Edward and Judith Murdock first met while attending college at Penn State and as all their friends will attest, it was love at first sight. After less than a year of dating, they both knew that they were destined to spend the rest of their lives together.
The happy couple got married in the spring of 1980 in a simple ceremony in front of their family and close friends. They would spend the next few years living in a string of small apartments in the suburbs outside of Philadelphia, working full-time and saving money for a grand trip around the world before they settled down and had children. However, their plans were derailed when Judy found out she was pregnant with their first child just after New Year’s in 1983.
Determined to give their child a sense of stability that she never had, Judy convinced Edward to take the money they had been saving for their big adventure and use it to buy a house. And not just a simple starter home, as most young couples would have done in their situation. No, this would be the home they raised their children in and stayed in until, as Judy would put it, “They had to pry my cold dead hand off the doorknob.”
Edward wasn’t thrilled about it, but what could he do? He had a child on the way and a wife he loved more than anything.
So it came to pass that a month before their daughter Elizabeth was born the Murdocks moved into 214 Home Road in Hatboro. It was a two-story, three bedroom, one and a half bath Colonial with an attached one car garage and a decent sized backyard. It had a front porch, a deck and a asking price that was way above the young couple’s budget.
However, both Edward and Judy fell in love with the house as soon as they saw it. They could picture raising their family there and then watching their grandchildren frolic in the backyard someday. With the help of a loan from his parents, they moved in as the calendar turned to autumn and began to raise their family.
Three years later they welcomed Darren Murdock to the world and made the decision that two children was enough for them. As far as Judy was concerned, her family was now complete and nothing and no one was going to take that away from her.
Diego looked at the house he grew up in as Liz pulled the SUV into the driveway and smiled in spite of himself. He still wasn’t looking forward to the sure to be difficult conversation he was going to have to have with his mother, but something about seeing his childhood home always gave him a warm feeling all over.
As he headed to the back of the SUV to grab his duffel bag and backpack, Diego saw that the garage door was open and his father’s red 2007 Mustang convertible was parked inside. The car had been a a fiftieth birthday present to himself, part mid-life crisis and part reward for making to the ripe old age of fifty. His father (Diego’s grandfather) had died at the age of forty-two so Edward Murdock felt that making to such a huge milestone deserved something special to commemorate it.
Diego’s mother wasn’t a fan of her husband buying the car, but over the years had enjoyed the rides out to the country during the spring and summer and seeing how happy it made Edward.
Liz noticed Diego looking at the Mustang. “I’m not sure what Mom’s going to do with it. She hasn’t said anything yet so she might end up keeping it.”
“Dad would have wanted you to have it.”
Liz shrugged her shoulders. “Even if that were true, a Mustang isn’t exactly great for a family of four.”
“C’mon. I remember you going to all those car shows with him. Every time I saw a picture of him winning some trophy you were right by his side.”
The two of them walked up the path to the front door and Liz opened it. They were barely inside when they heard a sound coming from the kitchen, the unmistakable voice of their mother, Judith.
“Is that you Elizabeth? You’ve been gone for over an hour. I was starting to wonder what happened to you.”
“I’m fine Mom. Just had to stop and pick up some garbage on the side of the road.”
Diego looked at his sister, his eyebrow raised. “Really?”
“I told you I wasn’t going to forgive you right away. This is part of your penance.”
Their mother came out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on a towel as the two entered the living room. “Elizabeth, what are you talking …”
Judy stopped in her tracks, the dishtowel falling to the floor, forgotten.
“Darren? Is that really you?”
His mother was the only person on the face of the Earth who stilled called Diego by his given name. He didn’t know what to say so he simply said “Yes Mom.”
It was the first time Diego had seen his mother in over four years. He wasn’t sure what he was expecting, that she would have changed in some way or somehow transformed into a different person? He knew that was silly but that was the thought that had kept running through his head the whole trip home.
Instead, Judy Murdock looked almost exactly the same as she had the last time Diego had seen her. Barely five feet tall in heels, pale skin, green eyes, high cheekbones and still in fantastic shape for a woman who just turned sixty. The one difference Diego did notice was that his mother had let her hair go grey, no longer dying it the auburn it had been throughout his childhood.
She walked up to him, tears streaming down her cheeks as she cupped his face in her hands. “Oh Darren. It’s been so long …”
Judy embraced Diego in a fierce hug, crying into his chest. As he hugged her back Liz walked over and put her hand on her mother’s shoulder, softly telling her it was alright.
Not sure what he was supposed to do, Diego let his mother cry and hold him for a good five minutes. Given all the different receptions he could have gotten when he walked through the door, Diego had to admit this wasn’t the worst.
When Judy had regained her composure enough to speak, she said she had to go check on something she had been cooking. Both Diego and Liz followed her into the kitchen, each taking a seat at the island that stood just in front of the stove, the one they had spent countless hours sitting at while growing up.
Judy Murdock was an remarkable cook and spent most of her time while at home in her beloved kitchen, the one she had remodeled not once, but twice since they had moved in all those years ago. The countertops were polished marble, the appliances all stainless steel, everything immaculate. That said, the kitchen never felt sterile or like everything was there just for show. There was the constant faint aroma of fresh baked bread and it always seemed like something was in the oven cooking away.
Any time Liz or Diego had needed their mother while growing up, it seemed like she was in the kitchen, cooking or sorting recipes or even just sitting at the island, reading a book. Her kitchen was where she felt most comfortable and in control, so it made perfect sense that she would be there cooking at a time like this.
With her back to her children, she stirred the simmering contents of the small pot that was on the stovetop. “It’s so good to see you again Darren. I just wish you could have visited under better circumstances.”
Well that didn’t take long. Diego thought to himself.
“Me too Mom. How are you doing?”
Judy hesitated for a second, looking down at the pot in front of her and taking a deep breath. “If I’m being honest with you, it’s been awful. Some days I feel okay and can get things done but others, others I can’t even get out of bed and just cry all day.”
“Mom, that’s to be expected. Dad hasn’t even been gone a week.” The words felt wrong coming out of Diego’s mouth. He still couldn’t quite grasp that his father was gone.
“Yes but there is so much to do. I still have to call the insurance company and the bank and then there are all the funeral arrangements to deal with.”
Diego had seen his mother deal with grief like this before. When his grandmother had died, Judy had thrown herself into the minute details of her mother’s funeral and tying up all the loose ends while her two sisters had been overcome dealing with their own sorrow. It wasn’t until almost a year later that she had finally dealt with her grief and emotions. It had sent her into a depression no one was sure Judy would be able to come back from.
Diego was terrified to see what losing his father would do to her.
But that was something to deal with when the time came. Right now Diego had questions he needed answers to, some of which he wasn’t sure he wanted to hear.
“Mom, I wanted to know. Were you with Dad when he died? Was he in any pain or anything?”
Judy stiffened, her back to her son as she stood at the stove. He knew she probably didn’t want to talk about this, but there was really no good time to have this discussion.
“No Darren. Your father died peacefully. He didn’t even wake up when the second heart attack happened. He was simply there one minute and then he was gone.”
“Did he ask about me while he was in the hospital? Want to know where I was?”
“He is …” Judy paused for a second, closing her eyes. “Was your father. Of course he asked. I offered to call you and let you know what was happening but he told me not to. He said to let you be.”
Liz looked questioningly at her mother. “You offered to call Diego? When?”
Judy turned around. “The day after he first went into the hospital. I thought his son should know what was going on but like I said, your father said not to.”
“You didn’t tell me that. You just told me there was too much going on and we should let it go for now. You never mentioned that Dad was the one who said not to.”
Diego looked from his mother to his sister, sensing that there was more going on here than he was aware of. Having been gone for four years, he wasn’t one hundred percent sure what the relationship was currently like between Liz and their mother. At the time he had left, it was better than it had been but was still fairly fragile.
Given the tone of Judy’s voice and Liz’s surprised reaction, it appeared things were going downhill again or it could just be the circumstances. Diego figured now wasn’t the time to deal with all of this so he quickly changed the subject.
“It doesn’t matter right now. So when is the funeral?”
Turning back around to the stove, Judy resumed stirring the contents of the pot. “It’s going to be Friday morning at St. John Bosco Church. There is also going to be a viewing on Thursday night at Schneider Funeral Home. We could have had it earlier but we wanted to wait until family had time to make arrangements to attend.”
“Is Dad going to be cremated?”
“Yes. That’s what your father wanted.”
“What are we going to do with the ashes? Spread them somewhere?”
Judy slammed the spoon she had been using on the counter, red drops of tomato soup spraying on the tile backsplash. The sudden noise made both Liz and Diego jump out of their seats.
Still not turning around to look at her son, Judy balled her hands into fists at her sides. “Darren, do we really need to have this conversation right this moment? I’ve been dealing with this for days upon days and I’m just not in the mood. Maybe if you had been here more you would know what your father’s last wishes were instead of having to ask me question after question.”
Diego just looked at his mother’s back, trying his best not to let his temper get the better of him. He knew dealing with his mother was not going to be easy and that there were a lot of hurt feelings. However, Diego thought maybe she would put it on the back burner for a bit before using the fact he had left as a weapon to hurt him.
Turns out Diego was wrong.
He shoved his hands into his pockets and looked angrily at the floor. “You’re right Mom. Now isn’t the time. I’m exhausted anyway. I think I’ll just head upstairs and try to get some sleep if that’s okay with you guys. We’ll talk more later.”
Liz put her hand on his arm. “Diego wait …”
“Nah, it’s okay Liz. I just want to get some sleep, okay?”
With that, he turned around, grabbed his bags and headed for the stairway, hoping his room wasn’t now a yoga studio or something.
When Diego had made his decision to disappear, most of what he owned he sold or gave away, telling his friends he simply wanted to downsize and maybe move into a smaller apartment. It hadn’t been easy parting ways with so much of who he was, especially his extensive comic book collection which was his pride and joy, but he truly felt it was something he had to do.
What was left once he was finished wasn’t much. A few boxes of comics, a handful of books and assorted collectibles as well as his computer with all his graphic design work. There was also a handful of things he felt he couldn’t bear to part with, things that truly meant something to him.
It was his father who gave him the idea of storing it all in his old room. Once Diego had told him about his plans, Edward tried to help where and how he could. He said that if his mother asked, Diego should just tell her he was thinking of moving home again for a bit to try and save some money. Judy would never say no to anything that would get her children under her roof again.
When Diego opened the door to his bedroom, he saw that it was pretty much unchanged from the last time he had seen it four years earlier. The bed was made, the desk spotless with his old computer sitting on top of it and his boxes neatly stacked in the corner, including one labeled “Roxanne” that he did his best to avoid looking at.
The room smelled of fresh linen and glass cleaner. If he didn’t know better he would think his mother came in here at least once a week to clean, like she was expecting him back any minute. Which just made her comments from a few moments ago sting all the more.
Diego put his bags down in front of the dresser and sat on his bed, putting his head in his hands. He is 33 years old for the love of God. He has traveled from one end of the country to the other more times than he could count. He had seen and done things other people can only dream about. So how was it possible his mother could still make him feel like a helpless little kid who didn’t know anything?
“She didn’t mean it you know.”
Liz was standing in the doorway of his room, leaning against the frame with her arms folded, a sympathetic look on her face.
Diego exhaled a breath he didn’t know he was holding. “I know.”
“Not that you didn’t have that coming. But this wasn’t the time for Mom to be weaponizing your guilt.”
“You going to be alright?”
Diego sighed. “Yeah. This is a rough on everyone. I’ll just have to suck it up that me being here is going to provoke some feelings from people that I may not be ready to accept.”
“That’s very mature of you.”
Diego smiled. “I know.”
“You are still such a dweeb. Get some sleep and we’ll talk more with Mom tomorrow.”
Liz closed the door behind her, leaving Diego alone. After a moment he realized that he hadn’t bathed or changed his clothes since he left Portland days ago. He dug around in his duffel bag, found a clean t-shirt and sweat pants and headed down the hall to take a shower.
Twenty minutes later he walked back into his room, feeling much better and hopeful that everything might be able to work itself out. The sun was going down and it was quickly getting dark, so he turned on the lamp next to his bed and plugged in his cell phone.
Diego thought he would watch some television and try to relax. He crawled under the quilt that was on his bed to get comfortable and was asleep before his head hit the pillow.