My grandfather shot and killed my grandmother, Mableine Nelson Barlow, during a drunken
rampage on June 13th, 1975 in Compton, California—two days after their divorce was final.
She and my 16-year-old father fled their home, running frantically down the street, no more than an arm’s length away from each other. At least 5 to 6 shots were fired at them both, but bullets from the 25-caliber handgun riddled my grandmother’s 4’11” body. Unscathed, my father held his dying mother in his arms.
My grandfather did not go to trial, was never fined, and never held accountable by any system of justice for murdering his wife, the mother of his 7 children. In fact, corrupt law enforcement in the 1970s enabled him to escape any repercussions due to his high-powered connections. As my grandfather’s crime disappeared, so did my grandmother’s Trail of Existence.
Her murder caused my father's 4 brothers and 2 sisters, all under the age of 18, to be scattered upon the Los Angeles streets; vulnerable to a city and decade notorious for violent crime—forcing them to focus on survival and not on the loss of their mother. Repression became habit, and habit became standard. There was never a single mention of her during the holidays she held dear to her, celebration of her birthday, memories shared of her impact or life milestone photos to be reminded of her defining moments.
My grandfather “found Jesus" and became a religious man; newly sober and attempting to be a positive force in his children’s lives after many decades of continuing on his destructive path. He came to cherish his family involvement, and used photography to document our growth. My grandfather was obsessed with taking photographs of every event and visit with his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. There are innumerable photos of him with us as we matured. His Trail of Existence will live on forever. My entire family refused to mention his cold-blooded crime, for their need to avoid the reality that their father ended their loving mother’s life. Our coping came at the expense of my grandmother’s memory, evidenced by my very recent acquisition of the only two photos that show her distinct physical characteristics. I feel profoundly connected to the remnants of her memory.
The dark secret of his violent action was not revealed to me until I was a teenager. By this time, I had a strong, loving relationship with him, and was internally conflicted for many years to come.
My grandfather spent 84 years of life enjoying all the benefits of being surrounded by family, while we managed the pain of silencing the murder. Even in his death on March 12, 2013, he continued to be surrounded by our adoring family and friends and honored by his country.
He left me his beloved camera.
This camera will be used as a tool to photograph other women that have been impacted by abuse, and have been silenced. They deserve a Trail of Existence. They will not disappear.
This is an Unconventional Apology.