Memories of Laura

by Tim Lieder

Would you like to be Laura’s mother? You walk into your house with groceries and yell at the German Shepherd because everything stinks. You think the dog had an accident. You even scold Laura for not taking Max out. You carry on until the silence spooks you. You walk through the living room, and you are just about to go to the kitchen when you know. You look into the study and she’s wearing the short black dress that you thought you threw away. No 15-year old should look like a hooker. You set down the groceries and an onion falls out. You call the police because you know that you’re supposed to call the police when there’s a dead body in your study. You will never eat onions again.

See where she moved the desk? She kicked over the wooden chair. She didn’t even remove her green and white letter jacket. She was on the soccer team. The jacket reminds you that she was supposed to meet with Veronica to study for the Geometry final. Veronica isn’t even on the team. You call Veronica’s mother and tell her that Laura won’t be able to make it.

Would you rather be your father? Coming home from work late, wondering if you need to stay married. Wondering why you’ve become a cliché. You still drive the station wagon. You love your wife. You flirt with co-workers. You had an affair when your wife was pregnant, but you ended it. You stopped yourself because you could. You haven’t touched alcohol since the accident. You come home thinking about The Righteous Brothers, Shane and the monthly report. You aren’t thinking about your job. You don’t take your job home with you. Enjoying life involves priority. All jobs end. You learned that in college when they fired you three times. You’ll never be one of those guys that dies three days after retirement.

You see police cars. They have two cars in your driveway. Why did they send two? You rifle your mind for explanation. Someone stole the television. Someone broke in. Someone set a fire in the backyard. Laura is dealing drugs. Laura had an accident but isn’t hurt. Laura killed someone. Laura, oh shit what did Laura do now?

You know. You don’t want to know. You want to pretend. You want to think that the daughter that kicked Ronny Collins in the head when he tried bullying her friends, the one that still slept with her ugly stuffed rabbit, the one that begged you to go to your cousin’s ranch so she could ride the ponies; you want to know that she’s ok. You know what’s coming next. She started sulking when she turned 11 and you said that it was normal. She was just growing up.

Even when you found the Ex-Lax in her room you didn’t worry too much. You confronted her. Got her to talk to a psychologist. He gave her pills that made her fat or thin or just didn’t work. One psychologist would talk to her and tell her to confront you with anger. Another psychologist would put her through hypnotherapy until she remembered Satanic rituals from 70s horror movies.

You enter the house wishing for a miracle. A small reprieve. You saw her laugh just the other week. It was a pretty smile. You started talking. You asked her about all the things that she didn’t feel like telling you. She was laughing. She was getting well. She was getting…

“My daughter was seeing a psychologist,” you say.

“Did she have any friends that worried you? Was she dating anyone that might have been obsessive?”

Kidnapping. Missing. She’s missing.

“Mr. Irwin?” says a woman cop. She looks fat in her uniform. You don’t hear the rest. She’s afraid she has very bad news. There’s been an accident. Your daughter didn’t make it. Does a girl accidentally tie a rope around her neck, tie the other end around a ceiling fan and kick a chair? In college you joked about a girl in your dorm that killed herself by hanging. You thought it was the funniest thing. She didn’t sulk around the house and scare her parents. She’d be 47 now. She saved herself from coming home to a death notice. The ambulance drove away before you arrived. You cry long and hard but your wife is answering the stupid questions. You hate your wife just a little.

Would you rather be the stupid college sophomore brother? You know what I was doing when my little sister died? I was talking to my girlfriend in Ohio. Rachel. Her name was Rachel. I was trying to think of an excuse to visit. I didn’t have the money. I didn’t know how I would get the money. Turns out they have emergency student loan programs. I started dating her at a Jewish Leadership Convention. We met at the Defending Israel session; we argued about assassinating Yassar Arafat. She wanted him dead. We blew off the rest of the convention.

I was talking to Rachel because I was worried. Her high school boyfriend had been asking her to come to Oregon. She was considering it because she had never been to Oregon. She had been to Europe, New York, Israel, China, Washington D.C., Chicago and of course Scranton, New Jersey (the convention site) but she had never been on the West Coast. I was begging her not to go. She told me that she always fucked this ex-boyfriend whenever she got sick of other boyfriends. He was her on-call fuckbuddy.

Would you rather be me? Thinking of Rachel wearing my bathrobe and nothing else; imagining Mark prying that bathrobe loose. I had the telephone in my hand when it rang.

“Hello?” I said. I was trying to sound casual. Rachel had changed her mind. Everything was going to be ok. She was going to come to Chicago.

“Danny?” I didn’t recognize my mom. She sounded more than tired. She sounded cold as if nothing in the world was going to touch her again. I looked at my John Belushi Animal House poster.

“Who is this? What do you want?”

“I want to speak…Danny?”


“There’s been an accident. Laura is dead.”

How would you like to be me? I had just seen Laura a month back. I was trying to play the big brother. We went right into the sarcasm. She told me about Mike. I told her to stay away from Mike. She mocked my hair.

I made her wear my gloves because she was cold. She tried to refuse; my gloves were leather. I had enough of that animal rights crap in college. She said it wasn’t crap. We quarreled for most of the walk. She still wore the gloves.

“Hey remember when you threw that can of tomato sauce at my head?”

“What the hell does that have to do with anything?”

“Nothing. Sorry.”

“You better be sorry.”

That’s how it ended. Kid stuff. I’ve remembered the conversation for the last fifteen years.

How would you like to be my sister’s boyfriend. I grabbed him by the collar at the funeral. You know what he said? You know what I should have been hearing? He said that he tried to save her. That’s what he said. He tried to save her. He saw all the signs. He knew she was going to hurt herself. He even saw the scars.

You can’t save anyone. I’d rather be Laura. We all run away from home. Laura just ran faster.

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