No one says goodbye anymore. At least, not women. No one is saying see you soon, catch ya later. No more so longs, farewells, or auf wiedersehen adieus. Instead, as they’re rounding the corner or taking the stairs down to the River Styx (more commonly known as the C train), they’re shouting “text me when you get home.” Because we live in a world where a woman’s safety is not a guarantee. Our send-offs have become pleas, because we know the danger in a quiet subway car, or a poorly lit street. We don’t want it to be the final goodbye.
You know another way to avoid the final goodbye? Instead of saying it, you hunt down canned wine and dollar slices. That gives you another hour and a half, at least.
Our last Drinking Club gathering ended over rose cans and garlic knots while MM, MV, and I enlightened DR and MM’s coworker with our stories of growing up in the place that spawned Teresa Giudice. The work friend said he felt right at home, having spent his childhood watching telenovelas. But unlike our latest read, our slice of suburbia was not terrorized by a phantom who stole entire communities’ peace of mind. And not one of us is as masterful a storyteller as the late Michelle McNamara. Her notes could win a Pulitzer.
If you paid attention in 6th grade English, those context clues should be telling you that our last read was I’ll Be Gone in the Dark. The thoughtfully and obsessively researched book is the result of McNamara’s fixation with the Golden State Killer, the serial rapist and murderer that stalked California in the 1970s and 1980s.
The flap copy calls this book an “atmospheric snapshot of a moment in American history;” that couldn’t be more accurate. McNamara transports the reader to the subdivisions of Northern and Southern California, where unexplained footprints beneath bedroom windows and noises along the fence lines foreshadowed horrific violations. We get to observe the police bullpens and crime labs where gruff detectives and everyone’s favorite hunky criminalist (where my murderinos at) became consumed by the mystery of the man who committed 50 sexual assaults and 10 murders before vanishing.
McNamara does all of this with an unwavering sense of humanity, sharing only enough information to make your hair stand on edge, but never feel exploitative towards the victims. She exposes the dark corners of her own past that led her to her obsession with the East Area Rapist and Original Night Stalker, allowing you a glimpse of a mind that, in order to understand the darkness, plunges headfirst into it. McNamara passed away before completing the book, before the world knew who the Golden State Killer was. Her colleagues and family finished for her, impressively maintaining her voice while piecing together her notes and published work to create the final chapters.
McNamara’s writing, more than anything, captures the fear and despair that sent these families and communities spiraling. How do you fight the feeling that your worst nightmare is patiently waiting for you to close your eyes, that there’s nothing you can do to prevent it from striking again? How, as someone sworn to protect the community, do you live knowing you couldn’t do anything to stop him, let alone identify him? How do you also confront McNamara’s untimely passing, that your life could end in an instant?
You make plans. You YOLO. You live by the inspirational quotes on the tchotchkes your elderly aunt gets from the Hallmark store. You dance like no one’s watching, in the rain. Because the stark cold reality is that there is nothing we can do to prevent the monsters from coming after us. This makes us control freaks oh so comfortable. There’s no shortage of Type As in the Drinking Club. You should see the things some of us can do with a spreadsheet.
So what are we planning for? For starters, we’re prepping for the copious amounts of hurricanes and Sazeracs we’ll be drinking at LL’s nuptials next spring. The AirBNB hunt has commenced. DR is journeying to Southeast Asia and is currently accepting applications for a road trip through the Pacific Northwest (The Drinking Club Takes Portland, anyone?) MV is looking across the pond for fall adventures with her SO, while MM is planning some major career moves that make us all so proud. If the others decided to show up, I can brag about them too (what that subtle enough?)
What I’m walking away with after this book is to live fully and unapologetically. The only way to combat the shadows is to live in them, bringing the monsters into the light. So stay til last call. And text me when you get home.