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Liz Arnold

Making Peace with the Site of a Suicide

Photo by Liz Arnold

Liz Arnold | The Common | Spring 2018 | 19 minutes (5,189 words)

Sixteen years ago, my mother found my father behind the shed on a Saturday morning in June. “Get up off the ground in your good shirt,” she told him, before she understood he was dead. “He looked like he was sleeping,” she told us. “The gun glinted in the grass.”

Seven years after my father’s suicide, I opened the envelope containing police photographs of the scene. He did not look like he was sleeping. Limbs: a swastika. Angles inhuman. Violence and velocity rendered in two hundred pounds of a six-foot man. The gun glinted in the grass — she was right about that.

Initially, I was upset she got it wrong. Did she get it wrong? Or she lied to protect her children, three grown adults. (I was 25 at the time.) Or shock wrote its own version. She says that shock drove her back into the house to start a load of whites. She watched her hand grasp the silver knob on the washing machine.

Maybe we’re trying to protect each other. I haven’t told her that I’ve read the autopsy report, or that I viewed photographs of the scene.

I remember how, on the night of his death, when I’d flown home to Michigan from Los Angeles, she tapped her temple twice, quickly. “Not a lot of blood,” she said. That was true, though I wouldn’t know until years later that the temple wasn’t the site of the entrance wound. “Intra-oral,” it said on the report. Of course. He was a dentist who collected guns, and his expertise in those two fields converged at the palate, the most vulnerable place in the skull. Bypassing bone, the impact destroys the control center for vital organs.

I’ve since revised my account to believe he was standing. He was standing behind the shed, and then—I can’t piece it together anymore. Read more…