Although I am twelve years her senior, my youngest sister, Mary, and I are at a very similar stages in our journeys. Through personal crises in both of our lives, we have been doing the difficult work of examining our inner lives, our relationships, our past, our present, and our expectations and hopes for the future. We each have been tracking down facts, making time-lines and charts, combing through our memories and impressions, and working hard to come through our personal catastrophes as more integrated and self-aware women.
Our investigations merged this June when we both realized that we needed to find out everything we could about Ricky, and if possible, put the ghosts and inner accusations of guilt and shame to rest. So, I flew out to Southern California to spend some time with Mary and another younger sister, Melody, and to investigate the wounds and scars of an event that in ways known and unknown, had effected every day of our lives since it had happened. And now the day of discovery had come.
Mary and I drove to San Diego from Los Angeles in the morning, found a $10-an-hour parking lot (and felt lucky at that!). We already had been in the bowels of one of the downtown courthouses for several hours, finding, focusing, framing and copying the 88 pages of microfilmed court records concerning the wrongful death suit that had been filed against our parents by the parents of a neighbor playmate of Mary's, six-year-old Ricky, who had died in our backyard on June 2, 1967.
We had also visited the San Diego Police Department just 11 blocks up Broadway from the courthouse, in order to see if there were any remaining files on the intensive police investigation of that horrific event 43 years previously. We had hoped that since it had been initially investigated as a homicide, they still might have their findings concerning the discovery of little Ricky's nude body in an old, unused refrigerator on our back patio.
But it was not to be. The very helpful and compassionate police officers at the information desk gave us the direct number to homicide records if we wanted to pursue the matter further with them, but since Ricky's death had been deemed an accident, they were quite certain that all records had been destroyed seven years after the tragedy.
So now my sister and I were on the second floor of another downtown building--this time the Public Library--where once again we were fighting with a behemoth microfilm machine that we hoped would help us finally, finally find out exactly what had happened that day the changed life as we knew it forever. We were searching now for clues to what had occurred, since our parents had not only never let us see news reports, through the years they had given us different accounts that incurred more questions than answers.
Al and Thelma (may they rest in peace), had been dysfunctional on their best days and in the best of times. In the worst of times they were mentally and emotionally unable to function in any way close to "healthy" (to put it mildly). And Ricky's death was certainly in the "worst of times" category.
Reporters had taken up residence in front of our house for the duration, curiosity seekers had stood outside our doors and pointed to us whenever we ventured outside, and poisonous letters had come through the mail and the mail-slot in the days following the gruesome discovery.
Our parents could not deal with the enormity of this tragedy in their own lives, let alone give any psychological, emotional, or spiritual guidance to their three youngest daughters who, with them, had been in free-fall during the discovery of Ricky's body, the days-long investigation by the police, and the unrelenting press coverage. Within two months we had moved to another San Diego neighborhood, and within two months, we no longer talked about it. At all. It was as submerged, stuffed down, and silenced as well as Al and Thelma could do it. Although they never personally expressed responsibility for the tragedy, as children in alcoholic families are prone to do, Mary and I had quietly born a heavy burden of guilt and shame through the decades.
But all of that was about to change as now we found the front page for June 3, 1967 and focused in on the headline, "Slaying Hinted in S.D. Boy's Icebox Death." I gasped and Mary started crying; we had not expected the school picture of a gap-toothed, smiling Ricky to greet us as if he had been waiting for us to find him. It was going to be really, really hard.
Next: Diving Deep and Resurfacing
Will you pray with me?
Give us Your vision, O God, that we may see Your Face in our darkness. Cause us to live as those grateful for the gift of life, no matter what circumstances and tragedies make us stumble and fall. Give us the resolve and courage to examine our lives, that we may discover Your hidden presence and offer to You our heartfelt gratitude and love.
Fill us with compassion and mercy for all who suffer, that we may reach out and touch their lives with love and hope. Shape our lives into a living prayer, to the end that the earth and all its people may find in life and in death, that we all belong to You, our Source and our Joy. May it be so.