Bearing Witness to a Missing 60th Birthday

Dear Susan:

If only we could hear your birthday wishes. You should be celebrating another turn of the dial today, a decade leap into the once unimaginable age of 60. Knowing you, you would have marked the transition with gratitude, astonishment, optimism, and an adventurous travel plan.

Instead, your life was stolen – homicide, according to the official death certificate. In the years since you were murdered, you have missed so many rich moments. Events extraordinary and quotidian would have filled your days. There have been births that would have set you to rejoicing and deaths you would have mourned deeply. Family members would have come to you with their triumphs and disappointments, friends would have sought your counsel.

But you no longer walk among us, and we cannot share our lives. The stories you would have written are blank on the page. The stage is empty, absent the theatre you would have performed. Your song is left unsung.

During these same years, the man widely thought to have taken your life has remained unshackled. Perhaps he is an awkward presence in his own small town. Surely, it cannot be pleasant to know that he is law enforcement’s sole suspect in his wife’s death, and to wonder when the hammer of justice will finally rein down. Nonetheless, he is free. Free to dance, free to celebrate the birth of a grandchild, free to appear in bed with a paramour on a Facebook post.

Such is the insouciant way of the world. We have, all of us, somehow moved on without you, Susan. That is what the living do, as we must. That is what you, beloved sister, daughter, mother, cousin, and friend, would want. We laugh again, we love anew, we forge fresh ties, we reconstruct the framework of our lives without your daily presence. What choice is there?

But we do not forget what happened and we do not keep quiet. Why not? Why ask again when an arrest will be made? Why keep telling your story? Everyone knows that law enforcement sometimes fails its citizens. Why not recognize that our own small tragedy may just be one of those failures?

No, we hear you howl. Hold on to the warmth of hope, you insist, despite the weight of cold experience. We listen to that message, because your words comport with what we somehow still believe – that right trumps wrong. We hear you, because we were reared on the belief – some might say the myth – that justice prevails. We persist, because the weight of evidence convinces us that this case should be decided in court, by a jury, not in an office, away from public scrutiny. We knock again on closed doors, hoping someone with courage and smarts will finally step out and prosecute the crime.

District Attorney David Eyster by all accounts still wants charges brought in this case. And by all accounts, he is an honorable man.  Surely he would not be discouraged by narrow political concerns. Surely his reluctance to call attention to the incompetence of the Sheriff’s Department the night you  died, and during the investigation that followed, would not be a barricade to action.  But it is hard to know what else might motivate the delay, since Eyster has refused for more than four years to make a public statement about the unsolved homicide that is Ukiah’s shame.  Until he does, we will continue to pester.  It has been left to us to give you back the voice that was silenced, and your voice was always bold.

Happy Birthday, Susan. We miss you.

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