Goodbye Darkness, My Old Friend

Sign that reads, "What doesn't kill me better run"

On June 7, 2021, I came home from work to find that my 14-year-old cat had died.

He was under my bed, lying directly under where I slept. His mouth was open and his face frozen in this sort of grotesque expression of Dante-esque fear. 

He did not die peacefully.

Or maybe he did. Maybe fate had caught him in a final meow of satisfaction and that was what I was seeing.

I shouldn’t be so negative about it, but I still feel like I failed him.

Liz Farrell's cat and dog on a bed
Dignan James and his “best friend,” Newbury

My best friend came with me to drop his body off at the animal hospital. Then we went out to dinner, and I ate like King Henry VIII. I had filet and french fries and a blondie for dessert with an embarrassing number of free refills of full-calorie Coke. I felt DISGUSTING afterward. But that was the point.

When I got home, I went straight for the Benadryl in the hopes I could knock myself out before I felt sad. 

Yes. I was orchestrating a plan to avoid feeling my emotions. It was and continues to be how I operate. More on that much later.

To this day, I don’t know why I was able to answer my phone shortly after 1 that morning. It makes no sense that the veil of my Benadryl haze could be pierced by the vibrations of a small phone next to my bed. It especially makes no sense when you consider that my phone was on Do Not Disturb … or was supposed to be anyway.

I saw who was calling me and considered not answering it. I knew this wouldn’t be a short conversation, and I didn’t want to lose my thread of sleep.

But I did answer it.

Something in me that wasn’t my brain decided to grab the phone.

That’s when everything changed.

And I mean, everything. Everything about everything until this very moment right now.

“Maggie and Paul are dead,” the caller told me. 

My body immediately converted all the Benadryl to speed. On a cellular level I felt the need — this panicked antsy-ness — to DO something about this news. To start shouting it to anyone who would listen.

My instinct was to get in the car and drive to Moselle — the hunting property where it happened. 

The fix is already in.

I remember a detective friend of mine saying those words to me after Paul’s boat crash two years earlier. 

The “fix” being the Murdaughs using their power to control the outcome of an investigation.

I knew in my bones that the fix was ALREADY IN here and I wanted to thwart it. I wanted to send out an alert that warned law enforcement and the Murdaughs that we were watching. That this isn’t like the good ole days when they could muddy their way out of a mess.

I didn’t know who had killed Maggie and Paul, but I knew it wasn’t a REGULAH.

Sidenote: I was reporting on an artist in Beaufort years ago and she told me the story about how the waterfront park came to be. She remembered a little old society lady who stood up in favor of the park and in her genteel, honey-coated Southern accent told the Council that everyone could use this park. Everyone!, the old woman said. Then she began to slowly list who she meant. “Regulahs, homeless, uppities …”

This notion that there was a category of human referred to as “regular” continues to delight me. But it’s fitting for how — in my experience — true Southerners in the Lowcountry considered the world around them. The Murdaughs were NOT uppities per se but they DEFINITELY weren’t regulahs … beyond that, no regulah would dare kill a Murdaugh. 

Killing a Murdaugh would be a profound choice to make. Like the kind of choice a man makes in a solitary moment, bowed before his own sword with the booming voice of God advising him. It would mean not just a decision for the man’s present but a decision about the fate of his family for the next three or four generations. It would mean lifetimes of consequence and retribution for anyone bearing the man’s last name.

You think I’m speaking in hyperbole. I’m not.

That said, my gut was telling me that Alex either did this or knew who did this.

Which meant that — if my gut was right — the window of time to keep him from potentially screwing with the crime scene was closing, and it was time to act. 

But I wasn’t a journalist anymore. I was the assistant public information officer for the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office, a job I had taken to give me more time to focus on my “five-year plan.”

Even the act of tweeting this news would’ve put my job in jeopardy, and I didn’t want that. I liked my job. Plus, the plan was all I thought about … 

My five-year plan, as it were, was to finish writing my first book, which started out as a work of literary journalism about a family I couldn’t stop talking about. Lol.

The Murdaughs.

My plan was to get myself to the point where my sole job would be to write books that got made into Netflix shows. Then I would buy a house and live the life of a main character in a Nancy Meyers’ movie where my entire wardrobe would be variations of cream-colored cashmere turtlenecks and wraps that would keep me warm during chilly evening walks on the beach. 

By the time Maggie and Paul were killed, my book had morphed from nonfiction to fiction because no one wanted to talk about the Murdaughs, even off the record. And I was no longer in a position to poke around … at least not directly. Also, who am I kidding? I continued to poke around.

Nevertheless, I had decided it was easier to use whatever inspiration I felt when I reported on the Murdaughs and parlay that energy into a thriller series.

So while I was taking the phone call about Maggie’s and Paul’s murders, I was in a bedroom that no longer had any framed pictures on the walls. 

Instead I had covered the surfaces in brightly colored index cards. There were character family trees and chapter breakdowns with ideas for scenes scrawled across them. 

All I thought about was plotting out and writing this book.

For nostalgia’s sake, I’ll share the introduction to the book that I started writing in January 2021, after my decision to pursue fiction instead (read it here). I have such a fondness for that intro because I spent so much time with it before plotting the rest out with index cards. 

I’d share the whole thing with you but it’s been repurposed (ie., I’m in the process of rewriting it with significant plot changes but the same characters and overall themes). . 

After the murders and the ABSOLUTE MOB of reporters and writers and interlopers and hobbyists and REGULAHS came to town, I felt completely overwhelmed by the tide they brought with them.

In no world did I think I was talented enough or deserving enough to compete with them in any way. So I did not rally for a book deal at the time. I hunkered down in my cave and felt sorry for myself instead, mourning the loss of something that could no longer exist in its current form.

I promise you, the next time this happens, I will be shoving people aside like Godzilla to get to the front of the publishing line. Now that I know how the game is played — and now that I’m over the Dark Malady that has plagued me since the murders — I’m not playing nice anymore. 

Actually, I’ll still be nice. I can’t change that. But I’ll definitely be less open to subjugating myself to the sidelines while I watch the Amazon suggestions roll in for “books I might like about the Murdaughs” by WHO?

This isn’t to dump on everyone who wrote a book about the case, by the way. It’s merely an acknowledgement that I WISH I had that kind of confidence. I WISH I had received the lesson in life that “You don’t need anyone’s permission for that.”

But enough about that.

More about this … blogs are passe but I don’t care.

It’s a medium I’m comfortable with and the one I want to use to express allllllll the thoughts I hold back.

Mainly, I want to write more for myself. Also, I miss being a columnist. Also, writers write.

It’s the shortest story ever told and the only difference between a writer and a nonwriter. Writers write. Nonwriters don’t. It’s that simple.

I’m resetting the five-year plan. I already have one cream-colored cashmere turtleneck waiting for me. I just need the books.

And this is going to help with that.

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