Resting Places / Chapter Seven: One mother's flight to safety
Yoko Kato visits the grave of her daughter and grandson, Sherry Morton and her son Cedric, soon after they were murdered in January 1993. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO Purchase photo reprints »
NORTHAMPTON - “How has the week gone?” It was Cat Chapin’s opening question to Yoko Kato, as the therapist sat in a rocker decorated with a halo of ivy leaves painted gold. They met Tuesdays and Thursdays for weeks, then months, across Northampton’s seasons.
The question to Yoko was vague by design. It allowed Yoko to begin with good or bad news.
What panicked her most in the early weeks were specific places. The floor in Sherry’s bedroom. Trampled snow around her grave. A satin pillow, on which Sherry rested her head. Sean’s cell in Northampton. The couch in her shop, with Cedric atop it. Yoko had always held things in her mind as pictures. It had helped her as a young gymnast in Japan, see her routines sketched by the rolling shapes of her body. She could look at a customer in her dress shop and see how fabrics would hang.
Then there was the place she took to calling “the pit.” It seemed as real as any other.
When word of the killings came, in the days she lay crying on the floor of her living room, Yoko pictured herself in a dark place made out of concrete. It was colder than a walk-in refrigerator. The floor was flat, with steps on two sides and no railings. The steps were wide enough to rise onto, but there was nowhere to go. In the intense cold, her movements slowed. As her spasms of grief lessened in time, Yoko found she could slowly climb the steps without falling back, the air warming as she rose.
It helped Yoko to think of Sean’s incarceration as a form of hell. She wanted deprivation and discomfort for him.
“Is that normal, though, wishing him having it that bad?” she asked Cat.
Cat leaned forward. By changing her posture she seemed to make her answer less obvious than it was. “I would think so.”
Something about the way Sherry kept the blinds drawn at her apartment at Meadowbrook had always troubled Yoko. Was it to keep Sean from seeing in? People had seen him crying outside the apartment because Sherry wouldn’t let him in, she learned later. Yoko worried about how dark it was inside and how Cedric might stumble into a wall. She wondered why Sherry put Cedric to sleep in her bed rather than one of his own.
Yoko knew about angry and violent spouses. Her first husband, Jim Morton, started hitting her when Sherry was a baby. She managed to get away from him.
Yoko and her first husband had met in Yokohama when he was in the U.S. Navy. Yoko was 20. Like Sherry, she’d been a shy child and cried a lot. She expressed herself through gymnastics and made it to the Olympic trials in 1962. Gymnastics helped her become more outgoing, but she wasn’t one to speak among strangers. She was so quiet her parents took her to see a psychiatrist.
When Morton shipped back to California, Yoko went along, against the wishes of her family. After a year there, now a family of three with daughter Jeannie, they packed up a Corvair and drove to New Jersey to live with Morton’s parents. Yoko became pregnant with Sherry and when she went into labor, Morton dropped her at a hospital and drove away.
They moved to western Massachusetts. Morton got a factory job in West Springfield and Yoko found work managing a complex of 64 apartments, providing the family with a free home. They were strapped for money because Morton tended to drink his paycheck. Yoko took in sewing jobs. Family in Japan sent her money and asked her to come back to Japan.
Yoko learned that drinking made her husband violent and that he didn’t like to be questioned. He would go away for days and hit her when she asked where he’d been. One punch pushed a tooth out through her cheek. Jeannie saw her father hit her mother. But because Yoko left when Sherry was very little, she grew up with no memory of it.
One night, Morton started to polish his guns in front of his wife and daughters. Yoko took it as a threat. By now the family was living in housing at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, where she’d found work as a costume designer with the theater department.
Yoko told Morton to go. She’d already made plans for her escape. Family helped her pay for a divorce, which Morton didn’t contest. The judge handling the divorce learned that Jeannie had kept a diary and asked to see it. It included memories of the day she’d seen her father drag her mother out the back door of their house in South Hadley. Jeannie had watched as her mother’s head hit each of the concrete steps.
Yoko moved with the girls to Troy, N.Y., where she took sewing jobs from a New York City designer. They returned to Massachusetts so Yoko could open a shop selling bridal designs in Thornes Marketplace.
Since the lease didn’t allow her to manufacture clothing there, she set up a cutting table at her new apartment at Meadowbrook and sewed at night. Sales were $24 the first month. Rent was $700. In time, orders for Yoko’s custom-made clothing brought in enough to pay her bills.
CLIENT NAME: Yoko Kato
DURATION: 1 hr.
CLIENT PROGRESS & ISSUES: Yoko was much more forthcoming regarding the anger she feels during the course of this session. She had received a letter from the murderer, which tried to shift blame onto Yoko. She expressed her fury in no uncertain terms. Also spoke of her anxiety & distress when flowers and balloons left at the graves were disturbed between her visits. ... feelings of helplessness.
One day in therapy, Cat sketched out a way for Yoko to picture her healing from trauma. At the outset, the line representing her healing plummeted. On paper, a big arrow representing the big fall goes down a few inches, then ticks back up, to the right, less than half an inch — a grudging, stubborn improvement that left Yoko deep in a hole. It was Yoko’s pit, the place she found herself in so often.
After that slight gain, the line flattened, moving ahead in a new normal. At least it appeared to be normal, because it was unchanging. But at some point, Cat said, the line would have run long enough for deeper healing to become possible, for a person to recover enough to do more than hold themselves together. “But first,” she warned, “they get a little worse.” People shouldn’t mistake that flat line for recovery, or adjustment.
On another day, Cat dropped the abstractions. “I think you’ve gone as far as you will with getting better quickly. Now you’re going to get better more slowly. You’re not going to be at the bottom, though it may feel like you are. Changes are going to come more slowly now.” And Yoko’s feelings of guilt might prove to be the last to dissolve.
TOMORROW: Wanting a view of the afterlife, Yoko seeks answers from unreliable sources.