Chapter 34 Summary

2001

After finding out about Elsie, Deborah and Rebecca drove to Clover, Virginia and checked into a hotel. Until this point, Deborah had never allowed Rebecca to look at Henrietta’s medical records, but now she handed them over. She said she was going to sleep, and she went off to her own room.

A few minutes later, Deborah knocked on the door of Rebecca’s room and demanded that they read the records together. The two women sat up into the night as Rebecca sorted the papers. They were crumpled, stained, and out of order. Other legal documents were mixed in among them, as were some of Deborah’s poems.

As Rebecca worked on sorting information, Deborah sat looking at her sister’s picture and autopsy report. Whenever Rebecca saw something interesting among the medical records, she read it aloud. There were records from Henrietta’s final check-up before Deborah’s birth, and notes from Henrietta’s first trips to the hospital after her cancer diagnosis.

During this long evening, Rebecca repeatedly asked for her own copy of Henrietta's medical records, or at least for Deborah to get herself a new set, organized in order, from Johns Hopkins. Deborah repeatedly refused, and it clearly bothered her when Rebecca refused to stop asking.

Every now and then during the evening, Deborah looked up the definitions of words from Elsie’s autopsy report. One particular word annoyed her, and she demanded that Rebecca not include it in the book. Rebecca agreed, smiling at Deborah’s protectiveness. This smile made Deborah suspicious that Rebecca was hiding something. They got into a strange argument, and Deborah—overcome by the emotions of the day—grabbed Rebecca and slammed her into a wall.

Until now, Rebecca had always been extremely patient with the Lackses, but now she told Deborah to “chill the fuck out.” Somehow, this angry outburst broke the tension, and Deborah laughed. She said she was glad Rebecca was human enough to get so angry, and she explained that she had been sensitive about the medical records ever since Cofield’s lawsuit. The family no longer had anything of Henrietta’s except medical records and a Bible; it did not feel right to let anyone else have them.

Deborah went back to her room after that, but she knocked on Rebecca’s door several more times in the night. The emotions of the day were too much for both of them. Deborah broke out in hives, and Rebecca—largely kept awake by repeated visits for reassurance from Deborah—could not sleep. In the morning, they both felt terrible.