We had been talking for nearly two hours.
Tough, gut-wrenching talk. The kind of conversation that brings tears, sobs, defiance, but in the end a sad emptiness.
There had been no resolution, no redemption, just pain from a world turned upside down.
Karen Caputo-Canale is 68, bright-eyed and well spoken, but this day she was still recovering from a fall that had her left arm in a cast while she used a walker for support.
It was the least of her pain.
As I stood to leave, she struggled to articulate a final time why she needed to tell the story, but her desperation failed her.
She pointed to a white linen shawl draped over a stool.
“You see that shawl,” she said. “My sister took her to Spain and she gave me that as a present when she came back. I decided I was going to wrap her in it when she died.”
She says it matter-of-factly.
Almost as if it is foretold.
Cara Mia Canale is Karen’s daughter.
She was one of those in the boat with Alexander West when his boat crashed into another, killing 8-year-old Charlotte McCue in July 2016.
She was the only one in that boat to testify against West.
“This is a love story of a mother and a daughter,” Karen said with steely eyes, as if it’s all she has left.
It’s the last thing you would expect out of this boating tragedy, especially after hearing a story of an artistic young woman who dropped out of college, got hooked on heroin and overdosed twice while being at the center of a horrific boating accident that left the community disgusted by the young people who ran away.
“I’m tired of going to funerals and wakes,” Karen said, again trying to explain, trying to find some meaning in her story and her daughter’s life.
You try to nail down the specifics of when and how this started, but Karen jumps from one thought to the next, sometimes overwhelmed by the tears, distracted by something written in a letter, the past and future mashed together in a confusing sob.
Then she stops and stares a hole through you with those piercing eyes.
“She was clean and sober for two years,” Karen says slowly, deliberately. It isn’t so much a statement as a haunting question that can never be answered, the “why” lingering in the air.
Karen said she is grateful to the McCue family and the compassion they showed her during the trial, but she is also bitter about those who anonymously attacked her on social media, called her daughter a “baby killer” and encouraged her to “shoot herself.”
“I want people to know she is a good person,” Karen said. “She’s a genuine human being. She put others before herself.”
Karen said she forgave her daughter when she testified against West, but she does not speak of redemption.
Cara Mia is in rehab now. Her jail sentence will depend on how well she does in putting her life back together.
Karen says she was an enabler.
She tells the story of taking her to Albany because she wanted to look at an apartment.
Karen stares back at me again.
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“I was taking her to buy drugs,” she said. “I can’t be a tough-love mom.”
It took its toll on Karen, too.
Twice Cara Mia overdosed. The second time was in Karen’s home.
“She did it right in my house,” Karen says. ”I used this little knife to unlock the bathroom door. She was lying on the floor. She was unconscious and I screamed out the door for my neighbor to call 911. They gave her Narcan at Glens Falls Hospital. She was put on a suicide watch.”
“I just turned 68 and I didn’t want to,” Karen said. The inference is obvious. She had lost her will to live, too.
But that changed recently. A friend talked her through it, convinced her that there was more life to live.
She and Cara Mia write each other every day, with Cara Mia ending each letter, “I love you to the moon and back.”
It’s their mother and daughter thing. The phrase is stitched on a pillow on the living room couch, a gift from Cara Mia.
Karen shares this letter that Cara Mia wrote last July:
“As angry as I was, I understand how lost and desperate you have been to fix my addiction. Actually, I don’t understand how that must feel. But I can relate to some of the emotions you may have been feeling. I know I’ve felt helpless, hopeless, lost, alone and scared.”
Karen goes into her bedroom. I hear her rummaging behind the door and then removing the paper that is covering a large charcoal drawing.
She props it up on the living room sofa.
It draws you in.
It’s a self-portrait that Cara Mia drew in high school.
It was a part of a high school art show that was eventually displayed at The Hyde.
It is a self-portrait of a young girl, a swath of hair covering one eye while she peers out from behind her glasses with the other, like she might be keeping a big secret.
But maybe that is just my interpretation from 10 years in the future.
There are no secrets for Cara Mia or her mother now. There can’t be.
“I want people to know she is a good person,” Karen says.
Maybe that’s what she has been getting at for the last two hours. Maybe that is what she has been trying to convince herself of.
She stares at the painting, the promise of a future now stained.
“I think she has a great future,” she says to me directly. “She has a heart and soul. I don’t see with my eyes. I see through my heart.”
As any mother would.
As Karen must now.
It’s the only way she can get out of bed in the morning.