I can’t tell you how difficult it was for me on Monday to pick up the phone and call David Marsland, the Greene man who lost his wife in Friday’s tragic shooting in Binghamton. Calling someone I didn’t know to ask them highly personal questions about a loved one who had just been killed so senselessly so soon after its occurrence felt like an invasion of the worst kind. I wasn’t sure how my call would be received.
But after speaking with David at length on Tuesday, I can say that no matter how difficult it was for me, I’m glad I made the call. Because if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t otherwise have had the opportunity to not just put a face, but a person, with Hong Xiu’s name.
David is obviously grieving for his wife, to whom he had been married for less than a year. He was so incredibly open with me during both our first phone conversation and our subsequent interview, which took place at a table in Bonnie’s on Genesee Street in Greene.
For nearly three hours, we sat and talked. (We being the two of us and David’s long-time friend Sawyer who had driven up from Lynchburg, VA to be his “guardian angel.”) OK, mostly he talked and I listened.
During the time we spoke, he fielded phone calls from basically all over the world. First came a call from Hong Xiu’s brother from China. Speaking through a translator from the Chinese consulate, the two tried to organize travel plans so that he could attend Thursday’s funeral service. Another was from a friend from the Pal Yul retreat center, where he and Hong Xiu were married, who lives in Nova Scotia.
He has been getting calls like this, as well as from major media outlets, since Friday. Mine was the last interview he would be granting, he told me. And since he’d already turned down the LA Times and NY Times, I didn’t take that lightly.
But even more than that, I was touched and humbled that he gave me the chance to “meet” his wife, something that now, because of such a senseless shooting, I will never have the chance to do.
Over those three hours, David chronicled his relationship with Hong Xiu, from the moment the two first talked on the phone through that fateful morning. He told me stories of their life together and showed me countless pictures. They were “simpatico,” he said, telling me about her sense of humor, their inside jokes and how her enthusiasm for life was infectious.
Through it all, he kept an amazing calm, which he attributed at least in part to his Buddhist faith. His strength, he told me, comes also from the support he feels from the community. He feels he needs to appear strong, he said, for the other families grieving over their loved ones as well.
He had me alternately laughing, and close to tears, as he painted a picture of Hong Xiu for me. I feel privileged to have met her, if only through his words. And I hope the piece I wrote yesterday will help others know her, too.