Thursday, October 17, 2013

Justin's "Son of a Gun"

There's this book....and it's important that you read it.  Since the moment I finished the last page....I haven't been the same.  It's brave, honest, devastating and absolutely beautiful.  I had anticipated the release of this book for quite sometime and it delivered in every possible way.  It will change your life.

Justin St. Germain is the author of "Son of a Gun."  Justin is also my long time friend.  It's funny where life takes us sometimes and what we learn and gain from the most unexpected of people.  The book is incredible and completely heart wrenching.  Justin lost his mother to murder...and at the hands of someone she loved.  It hurts me to the core to think about what Justin went through.  For those of us who know Justin and actually know each and every landscape and scene that he painted with his words....and who can actually hear the familiar narrator's voice as we turn each page; and who recognized and laughed at the snarky humor weaved throughout the book; and who already knew what happened to his mom, because it was in our hometown......even WE weren't ready for the powerful heartbreak that came with "Son of a Gun."  I didn't so much read this book, as I was consumed by it.  It's a story of tragedy and what remains....after so much is lost.

The entire book moved me.  It's truly amazing how Justin opened up and wrote about hurtful and painfully truthful memories...all while managing to not villianize his step dad.  He bravely told this story with such raw and honest emotion.  He wrote vividly with such eloquence that I had to stop to catch my breath after reading certain parts of his staggering chapters.   This book is truly unforgettable.

In the first few pages of the book, Justin writes about the moments he found out his mom had been killed.  It was just days after 9-11, while the whole entire nation was in a state of panic.  Justin wrote in parallel of his own life and catastrophe.  He was lost and numb. ( I started to read his book at 7:30 p.m. on the day it was released....and after reading this severely memorable part of the book, I knew I would finish the book before I went to bed that night.)  He wondered if his step-father had killed her, as he sat in a bar with his brother, not knowing what else to do in those moments; President Bush addressed the nation that the enemy had been identified and the network of terror wanted to kill all of us.  Justin had a flood of phone calls offering condolences and he numbly went through the motions in response until he finally let the calls go to voicemail; President Bush advised everyone to live their lives and to remain calm even though our lives were being threatened; Justin questioned whether or not his step dad would come after him and his brother, too; The President's voice from the television in the bar continued in attempt to soothe a wounded nation and assure everyone that life would return to normal and that grief would recede with time and grace.

"Scrapbooking" was the most courageous and unforgettable chapter I've ever any book.  In this chapter, Justin attends a Parents of Murdered Children meeting.  He writes about the people he meets there, and understanding and sharing their rage and need to have their old lives back.  They're all given a project to do...a scrapbook layout of their lost loved one.  In a different chapter (Gun), Justin wrote about owning a gun and telling his friends in San Francisco that it's for protection; "In case there's a man at the door that means me harm."  His friends would argue that the better option is to call the police and Justin insists he wouldn't have time for that.  He writes, "They don't believe in the man at the door.  I do.  I've met him."  At this POMC meeting....I believe Justin knew he was surrounded people that have met him, too.  He writes, "We all do this every day:  focus on a series of small and meaningless tasks to pass the time, try to preserve our memories without wallowing in grief, and hope our lives will add up to some kind of tribute.  Of course we're good at scrapbooking.  Scraps are all we have."

Justin searches for answers of the unraveling events that led up to his mother's death.  He bravely returns back to his hometown of Tombstone, Arizona to face the memories, pain and brutal truth of it all.  He gracefully incorporates the infamous history of Wyatt Earp throughout the entire book and compares the tourist town he remembers to the Earps' legendary ghost town.  Near the end of the book, I just stopped to cry like a baby when I read a paragraph in his "High Lonesome" chapter.  After returning to Tombstone from his new life in San Francisco, he finds himself searching for his mom's property; the scene of her murder, after all these years.  He searches for closure and comes to realize that he really has no idea what answers he wanted to find there.   There he writes, "What did I expect?  A diorama showing where they stood and shot and died, like the one at the O.K. Corral?"  I can't imagine the pain he felt.  Reading this and writing about it now absolutely breaks my heart.  His compassion and brutal honesty is what makes this memoir extraordinary.

I attended Justin's 1st reading in Tucson and he said something that will stay with me forever.  I can't quote him exactly, but he said something about some advice that one of his mentors gave him while he contemplated writing this book.  They told him that you can say you want to do something for your whole life....but unless you actually start to take steps in the direction to do it, you can dance around it forever and it may never happen.....So, just decide you want to do it and do it.   Reading the end of the book, I believe that Justin had that kind of positive influence his whole life, from his mom.  He writes..."If she had made a decision, to leave that place, to leave Ray, she wouldn't have wavered.  She knew how to make decisions."

What an incredible woman his mom was....and I believe she is the reason that Justin is the remarkable man he is today.

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