Resting Places / Chapter Four: Lives in a carton
Yoko Kato at the grave site shot on January 27th 1993.
COURTESY OF YOKO KATO
Sherry Morton and Cedric Seabrooks in 1992, months before they were murdered in Northampton on Jan. 11, 1993.
NORTHAMPTON - A week after Sherry and Cedric’s funeral, Yoko Kato drove to Northampton and opened her dressmaking shop. It was Jan. 19, the day after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Sherry had asked her to watch Cedric, so Yoko had no appointments with customers. She removed the “closed” sign that her lawyer had put up for her and went back to work.
She took her phone off the hook, but people kept climbing the stairs. Everyone knew. She resolved not to cry in front of them, or anywhere in public.
Sherry was owed six days’ pay from her job as a receptionist at Van Cort Instruments, but when the check came, Yoko noticed it was for two weeks. The staff at Van Cort had voted her sweetest employee in December and awarded her a jug of maple syrup.
A manager at Sherry’s apartment complex called to say the rent was overdue. He agreed to keep the deposit Yoko had paid the year before to help Sherry secure her own place, away from her Sean Seabrooks, now jailed and facing trial for killing Sherry and their son. Yoko called the electric company to stop service. She still needed to come up with $10,000 to pay for the funeral. Sean’s father, Cleveland, sold his son’s Cadillac and sent $300.
But when the mail brought $4,000 from a state fund that compensates crime victims, Yoko steered some if it to a Northampton program that resettles battered women and their children. She started a memorial fund in Sherry and Cedric’s names to support young women who wanted to go to college. Sherry had no other money herself, other than $100 in cash hidden in a purse in a kitchen cabinet. Yoko believed it was rent money and noticed that her daughter had been $200 short. She deposited Sherry’s last paycheck into the fund. Cedric could give, too, Yoko realized. She had a $100 U.S. savings bond she’d bought in his name when he was born. She took it to the bank to redeem, but was told that she needed to prove Cedric was dead.
And so a few days later, she climbed the steps of City Hall. A woman in the city clerk’s office on the first floor had Cedric’s death certificate ready.
Yoko thanked her and took it back to her shop before looking at it.
Her eyes stopped on the part of the form listing the cause of death — “multiple stab wounds.” The wording bothered her. She wondered what the death certificate would convey to someone reading it in a hundred years. She wanted it to say whose fault it was.
Yoko also didn’t like the word “homicide.” The ways people named violent acts in the United States puzzled her, even after 28 years here.
Sherry’s car was still parked outside the Meadowbrook complex. Yoko drove there but feared getting close to the apartment. She wanted to see whether people had left flowers. She decided to stay in her car. Through the windshield, she saw that someone had left two bouquets of flowers, one blue and one pink, on the window of Sherry’s apartment.
People she didn’t know were suffering too, she realized. In these first weeks, strangers walked up to her at the grocery store and on the street. They recognized her from newspaper stories and television interviews. Most were women and wanted to hug her. She submitted, then hurried away. She abandoned grocery carts half-filled. It surprised her, the way an American can come up to someone, eyes filling with tears, and begin talking like a long-lost friend. This is not how people behave in Japan, she thought, this parading their emotions.
It became impossible for Yoko to wear the false eyelashes that were part of her makeup regimen. Her eyes brimmed with tears so many times a day. The adhesive would soften and the lashes would skate loose.
Cat Chapin, her therapist, asked Yoko to see crying as progress. “That crying, that being a mess, is grief work. There are going to be days when you have more grief work, when you’re going to be doing more crying,” Cat said.
The same Tuesday her mother went back to work, Jeannie Banas drove to her sister Sherry’s apartment to clean and to pack up. Sherry’s friends Shannon Lessard and Mike Quinlan went along. The police had asked Jeannie to go through Sherry’s papers and letters and give them anything that might be evidence.
Shannon and Mike went into the bedroom first, trying to spare Jeannie the sight of bloodstains. But they couldn’t be avoided. Jeannie found blood in the hall and in the living room. She worked there for a while, cleaning. Then she decided that she should be the one packing up Sherry’s most personal objects.
A wall alongside the bed was stained from floor to ceiling. Jeannie knelt beside it with a sponge. Water ran red through her fingers as she squeezed the sponge over a bucket. Sherry’s blood was on her makeup table and its matching stool.
Mike, Cedric’s godfather, asked Jeannie for Cedric’s baseball cap as a memento. Shannon asked if she could keep the table. Later that day, Sean’s father came for the big-screen TV Sherry and Sean had bought together and still owed money on. Jeannie, Mike and Shannon packed up Cedric’s Big Wheels tricycle and his basketball hoop.
Smaller items went into a carton:
• A copy of the invitation to Jeannie’s recent wedding.
• Printed announcements of Cedric’s birth on June 17, 1991, noting his arrival weight: 8 pounds, and his length: 22 inches.
• A 21st birthday card to Sherry from her mother. Yoko had written that she’d bought it in London three years earlier and saved it to give to her now. Someday you will understand how difficult it is to be a mother, Yoko wrote, and she wished Sherry the best of life and happiness. The card bore a photograph of a woman wearing bright-red lipstick, her face wrapped in a gauzy veil. The card had been mailed to the house Sherry shared briefly with Sean in Springfield.
• Two books by Judy Blume: “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” and “It’s Not the End of the World.”
• A Christmas card from her stepfather with a gift certificate for two snow tires.
• A small adjustable pewter ring with a bunny on it.
• Assorted holiday cards.
• Copies of the books “Women & Love” by Shere Hite and “Letters from Women Who Love Too Much” by Robin Norwood.
• A crochet hook.
• A certificate from the Northampton Skills Center, where Sherry received training in clerical duties.
• A card from people at the skills center, congratulating her on her new job at Van Cort Instruments.
• An aviation coloring book, with the registration number of Yoko’s single-engine plane, N7264F, on the wing of a plane.
• A fabric “N,” which Sherry earned as a field hockey player for Northampton High School.
• A Japanese paper fan, origami papers and diary of a trip to Japan.
• Dozens of letters from a high-school boyfriend mentioning first loves, finding themselves, long conversations and other teenage preoccupations. In one he wrote, “This is just the most brutally honest letter I have ever written. I’m always completely honest with you, but this time I’m not even lying to myself.” He also wrote, from college, of her beauty, saying, “People die when they see your pictures on my wall.”
• Pages from a Northampton High School football scrapbook.
• A nearly new Tiny Toons coloring book.
Jeannie got back to her mother’s house late that Tuesday. Yoko asked if everything from Sherry’s apartment was now in her basement and Jeannie said it was. “We’ll just leave it there then,” Yoko said.
TOMORROW: Inside some of the hundreds of condolence cards and letters that arrived at Yoko’s shop.