I grew up in Rye, New York, a small town outside of New York City. In 1988, I was sixteen years old. I smoked cigarettes in my room, thinking Trident gum would mask the scent. I made a fake ID and laminated it at the library, then used the ID to visit bars in nearby towns: Bumper’s, Streets, Tammany Hall.
On January 1, 1989, my friends and I woke up, heads pounding, in the living room of a stranger’s apartment in Manhattan. We walked to Grand Central and rode the Stamford local back to Rye. By mid-day, we heard that during the midnight hours of New Year’s Eve, there had been a murder in Larchmont, a neighboring town.
An Indian couple, both doctors, had been stabbed to death in their bedroom, throats slashed, their bodies mutilated. It seemed impossible that something like this could happen in the suburbs. Fear travelled silently along the Boston Post Road, past Baskin Robbins and the Smoke Shop, to Dogwood Lane, where I lived with my family in a stunningly beautiful home. To me, the message was clear: danger was everywhere.
The murder was not solved. Four-and-a-half years went by. My parents split up, and I went to college. I thought about the murder from time to time, trying to understand how a stranger had broken the spell of Rye, smashed through the safety we had all thought money could buy.
In 1993, we found out that the murderer was one of us, a teenage boy, a local. The son of a bank president. He had been blind drunk, he told a room full of people at an AA meeting. He was afraid he may have broken a door pane, entered his childhood home, where his family no longer lived, taken a knife from a kitchen drawer, and savagely attacked the strangers sleeping in his parents’ bedroom. He later said he didn’t remember anything about it. He had been in an alcoholic blackout, but now he had nightmares.
At his trial, a psychiatrist said, "Probably the most typical behavior during a blackout is finding the way home....It's almost as if he were going back in time and eliminating the people that he sought to blame for all his problems back when he was seven years old."
He is now in jail.
I have blacked out before, and it is terrifying. I have woken, scared of what I might have done. The story of the New Year’s Eve murder has always stayed with me, and eventually evolved into CLOSE YOUR EYES. I think, in writing the book, I wanted not only to understand what happened to a boy who was one of us, what made him into a murderer, but also to create a world where this wrong was righted, and a broken town was sewn back together. I wanted to imagine a town that was loving and safe, a place that might never have existed in real life.
Photo of train passing Rye by George W. Hamlin.