Monday, June 20, 2011

For Erlene

When I started this journey I knew that at least part of it was about loss.  Four summers ago I was sitting at my desk and asking Vera about her recollections of her father, Booker Wright.  The more that she talked about him, the more that her voice changed.  It was like hope, love, and immense loss were all bound up together and riding on her words.  I remember feeling disappointed because I wanted to bottle up her sound, her emotional resonance and share it with the world.

About a year ago I was getting deeper and deeper into the story of Booker’s life.  I’d learned about his separation from his mother and I was beginning to perceive just how lost he’d felt all the years of his life before he finally reconnected with her.  I can’t remember where I was, but I remember the pit in my stomach and feeling suddenly breathless when it dawned on me that Booker’s mom lost him twice.  She lost him when he was taken from her as a child and then again when he was murdered 44 years later.  Many times I’ve thought about fictionalizing the moment that Rosie learned about Booker’s death, which was days after learning that her other son had committed a triple homicide.  My plan was to write my way through it so that, at least for a moment, I could walk that walk with Rosie Turner.  I could carry a particle of her pain and leave her a little less alone.  I still haven’t had the courage to do it. 

Today, I learned of another pathway of loss in this story.  I sat down with Lloyd Cork's mother, her son murdered my grandfather.

I sat on my mark and waited for her to come in.  The plan was for me to sit across from her.  I asked David, the producer, and Ray, the director, if I could please sit next to her.  I’m a person of touch and I knew that if and when the interview became painful I would want to touch her hand or her shoulder just to make sure that she knew I was not out to do further damage to her.  I lost the argument, I think in order to film both of our reactions I needed to sit across from her.  In the end, I think placing me across from her was the most honest.  I kept leaning as close to her as I could, partly because she couldn’t hear me and partly because I just didn’t want to seem so far away. 

But I couldn’t reach her.  I couldn’t reach her hand and I couldn’t seem to reach the core of who she really was.  When she sat down and I introduced myself, it was clear that she was not expecting to sit across from Booker’s Wright’s granddaughter.  I found out later that her niece, the one who worked with the production team to pull the interview together, didn't tell Lloyd Cork's mother the true purpose of the interview.  Her niece knew that she never would've agreed to do it.

For almost the entire interview Lloyd Cork's mother kept her memories and herself at a distance.  There was one moment when the veil seemed to momentarily drop.  It was when I asked her if she still thought about her son everyday.  She looked at me with wide eyes and then quickly dropped her face. 

I know that by most accounts the interview didn’t really yield any new info in the search.  But as I sit here in my room, I can’t stop thinking of her.  I’m convinced that we sometimes become who we have to become in order to survive the heartache of life.  Her son is gone.  He spent his life in prison, wasting away.  About four years ago he asked his family not to contact him anymore.  Since then he hasn't responded to any of their letters. 

I’m thinking of my own two boys.  I just called home to check on them and they were playing in the mud.  I often worry about them.  I worry about whether or not they’ll love to read the way that I do, I wonder if they’ll find a true love for God, I worry that they both may be lifelong slobs.  I don’t worry about them getting angry one day and shooting someone in cold blood.

Where does that come from?  When does a human being go from suckling at the breast to murdering people?  How many times would a mother retrace every conversation and every act in search of the moment when it all went wrong?  Whose fault was it?  What turned Lloyd Cork into a man who had so little value for human life that he killed my grandfather in front of multiple witnesses?  

She has some interesting ideas about what happened the night Booker was murdered.  I don’t want to challenge those ideas.  As a matter of fact, I would encourage her to hold onto them for the rest of her life, because they might be the only thing that gets her through it.  


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