I mentioned that a couple of months ago, former neighbors of ours were killed in a murder/suicide. Their story is tragic and baffling and weirdly inspirational at the same time (their lives were inspirational, not their deaths). We met these former neighbors at a very chaotic time in the life of our own Family. Our family had recently transplanted to Florida, as a consequence of being sort of “the poster kids” for all that went wrong in the Great Recession. We were all starting our lives, all over again, in a new state. I had just turned forty. Our four children were spanning the ages of 7-15. My husband was starting a brand new job. He had all of the pressures brewing, which come along with having a spotlight on you, with a lot of eager corporate expectations. The neighbors were new transplants to the state of Florida, as well. The husband was in the restaurant business. He had recently invested in a chain of bar food restaurants in our city. They had come from the Midwest. Both of our families were renting homes close to each other, as we all became accustomed to becoming Floridians.
The neighbors were very colorful, kind, interesting, social people. The husband was the age of my husband and I, but the wife was about a decade younger. They had a classically handsome son from the husband’s first marriage who was away at college at the time, and two daughters who were around the ages of my middle sons. The husband was very dynamic and charismatic. He was an avid golfer and a true “foodie”. The wife was tremendously creative. She loved to throw theme parties where everything about the party was interconnected in the most unusual, yet sympatico way. She also wore hats regularly. She was known for them. Usually she wore newsboy hats, but for fancier occasions, her hats were marvels. When they moved into the neighborhood, they started throwing all-inclusive parties almost immediately. Getting to know them, their stories were fascinating. She had been raised Mormon, but came from a divorced family that made her one of many, many daughters. He was from a Southern Jewish family.
Unfortunately, our own family was in a “lick our wounds” kind of a state, at that time period. We had come from a very communal time in our lives, raising families in a pack, with other families in our former close-knit neighborhood, in the state of North Carolina. We wanted a break from “party time”. We had reached a questioning time of our lives. We thought that we had done everything “right”, so where did it all go “wrong”? We needed to hole up. We needed to focus on helping our children transition, as they were all in vulnerable times in their own young lives. We needed to focus on, and to protect our marriage and our family. So, we started declining invitations to our neighbors’ frequent parties. We didn’t want to reciprocate, and we didn’t want to repeat our previous decade without some introspection first.
I always felt like I had really hurt the wife’s feelings because of our distancing ourselves from them. She was very kind and generous and not pretentious, at all. She would leave thoughtful, creative gifts on our doorstep for the most minor of holidays, like Valentines Day or the 4th of July. I think that she may have misinterpreted us; that we were maybe “stuck up” or that we didn’t like them. I don’t know why she cared. Or maybe she didn’t care. This was all my perception. Perhaps she felt sorry for me?!? I won’t ever know. She and her husband were extremely social, and their friends seemed to multiply exponentially, day by day. They joined the local golf club, and they wore matching colorful, irreverent golf clothes which the wife had sewn, and they were seemingly often the talk of the town.
We each moved out of that neighborhood around the same time. They had moved on to a million dollar expanse in the golf club neighborhood. We chose something much simpler. We lost touch, only running into each other on occasion at the grocery store or at the local Walgreens. From those chance meetings we gleaned that the husband had gone through back surgery and had sold his restaurants and was investing in a new chain. We really never gave each other much of a thought for many years. We did remain friends on Facebook, though.
I don’t go on to my Facebook account more than a few times a year. I rarely, if ever, post anything. Sometimes I think that other people think I am being judgmental of people who love Facebook, and I hope that I am not. Going on to Facebook is something that I find to be just too time consuming for me, and also, being a people pleaser, making sure that I “like” everything in a fair and equal sense, is a lot of pressure for my sensitivities. Further, I am pretty private about my every day life, despite pouring out my heart and my soul on this forum. (strange, I know) I do keep my Facebook account for times that I need to reach out to remote friends and relations, unfortunately mostly to relay sad news. Facebook, honestly, has been very helpful in that sense, throughout the years.
My youngest son, passed on the awful news that our former neighbors had died in such a horrific manner. He had learned the news from a mutual friend of their eldest daughter. I was stunned. I wanted to try to understand “why.” I went to Facebook and I admittedly became a stalker. Being extremely social people, the couple shared their lives frequently and freely on Facebook. There was a myriad of happy, beautiful pictures of parties and exotic vacations and gifts of Chanel bags and steadfast friends who obviously adored this couple. There was a surprise new bulldog, that apparently upset the wife so much, that she went to live at their beach house for a few days- the beach house that had the enormous, beautiful boat, docked outside. There were pictures of the family at their mountain home in Tennessee. There was news of the son’s engagement. The family had also reunited with a long lost adopted out daughter of the husband, who has two children of her own, and the husband proudly announced the joy of being a grandfather. There were no outward signs of trouble on any of the social media accounts. Perhaps in the latter pictures, everyone looks a little more tired, a little worse for the wear, but don’t we all, after a year like this?
For a while, (and maybe still) I became sort of obsessed with the story. I reached out to a mutual friend (one that remained very close to the wife) to offer my condolences, but I wasn’t close enough to this friend, to get to an understanding, of the question “Why?”, as much as I wanted to ask (my tongue was red from biting on it). After the funerals, a Go Fund Me was created for the daughters to finish out their schooling. Apparently, the couple was having major financial problems. The new chain of restaurants certainly must have suffered during this coronavirus period. Financial problems are terrifying. I know. It is those types of problems that brought us to Florida. But as painful as they are, they are surmountable. In the scheme of things, it is better to have money problems, than serious health problems, or terrible relationship problems. Those types of problems are usually more complicated, and not often as surmountable, in the end.
Off and on, I have played with the idea of reaching out to this couple’s family and friends to write their story in book form. They were fascinating people. They lived life to the fullest. They had an obvious love for each other, and their children and and their friends. How does it get so dark, that a man could kill his devoted “beautiful bride” (as he so often called her on Facebook) and the mother of his obviously loved children, and then take his own life, leaving the mess of pain, and shock, and financial dealings, and untangling of a very, full and complicated business and family life, to those children and friends whom he professed to love so much?!? Obviously, there was a lot going on in the background. Facebook is not known to show the darker sides of anyone’s lives. Was the husband abusive all along? Did the wife and children live in fear of him? Recently Sharon Osborne (wife of Ozzy) described an abusive time in their marriage, where she was afraid for her life. Ozzy was in inches of strangling her to death. Sharon insists that this situation in this coupling, was both of their faults, due to addiction and toxic ways of relating to each other. I recently read Matthew McConaughey’s memoir where he describes his parents’ marriage vividly. They were married three times and divorced twice. From his stories, his parents had an extremely volatile relationship. He shares a picture of his mother’s middle finger which had been broken four times by his father, “to get it out of his face.” Still, Matthew ends the chapter on his parents’ marriage with, “This is how my mom and dad loved each other.”
Life is complicated. There are no simple explanations for anything really. There are many, many facets of lives that are not shown on social media accounts (usually the ugly sides are left to the wayside). Sometimes, some facets of life are so painful, that it is hard enough to bring these elements of life up into our own surfaces, of our own very minds and hearts, let alone share them with the world. Often the dark sides never see the light of day. I understand this fact about life. Who doesn’t?
In the end, I prefer to focus on the inspiration of this couple’s story, of living their lives to the fullest, when they were living it well. When they were vividly alive, they were fully themselves and larger than life. They put on no pretenses. They loved travel, and food, and parties, and golf, and the beach, and their family and their friends. They lived life lustfully. Did they somehow understand that their lives would be short ones? Is that the real lesson here? Would we all live our lives more fully and authentically, if we truly understood that our own lives could easily end, both tragically and short? I don’t have the answers, but admittedly, the questions won’t leave me alone.
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