Two men brutally murder an innocent family of four in December of 1959 in a small farm town called Holcomb, Kansas. Capote spends the next four years following the story: leads on the murderers, the eventual arrest, the trial and ultimately, the sentence - death by hanging. Due to his fame as a literary star, he was given unlimited access to the prisoners.
One of the murderers, Perry Smith is empathatically portrayed in Capote's book as his was a sad and sorry life, touched multiple times by suicide. Because I am a survivor of suicide, I was moved by Smith's story and wonder if I would've felt the same reading this "pre-Josh" - probably not.
One of four children, Perry had a very unstable childhood. Upon his parent's divorce, he lived with his alcoholic mother who eventually died of alcoholism (slow suicide) when he was a young teen. His father was out of the picture which meant he was placed in various orphanages where he suffered abuse and torture as a bed-wetter.
Tragedy followed his family. His brother Jimmy, the eldest with the most promise, married but was obsessively jealous of his wife. She shot herself and when Jimmy found her, he shot himself - a double suicide. Perry's favorite sister Fern, drank heavily and went out of a 15 story window - another possible suicide. In a family of six, when three are dead by their own hand, the psychological affects must have been tremendous. Barbara, his only surviving sibling was also interviewed by Capote and revealed fears about herself and her family.
The eldest, the brother she loved, had shot himself; Fern had fallen out of a window or jumped; and Perry was committed to violence, a criminal. So, in a sense, she was the only survivor; and what tormented her was the thoughts that in time she, too, would be overwhelmed; go mad, or contract an incurable illness, or in a fire lose all she valued - home, husband, children.....They shared a doom against which no virtue was a defense.When a family has been touched by horrible tragedy, the feeling of vulnerability is pronounced. I admit to having crazy, irrational fears that in another moment of deep darkness and sheer desparation, someone else in my family will choose suicide - something, "pre-Josh", that I would never have considered. But now, it is a possibility.
I desperately wish I had this awareness in early 2009, while we were going through everything with Josh. If so, would I have been more dilligent? Not taken "no" for an answer? For I did ask the question, almost embarrassingly, "have you ever thought about hurting yourself?" which Josh shook off like it was the most stupidest question ever. And I accepted his answer because I thought the same - a stupid question - of course, he would not do anything. I didn't think he cared enough to be suicidal.
Not surprisingly, Perry admits to having suicidal thoughts throughout his life.
As a child he had often thought of killing himself, but those were sentimental reveries born of a wish to punish his father and mother and other enemies. From young manhood onward, however, the prospect of ending his life had more and more lost its fantastic quality. That, he mush remember, was Jimmy's "solution," and Fern's, too. And lately it had come to seem not just an alternative but the specific death awaiting him.And while incarcerated, he saw it as a way to escape fate:
...despite the jailer's precautions (no mirror, no belt or tie or shoelaces), he had devised a way to do it. For he also was furnished with a ceiling bulb that burned eternally, had in his cell a broom, and by pressing the broom-brush again the bulb he could unscrew it. One night he dreamed that he'd unscrewed the bulb, broken it, and with the broken glass cut his wrists and ankles "I felt all breath and light leaving me," he said, in a subsequent description of his sensations. "The walls of the cell fell away, the sky came down, I saw the big yellow bird."What about those who knew the murdered family? Of specific interest to me were the friends of the kids for two of the victims were high school students, Nancy (16) and Kenyon (15). Nancy's best friend, Sue Kidwell (who actually discovered the bodies), talked to Capote about the days right after the murders.
We were like sisters. I couldn't go to school - not those first few days. I stayed out of school until after the funeral [just like Josh's friends]. So did Bobby Rupp [Nancy's boyfriend]. For a while Bobby and I were always together. He's a nice boy - he has a good heart - but nothing very terrible had ever happened to him before. Like losing someone he loved. And then, on top of it, having to take a lie-detector test. I don't mean he was bitter about that; he realized the police were doing what they had to do. Some hard things, two or three, had already happened to me, but not to him, so it was a shock when he found out maybe life isn't one long basketball game.
Mostly, we drove around in his old Ford. Up and down the highway. Out to the airport and back. Or we'd go up to the Cree-Mee - that's a drive-in - and sit in the car, order a Coke, listen to the radio. The radio was always playing; we didn't have anything to say ourselves. Except once in a while Bobby said how much he'd love Nancy, and how he could never care about another girl. Well, I was sure Nancy wouldn't have wanted that, and I told him so.From Bobby's point of view:
Everybody - his parents and every one of his seven brothers and sisters - had treated him gently since the tragedy. All the same, at mealtimes he was told again and again that he must please eat. No one comprehended that really he was ill, that grief had made him so, that grief had drawn a circle around him he could not escape from and others could not enter - except possibly Sue. Without her almost constant presence, how could he have withstood such an avalanche of shocks...Then after about a month, the friendship waned. Bobby went less frequently to sit in the Kidwells' tiny, cosy parlor, and when he did go, Sue seemed not as welcoming. The trouble was that they were forcing each other to mourn and remember what in fact they wanted to forget.These passages remind me of Josh's friends - those who did not go to school for a few days after. The many who came to our home to join us in grief, sorrow, and tears; the sharing of memories, looking at pictures, and writing good-bye notes to him in a treasured journal. I can't begin to imagine what is is like to lose a close friend at such a young age. How does the teenage mind process this? How do they cope? I just hope that our "open-door" policy at the time of Josh's death helped his friends. Witnessing the uninhibited outpouring of love and emotion certainly helped me.