Congratulations, LIBBY! We loved your tragic story!
by Libby Cudmore
How do you watch your own sister's execution?
I read the story in Redbook while waiting in
the grocery line. Lauren Myers, convicted
killer of her boyfriend and his best friend whil
e strung out on cocaine, had finally lost her
last appeal. My big sister would be put to
death by lethal injection at ten AM on April 14th.
Since I was married and had long since left
home, no one had ever asked me if we were
related. My mother didn't like to talk about
"her" and Lauren had cut herself off from both of us years ago. We didn't even know where she was until we heard about her arrest on the national news - she had fled the scene, and they didn't find the bodies for two weeks, when the eviction police busted the door down, and they caught her a week later in a drug bust halfway across the state. She never showed any remorse, and her only comment was, "The bastard's dead? I hadn't noticed. All he ever did was lie on the couch anyway."
No group came to her defense, There were no "Free Lauren" protests, and the only reason Redbook picked up the story was because she was the first woman to be executed in twenty years. My mother gave in to colon cancer before the story came out, and in a way I was glad.
How do you rationalize all the failed years of day camps and ballet lessons and softball practice? My mother died feeling like she'd lost, and once again, I resented my sister. I have always resented Lauren.
She got every toy and affection she could have ever possibly wanted, and in spite of it all, she still screwd up. Here I was a successful wife and newspaper editor, and all my mother could focus on was how poorly Lauren turned out. Anger burned like a citronella torch in my stomach as I watched the drip of the morphine that sent my mother into her last steady haze - anger for all the pain Lauren had caused her when she needed pain the least and anger that Lauren was still the only thing she could speak of. I didn't buy that issue of Redbook.
When I got home my husband saw it on the news, but said nothing. It was just another execution to me, no one special, just some random criminal. I had no sister. Then one day I picked up the phone and dialed. The operator put me in touch with death row, and for the first time in fifteen years I heard my sister's voice.
"Lauren? It's Lanah."
"Hi, Lanah," she said softly. "How are you?"
"I'm all right." I paused, not sure how to ask. "How . . . how are you?"
"Er," I could hear the shrug and the hair toss in her voice and thought about how she looked in orange. "I'm living the best I can."
"Yeah," was all I could say. "I heard."
"How did you find out?"
"Oh, yeah - first visitors I've had in awhile."
There was a moment of silence.
"Lauren . . . would you like me to come out and visit you?"
She thought it over for a moment.
"Yeah, I think I might like that - do you think Mom could come too?"
I was hoping she had forgotten we had a mom.
"Lauren ... Mom died ... about a month ago."
"Oh." She sounded upset. "I'm sorry to hear that."
"Yeah, it was tough the last few days - colon cancer."
I nodded even though she couldn't see me.
"So, when would be a good time to come out and see you?"
"Well, the big going out party is in a week, so it'll have to be soon."
She laughed a little; the nervous laugh people give when they're trying to be brave.
"I'll book a flight this weekend."
"I'll look forward to it. And Lanah?"
"I love you."
I hung up the phone, unsure of how to say the sentence back to her. How could I love someone who tortured me throughout my entire life, when the only such phrase she uttered with “I” and “you” sandwiched the word hate?” And yet, I had to. I was all she had left in the world. I went to bed angry again. Why after all these years should I suddenly come through for her? Let her die alone; she isolated us and if it hadn’t been for me, Mom would have died alone too. There was a great possibility that someday I might die alone; why should she have all the special favors? When I awoke I numbly made my flight reservations. It still seemed unreal to me, unreal that I had a sister and unreal that in seven days, I wouldn’t.
My flight was the longest two hours of my life but I knew I couldn’t turn back. Even as I drove my rental car to the prison I considered going home and screening my calls until it was over. I was scared, honestly scared and couldn’t figure out why. I drove mechanically until I saw the iron gates. Out of the corner of my eye a dreary collection of women jogged, played basketball or attempted to speed the end of their life sentence with an endless supply of cigarettes. I don’t know if I would have even recognized my sister if she had been among them.
I went through the process and was sent into a bleak visitor room. One prisoner was hugging her elderly mother goodbye and another was sobbing as her husband led their children away. I suddenly came out of my haze when a woman sat down across from me.
"Lauren?” I asked.
This didn’t look like my sister. Where was the pink hair, the nose ring, the telltale track marks she wore like jewelry? This woman was plain, with short blonde hair and an unflattering orange jumpsuit.
"Hi, Lanah,” she said simply. “I’m glad you came.”
I was too shocked to say anything more. Fifteen years had been cruel to my memory, left me a bitter person in regards to my older sister. How do you forgive nasty words and knife scars, stolen babysitting money and a stolen childhood?
And yet I knew I had to. I had no choice. She needed me, and I had to be there for her. There would be a whole life for resentment. There was only a week for forgiveness.
“I know you must still hate me for everything I did to you,” Lauren said as if she could read my silence. “I don’t blame you. I was a rotten sister, and I’m actually kind of thankful you called me—I was too afraid you would hang up if I called you.”
“You’re probably right,” I joked.
"I wouldn’t blame you if you did.”
She reached her hand out and clutched mine. Her grip felt cold, as if she was dead already. I knew that cold—holding her hand as we rode in the ambulance after her first overdose, helping her stumble in from where she’d passed out in the snow bank in front of our house. And as I’d done all those times, I gripped her hand tightly and felt tears torture my eyes.
“Don’t cry,” she offered. “All they have here is scratchy Kleenex, and I don’t want you to rip your contacts.”
I laughed and cried harder.
“I’ll be all right,” she said gently. “I’m ready for this, and believe me, it’s a relief. You think I want to spend the rest of my life here? And if I go back out there, I’ll just fall back into the same old habits. For once I’m going to do something right and not burden anyone anymore. I’ll apologize to Mom, and hell, I’ll even apologize to Bill, not that I think he went to the same place as Mom. You would have hated him Lanah, he was a big loser like all the others. I didn’t need to be high to want to kill him.”
She laughed sardonically.
"That lack of remorse is what got you on death row in the first place," I reminded her in my typically over responsible way.
"Yeah, but saying that I'm sorry isn't going to save me now, so why bother lying? Am I sorry? Yeah, I shouldn't have taken another life, but at least that's one less welfare dick, right?"
"Yes," I said just so we didn't argue.
"Time's up!" the warden barked.
We stood up and for the first time in my memorable life, Lauren hugged me.
"Thanks for coming by," she said, tears stinging her voice.
"Do you want me to come again?"
"Take care, Lauren." I called as the warden escorted her out.
"I love you."
That’s how we spent her remaining few days. I bought her a Trouble game and we played just like she said we had when I was little, and every day she said, "I love you," even though I couldn’t figure out how to get the words out. Death lingered on the next sunrise and she hugged me for the last time.
"Thanks for being here."
Now I was even more at a loss for words. How do you say goodbye to someone who’s about to be murdered? How do you say goodbye for what you know will be the last time? So I didn’t say goodbye. All I said was, "Do you want me to come tomorrow?"
"It’s up to you," she said. "The inside walls are mirrored, so I won’t be able to see you anyways."
"Well, whether or not I’m there, you know that I’ll be thinking about you, right?"
"Goodbye, Lanah. I love you."
She smiled as best she could, and the guard led her off.
The next morning I watched the clock in my hotel room, and at 10:05 I began to cry. My sister was dead.
Libby Cudmore is a short story writer, future novelist and above all things, a storyteller. In fact, you should probably never believe anything she tells you because her family motto is “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.” A student of fiction, poetry, music and theater, she states, “It’s important to tell a good, solid tale, not one with false-sounding dialogue and flimsy characters in an attempt to be daring and dramatic.” On this same note, she also dislikes modern art but does like to draw with crayons.
Libby counts Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood, Warren Zevon, Terry Goodkind, and Morrissey as her favorite writers, and would like to thank her family, her boyfriend, and Scott Wolven and Susanne Risley for all their encouragement and support.
Libby has a very big ego and if you would care to enhance it, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. She promises to write back unless you say something mean.