These are the facts of my father’s death from the New Orleans Times Picayune a few days after June 9, 1974:
The death of Godfrey Kirkpatrick, 39, 1740 Jackson Ave., who was found hanged at his residence Sunday night, was still under investigation and unclassified by the Orleans Parish Coroner’s Office Monday.
Police said Kirkpatrick put his neck into a belt that he had nailed to a door frame.
Autopsy finds were asphyxia due to hanging and pulmonary edema (suffusion of lung air spaces with body fluids) and congestion.
A year or so ago while googling my father’s name, I stumbled upon a writer appropriating my father’s history in another writer’s internet blog.
In the blog, this woman, Anon, claimed to be Godfrey’s daughter, described her own suicide attempts, said how poetry saved her life, and how his act precipitated her becoming a poet.
I’d been revising an essay about my father to publish as a standalone never imagining I might have to defend it when I discovered this needy writer’s larceny. The child of suicide turns to writing to save themselves. Writing saved me, too, and I’ve suffered from depression and have also attempted suicide. The suicide card is one I often employed for attention. So, I get the appeal. Anon sounded so much like me she burrowed under my skin. Her post wasn’t even sound. She omitted salient, colorful facts like the place of death, New Orleans, and how old she was when he died (I was fifteen), and she didn’t mention his mental illness. In fact, she wrote, “…losing my dad to terminal illness and prolonged suffering,” which proves her lie. My father was a paranoid schizophrenic. The only terminal illness he had was his mind. Finding this doppelganger staking a claim to my father’s history and mine incensed me. More. It made me ill.
The day after discovering the larceny, I woke up with a migraine like I hadn’t had since nursing my daughter when a stabbing at the back of my head signaled the onset of mastitis. Eight acetaminophens later, the ache abated. Still, I wanted to scream: Who the fuck are you, Anon, to usurp what isn’t yours!
Morsels and crumbs of me and my dad are sprinkled online, probable places the imposter found my father’s information. Google “Lucinda Kempe, suicide” and you’ll find published micros about my father’s death.
My father’s death anniversary – June 9th, 1974, is upon me.
It remains in present tense as if there is no past.
The strongest memory I have of my father is receiving the news of his death. A Sunday in June, fifteen-year-old me sits at her desk in her bedroom, writing in my diary, when I hear the liquid sound of my mother’s contralto in the hall. The voice with its enviable precision, the voice I love eavesdropping on just to hear its sound stops me cold.
“When? Good God. Of course, she’ll be there.”
I get up from my desk and stand at the threshold under the three-pane transom window.
“Be where?” I ask.
“Your father has shot himself in the head,” my mother says.
My mother’s lie echoes—it was an invention she later defended because the truth seemed more gruesome.
Every year, for forty-eight years, the arrival of summer brings the memento of my fifteenth year, a summer lynched in memory like a prehistoric insect suspended in amber.
The blog writer deleted the post after I alerted him. I have death and birth certificates if I must prove I am my father’s daughter. I have the Times Picayune newspaper clipping describing his death. I have the papers for Vault No. 67 in St. Roch Cemetery in the Bywater holding his ashes.
If I must prove the trauma belongs to me.
Anon is like a bad art friend, one who pilfers from you clandestinely. Fleetingly, I questioned if she could be a long-lost sister for only child me? My father spent more time in psychiatric hospitals from age twenty-two until his death than out. He was thirty-nine when he killed himself. It’s a wonder he fathered me. Plus, his mother, whom I got to know later, told me the truth of how my father had died; she would have told me if Godfrey had had another child.
Could I find sympathy for this robber? Perhaps they believed the post to be true or needed to “borrow” my father for a spell? I almost pitied her, but I reread what she wrote at the end of the post:
“If someone you cared about died—be it a family member, a friend, or some celebrity you never met, you have the right to mourn as you see fit. Don’t let someone who isn’t you talk you out of your own grief.”
It took me twenty years after my mother’s death to acknowledge my own grief—my father was an absent stranger I saw a few times in my young life—by writing a memoir begun in a diary the year before my dad’s demise. I finished the memoir in 2018. That’s a long time to hold onto the past. It is still unpublished; I never pushed for publication. I hang onto it because the rejection would be too much, and I’d lose what Robert Graves would call, “All That.”
Maybe I can forgive Anon. Her theft pales in comparison to my father’s bigger theft of denying me a father. She also got me writing about the ghosts I lusted after for decades.
When I’m with them, I never feel more alive.
Lucinda Kempe’s work has been published or is forthcoming in The Disappointed Housewife, Yellow Mama, Unbroken Journal, New South Journal, New World Writing, Matter Press, and the Summerset Review. An excerpt from her memoir was short listed for the Fish Memoir Prize in April 2021. She lives on Long Island where she exorcises with words.