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May 12, 2022 42 mins

In this replay bonus episode, Dani speaks with writer Jennifer Senior about her cover story ‘What Bobby McIlvaine Left Behind’ for the September 2021 issue of The Atlantic.

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Speaker 1 (00:00):
Family Secrets is a production of I Heart Radio High
Family Secrets Listeners, It's Danny. Some of you may remember
that last August we ran a special bonus episode a
conversation with the journalist Jennifer Sr, who had just published

(00:23):
her cover story in The Atlantic titled What Bobby McIlvaine
left Behind Grief, conspiracy Theories, and one Family's search for
meaning in the two decades since nine eleven. It was
a searing, extraordinary piece of journalism, and my conversation with
Jennifer about the way secrets can be buried in a

(00:43):
family was profound and revealing. So it is with great
pleasure that I learned this week that Jennifer has been
awarded journalism's top honor, the two Pulitzerprise for Feature Writing.
In honor of this crowning achievement, and as we're deep
into producing season seven of Family Secrets, which will drop

(01:04):
on September one, here again is our conversation. You had
a personal connection to the macle van's. Yes, although the
funny thing is, how well do you know these kinds

(01:26):
of people? Really, I will describe you to you how
I knew them, and you'll see they didn't etch themselves
particularly deeply into my brain until after they'd lost Bobby,
which is a sad thing to say. They were the
parents of my brother's roommate, both in college and in
young adulthood. My brother moved into Princeton, you know, as

(01:48):
freshman year. He throws his stuff on a bunk bed,
and the kid on the other bunk bed was Bobby
mcle vain. And so when did I see the macle van's.
I saw them if we were at the end of
the year picking up my brother there or graduation, or
then when the two of them were living in New York.
I would see them if I had just happened to
run into them because they were in town and I

(02:09):
was picking something up, and my brother says, you know,
it wasn't a lot. I really didn't get to know
them until after Bobby died. Um. And my impression of
them is just that they were saintly warm people who
had devoted their lives to doing good in the world.
They were both teachers. They one taught you know, kids

(02:32):
who were the troubled teens who were in an adolescent
psych ward at a local hospital. Another taught reading in
a trailer in a parking lot of a Catholic school.
They were lovely people. Oh and and his brother was
this this cheerful, sweet kid you know, who was younger
and kind of goofy and uh and not nearly the

(02:55):
go getter that his older brother was, but very funny.
And Bobby made a much bigger and more singular impression
upon you, it seems during the time that you knew him.
Oh God, Yeah, Bobby was like a one off. He
was like a human being that never went into full production,

(03:15):
you know what I mean. It was he was an
exceptional kid. Nobody in his family expecting him to go
to an IVY League school, working class, um, you know,
Irish Catholic family, Uh, without any kind of expectation that
he would go off and conquer the Ivy League. And
he just came out freakishly smart even as this young kid.

(03:39):
And uh when I met him, he was always just
filled with ideas, very lively conversation, very precocious um charisma
personified I think, intimidating to some people who knew him
until they got to know him and realized that inside
he was just a warm piece of peach pie. Um.

(04:01):
He just was dazzling and with this if he had
been sort of flung into the world from a sling shot,
you know what I mean. He just had lots of
puppets um and had that air about him that any
self invented person does. They're just kind of unstoppable. There's
a moment in your piece for you describe he was
also athletic, and there's this moment where you describe a

(04:22):
teenage Bobby mcilvane throwing an immaculate pass uh as a
basketball player that sets up an immaculate shot that flies
right over the teenage head of Kobe Bryant. I mean,
I mean, it just sounds like on every level, this
kid was, as you describe, just a one off, completely extraordinary.

(04:42):
He was a miracle, yeah, I mean, and Kobe Bryant.
That's the other thing, right, There's something almost Zelig like
or Forrest gumpi in about Bobby's trajectory. Right. They wound
up playing each other in high school and they were
the two best kids on their team, and Bobby got
sixteen points off of Kobe and his teammates. I mean,
that's extraordinary. That became the stuff of legend in the

(05:05):
mclavaine family. As Kobe Bryant became Kobe bryant Um. Then
Bobby goes up to end get the handpick to take
a class with Tony Morrison. And when when Bobby dies,
Tony Morrison sends his family not one but two condolence
notes saying what a star Bobby was. And he just
kept intersecting with exceptional people. You know, that's the kind

(05:28):
of guy he was. So on on nine eleven. At first,
when the planes hit the towers, there wasn't a sense
in the family or among Bobby's friends that that Bobby
was in the towers right there. It was just um,

(05:49):
this horrific thing that was unfolding. But there was no
reason to He didn't work there, he didn't live right there.
There was no reason to think that he would have
been there. You were nearer there. He was adjacent, right
But But and here's what's interesting. His mother had a
full on premonition, a real, deep, visceral sense that something

(06:09):
wasn't matter. It was more than just a chirp in
her stomach. She really thought something was wrong. But his
father treated it like a news event. His brother had
just been in the city that Thursday and appear with him,
and he worked in Maryland he had just moved there
to corporate communications in Marylynch. It just so happened he
had to attend a conference that day, and you do

(06:32):
anythings crazier. The theory about Bobby is that he had
to go to a restaurant that to Windows in the
World that morning for a conference, but that he had
probably left before the planes hit, because they found his
body on the periphery of the site, and that no
one who was in Windows on the World was found, right,
I mean, everybody was incinerated if they were up there.

(06:55):
So I want to quote something from from your Peace,
because really, so much of your piece is about the
shape or shapelessness or trajectory of grief and trauma, and
you write early on the macaile Veins spoke to a
therapist who warned them that each member of their family

(07:15):
would grieve differently. Imagine you're all at the top of
a mountain, she told them, But you all have broken bones,
so you can't help each other. You have to find
your own way down. It was a helpful metaphor, one
that may have saved the Macailvan's marriage. But when I
mentioned it to Roxanne Cohen Silver, a psychology professor you see, Irvine,

(07:36):
who spent a lifetime studying the effect of sudden traumatic loss.
She immediately spotted a problem with it that suggests that
everyone will make it down. She told me, some people
never get down the mountain at all. This is one
of the many things you learn about mourning when examining
it at close range. It's idiosyncratic, anarchic polychrome. A lot

(07:59):
of the series you read about grief are great, beautiful,
even they have a way of eracing individual experiences. Every
morner has a different story to tell. So what I'm
wondering is if you can tell us now the different
stories that Bobby's parents, in particular went through in the

(08:23):
wake the long wake of Bobby's death, Both Bob Sor
and Helen. Yes, Um, they are so different that they
almost look like photo negatives of one another. It really
struck me, Um, and particularly Bob Sor his story. Helen's

(08:46):
was more recognizable to me. It isn't how I think
I would have grieved, but it is a story that
I could have sort of seen and predicted, which is
not knowing her. So Helen, this is how she chose
to grief. She chose to starve her grief. She didn't
want people to pity her. She didn't want to manage

(09:07):
people's awkwardness. She didn't want to manage their discomfort or
listen to them babbling their contolences, and she didn't want
to feel terrible all the time when people accidentally said
the wrong thing to her. She went to a different
grocery store for fifteen years in order to not run
into people she knew, so that no one could sit

(09:28):
there and just start incoherently trying to consol her or
muttering to preprint to you know, like pointing and gossiping.
She didn't want any of it. She would deflect, she
would joke. It was her way of coping with it,
and realized about ten years in that it wasn't serving

(09:48):
her very well to keep stoppering up all of her grief.
She realized at some point that it was making her angry,
that it was making her more of a gossip, that
she was on a shorter fuse. She thought, No, it
is additionally compounded by the fact that I am not
allowing myself to grieve, to fully inhabit disgrief. The only

(10:08):
type herself to do it was with this group of
local women all lost children with whom she could speak
in shorthand they all knew what it was. They weren't
going to single her ad for special pity. She could
say anything she wanted to them and it was all okay.
But they understood if she said, I was just with
a friend of mine who went on and on and
on about their child, and I just couldn't stand listening

(10:29):
to them talk about their child. I am so jealous
that she has this problem. I can't listen to people
talk about their child. They all got it. It all
made sense, but it was very hard for her. She
didn't want to be a victim. She didn't want to
be short, she didn't want to be short tempered, you know,
or hurt. All these things. She had like a strong
super ego kind of watching her own reactions. That was helen.

(10:53):
She gave the impression of having quote unquote healed because
she wasn't talking about it. She was, you know, moving
on with her life. And so it was this impossible
conundrum totally one of her own making right, exactly right.
She needed to do that in order to get through

(11:14):
the day that was in some ways her version of
grieving was not grieving or not externally showing it, and
yet exactly something some part of her was permanently you know,
there was scar tissue on top of a whole bunch
of stuff that had not stitched up. There was something
painfully paradoxical about this situation, right that she was like

(11:38):
all stitched up, but just a watery mass inside. And
so that was really hard. That was really really hard
for her um and she just woke up one morning
and decided she had to do something about it, which
makes her very unusual. I mean, to make an executive
decision one day that you were simply going to be
another person is extraordinary. And she actually did that. She

(11:59):
actually woke up one morning and did that to be
She decided she wanted to be somebody else. She needed
to be someone else, and so she was going to
be that person. And what was that someone else? Someone
who engaged more with her grief and who let go
of all of the anger that was just accumulating in there.

(12:20):
She really felt, on some level like she was marinating
in a braid of her own resentment and her own
fury and her own hurt, and she hadn't let it out,
you know, and it was just curdling her and curdling
her insights. What you just described is a version of
a secret. It's you know, it's it's this kind of

(12:43):
almost one of the most toxic versions because it's that
bottling up, you know, the idea of I can make
this go away if I just try hard enough, totally.
And here's what's amazing, her suffering with the secret and
her son died and what must have been the most
blick active mass murder in recent memory, right, I mean,

(13:06):
she was denying herself, her own suffering. She was keeping
it almost from herself, and it's so poignant and it
can be so corrosive to our souls, you know, it
can just rip us up, and I think it did her.
And then meanwhile, her husband, Bobby's father, Bob Senior, was having,
as you say, a completely almost polar opposite kind of

(13:32):
way way of responding. Yes, Bob was the polar opposite.
Everything that was light colored on Helen's print was dark
colored down hairs and everything that was dark color and
her print was light on his. I mean that you
just couldn't imagine two different ways of going about grieving
for Bob's senior. It's not just that he actively every

(13:56):
day chooses to inhabit his grief, and he cries every
day that his grief just lives very close to the surface.
You just touch him, if you a whole vat of
grief kind of spills out. It's not just that, it's
that for him, every day is kind of September twelve.
It's like he wakes up and he's as raw as

(14:18):
he was almost the day he discovered it. And to me,
this was just an amazing revelation because there are all
these kind of cultural wide imperatives that I think we
have that, oh, you've got to move on, You've got
to move past your grief or through your grief, or
around your grief or something. Right. No, not him. He

(14:39):
had no interest. He wanted to live in his grief.
It seems like his form of grief was about engaging
with the details, real or imagined. Around nine eleven and
around Bobby's death was a way of keeping Bobby alive exactly.

(15:02):
I mean, he treated Bobbies death as if it were
an unsolved murder. He became over time gradually very very
interested in um all of the I'm going to call
them conspiracy theory. He never would he calls this nine
eleven truth. Um to me, the air conspiracy theories that
the government was behind this, that um, this was an

(15:26):
orchestrated hit. You know, that the World Trade Center was
embroidered with explosives. And he became very interested in in
in sorry, explosive laid by the American government and it was,
you know, a control debt nation. He had a theory
for why they actually um destroyed it. That's quite arcane.

(15:46):
What got in his mind turning though, was that it
was based on looking at the medical examiners report, yes,
Son's death. You know, I think what he initially was
doing was some we worrying about um. It was a
very paternal instinct. He was haunted by the idea that
Bobby might have suffered right before he died, that he

(16:08):
might have aspixiated, that he might have been up, that
he might have jumped right, that he didn't know how
he died. Um. And in getting medical examiner's report, he
saw how he died. I mean, he was decapitated and
which to me suggested a giant piece of debris you know,
came worring out of the sky and then he didn't
know what hit him. But for whatever sort of reasons,

(16:31):
Bob Sr. Decided that because most of Bobby's injuries were
on his front, not on his back, he had he
couldn't have been running away from the building, he had
to have been inside it, and that this had to
have been an inside job. So he started doing a
lot of reading. He started reading history. He started doing
all these things and came up with a very laboratory
for why the government might might have wanted to destroy

(16:54):
the World Trade Center. And you know, Bobby's brother Jeff
thinks that by saying, oh, this is merely how he grieves,
he thinks it's kind of trivializing his efforts. And that
may be so, Although what I think is interesting is
that Bob Senior said to me, in doing this every day,
he is definitely keeping his Bobby close, that this is

(17:18):
how he spends time in Bobby's company. So I might
be giving short trift to the theories because I don't
believe in the theories. I think the theories are wrongheaded.
But he does not deny that like they serve, it
serves a purpose for him. And in doing all this research,
he gets to stay close to Bobby. He gets to
do this and it's a way to keep parenting, and
it would kind of forget. Bobby was so young. He

(17:40):
was so young, he was only twenty six. He was
still problem with in some way as a little boy
to Bob SR. And he probably wanted to actively parent him,
you know. Still in some ways, this is him being
a father. We'll be right back. So Bobby kept He

(18:06):
was a prolific journal keeper. He left behind volumes and
volumes of journals and thinking about what it is to
continue to parent, or to keep someone alive, or to
keep a relationship alive in some way. You know, the
journals become very very important in this story. Helen and Bob,

(18:31):
you know, have all the journals. Um. There is a
young woman named Jen who is Bobby's girlfriend and is
about to become Bobby's fiance. He has a ring, and
he has asked her father for her hand in marriage,

(18:52):
and he um is about to propose to her, and
of course that of her happens. So Jen is his girlfriend,
and she doesn't have any legal right to any of
his possessions or belongings. And Jen asks if she can

(19:14):
have the last journal that Bobby had been writing in,
and Bob SR. Just hands it to her without a
thought of like, of course, here here's a piece of Bobby.
So that's a perfect summary. Um. Bob Senior handed into
her without giving it a second thought. Because there they

(19:36):
were cleaning out Bobby's bedroom. There was his last remaining
journal open on his desk, and Jen started reading it
and noticed that she was on practically every page, so
it would be perfectly natural for her to want to
have that right. And he was distributing those journals anyway
to everybody who was in the room. It was my brother,

(19:57):
it was two other friends. I think we're there, um,
And he was saying, you might want to look at
these in order to write your eulogies because me and
my wife I am not being any shape to write them.
And Helen was not even in any shape to go
and clean out that bedroom. She was elsewhere. And if
she'd been in that bedroom, she might have stopped her

(20:21):
husband from giving away that final journal, because it was
hugely important to her that she had every molecule of
everything her son that ever had. All the objects of
the dead, a lot of them can just assume almost
kind of tellismanic property, like they just their proxies for

(20:41):
the person you love, And what's so interesting about a
diary is that it's not even the same as like
a T shirt or a recovered photograph. It's this unusual
thing where you get to almost hear that person's voice
again and to spend time in their company. It's not
a conversation or that, it's not two ways, but you
are hearing from them. And she was so devastated when

(21:07):
she found out that her husband had given away this
final journal, because here was this chance to hear her
son's voice one last time, and she was being robbed
of that opportunity. Particularly, I mean he was at that moment.
She had like all of his kind of childhood journals
when he was a kid, but he wasn't a fully
formed adult. It wasn't like a chance to experience him

(21:30):
and a grown human, you know, And here was this
most recent thing, and she she just she didn't have
it suddenly, right, So she asks Jen if Jen will
part with it? Correct, She asked Jen for it. She said,
I would really like to see parts of it. I
understand it's about you, but and Jen kind of demurred.

(21:53):
She hemmed in odd, and she took the diary home
with her. She went off to Michigan, where she was
from and took some I by herself, and then she
came back and lived with the mcle vans for about
two months because she just couldn't stand being in her
apartment by herself. So there were many opportunities for Helen
to say, you know, I'd really like to see that diary,

(22:15):
which was no longer there, right, it was in Jim's apartment.
She had taken it and then got off to Michigan,
so the diary is not there. Helen and looking at
this future almost daughter in law who she doesn't know
very well, she hadn't spent much time in her company,
and adding for it and not getting the response she wants,

(22:36):
and by the end she was begging. She was simply saying, look,
if Bobby is describing a tree, can you just give
me the words, Just tell me what he says about
the tree. I just want the words, just the words.
And then still never did it, and her stay there

(22:56):
ended in terrible tension, and with Jen slamming the door
behind her, bursting into tears, getting in her car and
driving off, and you never saw the macle vains again.
And when I saw Helen before, you know, to do
this story, Jen, she couldn't come up with Jen's last name.
She kept saying, it's something short, it's like Jen Cove

(23:20):
And I said it was Jennifer Cobb and she said, oh,
that's right, cob c O B And I said c
O b by. She really had forgotten. She had buried
her the way she had buried her son. She had
just forgotten. It always really amazes me and humbles me

(23:42):
to think about what the ways in which our memories,
especially our memories under the pressure of intense emotion, um
just either end up with these huge lakunai, you know,
just these gaps, or tell their own stories just you

(24:02):
know that are just different stories. And you know, one
of the things that you're that you're describing now makes
me think of um a moment in your piece where
where you you describe the yearning and searching stage of grief, right,
and and so at this point Helen and Jen who

(24:23):
are in this yearning and searching stage, and the journal
has become this kind of emblematic of that more than
anything else. It's a way to resurrect the dead, even
though you know that they can't be retirected. Right. That's
when you are just desperately searching for them though you know,
rationally they're never coming back. So it's a widow crying

(24:46):
out there her husband as she's doing the dishes, are
talking to him. You know. It's you can take many
many forms. It was first described by a pair of
British psychiatrists. Um. One of thom was John Bulby, who
did attachment theory. But yeah, I mean, but the real
kind of author of that is a guy named Colin
Murray Parks. And yeah, it's perfect. And I think that

(25:08):
Helen was stuck on that diary for like ten years.
She was yearning and searching, and she really really um
got served bogged down in it. She took it to
the members of her that group that I was describing
of women who had all lost kids. She would talk
about it with them and they would joke about breaking

(25:31):
into Jennifer's house and liberating the diary, you know, so
that you could have it, stealing it. Um. She was
really angry at her husband for a very long time.
She would needle him about it, you know, for years
this one on. She couldn't get past it. There was
one phrase that Helen became very focused on. She wasn't

(25:53):
sure where she had read it or heard it um,
but the phrase was Bobby's, she was certain, and it
was life love's on, and she was very focused on that.
And that became a kind of motto or or a
way of thinking for the family that Bobby had said

(26:14):
that and that that's what they needed to do exactly.
It became like some kind of organizing motto for their grief.
And to your point about how humbling and mind blowing
it is that our memories can desert us. She has
that motto of life loves on engraved in a bracelet,
right that you wear it every day. A friend gave it,

(26:35):
gave it to her. Her friends also took on that motto.
They have it like sort of stamped at the bottoms
of their emails his and Bob Senior has it tattooed
on his arm, right, I mean, so this is on
his skin. So you would think, if you are going
to live by that phrase that your son has written,
you would like know where it came from or was

(26:57):
some idea. And yeah, but she hands me all these
diaries and tells me, okay, well, I know it's in here,
And she thinks that she knows where it is, and
she goes looking for it. She sure she knows where
it comes from, which is that when like a family
friend died, he wrote it then, But it turned out
out to be there. So I went on this mad

(27:19):
aunt to find this phrase, and you know how I
found it. I'm not sure I want to give it away,
but it was this extraordinarily I mean, it was this
insane kind of uh flothing adventure that I went on
to find this thing. And it turns out I mean,

(27:39):
if you want to talk about secrets you keep from yourself,
she knew, everyone in the family knew. They had just
all forgotten where it came from. They had just forgotten.
And it is amazing what we can And as you say,
the lacina and our memories are just extraordinary. I mean
they are there the size of an ocean sometimes and
you can't believe it. It should be solid land, you know,

(28:01):
I mean, the things that we know to be certain,
sometimes they're just made of water. We'll be back in
a moment with more family secrets. I want to quote
one other little passage from from Your Peace, which is

(28:25):
memories of traumatic experiences are a curious thing. Some are vivid,
some are pale. Pretty much all of them have been
amended in some way great or small. There seems to
be no rhyme or reason to our curated reels. We
remember the trivial and forget the exceptional. Our minds truly
have minds of their own. So I don't think it

(28:49):
would be giving anything away, and everyone should just simply
read your beautiful peace. But to say that down the road,
once this phrase and it's our gen has been tracked down,
you know, like the Holy grail. Um, you send it
to your editor at The Atlantic, like a screen, a

(29:09):
screenshot of where it was, and he sends you a
note that says and and Bobby has like very dense,
sort of indecipherable, you know, difficult to make out handwriting.
And your editor writes to you and says, isn't it

(29:30):
life lives on, not life love? So exactly, yes, he did,
And my heart sank. And I mean, I I can't
tell you. I mean I was on an amtrack and
I almost started to scream. I did not know what
to do, because then you're faced with a real journalistic conundrum,

(29:53):
which is do you tell a family that's been living
by this mode over twenty years? You know, it's almost
there's a word for this when when it's an oral misapprehension,
when you hear something incorrectly, it's called the Manda green
And you know, like VI, Jimie Andricks excuse me while
I kissed the sky, and everybody thinks it's excuse me
while I kiss this guy, you know, So it's like

(30:14):
the equivalent of that, but in print, where you're looking
at the wrong like it was just it was misinterpreted,
it was misread. It didn't matter. In the end, it
didn't matter. Bobby's journals are filled with wisdom, all kinds
of unexpected wisdom. The funny and amazing and weird thing
is that although Helen and Bob had lots of Bobby's

(30:39):
journals for a while, um they didn't read them very much.
And there's lots of great things in there. When I
finally glimpsed that diary, I'm happy to say that there
was plenty in there to look at that I thought
was really much more beautiful and much more resonant um
then Life lives On, Life Love On. You know, it's

(31:01):
a little bit hallmarky. Life loves On It's slightly more
profound because it suggests we have some kind of drive
to love in our hearts no matter what. And I
kind of liked it, but life lives on is kind
of disappointing. It didn't matter. There's there's plenty that Bob
observed and said in his life that's much more interesting.
But in the funny I mean that like this is

(31:22):
this is how our memories get made. They get made
falsely or they don't matter. You know, we choose to live,
but they become that person's words. You know, we are
constantly inventing and reinventing the dead. At this point, Bobby
may as well have said it, and it's something he
could have said. And I think that that's even more
interesting in a funny way, is that we're all perfectly
happy to assign him those words because they seem so Bobby.

(31:45):
He was just this little Yota boy, you know, so
like why not sure? It seemed Bobby like Lata's loves whatever,
so true that in the end it doesn't really matter.
I mean the way that Helen got, you know, fixated
on the journal m for all those years, you the

(32:06):
journalist got fixated on the phrase right and find and
finding it um And in the end, it doesn't really
matter where the phrase came from, or even exactly what
the phrase was in the profound emotional scheme of the story.
When you do travel to Washington, d C. And And

(32:29):
you you meet Jen, Bobby's girlfriend. Um, she is prepared
to and has you know, wanted to for years. Have
Helen be able to read the journal? Um. She gives
you the journal and says, at some point, I'd love
to have this back, but you know here, I mean,

(32:51):
one of the most moving parts of your Peace are
Helen's epiphany when she reads Bobby's final journal that Bobby
was a young man, he wasn't a boy anymore, and
that she his mother, wasn't at the center of his life.

(33:14):
That Jen was at the center of his life, which
is why Jen had so desperately wanted to hold onto
that that piece of him, a painful secret that was
sort of in this journal. I mean, you know, in
some ways, Helen just wanted it because she wanted everything

(33:36):
that was Bobby's. She just wanted to reconstruct him. It
was just a metaphorical way of making him the whole
if she couldn't have him. But in some ways it
was also just glimpsing who he was at that moment.
In time, being able to spend time in his company again,
and yes, wanting to see you know, she was all
over his previous journals. His family was Oliver his previous journals.

(33:57):
He spoke glowingly about his family in those journals. He
was still a young boy, and unlike most adolescent kids,
he wasn't ripping up his family. He was talking about
how great that he were. He was very close to them.
So I think her fantasy in some way was that
there would just be more about the nuclear family. But

(34:18):
it was a relief. I think in some ways, it's
just is to discover, oh, he was his own man.
I was, you know, I wasn't a part of his
life anymore. And there are things in that journal that
are so mind blowing that like shed whole windows into
like I mean, there are goose pumpling things. But I
mean I think that that was like a big takeaway

(34:39):
for her. In some ways. It was to sort of see, oh,
my boys all grown up, he's all grown up. That
this wasn't about me. I mean, the things that it
was about were extraordinary. That the journal was about were extraordinary,
you know, And the words in that journal were extraordinary.
I mean, I get, I get she was just thinking

(35:00):
about them. What is so amazing is that there was
this thing that was looming for twenty years that she
was sure contained. It did not contain it never does.
It did not have inside it at what she thought
it did, And the reasons Jim kept it weren't the
reasons she thought she did. You know, all the motives
we assigned to other people are never the stories we

(35:21):
tell ourselves are so often not stories that are true.
You know, how we know what we think we know
does not end up being the right thing. I mean,
you know, having the wrong tattoo, having the wrong story,
and in some ways a metaphor for everything. You know.
It also strikes me that in the end, in being

(35:43):
able to see that final journal, she actually had a
moment that she would have had had Bobby lived, which
was the realization, oh, my boy is a young man
and I am not you know, the son at the
center of his universe. I am that's right, and and

(36:06):
and she she actually ended up developmentally getting to have that,
even though uh way later and in a completely heartbreaking way. Yeah,
that's a beautiful way of putting it. I mean, I
think that again, because he was so young, so much
of his life was still locked away in his mother's

(36:27):
heart as like her little boy, you know, And why
why wouldn't he be sort of enshrined in that way
and her heart in her memory? But you were? And
had she got to go to a wedding and see
him pledge his love to to Jen, had she had
a tiny grand baby, you know, from Bobby anything, seen

(36:50):
them by a house, seen them even move in together.
He was still living with my brother, you know. I
mean he still seemed like a kid. He still seemed
like a kid. So as you say, yes, I think
that it did allow her maybe to right go one
beat further down the road and see him as a
fully realized adult. I mean she knew it anyway, But

(37:13):
I think that this was living in his head, in
his mature head, as a person whose thoughts were now
utterly consumed by someone else. I will never ever encourage
anyone to get on with their lives, even gently. Um.
I think it's a kind of tyranny. I think some
people never get beyond their grief, and that's the choice

(37:33):
they make, and they or don't make their chiefs their
griefs just to hold them and not the other way
they can't hold it. And that's one thing I learned
from being around Bob sr. It's not for me to
judge if it gets in the way of your family's life.
It's something that you have to deal with, and it's
something you have to contend with within the marriage. All
those things, But I think the biggest thing is like

(37:55):
the epistemological thing that we have been discussing, which is like,
how do you know what you know? I mean, no
one had the same I mean, let me just put
this out there. Helen thought that Jen had lived with
the family for one week after Bobby died. Jeff, Bobby's
younger brother, who was living with his parents at the time,

(38:18):
I thought that Jim lived with them for six months.
Jen thought it was for two months. Okay, they thought
they were sure they knew where Life Loved On came from,
and they were wrong. They had no idea where it
came from. Jen was sure when she was living with
the mackail Vane's that she slept in Bobby's brother's room,

(38:41):
and that Jeff very bravely slept in his brother's bed,
his dead brother's bed, Whereas Jeff was absolutely certain that
Jen very bravely slept in her dead fiance's bed. I mean,
AMY think I can never sit anywhere and argue with

(39:04):
any kind of force about any memory that I have,
about anything that I think I know and be dead
certain anymore. And that doesn't mean that truth doesn't exist,
that there are isn't such a thing as like real
objective truth. I think that there is. But I mean,
I I just think in terms of the fallibility of
our own memories. I think that our our emotions so

(39:25):
should shape them, misshape them, reshape them, prittify them, discolor them,
do all sorts of things, you know. I mean the
image that I have have is of a snow globe
getting all shaken up. That if you had reported this
story four years ago, or if you had reported it
four years from now, those memories among all of the

(39:47):
macle van's might be completely different than the ones that
they had during that sleiver of time. Oh for sure,
I had memories of the macall van's telling me things
about at their grief at years three and four, because
I would see them. They would come to visit my parents,
you know, I see them when I was visiting my
mom in Florida. They they would um, you know, sort

(40:12):
of describe things, and I would raise them during the
interview and they wouldn't remember having said them to me,
you know, I mean, I had very different memories of
what they told me about their grieving. And here's something, okay,
here's something. This is I think the craziest thing. After
the piece came out, I had dinner with Jeff and Jen,

(40:33):
who hadn't seen each other in twenty years, and Jeff
said to me, you know, I really love the piece,
but I'll tell you something. I both did and did
not recognize my dad. Everything that he said to you,
you captured accurately and exactly. And it's one facet of
my father, but it's not the only facet of my father.

(40:54):
I know a very different man. I know a different guy.
And when my wife read that's story, she wasn't sure
she recognized the man you described either. It's just one
side of himself that he was interested in showing you.
And I'm sitting there thinking, well, I'm a journalist. I
thought I captured him much better, you know, a much
fuller kind of complex. I thought I didn't. I didn't

(41:16):
think he was like mono dimension all at all. I
thought that I had really captured something about his essence.
But they were telling me that I missed something, which
means that I had the wrong tattoo. I mean, what
do you do with that? How do we know? What?
We know? All the selves, all of the selves within us,
and all the stories, right, all the stories we tell?

(41:39):
How reliable are our stories and our memories? How well?
You know? How reliable was the thing that I wrote?
You know, I thought it was pretty darn reliable, and
it was, you know, and it wasn't mm hmmm. For

(42:17):
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