You could feel the emotion when James A. Farbotnik spoke a day after his wife had been found dead in a pond on the couple’s property in Massena.
But his wife and her mysterious death were not the topics most causing him to be on the edge of crying during the long and rambling phone interview.
He was very succinct - for a guy who has trouble being succinct - when he talked of his wife. He loved her. She was his best friend. He didn’t kill her.
Then he went on to the subjects that triggered his voice to rise, crackle and quiver: governmental corruption, asbestos in schools and a host of other things.
It was just hours since he found Virina Z. Farbotnik lying dead under a canoe. Just hours since he had been grilled by police about his wife’s death. Just hours since police ferreted his five children off his property and into foster care.
He pretty much had an A-list of things to set off his emotions. Things happening to him and his family right then. But he chose to rail about past squabbles with town officials, police, neighbors and state officials instead.
It was crazy.
At least that is what I thought at the time.
I haven’t been able to find a manual that outlines the proper way to act when your wife dies mysteriously. Or how to act when the mysterious death prompts police or reporters to ask, “Did you kill your wife?” Or how to act when the Department of Social Services takes your children from you after concluding you are a suspect in something that so far isn’t even a crime.
These are not the kinds of things you prepare yourself to deal with in life.
I came out of the interview he gave us via speakerphone at the Daily Courier-Observer office twirling my finger near my temple and mocking the man as crazy.
My finger isn’t twirling anymore, because I have had time to figure out that I have no idea how I would react if my Love Nugget died and the first question people asked me was, “Did you kill her?”
Crazy might be the most normal of reactions. Like I said, there is no manual, no website, that can guide you in such a moment.
That makes me - and everyone who hasn’t come close to walking in Mr. Farbotnik’s shoes - unqualified to judge his actions under such strange circumstances.
Mr. Farbotnik is in a tornado of strange circumstances. And he is the eye of the storm.
He was allowed to return to his home and his business after police concluded searches of the properties. He got his children back after a court hearing in which the allegations of neglect were rejected. His children got back their computers that police had taken.
The family is slowly having their lives returned to them. Life without a wife. Life without a mother.
Life made crazy by a mysterious death.