The directorial debut of Jedd and Todd Wider cobbles a somber portrait of a woman’s final days.
May 3, 2008, the body of Linda Bishop was discovered in an abandoned farmhouse in Concord, New Hampshire. Her legs draped across a heating vent on the floor, next to her corpse were a pair of sneakers, an ice scraper, some blankets, a pillow, and two notebooks. One of the last entries read, “To whomever finds my body, my death is the result of domestic violence/abuse.” The hows and whys of what brought this well-educated and loving mother to her untimely demise is a mystery that probes the horrors that nearly two million abandoned citizens face in this country every day. Who are these people we ignore at stoplights? What did they call home before that hobo camp beneath the underpass? What can we do besides drop a few coins in their Styrofoam cup?
God Knows Where I Am is a ghostly recreation of Linda Bishop’s last days on Earth. Directors Jedd and Todd Wider (producers of Alex Gibney’s Taxi to the Dark Side and Mea Maxima Culpa making their directorial debut) assemble the appropriate talking heads with the prospective homebuyer who found her body, the owners of the property, the police officer, the medical examiner, Linda’s sister, her friends, and her daughter. They cobble together archival footage consisting of old home movies and photographs and are able to illustrate a life of warm embrace. To provide the voice of Linda’s final narrative, actress Lori Singer whispers from off screen, and the documentary takes on a spiritual presence that feels almost objectionably intimate. We are peering into a soul in torment, but the Widers treat this privilege with reverence without falling into exploitation.
For nearly four months, Linda survived a punishing New Hampshire winter confined to the vacant Fenbrook Farm at 393 Mountain Road. Without any electricity or creature comforts, she maintained her body on nothing but apples snatched from a tree behind the house and water pulled from a nearby brook. She occupied her mind by picking through the relics in the attic, constructing a history for the family that once lived there, and detailing her own turmoil in the pages of her journal. Her words depicted a woman on the run, fleeing from those who would do her harm and desperate to reunite with her family.
However, Linda was not isolated. As rural as Concord, New Hampshire, can be, Fenbrook Farm was within eyesight of the freeway. She was 500 feet from her nearest neighbor, and as noted by the first police officer on the scene, one could watch their big screen TV from the living room in which Linda took her last breath. Why not reach out for help? Why condemn yourself to such a slow, painful, and ugly death? The truth is a tragedy our society seems incapable of accepting or even understanding. When the danger revealed exposes the fragility of our most revered concept of independent thought then it is simply easier to divorce ourselves from the situation. It’s their problem. Best of luck.
“Dear God, please save me.” Those are the first words from Linda offered to us by the documentarians. “I’m trying, but I don’t know what to do.” This plea comes before the opening credits, and it’s a quiet, haunting petition from a human being once described by her friends as deeply “involved with people.” She was a veracious reader, a magnet for conversation, and the one-time center of attention. A schism in her genetics snatched her personality from her, and robbed of that ability to connect, Linda descended into an abyss of isolation.
She spent years on the street, institutionalized in a variety of social programs, and barely maintained a connection to her daughter. After 9/11 she traveled to New York City and was dubbed “The Angel of Ground Zero” by the New York Post. There were opportunities for rescue, but due to genetic sabotage and the systemic apathy of her assigned social institutions, she was dropped on the porch of Fenbrook Farm. She was a drifter, one of the forgotten, but her emotional pain deserves its story.
God Knows Where I Am will leave you contemplating those you’ve ignored on street corners. The collapse of Linda Bishop is not a singular tragedy. It is a horrible reminder that averting your eyes to sorrow will only perpetuate that misery, and we must reckon with that decision as a populace. Jedd and Todd Wider offer no answers, only empathy. Linda was not a “crazy lady.” She was a loving mother, a devoted sister, and your neighbor.