-enroll. You can’t do anything before then.” I found out that people are just automatically supposed to know these rules about dis-enrolling and/or changing insurance companies. How is anybody over 65 supposed to keep up with this sh…stuff? The burden is on the aged person to know the rules and abide by them, even if he/she never had a need or interest to know about such things.
“C’mon, help me, give me something reasonable.”
“I can give you a supervisor–”
“Please, for godssakes, do.”
I got Lindsey. “I’m in an absolute nightmare,” I told her. She told me all the same things and told me to call Medicaid and have them correct their records.
Meanwhile, everything stays as it is. My mother will continue to get bills from HealthSpring. Medicare has the right to keep her enrolled against her consent and will.
If she moves or goes to a nursing home, then she can make changes, I was told.
“You mean if she is a normal average person, she can’t.”
“My God, this is insanity. Is this what we’ve come to in America? At this moment, I am ashamed to be an American.”
My mama told me later I shouldn’t have said that about being an American because “we average Americans aren’t dumb like the government.”
[As a writer, I am supposed to be able to put in print ONLY that which is TRUE about others. I swear this is true. The dialogue may not be exact in wording, but the gist is intact. It is all even niced up a bit.]