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Remembering home and a murder

My neck is crumped junk rickety poppety crackly just add milk. Rub milk and oatmeal into my skin. Strip away my cotton and corduroy and smear my body with wordsoup, all mushy with crushed-up crackers. Remembering dim living-rooms in circles with television sets that never got turned off. All that spark and sinewy celluloid plucked and strung like hamstrings from hearts to screen–my dad lived there. The grisly scene of bib overalls and the sofa king, static between sitcoms. Autumn has a remembrance of Wellington and fading daylight dwarfed by the light of the TV. My dad, the ogre, stay out of his way, growling, shoving meating hands through the air, ham-fisted, it always comes back to bacon.

The Tates’ house next door always smelled like bacon. I know because I would go over after school in 5th grade to hang out with Michelle. This was years before she was murdered and thrown down a well and left to wither under an unblinking Kansas sky. When I would go to her house next door where she lived with her grandparents I loved the smell in the air, like woodsmoke, like they were always lighting fires. Michelle and I were best friends then and her room was in the cool, unfinished (as I remember it) basement. The bare concrete didn’t prevent us from being perfectly comfortable and cozy. We both loved sweaters and learning and we’d do our homework and then lay out our clothes for school, arranging outfits, swapping sweaters. I still love sweaters.

When she died we didn’t know each other anymore, at least not in the easy intimate way of grade school. She’d long since gone to live with her mother, I think, in McPherson. Another small Kansas town. A white man got ahold of her when she was just sixteen and it was days before Christmas. I remember the double axe blow of that fact: Christmas. Michelle had gone to stay the night with the man’s daughter after a night of high school drinking, so the story goes, and I seem to remember there was something about his reputation for being virulently racist, and Michelle was black, and what FUCKING UGLINESS!!! I was also sixteen and didn’t know what to do with it.

Michelle is gone and we didn’t know each other beyond 5th grade but I have my 5th grade class picture, Mrs. Pettigrew’s class, and me and Michelle are standing shoulder to shoulder in our sweaters, and I’m looking shy and sort of pained while she’s beaming dimples and irrepressible joy and there is still and still and STILL a tiny piece of her essence left smoldering in my heart.

And the reverberation of this death pounding against the palms of my feet and ripping through my esophagus like a long-winded twenty-year scream is that this one death, this taking, huge as it is, is not an isolated incident. It happens every fucking day. What did she know in those last elongated minutes? The horror of being prey…

On the Murder of Michelle Tate when we were both 16, 20 years later

A tree of winterhearts

bared and headless.

Just fingers, dozens

of them

clustered and clutching,

little bulbous

berries at their

flametips. Red-

stained swallows,

what we’ve been forced

to swallow the naked

skeletons of our

wanting and wheedling

little mouths

the trees scratch

their chins wondering at

their misplaced sun-

burnished flesh.

Where have our

Sesame Streets

gone and what

is this floodlit plain,

all pockmarked with

craters where trees once

stood? Where lithe-limbed

girls once

stood, tall

on one leg

like cranes,

before the cutting, the

cutting-down-to-size?

Where

has Michelle gone

to? And who will plant

flowers

in her

absence?

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Discussion

4 thoughts on “Remembering home and a murder

  1. I remember.

    Posted by G | January 19, 2013, 6:25 am
  2. You don’t know me, but I knew Michelle. We were friends when she lived in McPherson, that other small Kansas town. I always remembered her after she moved away because I was bullied a lot and she was one of the few kids who was nice to me. She was always so sweet and kind. We had a three-hour block of classes together and we sat by each other. Bullying was very intense and frequent back then and even though Michelle didn’t realize it, she helped make every day something I could get through. I hadn’t “discovered” girls yet at that time, but had I, I don’t think there was any question that I would have been in love with her.

    When word reached us of her horrific end years later, I was crushed. How had this happened to the sweet girl who helped me so much? I still don’t know how or why, but it should not have been, and the world is poorer for it.

    Posted by uberreiniger | May 21, 2014, 12:21 am
  3. Today I returned from a trip to South Haven, actually to the Drury Dam..about 3 miles west of South Haven. I lived there in December of 1992. I moved to that house in August 92 from Wellington. I was only 23 but I met so many teenagers and people my age when I first moved to Wellington in February 1992. It seemed like everyone had parties and teenagers came and went. I may have met Michelle and didnt remember because I did meet Bill Reed’s daughter. I remember the night on December 6th because it was my best friend’s birthday and it was cold and snowy when i drove home. The next day I heard that Michelle had went missing. My heart sank. I can’t explain the feeling or ever want to feel it again but I knew. Deep down I knew she was gone and someone had harmed her. I remember driving home a few days later..it was so cold out even though it had stopped snowing. She always came to the forefront of my mind when we were driving home. Not as often when we were driving to Wellington but always, always when we were driving home. That one night..2 days before she was discovered I said to my boyfriend, ” She’s out here somewhere” He thought I meant somewhere in the world, alive and fine. I said, “No, she’s out here somewhere..close to us.” I can’t even remember his response but when they found her she was very close to us…and several times we drove down the same road..not even knowing she was there. But I remember my boyfriend said to me, “Now I understand what you meant..she was out here by us the entire time.”
    Her death affected me so deeply that I went to Bill Reed’s sentencing. I sat behind Michelle’s family and watched the judge hand down the Hard 40 sentence and I watched Bill’s face lose its color..he was led out of the courtroom, I remember him being unsteady on his feet…and he was white as a ghost. In that very moment I knew she was there with all of us in that courtroom..I felt her..maybe he did too,
    Today I drove out there…admired the summer beauty and remembered the beautiful girl I may have met or may have never met Either way, she made an impact on my life and I think of her often. But sometimes I have to go back there and just be there…somewhere close to her.

    Posted by Dawn M, Amos | June 14, 2015, 11:17 pm
  4. Thank you for your remembrances.

    Posted by shaesavoy | June 18, 2015, 2:07 pm

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Poet and Tarot Reader, specializing in Water Cartography
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