(Note: This blog post is a continuation of the previous blog entries #55-57).
“Let’s talk about the aftermath of Cheryll’s murder,” I said to Mike and Mark, hesitating slightly knowing this could continue to be difficult to discuss. “You eventually moved off of Rose Avenue. Do you remember when that was?”
“It was not long after her death,” Mike responded, as if searching in the recesses of his mind to find the answer. “I think it was January of 1972 that we moved. And we went to the Latonia area of Covington.”
“Oh, so soon after, you all moved? I’m sure staying there on Rose was difficult.” I commented, having realized they moved sooner than I had figured, and Mike and Mark nodded in agreement.
“And eventually your dad and Shirley divorced, right?” Bridget asked.
“Yeah, I think it was a couple years after we moved to Latonia. They split and Darren went to live with Shirley up in Ohio and we stayed with the Old Man in Kentucky. Eventually we moved to Ohio too, but we weren’t living close to them.”
Bridget continued. “Did you all or do you all stay in touch with Darren?”
“We did, but getting together with him seemed hard to arrange and it wasn’t as easy back then to communicate. We probably haven’t spoken to him in about 20 years and not because of any big falling out, but just because we’ve drifted apart.” There seemed to be a sort of sad and also resided tone in Mike’s voice, and I understood. Family isn’t always a perfect thing. Relationships wane. The loss of a sister and the divorce of parents splintered this family.
“We’ve heard that Shirley lives with Darren and that she has dementia,” I shared as I looked at the brothers who, though acknowledging this information, didn’t seem to have much to say about it. It felt to me that Shirley was just a person from a world they lived in so many years prior, that now she was essentially irrelevant to them.
“What about your mom’s side of the family? Or your mom herself? Did you two maintain relationships with those relatives?” I questioned.
“My mom didn’t come to Kentucky for Cheryll’s funeral and for us, that was it. We never spoke to her again,” Mike responded with a direct tone.
“Did she ever offer up an explanation as to why?” I asked, trying to make sense of it.
Mike answered immediately. “I never gave her a chance. She didn’t show for the funeral and that was answer enough for me.” Mark nodded rhythmically, showing that he was in absolute agreement with his brother. “We did see our grandma and our aunt occasionally through the years, but as we’ve gotten older, we don’t see or talk that part of the family much. Again, no big reason. It’s just happened that way.”
The four of us went on to discuss how life does get more busy with spouses, children, and eventually grandchildren of our/their own. Mike took some time to show us photos of his newest granddaughter and he and Mark offered the first of many smiles as they spoke about their own families. So much of their descriptions of life appeared in my mind as a black and white movie, but now as they spoke about the people in their lives who seemed to bring the most joy and contentment, their words and obvious happiness came through in vivid color to me. Eventually I continued on with my questions.
“And what about your dad? He never spoke of Cheryll’s death with you, but did the murder have a lasting effect on him?” I found myself still wanting to know and understand more about Billy Joe.
The brothers reflected. Mike answered, “I think he may have struggled with it. But he never talked about that struggle with us. He never spoke of the murder again. He never spoke of Cheryll again. It was like we moved on from that part of life and we just didn’t go there and open old wounds.” My head understood Mike’s words, but my heart felt a slight sting for a moment. Cheryll lived in their hearts and minds through the years, that was evident, but because of the pain and trauma it was like she ceased to exist out loud after she was killed. And I was sad for her.
As our time together came to an end, we agreed to stay in touch so that we could all keep each other in the loop as to the progress in the case. I felt like I wanted to think of some inspirational parting words, especially knowing Mike was leaving town and I had no idea if or when I’d see him again, but all I could really come up with was: “We’re not going to stop. We work on this constantly and are always sorting through information, new tips, and any names that come our way. We will get to work on this new suspect. And even though sometimes we feel like we’re going in circles, we will see this through.”
Being the kind, older-brother figure he is, Mike gave me some much needed reassurance as Bridget stood next to me and Mark stood next to him, the four of us united in this mission of finding the truth, surrounded by the bright, yellow light of the afternoon sun: “That’s why we wanted to meet with you– to go through it all. I have always hoped there would be some evidence that would come forward that would help prove who did it, because I don’t want to know who ‘probably’ did it or ‘could have’ done it. I want to know who killed my sister. We’ve accepted that we may not ever know with absolute certainty and it’s just something we’ve learned to live with. But you’re doing good work and we cannot ever thank you enough.” We all smiled and though I felt compelled to give them both a hug, I didn’t. We thanked each other again, said our good-byes, and climbed into our respective vehicles.
Sitting in my car, Bridget and I both let out long exhales, a non-verbal acknowledgment of the mental and emotional 3-hour journey we’d just been on together. “I couldn’t have done that alone,” I said, as I turned my head to smile at Bridget, who, being the empath she is, stammered a little about how she needed to decompress, and now I can’t remember if I even was able to get out any other words. We chatted some as I drove her home and we made plans to reflect on it all, write some notes, prepare to share our thoughts in the next couple of days, and gear up to start researching the person of interest brought forth by the brothers. There was a new fire ignited within us, but for just a bit, we needed some time to savor what we’d just experienced.
As I continued home, the sunlight was still streaming through the front windshield. This day had been years in the making and meeting Cheryll’s brothers was something I had only ever dreamed would happen, and now, it had. I have just spent the afternoon with Mike and Mark, I thought, still feeling euphoric. We did it, Cheryll. Thank you for helping make that happen. Your brothers miss you. We’re going to work together to figure this out. Thank you… Thank you…..Thank you.