An Excerpt from Ben's Final Checkmate
The title of this book alludes to Ben’s fascination with chess and how one move by a chess player can render the opponent helpless and immobile. In this case, Ben’s death led to the eventual helplessness and demise of his entire family. It initiated the dramatic collapse of a house of cards, a cascading series of deaths that seemed related to the murder of his three-and-a-half-year-old child, Anthony, followed by Ben’s suicide at the age of thirty-nine.
The third death was Ellen, Ben’s twenty-nine-year-old sister, who committed suicide two years later. Finally, their father, my husband, Michael Sandor, who, wonder, died of a heart attack in the summer of 2000. Then I died … well, the world I knew did.
Ben kept talking about a curse surrounding the Sandor family. Now I believe it is so. Not just because of the mental illness that metastasized from Rachel, Michael’s first wife, to her children, but the fact that no one wants to talk about it now—and didn’t even then. After all this happened, I tried to talk to their friends, and I was cut off … as though there were dark secrets they were afraid to share.
Indeed, as I look back, there were many strange coincidences. For instance, when I was giving Anthony a bath he would scream. Could he have known that he would be violently drowned in the bath a year later at the hands of his own father, whom he loved and trusted infinitely? And then there was the house that Ben, Carol and Anthony lived in. It had such a strange foreboding presence. It was downright spooky. The floors creaked. I never liked it. It was as if the house itself knew that a sinister and heinous act would occur there and destroy their lives.
Their marriage, too, was discomforting. I sensed that something wasn’t right about it somehow. Carol would never look into my eyes when speaking with me. Ben’s behaviour was always “off ” somehow even in the early days when I first knew him and we weren’t even thinking about mental illness. There was a nervousness about Ben and Carol. When I hear “House of the Rising Sun,” one of Ben’s favourites, that he played so often on the guitar, these details come back and haunt my memory.
All this happened—all these five deaths, including my own sort of death—in five years. Mental illness plays a huge part in the story, and I believe that is why all these dramatic events were so tragic. We like to feel we have some control over our lives. Yet, it could be argued that these events seemed to have been orchestrated by invisible demons.
Truly it has immobilized me, Michael’s widow, the writer, for the past twenty-five years. Since then, I have been trying to make sense of it all. I could never figure out what came first—so many horrible things happened. I am only now putting the pieces together, trying to assemble mismatched parts of a puzzle, but hardly knowing where to start.