CHAPTER ONE: THE BEST OF FRIENDS
Santa Barbara Herald
Friday/July 7, 1989
MISSING MOTHER FOUND DEAD IN DUMPSTER
By Dan Delgado
Santa Barbara Herald Staff Writer
The body of a woman identified as Katharine Taylor Fields, 39, was discovered in a trash bin at the Cold Spring Tavern Inn near Lake Cachuma Thursday evening, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department reported today. The discovery was made by a family who had stopped at the inn after hours to use its restroom.
Fields had disappeared from a picnic at Lake Cachuma on Tuesday for patients of Santa Barbara Psychiatric Hospital, where she had been hospitalized for the past eight months following a nervous breakdown.
Mrs. A. DeFrancisco, who discovered the body, said, "I thought someone had pitched a life-sized doll
in the trash. She reminded me of Sleeping Beauty with her long blonde hair and pale skin. She had such a peaceful smile on her face."
David Fields, 42, of Fields Auto Repair, confirmed the identity of the body and also identified himself as her estranged husband. Mrs. Fields leaves behind a daughter Jillian, 6. Cause of death as yet to be determined. Pending funeral arrangements are under the direction of the Lee Funeral Home.
“You just want to send me to hell.”
“No, Mom, you’re doing that all by yourself.” My hand starts to strangle the receiver.
“What have I done to you that you hate me so much?” Damn it, I almost cut myself trying to slice tomatoes for dinner, balance the phone, and swallow two Advil and one Tylenol with a gulp of cold coffee.
“I don’t have any food in the house,” Mom insists. I pull the phone away from my ear momentarily. I want to throw it on the floor and smash it, but I don’t. Instead, I can feel a familiar heat spreading from my neck and flushing my face. This always happens when I get mad. I gather my annoying shoulder-length hair off my neck and throw it up into a ponytail with the rubber band that was holding the celery together.
“Mom, what are you talking about, Ana always makes you a nice dinner. You told me you liked her cooking.” I jack up the air conditioning. The temperature in Encino today is in its usual July high 90s and inside the house the thermostat reads 82. I should have turned it on this morning, but I always think it’s best to conserve energy, and then I regret it around 4 o’clock. My temples are throbbing.
“I don’t eat her awful food.” Mom’s rant continues, “I’m not so stupid, dumb and blind like you tell everybody—”
“If you don’t like your live-in, then I’m putting you in a home.” I have to repeat myself three more times. Mom’s so deaf these days I have to shout. I hate pulling the put-you-in-a-home card, but I have no choice. Hearing loss, macular degeneration, and Alzheimer’s make my 78-year-old former powerhouse of a mother almost unrecognizable. Confrontational, disagreeable, nasty—all her native negative qualities are exacerbated by this horrendous disorder. It’s as if the loving woman who was my supportive rock died five years ago. Now all it takes, sometimes, is one inane question: “Hi Mom, how are you doing, where is Ana taking you to lunch today?”
“Oh, so you want to put me in jail now, is that it?” she barks.
“I’m not having this conversation with you!” I slam down the phone. This is our daily scenario, if Mom is in her Alzheimer paranoid-bitch-on-wheels mood. Other times, she talks sweetly to me code switching, as we have always done, between her native language and English: “You are so wonderful, mija. You work so hard, pobrecita, I know I’m being, uhhh being, como se dice . . . difficult.” But those days of kindness and clarity are disappearing. And as the months have passed she’s begun an odd form of self-inflicted torment that requires regular clipping of her fingernails almost to the quick, which does no good. But I don’t want to think about that now.
The phone rings again, but I don’t want to answer it. I’m sure it’s Mom gunning for me, ready to spew more dementia-infused venom. The ring persists. John says I shouldn’t answer the phone when she keeps calling, but I do anyway. All right, for God sakes, all right. I wipe my hands, fill my coffee cup and sit down at the table. I might as well get some more caffeine in me for the next round.
When I first hear David's voice on the phone, I say I'm glad to hear from him, which I’m not. I never liked him, but at this moment he sounds like he’s been crying. I ask him how Katharine is doing, afraid of the answer.
"It's pretty bad, Laura," he says.
"How bad can it be?" I ask, never imagining the worst. I know the worst is possible, but I don't want to believe it would or could occur. “When—”
Then I hear, "passed away yesterday morning . . ." That's all I hear. David is talking but I’m stuck on “passed away.” Disjointed phrases spill so fast that I can’t grasp them all at once. He stops and then silence, and then more fragments. Something about Katharine in a garbage container. He pauses, breathes and continues.
“Sheriff thinks she was probably walking along the highway, at first, but then why wasn’t she—”
I still can’t get beyond, “Katharine passed away yesterday morning.” What . . . what? How did she pass? Did she have to try hard or was it easy? She passed away yesterday morning, alone. Life snuffed out of her while she passed away.
All I can think of is when the two of us were in junior high school and Katharine passed her science test and I didn’t, even though I tried cheating off of her. “Laura,” she announced jumping up and down, “I passed with an A-, if only I hadn’t missed number 20, I would have gotten an A!” Katharine loved studying. I didn’t bother. Passing with high grades brought Katharine joy. School for me was simply a place to meet cute boys.
But now Katharine’s passing bears a shroud weighted by the trash of civilized disposal: rotting food, torn paper, dirty plastic cups, old Pepsi and 7-Up cans, and shards of broken glass. Icons of useful disuse, misuse, and discards of wastefulness enfold an emaciated, anguished, depressed, and dirty Katharine—dead when the police found her, all thirty-nine years of her in a graffiti-ridden beige Dumpster.