Why wasn’t God watching?
Why wasn’t God listening?
Why wasn’t God there for
Georgia Lee?

Tom Waits wrote this haunting song about a young African-American girl who was found dead not terribly far from the Waits household some time in the 1990s. The girl had gone missing, but for whatever reason – institutional racism is a good suspect – the media did not give her case much attention, and consequently, no search parties formed, no neighborhoods pulled together, and nobody found Georgia Lee until it was too late.

This song speaks very powerfully into my life. When I first heard it, the lyrics evoked memories from my childhood – memories that stick with me to this day – of my sister Sharee’s death. The sacred story in the family is that Sharee went to a party, something mysterious occurred, and the next day her naked body, mauled by dogs, was found on a lawn in a nearby town. The true story echoes this except in the following detail: the “mystery” surrounding that night involved Sharee overdosing and dying at the party. I have spoken with someone who was at that party the night Sharee died, and he told me that some bikers dumped the body on that lawn, because they didn’t know what else to do. Calling the police was not an option, given the nature of some things that were happening at that party.

To this day, my mother either doesn’t know these details, or she refuses to believe them. I’m not sure which, and I don’t intend to dredge the story up with her. The “mystery” of that party has been a bone of contention between her and my surviving sister, Desiree for years.

Desiree and Sharee were very close, not only because they were sisters, but also because they both lived through the trauma of living through the horror of their father’s schizophrenia and suicide, through the disorientation of my mother’s remarriage to my father, and through his suicide. Desiree – Desi, as we called her – began anesthetizing herself with drugs when her own father died, and drew more heavily on the pharmaceutical relief they provided more and more over the years, as she lived through further tragedies. The deaths I mentioned were the tip of the iceberg: Desi lost friends to overdose and suicide, she lost my aunt and my cousin, her long-time boyfriend Robert, and a little over a year ago, she lost Tom, whom she claimed was her soul mate. She leaned on drugs to dull the pain of those losses for almost forty years.

A few weeks ago, Desi’s pain came to an end. While making cookies for me with our mom, Desi fell on the floor and never got up again. We don’t know whether she had a heart attack, a stroke, or whether her body just finally screamed, “Enough!” The coroner’s report is forthcoming.

The comforting bit of news that comes with my sister’s death is that, for the last two weeks of her life, she had actually managed to get off the drugs, to get out of the basement to church meetings, to outpatient care, and to normal activities with new-found friends. She was baking cookies for me, for Christ’s sake! This is very comforting on the one hand, but on the other hand it really highlights the tragedy that was her life and the potential that was wasted with all those years of hiding from the pain.

When I first heard that Tom Waits song, I heard him singing about Sharee. Today I hear him singing, “Why wasn’t God there for Desiree?” In so many ways, Desi wasn’t that different from Georgia Lee. Even though she was 52 when she died, Desi was still a little girl – the same age she was when her dad killed himself, maybe the same age she was when they found Sharee – too young to be out on the street, running away from this world, not noticed until it was already too late.

Cold was the night, hard was the ground
They found her in a small grove of trees
Lonesome was the place where Georgia was found
She’s too young to be out
On the street.

Why wasn’t God watching?
Why wasn’t God listening?
Why wasn’t God there for
Georgia Lee?

Ida said she couldn’t keep Georgia
From dropping out of school
I was doing the best that I could
But she kept runnin away from this world
These children are so hard to raise good

Why wasn’t God watching?
Why wasn’t God listening?
Why wasn’t God there for
Georgia Lee?

Close your eyes and count to ten
I will got and hid but then
Be sure to find me. I want you to find me
And we’ll play all over
We will play all over again

There’s a toad in the witch grass
There’s a crow in the corn
Wild flowers on a cross by the road
And somewhere a baby is crying
For her mom
As the hills turn from green back
To gold

Why wasn’t God watching?
Why wasn’t God listening?
Why wasn’t God there for
Georgia Lee?

I miss you, Des.


5 Responses to “Adios.”

  1. I am so, so sorry that you’re going through this. Events such as these are the hardest to accept from God. My heart hurts for you and I will pray for you and your mom.

    • Hi, Jules. Thanks for your support.

      I’m actually doing OK. My mom? I don’t know. She tends to bottle stuff up and wants other people to follow suit. I think it’s easier for her that way.

  2. I hope that you will continue to write about this heatbreaking saga of your family; your questions and sadness make a lot of sense in the context of events that make none. Those of us with families torn apart by loss need to tell our stories. Tell your mother that my hand is reaching out to hold hers, and yours, even though I know exactly how much good that does.

  3. Thank you. Your presence does help.

  4. God bless you and your family. Every family has a form of tragedies like this, whether we would like to admit or not. With your writings, your sisters’ lives are never in vain. Keep blogging – we need to know more!

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