The New Year and the Old Years Long Ago

a Florida childhood

New Year’s Eve I finished reading Girls of a Tender Age, a compelling and disturbing memoir.

Mary-Ann Tirone-Smith writes about her childhood and the murder of a childhood friend. The story would’ve caught me even if a classmate of mine* hadn’t been murdered back when I was in the eighth grade. She was not my friend, but her death helped shape my childhood.**

Reading this memoir about death and arriving at the end of the year, brought this past to mind, and all the death that edged my narrow world in central Florida.

My mother’s grief at the death of her favorite brother, our dog shot by a passing motorcyclist, my mother’s attempted suicide, my mother’s boyfriend who taught classes on death and dying and who punched holes in the wall, the classmate murdered, the man at my window in the very early morning dark, the step-mother who kept a folder of dead-girl news stories, the best friend whose aunt was murdered, and the steady stream of stories of serial killers in Florida (an orange grove is a great place to leave a body), and a fascination of murder mysteries.

And the shooting at the grocery store my dad goes to, the destruction of hurricanes and sinkholes, the alligators…

All turns the writer’s imagination.

And now I’m finally reading Alias Grace–more murder for the New Year.

And why, by the way, is Margaret Atwood such a brilliant writer?

Well, in this year I think I’ll be posting much less. At least until something worthwhile comes to mind.

Enjoy the New Year and the stories it brings.


*I thought about not linking to the page about my classmate’s murder. Seemed morbid to do so. But at the same time, her death mattered. In a recent episode of Doctor Who (a show that deals a lot with death), the Doctor said, “900 years of time and space and I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t important.”

**I’ve written here before about when I woke up to a man at my window, which was level with my bed, the bed pushed against the low window so that I could get a breeze in the heat, and that the man stood with his hand near my face and watched me. This was four months before Tina was murdered. And now it was an uneasy feeling to read that her suspected killer used to break into homes and stand over girls’ beds. Tina lived to the south of me at that time and her body was found to the north. It is foolhardy to jump to conclusions, but hard not to.

12 thoughts on “The New Year and the Old Years Long Ago

  1. There’s been a lot of death in your life, much of it violent. Part of me wonders if this is what America is like, or if it’s unusual. Another part is sure that it can’t be so common. Whatever the case, it’s good that you’re strong enough to have weathered it.

    1. This isn’t what America is like. Not mostly. There are pockets like this, but most of my friends have never had any experiences like these at all. And actually because they don’t have such experiences, sometimes I think I’m crazy and delusional.

  2. That is a lot of death to be surrounded with, especially at such a young age. In some ways, there are similarities in my own life. I knew a girl, the sister of a classmate, who was murdered. It does have a huge impact, bigger than you can realize at the time. The suicide of a classmate. The death of a beloved grandparent. Books lying around about “famous last words,” “On Death and Dying,” stories of hospice care and the like. The death of an infant cousin. The suicide of a brother, a friend’s husband, a cousin. It is all around us. Death is a part of life. You are neither crazy or delusional. I think there are probably more pockets like ours than are really talked about.

    Totally creepy about the man spying on your and your friends suspected killer. I hate not knowing things like that. Someone once threatened my school after the secretary told him she wouldn’t pull me out of class. Who was it? I’ll never know. Yeah, the writer’s imagination runs wild.

    I hope you’ve had a happy New Year. 🙂

    1. Death is, like you say, all around us. Some areas do seem to have more death and craziness than others, and some of us seemed more attuned to it to. I was raised to avoid talking about these things, which of course made me think about it all the more.

      Now you’ve got quite a story of your own there. Really. Who could that have been? Wow.

      Well, I hope you had a good New Year too.

  3. Florida does seem to bring out the creepy in some people. When I hear people talking about the Southern Gothic literary genre, I know they usually mean, like, Flannery O’Connor, Carson McCullers, and so on. But if they’ve never read a Florida newspaper for at least a couple of weeks, as far as I’m concerned they don’t know anything about Southern Gothic. Alarms me to know that that side of the state brushed up against your life at some point.

    I can’t remember — did you go straight from Florida into the Peace Corps, or did you leave the state bound for someplace else first?

    P.S. I’ve gotta say, off-topic… Seeing a New Year’s post from you, hoping it heralds a determination to blog more, but then discovering quite the opposite, just made me think Oh darn, darn, darn… (Love the Tumblr site, y’know, but the inability to even let you know that I’ve stopped in drives me crazy.) I know, I know: things change, change is normal, change is GOOD, all that… Maybe I’ve resolved to be a big baby in 2011. 🙂 Anyway, you know seeing witw in my blog feed will always make me happy.

    1. I think the same thing–you don’t know Southern Gothic until you know Florida. I’ve always thought that the guy at the window was just a thwarted burglar. That is what the adults told me at the time, and I took that as true. But now–and call me thick for taking this long to consider things any other way–wouldn’t a burglar see he couldn’t break in, and then go on to burgle somewhere else? Well, impossible to say who he was or what he wanted.

      I graduated from my Florida high school at 17 and took off for Indiana and college. After college, grad school in Ohio. And THEN Peace Corps, at 24. I can’t remember the exact moment I decided to get as far away from Florida as I could, but I went as far as I could afford.

      Perhaps deciding not to blog so much will motivate more ideas. I just feel I can’t possibly add anything to what I’ve already said. I love how Tumblr lets me stick pictures and quotes up like a favorite cork board. I’ve always been one of those people who pins, tapes, hangs pictures and whatever on a wall, cork board, door, any surface possible. In college I had dozens of favorite quotes written on bits of colored paper and taped to my dorm room door. And while it would be nice to know if someone or another stopped by, it is also rather freeing not to know and not to have to write something insightful about each and every thing I post.

      Although I’m not entirely sure how I feel about how OLD I am in the Tumblr universe. I’m way older than anyone I follow, and that is kind of weird to say the least. But that may be because I follow so many Who fans.

      I’ll still read your blog. Of course!

  4. Well, hm. As you know, I understand the need to back off blogging sometimes. Especially when the material comes from such a deep place, it’s impossible to maintain that indefinitely.

    I was wondering where in Florida you lived, because my husband’s family is from there. The last Christmas card we got came from Dover, and I think the hubs told me that’s around the Key West area….?

    1. I don’t know Dover, but I’m from central Florida off the 1-4 corridor between Tampa and Orlando. I’ve never been to Key West–though I’ve always wanted to go. And really, Florida is like several states smushed together. Central is nothing like Key West, which is nothing like the panhandle.

      And I did a little research on the past crimes in the Sunshine state and saw that the early 80s had the highest murder rate recorded in its history. Ah well, my father loves the place and does not see it like I do. I take after my mother that way–and she born there. My father was not.

      1. I was mistaken. I went and looked it up, and apparently Dover is also near I-4 between Orlando and Tampa, closer to Tampa. I’ve never been to Florida at all, but something always seemed familiar about your descriptions of your childhood home, and it’s because that’s the same way my husband talks about it! Weird. He never lived there, but he visited a lot.

  5. Florida is a strange place. Stranger than other places in America. When I lived there, it was hard to forget the dark side. I mean, it’s such a sunny, fertile, warm place, and yet, there is danger in every shadow. People, alligators, insects, decay, swamps, greed. I don’t know. Sometimes I used to think of it as a frontier. Not quite civilized.

    1. Now that I’ve opened that box to the past, so to speak, I can certainly add to the list of craziness–the best friend with the black eye because she refused a come on by her brother-in-law, the friend whose father beat his mother so badly she was going to be hospitalized forever, the neighbor whose son is on death row for murder, the girl who came to my house one time and then went on a short time later to shoot her father–and I could never decide if life was just like everywhere or just special to the Sunshine State. And I guess it is laughable but I remember being a teenager reading my first VC Andrews novel and thinking, “Now this is what life is really like.” ha!

      My mother-in-law gets annoyed with me because I do not enjoy going home to visit. Her daughter (my sister-in-law) lives there now too with her family and we’ve gone down to visit them as well as to see my dad. My mother-in-law insists that because I’ve had good visits (true) and that people I love are there (also true), I should be over this silly, childish dislike of the state…

      And it is odd, but sometimes, when people ask me where I’m from and I say I was born and raised in Florida, I feel a bit like I’ve confessed to being from a slightly uncivilized country.

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