The Murderer’s Daughters

Why did I write this book?

When my sister was eight, my mother warned her against letting my father into our Brooklyn apartment. Perhaps she also cautioned me, but I was barely five and can’t remember. Years later, as adults, when my sister and I began exploring our childhood in the way siblings do—comparing scars and recollections, piling up wrongs and shining up the funny stories—my sister said:

“Remember when I let our father in the house and he tried to kill Mom?”

She swears I was there (where else would I be at that age?) but I didn’t remember any of it. As the years went by, and my sister fed me more details, the scene rooted in my mind and became my memory also. I heard my father sweet-talking his way in. My mother’s screams echoed.

I worked with violent men for many years, men ordered by the courts to the Boston-based Batterer Intervention Program where I ran groups. My clients climbed all over continuum of ferocity toward women. They bullied, hit, smacked, punched, and broke bones; some had murdered. When asked where their children were during these incidents, almost all answered the same way: they were sleeping.

Children do not sleep through these traumatic moments. Some freeze. Some bury the horror so deep it can’t be accessed. Some become stuck on the road of re-creating the incident in their own lives (like so many of my clients had.)

Many become strong at the broken places and as adults are teachers, nurses, law enforcement; they are all over the helping professions.

When talking with batterers and speaking with their victims, I thought of my mother and father. I couldn’t ask my father what happened—he’d died when I was nine. My mother never liked visiting the past under any circumstances: she hated how my sister and I examined it from every angle, rolling her eyes when we did our usual and made troubles into humorous anecdotes. We didn’t dare ask about the time our father threatened to murder her.

However, I kept asking myself. What if? What if my sister hadn’t been brave enough to get the neighbors? What if the neighbors hadn’t pounded upstairs? What if the police hadn’t come in time?

What if my mother had died?

Writing is like that for me, a series of “what if” after “what if ” . . .

When my sister and I were young, after being forced to turn out the lights, we’d pretend to take imaginary books off imaginary bookshelves and ask each other: what are you dreaming tonight?

Somehow, my waking dreams were always part nightmare; giving the truth that macabre twist we all fear. The Murderer’s Daughters is from that childhood shelf.