Fifteen years ago today my mother was found dead. I would not find out for almost 35 hours later. By a voicemail.
I had started my first business when I was 20 years old creating and selling handmade botanical oil lamps. They started out as a biochem experiment in college. I took them out to the local street fair and made more in one weekend than I had made for a whole year in my minimum wage job. I never thought I was artistic like my mother until flowers were put in my hands and then I could create anything. My mother was known for her artistry with pencil and ink drawings – they were incredible works of art.
I was 5th largest manufacturer in the country at age 25 with these oil lamps.
I never received cards from Hallmark, my mother made all of my Birthday and Holiday cards. I used to sit and watch her draw freehand and wish I had just a bit of her artistic talent. She also had a love for writing, but poetry was her specialty. It’s good for me to remember our shared love of writing. Once in high school I submitted her drawings to a Disney contest. She won! They sent her a big easel and drawing table with all of these colored pencils in every color of the rainbow. I was so proud of her! I hoped that maybe she would stop drinking and would go work for Disney drawing cartoon characters. That never happened.
I’m so glad that I have saved so many of her drawings, they are are link for me to see into her mind.
I first learned what the term Non-Functioning Alcoholic meant in elementary school and how they differed from a Functioning Alcoholic. When you are functioning, you can hold down a job and live a sort-of productive life. A Non-Functioning Alcoholic cannot hold down a job and has difficulty maintaining personal relationships. My mother was a Non-Functioning Alcoholic.
I cherished the days when she was sober. She would make me chicken enchiladas and show me how to properly dice a tomato. A lot of the times when she was cooking we would have conversations about her dreams for me… college was a given. She would tell me that I could do anything in the world I wanted to do, whether it was being an astronaut, the President of the United States, or a Doctor. She taught me to read when I was just 3 years old and helped me to learn to do math before I entered Kindergarten. I remembered her telling my first grade teacher that I was special and needed to be in the Gifted programs – much like a lot of parents do, I suppose. She was my champion when I would come home bored from school and fought to get me tested. After the testing came back, they wanted to move me to the 4th grade when I was in the 1st grade, but she decided against that because she wanted me to have a normal childhood. I would never know a normal childhood.
My mother was a wanderer and would move from Tucson, AZ to Dallas, TX to North Vernon, IN each year. I didn’t attend one school for an entire school year until I was in 7th grade. I wish I could ask her why. Why did we move all the time? What was she searching for? Did she ever find it?
I remember at a very early age relying on my brother, as he was 3 years older, and my protector. He still is. Whenever something would scare me, he would silently hold my hand and steer me away. He didn’t want me to see things I would have a hard time forgetting.
My mom and brother had a very special bond.
My mother was the happiest in life on the back of a Harley with a bandana in her hair and riding down the road as the sun was setting. That’s how I remember her now when I close my eyes. She had a smile that lit up her face and made her eyes dance with delight. I miss that smile. I miss her.
After I graduated from the University of Arizona I decided to take my oil lamp business to the next level. Throughout college my mother helped me with the business. She was in and out of treatment centers, but when she was sober she stayed with me or my grandmother in Tucson. I couldn’t make a bow to save my life. My mother, on the other hand, could tie beautiful bows around the glass necks and artfully arranged them in their individual gift boxes. As I would finish working for the day, she would be busy in the kitchen whipping something up for us. She wouldn’t let me work 16-hour days if she could help it and would entice me to stop working with homemade macaroni and cheese. She was an amazing cook.
This is the only picture I have of her while I’ve been traveling. I close my eyes and can see her clearly though.
I had been selling my oil lamps all over the country in art festivals and had lined up a few wholesale shows that I was going to attend to get more business. At the Dallas Market, I signed my biggest contract ever with The Nature Company to be in all of their stores nationwide. I was so excited to share the news with my mom! I headed out to Atlanta then off to Los Angeles. This was before everyone owned cell phones (I had one) but every time I called over to my aunt’s house (she was staying there while I was away) my mom was never there. Where was she? I paid most of her bills but gave her very minimal amount of cash because I didn’t want her to drink it. When I had left on my trip I thought she had been sober for a few months. Any time I would find alcohol in the house it went down the drain. I thought we were fighting this thing together. Giving her purpose and working with me seemed to be helping her. Or so I thought.
On my way back from LA, I stopped overnight on Sunday, August 2, 1998 at my dad’s house in Phoenix. I hadn’t seen him in months and wanted to share all that I had accomplished during the summer. I was so excited to share the news that my business was taking off. I was doing something I loved and my dad encouraged me to keep going after my dreams. The next morning I drove back to Tucson not knowing that my life would never be the same again.
When I walked into my house, I hit the Play button on my Voicemail recorder on the home phone. What I didn’t expect to hear was my Dad’s voice, “Kristi, it is your dad. I need you to call me right away. It’s about your mother. She has been found. Found? What do you mean found? Is she in the hospital? – this is where I can’t remember verbatim – She’s dead. Call me back. ”
I screamed and dropped the phone. Nooooooo!!! Tears streamed down my face as I started having a panic attack and it took me three times to dial his number correctly. My cousin Shannon had called him to find out when I was going to be home and didn’t want me to find out over the phone. My dad told me she had been found the morning before and that she was in the morgue undergoing an autopsy because they didn’t know if her death was caused by murder. Murder? What the hell happened? She was found homeless, Kristi.
At this point my cousin comes barreling into my house through the open garage door. When I saw her I knew the words my dad told me were true. I lost it. I started screaming. No. This can’t be happening. I just left 3 weeks ago. I had given her money so she would be taken care of. Homeless? Murdered? My world crashed down around me and I started sobbing. My cousin Shannon held me in her arms as I cried like a baby. I was 24. My mother was dead. I didn’t get a chance to tell her I loved her. I didn’t get a chance to tell her goodbye.
That afternoon as I was in Shannon’s house trying to drink a glass of wine to calm my nerves, my family started coming in. My parents had been divorced since I was 2 and I was stunned to see my dad’s sisters and brother there consoling me. I will never forget their kindness or how much love and respect I felt for them in that moment. The divorce hadn’t been pretty.
My Aunt Areta was my mother’s eldest sister out of five kids. Her name started with an A. She was the first name in my mom’s phonebook. She got the call from the coroner to come and identify the body. I was advised not to go down there. I did not envy her that task.
Next my eldest cousin, came into the room sobbing. “Kristi, I am so sorry. I didn’t mean to kick her out. I didn’t mean for her to die. Please don’t blame me.” What? You kicked her out? I was pissed. I was sad. I cried. I forgave him.
They had gotten into an argument and he told her to leave. She was gone a couple days and technically homeless living on the streets. She ran into a couple guys who she went home with. They beat her up and she died around 5:00am. The homicide detective said that so matter-of-factly. So coldly. Since the guys were denying it, and she couldn’t say nor prove that they were the ones that hit her, um because she was dead, that they weren’t going to press charges until the autopsy came back. WHAT THE FUCK?
That day, Monday August 3rd, was a train wreck for me. But I did what I always did in high-stress situations – I focused and took charge. First thing on the agenda was finding my brother. I knew he had gone up to Las Vegas but he wasn’t answering his cell. I called my stepsister Valerie in Phoenix and put her on the hunt. Both she and Ricky had graduated high school from Vegas and she still knew numbers for some of his friends. It took hours, such long hours, to find him.
I was there at the airport to pick him up and ran into his arms like I was 6 years old again. We sobbed. I remember him telling me – it’s just you and me, like it had always been. Mind you, we had been the kind of siblings that had always fought. I said – I didn’t think you liked me. He held me tighter and said even the times when he might not like me, he always loved me.
My mother’s death hit my brother very hard. I went into Protector Mode over him, and I still do to this day. I took care of the funeral arrangements with the help of my mother’s siblings and my grandmother. I walked into the florist and told her exactly what I wanted – Sunflowers, lots and lots of Sunflowers. It was my mother’s favorite flower and I wanted them everywhere.
Sunflower Fields in the Badlands
Planning the service, we chose my mother’s favorite songs and played two by Bob Seger – Turn the Page and Against the Wind. I gave the Eulogy and told the world about my mother and the joy she found in life and how she impacted me and my brother. She always wanted us to strive to follow our dreams and walk our own paths in life. To live life the way we wanted to. I’m happy to say that we have both done just that.
When Turn the Page came on, we both made it a little way into the song before breaking down. It was a hard moment. Now when the song comes on I stop what I am doing and remember her. This year my brother went on tour with Bob Seger and I like to believe that our mom was sitting right next to him singing along and saying, Mercy! That was her word. She said it every time she saw Bob Seger or any man with long hair on a Harley. Mercy.
In the end the autopsy showed that my mom did not pass away because of being hit, but by her liver failure. She had really bad allergies and was on Benadryl and on Morphine because of the pain in her liver. The combination of those two drugs was too much for her liver to handle. Knowing that she wouldn’t have justice for her last night on this earth was too hard for me to handle. I fought and fought with the investigators but they weren’t going to press charges. To them she was just a homeless woman who had died. To me that homeless woman was my mother.
My brother moved to Las Vegas a month later. I couldn’t fulfill that Nature Company order because I cried every time I tried to make an oil lamp. I sold my business and left Tucson 6 months later. I couldn’t be in that town anymore.
It’s been 15 years since my mother died. I still think about her all the time. I see her in my dreams; I feel her sitting beside me while I drive on this journey. I stopped in Sturgis when in South Dakota so I could see that magical place she talked about so much. I know she was with me for every moment I was in there and would have giggled seeing me in a tank top – her favorite thing to wear.
Fulfilling her dream, one Sturgis at a time.
I’m planning on stopping and picking wild flowers like she used to do when she was a girl. I’m making her famous chicken enchiladas tonight as I do every year on her birthday and death day. I sit and reflect on the memories I have of her – from the way she would giggle like a little girl to when she would look so happy when she was drawing. I try not to think of the bad. I lived it, I don’t need to revisit it every year. She wasn’t perfect, she had a lot of faults, but I loved her anyways.
She was an amazing artist. She was my mom. She was Judith Gail Moore Trimmer Reed.
**This was first posted on my old site on 8-2-2013**