Rain,car smash-up, and a Shirley Temple movie.
I was four years old when my mother went out one evening and didn’t return until six months later. Excited about her homecoming, I stood by the door, waiting for her. When she arrived, they brought her into our tiny clapboard house in a stretcher and whisked her past me into her bedroom, where a hospital bed had been set up a few days prior. She was in a full-body cast because nearly every bone in her body had been broken.
Months earlier, my grandfather had taken me to the hospital and begged the nurse in charge to let me see my mother. We were in a small office, and he pleaded with the woman, explaining that my mother was my only parent. I was becoming more quiet and withdrawn, he explained, and he and my grandmother were getting worried. The nurse told him it was against the rules. My grandfather strained his voice and asked, please? The woman looked at me sternly and said, no.
It was raining hard the night my mother went out. I had already been put to bed, and I awoke to the sound of her doing her hair and putting on her make-up. I asked where she was going. She told me she was going out with some friends and to go back to sleep. My teenage sister was there to take care of me. I begged her not to go. But she put me back to bed and patted my back until I dozed off again.
In the morning, my grandparents were there. My grandmother gave me a bowl of cereal and sat me in front of the television. A few minutes later, my grandfather came into the room with my teenage brother.
“Jay, your mother was in an accident last night,” my grandfather said.
“What kind of accident?” I asked.
“A car accident, you fucking idiot,” my brother said.
Something else was said. I don’t remember what. Then they left the room. And I was alone. I remember the incident at the hospital and the day my mother came home. Everything else isn’t even a blur. It’s just not there as part of my memory. The things I know about the accident were facts that were filled in later.
I must have been about nine years old when, while watching the movie Bright Eyes starring Shirley Temple, I broke down crying and thought I’d never stop. In the film, her mother goes out to pick up a birthday cake and is hit by a car and killed. It was the first time I remember feeling more than sadness. A dark, heavy pain hung over me for days. I felt utterly alone again, and at nine years old, I wanted to be dead.
Black bouts of depression have haunted me since, and sometimes I get panicked when I think about my wife and kids driving around in the rain.
I’ve been a writer all my life. Most of my earlier works were humorous pieces. I wrote inspirational Christian plays for several years while attending a church. After leaving the church, I wrote comedies for the theater. Now, I’ve been writing novels that lean toward the dark, mysterious, and suspenseful. My last two books, Machine of War and Last Stop Slumberland, and my newest, You Gotta Die Sometime, all fall under the hard-boiled, noir genre, and they all contain elements of my darkest moments. They may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but right now, they’re the squeeze of lemon in mine.