“Guilt is perhaps the most painful companion of death.” ~Coco Chanel
How one deals with the loss of life varies from person to person. There is the personality of the person experiencing the loss and that person’s relationship to the deceased. We’ve all lost someone we loved or knew at sometime, and we’ve all dealt with death in our own perspectives. Just imagine if you were held accountable or felt responsible for that loss of life.
My mother killed a man. No, she did not aim to kill him. It was an accident. No fault of her own. And she has had to live her life with that haunting her.
This in fact happened when I was about six or seven years old. My mother remembers everything vividly except the date. I think God that she can’t recall the exact date because if she did it would be a day of trepidation every year. She has enough difficulty reliving it as often as she does.
When this happened my mother had just dropped my father off to hunt with his boss. This was a night hunting exhibition. A cat had crawled underneath her car, and she was afraid it might get caught in her motor, so she refused to leave until my father had freed the cat. Shortly after dropping him off she heard and felt an unbelievable thump. She knew she had hit something but never saw anything. She pulled into the nearest residence. She was so upset she couldn’t compose herself to get out of the car. She just started blowing her horn. The man of the house came out and she told him she thought she might have hit someone. He took her inside. My mother was hysterical and had started going into shock. The man’s wife used smelling salts to bring her around and they called the local authorities. They tended to my mother while waiting for the area law enforcement.
They found a dead man in the middle of the road. He was dressed in all dark clothes which made him blend into the night. He had been drunk and apparently weaving about his way in the road. This was a man known in that particular area to get drunk and roam the roads by foot at night. The neighbors had often driven around him as he reeled to and fro and side to side. Note that my mother did not live in that area.
The officer came and he told my mother that the accident was just that, an accident. He told her it was absolutely unavoidable. He told her that there would not be any charges filed against her, and he tried his best to calm her down. They sent information by CB radio to my father’s boss that my mother had been in an accident and was shaken badly and that he was needed at the scene. Of course, my father assumed that she’d been physically hurt. Anyway, My father took my mother back home.
I recall my mother sitting us around the kitchen table the next day and while sobbing she relayed to us that she had killed a man. Being of the young tender age that I was I assumed my mother shot him or something until she explained how it happened. I still remember the fear enveloping my body and immobilizing me to the chair. When I become so afraid that I can’t move, my teeth chatter and my body visibly trembles. There have only been a few times in life that I have ever felt that way, and this was one of them. I waited and waited all day for the police to come cart her off to jail and take all of us to the nearest orphanage.
That Monday, my mother allowed us to stay home from school. Maybe she thought it was in our best interest not to have to deal with the talk that invariably goes around in small southern towns. Well, that day a police car pulled into our drive way. I ran up and hid behind one of the sofas sitting on the porch. Barely breathing as not to make a sound, I did not budge until I heard the sputtering gravel of the car pulling out of our driveway. I ran inside screaming for my mother, fully expecting not to find her. I didn’t understand why she was not hauled off, but was so comforted that she home.
Immediately after news of the accident and death surfaced, the phone calls started. I’m referring to the ones that anonymously yelled or whispered “murderer” or “killer” and other horrible things. They continued for weeks, all hours of the day and night. I went back to school to find my very best friend who was a boy to taunt me that my mother was a murderer. Of course, in those days, they didn’t have school counselors to help you get through difficulties like that. It seemed like forever, but in reality, I don’t know how long, for things to calm down.
I just recently asked my mother why the police came to our house that day. She told me that it was the same officer who answered the call on the night of the accident. And he came because he was worried about her. He tried to convince her to see a doctor for her nerves. I guess he was concerned she’d have a mental breakdown.
Anyway, the family of the man did try to press charges. However, the D.A., said that under the circumstances there was absolutely no case. It was an accident, in actuality caused by the victim.
So, our lives went on. At least, they appeared to have. What I never knew (because she never talks about it) was that a part of my mother ceased to live after that. She told me that now, about forty years later, she continues to have nightmares. She said that sometimes when she hears of a bad wreck or some other event, those horrible memories resurface. When that happens, the nightmares come back. Sometimes for days. Sometimes weeks. She still holds guilt for something she could not have prevented. Even in accidents, the “victim” is not always the only victim.