I still remember the exact moment I learned my uncle had been killed. I had come home late from working on a “Heart of Darkness” project and found a disgruntled father waiting at the door. If there was one thing most prized in my household, it was coming home on time or calling to say I’d be a little late.
And it was late at night. Late enough that I should have been concerned that the Burbank Police Department was calling looking for my mom. But in my naive mind, I assumed they were calling about a parking ticket. Yes, because the police department would call at 11pm about a parking ticket.
In moments of tragedy, there is a stillness that tends to fall upon a room. The clocks freeze, your running thoughts quiet, and time stretches on, leaving you to soak in every detail for your future replays.
My dad dropping to his knees as he listened into the phone. Minutes before he had grounded me for being late. He had already changed into his pajamas — blue and gray plaid shorts and a navy tank top.
His one sided conversation, “What? No. No. No no no nonononono.” Throwing his glasses with all his force across the room and grabbing hold of me to pull me closer to him. Crying. Both of us curled together. Shaking. My mum coming out of the shower to find her family kneeling on the carpet. Hearing her brother had been killed. Crumbling. Another body curled into our mass. Clinging together for support. The security that we were still together. Our lives changing. Heaviness. Police questioning. Missing school. Funeral. Anger. No closure. Never closure.
Years later, we found my dad’s reading glasses behind the bed. The frames were bent and the lenses were shattered. Like us, they barely seemed to survive the trauma of that night.
Police reports show my uncle was killed in his home by V, the jealous ex-boyfriend of a woman my uncle was seeing. V had spent the past month stalking my uncle — calling under blocked numbers, waiting outside his house, following him on dates — because of his volatile jealousy and abusive past. On February 26, V crept into my uncle’s bedroom while he was sleeping and stabbed him 32 times. My uncle bled out while crossing the street trying to find help. He was found naked on his neighbor’s doorstep, without fingers, covered in blood.
This November — nearly six years since the murder — the trial finally began. As long as I live, I will never forget the smell of the courtroom, V’s slicked-back salt and pepper hair, the defense lawyer’s dead eyes, the hard wooden chairs, my mum’s hand crushing mine. Sitting in the court room, I wanted so much: To absorb all the details, as well as repel them; for V to show remorse; to understand why; to hear my uncle hadn’t died alone in the cold. But most of all, I wanted him back.
After seven weeks, we’re finally on the other side. V has been charged with first degree murder and won’t be able to hurt anyone for many, many years. And the rest of us? We’re healing. We’re bandaging our wounds and slowly re-immersing ourselves back into the world.
I will always flinch when someone jokes about “killing” or “murdering” something and I can’t watch violent movies. But through the years, this tragedy has made me stronger. I’ve learned to love more passionately and been inspired to capture the stories of survivors of sexual violence. I’ve pushed myself to make time count and always share with others how much they mean to me. And I’m learning to let the great memories with my superhero uncle outweigh the details of his brutal end.
Like the memory of the Christmas before his death. My uncle had been remodeling his house all-year and had just installed floor to ceiling bookshelves in his living room. While he wouldn’t agree to buying a sliding ladder — “I’m 6’5 Carly, why would I need a ladder?” — he had promised that I could fill the shelves with any books I wanted. A bibliophile’s dream, you know?
That Christmas, I bought him my favorite book, “Atonement,” complete with a personalized message and photo of the two of us. It was probably the closest I’d ever come to saying “I love you” to him. Later, police returned the book to my grandma, along with all the other possessions found in my uncle’s office. He’d made it halfway through the book.
Now that, dear readers, is great love.