It is curious how sometimes the memory
of a death lingers so much longer
than the life it has purloined.
—Arundhati Roy,
The God of Small Things
Prologue
Fear
My husband and I were too traumatized to make what is known in the
industry as the ‘‘first call’’—the call to a mortician, notifying him of a
death in the family. Hearing the news of the death of our only son, we
were frantic only to discover what had happened. And, although the local
news station and even cnn were broadcasting the story of the attempted
prison escape of three inmates and the fatal shooting of one of them, all
we wanted to know was whether or not our child’s final moments were
as anguished as his life—whether or not his was a lingering and knowing
death. Understandably, this was not the interest of the television news-
casters or print journalists, for whom the ‘‘rest of the story’’ was the de-
tails of his horrific criminal history and the circumstances of his death.
But the story we wanted could come only from the coroner (eventually),
or perhaps from the prison superintendent, or the chaplain—whose call
to me, alerting me to the news that my son had been shot and was dead,
was followed in seconds by a call from a local television news station.
My husband and I spent the first hours desperately seeking some ac-
counting, some detail of his death. I put the television on ‘‘mute’’ while
we were on the phone, alternately waiting for and listening to various
personnel in the state prison bureaucracy. But I could see the ‘‘breaking-
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