One of the many unique similarities my sister shared with Travis Alexander is that she was raised by a Grandmother. When our mother got sick, my father being in his early 30′s with three children under the age of six, needed help. He called upon his mother who literally dropped her entire life and moved in with us. He moved us all from our idyllic life in Florida where we were all born back to Illinois where our mother was from. We haven’t discussed these things in detail, it’s hard for my dad , but it’s always been my belief that she wanted to come home to die. Maybe I don’t ask because it’s hard for me to know these things.
My mother spent most of the last months of her life in a hospital in a city 150 miles away from her children. I remember her coming home for brief periods then going back to Chicago to the hospital. Children weren’t allowed in the hospital back in the 60’s so my last memories of my mother are standing on the lawn outside holding drawn pictures up for her as she looked out a window high above.
We lived in a huge rented house in the small town of LeRoy where my mother grew up. My sophisticated Grandmother who’d lived in New York City her whole life was transplanted to a tiny farm town much like a spinoff of Green Acres. It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad.
After our mother passed, our beloved Grandmother stayed on and lived with us for five years. My father was her only child so we all were her life. Obviously she was with us in the most formative and traumatic years of our lives. I remember feeling so awkward in second grade that I came home one day and asked her if I could call her “Mom”. How devastating that question must have been for her. In those days there just weren’t “single parents”.
When our father remarried about seven years after we lost our mother, our Grandmother moved back to her home in New York. I remember this being a crushing loss for all of us. Yet we always stayed close. We went to visit her every summer and stayed with her for weeks. As we became adults, Cindy and I traveled all over the place with our “Buddha” as we’d nicknamed her along the way. She would winter here in Arizona staying with one or the other of us after we’d moved out here. Then she would head over to Santa Monica for the rest of the Winter and Spring. Cindy and I visited her every March for her birthday in California in this little quirky hotel she stayed in on the beach. She would get the adjoining room for us and we all had a blast exploring things like tapings of daytime shows (Cindy ended up as a contestant on The Price is Right one year!), looking for the stars homes and wonderful dinners out all over LA. We loved our Buddha like an older sister in many ways. We pampered her and she pampered us. She had a childlike spirit all the way throughout her life which you can see so clearly in the photo above during one of Cindy’s famous “let’s dress up for no reason” parties. That photo was taken at Christmas 1987. The last one we were all together.
The following year Buddha, now living on her own in a condo in Connecticut, had fallen and broken her hip. She was 87 at that time and other than the hip injury was going strong.
When I flew home, during the hours Cindy had been designated a “missing person” , it had already been decided that for the first time in our lives, our Grandma Buddha would not be with us for Christmas. She just couldn’t travel. I arrived home to the four of us- my brother, Dad and stepmother- hoping that word had come in from Cindy during my flight time, to nothing.
I don’t remember much from those hours. I do know we sat in the same room you see in the photo above – an addition my father had put on the back of the house that housed a huge jacuzzi, plants, a gas fireplace and of course our big Christmas tree. We sat there, mostly silent, just waiting for anything. And hoping. Praying. Desperate. It was Christmas Eve day 1988.
I do remember at about 2pm or so my father saying “we’d better call Grandma as she’s going to wonder if we don’t call her on Christmas Eve”. It would have been a couple hours later in the East. So he and I decided to call her and just act normal, say nothing, not worry her there alone, needlessly. I don’t know where I mustered up the strength to talk to her like that. I was 29 years old, panicking, desperate and I had to talk to my Grandma like nothing was wrong.
I remember her being so happy as always to hear from us. She was completely lucid and clear as always and cheerful. As Cindy had been ambivalent about coming home for Christmas that year (her murderer we now know was trying to stop those plans as he had his own forming) , Buddha asked me “did Cindy decide to come?”. I answered “No Grandma she decided she couldn’t make it this year so you see you’re not the only one not here”.
And her response to that is something I’ll never forget. Something she never forgot through the rest of her life.
“Well she called me this morning”, she said.
My mind began racing in a million directions yet I had to remain calm and not seem as affected by those words as I was.
“She did? What did she say Grandma?” I managed to whisper out trying to hide my shock.
As of that morning, Cindy had been missing for over twelve hours and her face was plastered all over the morning news back in Phoenix.
My dear Grandma replied “all I could make out was ‘Hi Buddha!’ and then the phone went dead. I asked the girl here to call her back for me and I got that German man and I couldn’t understand a word he said”.
My Grandma never had a confused moment in her life. She knew Cindy and my voices as distinctly as she knew her own. No one on the face of the Earth referred to her as “Buddha” other than the three of us. Ever.
Since I was the last one to talk to Grandma that day, I went straight to my Dad with this news. Of course none of it made sense. This was before the days of cell phones. We knew Cindy didn’t have her purse. It was doubtful she’d had this temporary rehab facility’s number memorized. Why would she call Grandma if she’d been kidnapped and could make contact with someone? But it was a glimmer of something through all of the silence. I remember feeling hopeful and full of doubt at the same time.
My father said “well if she’s made some kind of contact, we need to call the police back”.
We found out that day that by the time Buddha had received that phone call, Cindy had been dead for at least fifteen hours.
My Grandma went to her grave thinking her beloved first born granddaughter had made contact with her on that Christmas Eve as she was up there all alone and would need comfort.
I believed it too. I believe it still.