Oh, I can’t keep my mind off my baby,
off my girl,
off the best thing that’s happened to me
in this world.
And to keep her
from having died in vain,
I’ll try to answer a question
that’s been asked of me
again and again: “Why? Why did Nancy choose to die?”
The question is always posed by someone who: knows that Nancy loved them as they loved her; has seen with their own eyes that her family was the joy of her life; feels she had many more miles of waterways to swim and trails to hike, pictures to take and more wounded or abandoned animals to save or sick and shut in friends to tend to. They know that Nancy would never have just taken her life without something terribly wrong going on inside her.
Well, they know their Nancy and so do I and, to get right to the “why” regarding her choosing to die, I can only say that she was felled by an eerie dark dank secret created by a dad who, starting when she was about ten through her teens, crossed a line that should never be crossed – making her his “special girl.”
Nancy told me about this deplorable chapter in her childhood early in our relationship. At the time I was already deeply in love with her anyway but my love grew a hundred fold just knowing that she loved and cared about me and trusted me enough to share with me such dark stories from her past.
Until those moments I don’t think I had ever empathized more with another person’s pain. My goodness, with a father having his way with you and your mother blaming you for the relationship what do you do? Who do you go to? Who will believe you when you report your dad’s misdeeds, dad being Mister Man about town, pillar of society, Rotary Club President, successful soil engineer, big shot oil man, major donor to a camp for “disadvantaged” youth nestled in the Redwoods in the Sequoias? How can a little powerless girl compete against such societal odds?
I have always marveled at how well Nancy seemed to have endured such a shameful and degrading situation.
I’ve marveled, too, at her forgiving spirit, at how she managed to maintain a relationship with her father, including him in our family life wherein he took on the role of grandfather to our children in great fashion, joining Nancy and me for their soccer games and dance recitals and camping trips and birthdays and holidays.
Nancy and I would talk about her sordid past every now and then but I didn’t realize how much it had haunted her over time until her dad’s last year of life when we drove to Orange County every Friday for months to help care for him. She thought that somewhere in our routine of reading books and magazines to him and playing music for him and wheeling him to a remarkable view of the ocean at a wonderful place called Pines Park – well, she thought somewhere in the mix he would give her what she had been wanting from him for so long: a simple apology for his sins.
What she got, though, in a moment that seemed so appropriate for what she desired, was: “You’re still my special girl.” Then he asked for her forgiveness.
From that moment on, as I look back in reflection, something died in Nancy. She started gradually breaking down. Her hip bothered her and then her knees and then the months of sleeplessness creeped in and the depression came on deep and heavy. The medicines that were prescribed for her didn’t help and when doctors tried to tend to her mental state by asking her to look back in time she just couldn’t go there. She could not revisit the intense pain and the crippling shame.
So I believe my sweetheart died of an unrequited wish, of heartbreak. I just know that she would be alive today if her dad could have softly whispered in her ear: “I’m sorry.” And in her state of mind, having never heard such redeeming words, she had no choice but to die. That kind of sums it up for me as it pertains to “Why?”
Sadly, though, what happened to Nancy happens to little girls all the time and they have to live with it for a lifetime. How do we hear their cries early on? That’s got to be one of the “social justice” questions of our time.