And I Don't Want to Live This Life : A Mother's Story of Her Daughter's Murder (9780307807434)

BOOK: And I Don't Want to Live This Life : A Mother's Story of Her Daughter's Murder (9780307807434)
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Copyright © 1983 by Deborah Spungen
Introduction copyright © 1994 by Deborah Spungen

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.

Grateful acknowledgment is made to the following for permission to reprint previously published material:

Liveright Publishing Corp.: “A Poet's Advice to Students” by e. e. cummings. Reprinted from A MISCELLANY, REVISED, edited by George James Firmage with permission of Liveright Publishing Corp. Copyright © 1955 by e. e. cummings. Copyright © 1965 by Marion Morehouse Cummings.
Copyright © 1965 by George James Firmage.

Some of the names of the people and places have been changed throughout the book.

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 96-96704

eISBN: 978-0-307-80743-4

This edition published by arrangement with Villard Books, a division of Random House, Inc.
Villard Books
is a registered trademark of Random House, Inc.


Author's Note

I am especially grateful to writer David Handler for the many difficult months he spent guiding me toward what it all meant and showing me how to say it


The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language
defines it as “the unlawful killing of one human being by another, especially with malice aforethought.” The mother of a murdered child has a different definition: “The blackest hell accompanied by a pain so intense that even breathing becomes an unendurable labor.” I know; I am the mother of a murdered child.

Our oldest daughter, Nancy, was murdered on Thursday, October 12, 1978. She was twenty years old. I was at work when I received the phone call from the New York City police that changed my life and that of my family forever. “I'm sorry to tell you that your daughter is dead.” I had been expecting that phone call and those words for years. Nancy has been emotionally disturbed since a neurologically traumatic birth. There was no cure for her pain and suffering, nor for ours. She self-medicated with heroin and other drugs, and by the time she was a teenager, I began to anticipate and fear the inevitable “overdose,” “suicide.” These were words that I could understand. I heard the detective continue, “Mrs. Spungen, you daughter's boyfriend, Sid Vicious, has been arrested for her murder.”
That was a word I could not comprehend. It only happened to other people on the six o'clock news.

The first few days after the death of a loved one are usually filled with a numbing sadness as the family goes through the ritual of saying good-bye, as they begin to mourn. This is not the way it is for the family of a murder victim. We had to contend with so much that we were not prepared for: identifying “the body,” involvement with the criminal justice system, dealing with the media. As we stumbled through this maze, we discovered that we, too, had become victims. I kept wondering if another mother had ever experienced and survived this horrible ordeal. “Where is another mother?” I asked over and over again, but no one answered.

As I gradually moved back into the outside world, away from our protective circle, I encountered many unexpected feelings and reactions at every turn. I was astounded to discover that there is a stigma attached to homicide. There is a strong analogy to the rape victim's experience, though for the family of a homicide
victim, the blame and the resulting implications extend beyond the victim to include them as well. I remember that on several occasions someone, when my back was turned, pointed me out and said in a loud voice, “That's the one whose daughter was murdered!” It was as if Nancy's murder had not only made me deaf and blind, but also at fault.

My life slowly began to fall into a more normal rhythm again, albeit a different one. I no longer felt as consumed by Nancy's death, but in place of the obsessive thoughts, I felt a curious mixture of frustration, anger, and pain. My former levels of energy and drive were slowly being restored, but I had nowhere to direct them. What I found interesting and meaningful before Nancy's death often seemed empty and insipid now.

Eighteen months after Nancy's murder, I made contact with Charlotte Hullinger, the founder of the Cincinnati-based support group, Parents of Murdered Children (POMC). There was no chapter in Philadelphia, and I wasn't prepared to get involved. One day, after five months of long-distance conversations, Charlotte called to tell me that no one else had come forward to start a chapter and asked me, once more, if I would be willing to do so.

I heard myself answer, without hesitation, “Yes, I can do it.” I saw the image of those words in front of me, as if they were encapsulated in a cartoon balloon, and once uttered, I couldn't take them back.

On the second anniversary of Nancy's murder, October 12, 1980, my husband, Frank, and I sat in our living room with seven other families at the first meeting of the support group. For the first time since Nancy's death, we felt comfortable talking with others about what had happened to Nancy and to our family; we had finally found a safe place.

Ed Rendell, the present mayor of Philadelphia and then the district attorney in Philadelphia, attended the third meeting of the support group, in January 1981, to talk to us about the criminal justice system and how it impacts on families of murder victims. Ed sat in our living room on a bitter, cold, gray Sunday afternoon and said, as he looked at the thirty families seated in the large circle, “It's your task to represent your loved ones in the aftermath of the murder; it is the family that stands in for the homicide victim throughout the criminal justice process. It's the last thing that you can do for your loved one; it's a way of saying good-bye.”

As Ed continued to talk to this gathering of people, who had nothing more in common than the fact that their loved ones had been murdered, he said, “It's important to be here to share your pain and your tears and your laughter, but it's not enough.
need to do more,
need to get involved with the criminal justice system,
need to go to court with families and make a presence in the courtroom.” Frank has teased me since that day; he assures me that when Ed said “you,” he meant the generic “you” and not necessarily me. But I thought that he meant me. With his words Ed gave me my bearings and set me on a positive course in a new direction. In so doing he gave me the ability to restore a sense of control over my life, something that I thought was irretrievably lost when Nancy was murdered.

As the support group continued to meet each month, I began to see my fellow parents, not just as friends, but as family. It was this new family that gave me the strength and courage to speak out and share my experience, not just of Nancy's life, but also of her death. I now felt prepared to carry out a promise that I had made to myself when Nancy was seventeen years old.

During Nancy's lifetime, whenever I experienced a particularly difficult and trying episode with her, I had the habit of replaying the events of the day in my mind, as if somehow I might be able to undo the frustration and the turmoil. The images would unfold in a linear way, like chapters in a book. One day, as I was going through this futile exercise, I realized with a sudden insight that Nancy's life read like a book, only it was real, not fiction. It was at that very moment that I made the decision that someday I would write about her life. I felt that only by writing about her life could I discover its meaning and value. If I could share that with others, then in some small way I might be able to help others by letting them know they were not alone. I realized that the book would have to be put off to some future time and that I would know when it was the right time. And I knew, in my heart, that day would come sooner than I wanted or anticipated.

It took almost two years to write
And I Don't Want To Live This Life
. It was not an easy task to dredge up all those minutes and hours and days of pain and turn them into words. Sixteen months of writing was evidenced by the growing pile of filled yellow writing pads that lay on my desk where they stared back at me in mute witness to what had been and what might have been.

In the fall of 1983 Frank and I flew to Pittsburgh; I was to
address a group of some four hundred people at a “book and author” dinner for a formal kickoff to the publication of
And I Don't Want To Live This Life
. As satisfied as I was that I had accomplished what I had set out to do, I realized that the journey I had resolved to take did not end after the completion of the book. I have learned that each journey begets another one and life has a way of exponentially creating new roads to follow.

During the time that I was writing and editing
And I Don't Want To Live This Life
, I became more deeply involved with the support group and the entire field of victims' rights. At the time Nancy was murdered, the term “victims' rights” didn't enter into the equation. The term “victim,” as pejorative as it may be, was certainly not accorded to us or anyone else who had had a loved one murdered. This was the result of a widely held misperception that the “victim is dead” and that homicide leaves no survivors. But I knew better.

By 1986 I had outgrown the confines of the support group. The name of the organization was changed to Families of Murder Victims (FMV), and the newly formed agency opened a victim advocate office, a desk and two chairs, within the homicide unit of the Philadelphia district attorney's office. The district attorney's office was a few blocks from city hall, where the criminal courtrooms are situated. My first assignment was to attend the homocide preliminary hearings the following Tuesday. As I entered the courtroom my hands were cold and clammy and my heart was pounding. I'm not sure what I was afraid of, perhaps that the specter of Sid Vicious would appear in the courtroom. I knew that I wanted to be an advocate for the other families who had a loved one murdered, but I wasn't sure what price I was willing to pay.

Within fifteen minutes I had been able to locate several families of murder victims by timidly calling out during a break in the proceedings, “Is the family of——here?” I tried to answer their questions about the criminal justice system, and sometimes I could offer no more than just to sit with them and hold their hands, or give them a hug. When I left the courtroom that afternoon, I was emotionally spent, but I also felt very exhilarated. Not only had I come face-to-face with my own demons and stared them down, but I had seen the beginning of a new era in victims' rights. This was the first courtroom in the United States where
families of homicide victims were being assisted by their own victim advocate agency.

BOOK: And I Don't Want to Live This Life : A Mother's Story of Her Daughter's Murder (9780307807434)
12.77Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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