Chapter 2. A Cold Response
Police Constables Richard Stevens and Sally McMahon parked their patrol car in front of the Smiths' residence and walked to the door. Notifying the next of kin that a family member had committed suicide was one of the most harrowing parts of their job. McMahon in particular always hated being the harbinger of such news. Stevens rang the bell.
"This is the Police, open up, please." The door opened, and Arianna's parents met the two officers.
"Is there a problem, officers?" her father asked.
The officers took off their caps and proceeded to inform the parents.
"Do you have a daughter named Arianna Smith, Sir?" Stevens asked.
"Yeah, what about her?" Mr Smith asked, looking rather irritated.
"I'm afraid she's dead, Sir. Please accept our condolences." said McMahon, with her hands sweating. She barely resisted wiping them on her skirt.
A few moments of awkward silence followed. Surprised, Mr and Mrs Smith looked at each other, then at the two officers.
"Dead... How?" asked Mrs Smith, while Mr Smith looked on, with his arms crossed.
One would expect a mother to be in a state of complete shock upon receiving such news and burst into tears, but Mrs Smith's eyes looked puzzled rather than sad. No tear formed in them. McMahon hesitated a bit, cleared her throat and said:
"She jumped off the Ashworth Bridge outside Dagenhull, Ma'am."
"I'm not surprised," said Mr Smith. Annoyance and a degree of anger coloured his voice rather than sadness, as his greyish eyebrows became an ominous frown. "She never fit in."
"Honey, please..." Mrs Smith started to say, placing her hand on his arm.
The two officers were lost for words. Never before had they seen such reactions from the relatives of someone who had committed suicide. They were used to see relatives burst into tears at the shock, even if they knew it was a matter of time - but the Smiths' reaction seemed so cold.
"She left this note behind, Sir. We should give it to you. Could you please come to the police station with us to collect her personal effects? We can arrange for your transportation to the hospital where she is, for recognition, retrieval and last rites, if you want."
"No." grumbled Mr Smith, and closed the door on the officers' faces, without accepting the suicide note.
Once the Smiths got back inside their house, their son, a thirty-five-year-old man named Kyle, was walking from his room to the kitchen. He had woken up at half-past-noon and was fixing breakfast for himself.
"What's the matter, mum?" he asked.
"Your sister killed herself."
"What? No way! How?"
"She jumped off the Ashworth Bridge, outside Dagenhull." said Mr Smith.
"The coppers wanted to give me her suicide note, but I didn't take it."
"Why should I?" he said, and tried to end the conversation.
"Dad, she's your daughter and my sister. And you may not have liked her, but we should at least know why she got there."
"I may not have liked her? Ha! I've always said we should have aborted her when we had the chance. Who told you I wanted her to be born in the first place?"
Those last words stopped Kyle right in his tracks. He remained silent as Mrs Smith went on to prepare lunch.
To those who knew the Smiths, it was no secret that the entire clan had scant regard for women, so Mr Smith's words wouldn't have surprised them. They were a deeply patriarchal, backwards family. To them, daughters were nothing but a burden on their parents' shoulders. Oddly enough for a family with such a common, mundane name, they valued the continuation of the family name more than anything. Well, almost anything. The other thing they held in the highest regard was the set of virtues they considered to be part and parcel of masculinity: strength, self-reliance, virility and such. The "elders" of the Smiths clan viewed women as weak, nagging, troublesome second-rate beings whose only acceptable roles were the kitchen, the church, and the birth and upbringing of children and, more specifically, boys. Beyond that, they were supposed to just keep their mouths shut and cater to the needs and wishes of the men in the family.
Arianna broke away from the Smiths' mould at the young age of eighteen. She was known as a columnist for two publications of nationwide circulation and a well-regarded blogger / journalist, but kept her personal life... personal. Where she lived, only a very narrow circle of friends knew anything about her past. She avoided talking about her family or her childhood. She was often described as a highly-intelligent and deeply caring person, and, at the same time, as a shy loner who had trouble getting to know new people. News of her suicide were duly reported on nationwide TV and radio, as well as on news sites over the internet; obituaries for her appeared in the publications she worked for, as well as on her hometown's local newspapers and news sites. As is the case with such news, the townsfolk quickly started discussing... Or gossiping.
At a local hair salon, the patrons were vigorously discussing the real and unreal, probable and improbable circumstances of her death over perm and manicure: Devoid of any decorum and laced with uncontrollable giggling, stories about her love life, her family life and whatever issues she might have been facing flew in the air between the clients and personnel, under the watchful eye of the sneering manager.
"Shhhhh... Her mother is coming," said an assistant. She nodded, showing them the door, as Mrs Smith was opening the door to enter the salon. Some of the ladies stood, walked up to her and offered her their condolences and comforting hugs, trying their hardest to look like they were sorry for her loss.
Later in the evening, at the bar where Kyle worked, his friends asked him about his sister's suicide while unloading new crates of drinks and arranging the chairs and tables. He didn't know what to tell them, because he didn't know the reasons that drove her to end her life. After all, he hadn't seen her in five years, and it had been three years since she last talked to them.
A local TV station tracked down some old classmates of Arianna's and interviewed them in order to offer some "insight" on the deceased. None of them could explain her suicide, but their recollections had a few things in common. All of them described her as a "loner" who "rarely smiled" and was "rarely happy", but was always the best in her class and others could always count on her, although she didn't seem to have any friends at school. No one remembered having her number while she was growing up, and no one remembered spending time with her outside of school. No one remembered seeing her playing with other kids, actually. The recurring image in the description was that of a girl who was always alone in every aspect of her short life, whatever she did. The media also tried to contact her family, but were denied any comment.
"This is my great escape
My final curtain and my last goodbye
To those I loved but had no love for me
To those I tried to reach out to
But chose to stay far out of reach.
To this body that needed a pair of arms around it
To soothe the soul therein, to dry the tears
But was denied.
By the time you're reading this,
You're all thirty years too late.
You're asking why I'm doing this
You're asking the wrong questions
A life in loneliness and silence
A life spent unwanted
Because of who I was born to be
Because of who I was... Or am.
I always felt inferior
I always felt so small
And tried to prove myself
I thought I could prove myself
Worthy of recognition
Worthy of some love
Worthy of a pair of arms around me
To heal my wounds, to soothe my soul
To dry away my tears
Worthy of some tender words
Worthy of a kiss...
But I was proven wrong
I felt the numbness of the deep
The murky depths of nothing
To this nothing I return
This time... For good
The first casualty I shan't be
Neither shall I be the last
So, here you are:
Add another number
To your suicide stats
Police Constable Stevens, who had attempted to give the note to Arianna's parents, kept reading it again and again. Her gut-wrenching words tip-toed around the darkness of the deepest depression and the most extreme lucidity, with glimpses of sarcasm. How could a well-regarded columnist end up having to write this? What kind of suffering was hidden behind these words? Although the case was to be officially closed a week later, he chose to investigate on his own time and dime. The reasons he stated for his request didn't quite convince his superiors, but they half-heartedly agreed to let him find out the deeper reasons for Arianna's act and not obstruct his work, on the condition that it would not constitute an "inappropriate allocation of scarce Police resources". McMahon supported him in his desire to look deeper into this particular case and offered to help as best she could.
Why would anyone care, though? With a little cruelty, one could pigeonhole her as a would-be media celebrity with first-world problems. "Love"? "Loneliness"? Ha! There are far worse problems out there, one could say - like abject poverty, starvation, chronic unemployment, homelessness, disabilities, metastatic cancer in its final stages, HIV, etc. She had embarked on a reasonably successful career which was showing promise and she was complaining about being "unwanted"? How exactly does this all add up?
Stevens opened his desk's drawer and pulled out a photograph of a young, brown-haired woman. A heartfelt smile shone on her pretty face, as she posed goofily on a fallen tree trunk at a park. His face turned from calm to sad, and then he struggled in vain to keep his eyes from getting flooded with tears. "Helen..." he whispered. He sobbed as he hastily wiped his tears and put the photograph away again as McMahon appeared at the office's door, holding two mugs of coffee.
"Did she bring back memories of your sister?" she asked, trying to soothe him.
"No... I mean yes. I don't know."
"It's OK." she said, offering him a mug of coffee.
"Thanks. I still haven't come to terms with Helen's death. And to think it's been ten years..." he replied, with his voice trembling.
Sally nodded, understanding the pain he had to remember.
"Have you heard the news? All those people the reporters asked... They all describe her as a totally isolated girl, who was nice, smart, intelligent, but had no friends and no social circle. How the Hell is that even possible?" he continued.
"Yeah, I've been wondering the same thing myself." Sally sighed. "Then again, who knows what's been going on in that family for all those years? Her father's eyes... And the tone of his voice... I don't know, there was nothing fatherly about them."
"You got that right. You'd think he hated her." replied Richard.
"Yeah, I wonder why... Why all this hatred? And so far, we haven't heard any negative comments about her from anyone."
Richard sipped a bit of his coffee.
"I'm surprised too. Only a few times have I seen this sort of attitude." he said. "Will you help me try to get to the heart of this matter?"
"You didn't have to ask." Sally said, and patted him on the back.
"Thank you. Where do you think we should begin our investigation?"
"Let's try her schoolmates and teachers first. They described her as a loner, so we need to see what sort of a loner she was, and why." suggested Sally.
"Makes sense. Think we can start looking tomorrow?"
"Sounds good to me."
"OK. I'll contact her school and see what they have to tell me."
First posted at: http://wp.me/p2pUmX-K7