— In honor of suicide awareness month
Where’s the old brown Victor AM box
with half a sandwich of what there was for dinner
and half a sandwich of peanut butter.
Going to visit myself again, and in that place,
Jack Benny’s scratching at his violin for Love In Bloom,
Ethel Waters piling up clouds of Stormy Weather,—alas—
as lost as a puff of wind in the grass.
And, Daddy, chewing his pipe in the northwest chair,
and Mama, who’s played a Brahms Waltz on the baby grand.
Then the lawn in the side yard, its badminton net
and the primal fig tree by the back porch,
and the glorious night of the Night Blooming Cereus.
Where’s that gone?
And that midnight ringing of the phone,
wet and hot, to soothe the dolors of the skin,
near which Emily Dickinson
first made a vast hole in the air and drew me through
and shut the wind behind us.
And where’s that brave stony porch against storms,
and the port cochere, and my lonely sand-pile,
where’s what I was,
and our beautiful house of green?
and daddy hurrying down deadly, the last hateful night,
going to headlong ruin by anger destroyed,
his harsh forty-five chucked beside him on the seat,
all ready to kill the girl who dared disgrace him,
and bringing the end of all that we knew
of our house and our city and being young,
as lost as a puff of wind in the grass.
By Andrew Glaze, © 2002, from his book Remembering Thunder
In 2005, my father wrote an email to a friend:
“Dear Marilyn: re the last verse of the “Ballad of Being Gone”.
When I was 24 and in the air force, overseas in Wales, I received a telegram that my father had died, which was puzzling enough, since he had always been in good health. It was only after the war was over and I got home that I learned my father, (who was a doctor) had been involved in a love affair with his secretary and had shot her and himself. My mother had to sell the house and go and live with her sister in Fort Worth. Our house, which sat on 2 and a half acres over looking Birmingham from Red Mountain, went for a give away price, and all my things, including my record collection and books, went for little or nothing, so when I came home after the war, there was not much to come home to. Gone without remedy indeed! Good thing I have always been a resilient soul. I got over it. But to this day my brother won’t talk about those days.”
As for my father, he eased his mind through his poems. There are three specific poems that wrestle with the repercussions of his father’s self-implosion. Each one goes to a greater depth than the last. First came his 1978 poem, “My Father Invented The Submarine” from his book The Trash Dragon of Shensi , followed by 1981’s “The Ballad of Being Gone” in Remembering Thunder. The third poem is called “Loblolly” and is not yet published.
My brother and I grew up with the knowledge that our grandfather had killed himself before we were born. However, it wasn’t until I read “The Ballad of Being Gone” that I learned it had been as part of a murder-suicide. I still remember my father’s comment when I asked him about it; “It was just like daddy to bite his own nose off to spite his own face”.
Our grandfather was a highly successful dermatologist at the time, greatly respected, and well known for his gregarious personality, many talents, published medical research papers, and a high level of intelligence. He and my grandmother were popular members of Birmingham society and the country club world. They had a steady housekeeper, a beautiful mansion surrounded by other lovely mansions, and, before the war began, when my father wasn’t playing golf, or tennis, he was dating debutantes.
As a result, when my grandfather abruptly left this world in tragic and dramatic fashion, it was the scandal of the decade, equal to the OJ Simpson trial. My poor grandmother fled to Texas with my 14-year-old uncle in tow. They stayed there for a year until the people of Birmingham had forgotten the headlines and moved onto other news, and then quietly moved back.
Eventually, I learned that my grandfather snapped when the young woman he was having an affair with “tried to break it off, take the car he’d given her, and leave with another man.” A few years ago, my brother tracked down a 1945 newspaper article explaining the sequence of events. Apparently, after speaking with the girl on the phone, he furiously drove to her house in his car and shot her when she opened her door. From there he drove to his medical office downtown, called my grandmother on the phone to tell her what he’d done and explain what he was about to do, and then killed himself.
The one cherished memory that my father held close for the rest of his life arrived in the form of a letter, written by my grandfather a few months before he died. It said, “Everybody else has seen it before I did, forgive me for not recognizing that you are a first-rate poet.” My father later wrote, “I memorized this letter. To me it meant, ‘After all this time, you’re free. It’s okay to be you.’ So, I decided to go back home after the war, study medicine, and, when he retired, take over his practice.” “Years later, Mama was able to say ‘The only good thing about Daddy’s death is that it let you do what you wanted to do.’ At last, I was free.”
Interestingly, it wasn’t until my grandmother died, in 1981, at the age of 93, that my father visited the cemetery in Birmingham and viewed his father’s grave for the first time. He returned to Manhattan afterwards and confided in me that, at some level, because the burial took place while he was abroad, he’d never really accepted that his father was dead until that moment of finality. I guess he’d never had the courage to face it before then.
Thirty-six years after the drama unfolded, he finally had a form of closure to work with.
— E. Glaze