Posted in NaBloPoMo, NanoPoblano

The Decision

If you could redo one moment in your life, what would it be and why? How would it change who you are now?1968-07-lee-with-grandpa-walker

I have to start out by saying that no matter what, I wouldn’t change anything about my life, because if I did, I’m afraid I wouldn’t be where I am now.  I believe that every decision and every action thus far in my life was a vital step to bring me to this exact spot. Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’ve got regrets. I’ve got a lot of regrets, but I think those are important because they have shaped the woman I am today. However, for the sake of this prompt, I will describe a moment that I do wonder about sometimes.

As a child, my grandfather was the most important person in my life. I loved my parents and I loved my other three grandparents, but the bond with my Grandpa Walker was stronger than any other.  The scene played out one Saturday morning. As usual, I had spent the night with my grandparents and sometime mid-morning, I walked back home to my parents’ house.  Minutes after arriving, the phone rang.  It was my grandmother calling for help. Something was wrong with my grandfather. “Come quick!” she yelled.  

My mom grabbed my sister and me and we jumped in the car for the quarter mile ride back to my grandparents’ house.  My grandfather was on the couch just as he had been when I left less than 30 minutes earlier. It was clear he was in great distress.  My grandmother was panicking and my mother yelled for me to go get help.  

Now, I was 10 years old.  My dad and uncle were working and the next nearest neighbor was a half mile away. It was quicker for me to go for help than to call for help as my family lived over 10 miles from the nearest doctor or ambulance service.

I remember thinking that it would be faster if I just got in the car and drove for help. I know what you are thinking. I’m was TEN. But, growing up in the country had its advantages. I honestly can’t remember a time when I wasn’t driving. Before my feet could reach the peddles, my grandfather would put me in his lap and I would steer us everywhere we went. As a 10 year old, I was sort of tall, so I had finally reached the point where my tippy toes could reach and I could really drive a car with an automatic transmission. Although I had done it a few times in the fields and yards, I was never allowed to do it without an adult with me.

1971-lee-and-grandpa-walkerSo, here I am on this morning as my 10 year old self stood in the road with the the biggest decision I had made to date bearing down on me. I looked at the car, keys in the ignition and pointing in the direction I needed to go. I looked down the road to the neighbor’s house knowing that even for a relatively active child, the half mile was going to be hard. The side of me that feared getting in trouble won, and my feet began to pound the pavement as fast as my little legs would carry me. I made the first quarter mile without slowing down, but I finally had to stop for a breath. After a few seconds I took off again. I remember the stabbing pains in my side and the feeling my lungs were on fire.

I made it to the neighbor’s and luckily he was home.  I crashed into his back door and shouted through exhaustion, “something is wrong with grandpa,” and without missing a beat, he grabbed his keys and we headed back. I remember the scene so vividly as we stormed through the back door of my grandparents’ home. My mom was stooped over my grandfather giving him CPR as best she could, but the look on her face said it all.  He was gone. The neighbor stepped in and confirmed what my mom already knew.

I can remember not being able to catch my breath. I remember the sobs and most of all, I remember the guilt. Did I make the wrong choice when standing in the middle of that road? If I had taken the car, would we have been able to get back in time to save him? Was being afraid of getting in trouble the thing that killed my grandpa?

Over the next few days I remember hearing the hushed voices of my mother and grandmother telling friends and family how he had died before my mom and I ever got there, of how my grandmother heard him take his last breath before she was even able to call us for help. I heard the doctor say there was nothing anyone could have done and even if he had been closer to medical help, it would not have saved him. But none of those things made me feel better. I was so sure that my wrong choice was the reason he died. And honestly, here I am almost 40 years later and I still think about that day when he comes to mind; I still wonder if the outcome would have been different. My adult brain knows the truth,but sometimes it’s hard to shake the thoughts of that little girl who, in an instant, lost her rock and her best friend.

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Justice Will Have to Wait a While Longer

As I headed to bed tonight I found that the voices in my head would just not shut up. Ok, it’s only my voice I hear and it’s not telling me to hurt myself so it’s ok. There was so much inside my head that needed to get ouside my head that I sat down at the computer and began typing. What you see below is the result of about 45 minutes of raw, unedited feelings expressed in words. It’s long and I apologize for that, but I couldn’t stop the words from flowing.

Today was not a good day, not at all the day we so desperately needed it to be. I met Dee’s mom and brother at the courthouse about 8:00 this morning. We climbed the single flight of stairs and headed straight to the District Attorney’s office as we waited for the 8:30 trial start time. We went in this morning with the knowledge that the public defender was going to request a continuance but I can honestly say I never really expected that to happen. I was so sure that today was going to be the day that the judge’s ruling shook me to my core.

I watched Denise, Dee’s mom, and Cole, her brother stoically discuss what we could expect today. We watched as the pool of jurors was reviewed one last time before heading back downstairs to the courtroom. Just before we were to leave, I excused myself to go to the restroom. As I walked down the short hallway I saw HIM and I started to shake. I saw Mitch. I stopped dead in my tracks and felt my body quiver in what I thought must have looked like an epileptic seizure to anyone standing around. However, when I glanced around to see if anyone had noticed I realized what I felt on the inside was not visible to anyone else.

In an instant I was transported back to the parking lot of the church in which we said our final goodbyes to Dee. It was the first and last time I had ever laid eyes on this man and the image of him that day has been burned in my brain and playing on loop for the last five years.  I felt the tears well up. I couldn’t stop them. As I stood and waited for the restroom to free up, I just stared, unable to take my eyes off of him. In my mind I screamed obcenities at him for taking her away from us. In my mind I begged him to tell us what happened in those final minutes of Dee’s life on that desolate road. In my mind I told him it didn’t matter what a judge on earth did to him because God will be his ultimate judge and that punishment will be far greater than any earthly prison.

I kept thinking he looked so normal, so relaxed, as if he was waiting for a takeout order from a local restaurant. Why wasn’t he scared? His life is about to change in the most horrible of ways and he doesn’t seem to care. Why isn’t he crying? Why is he smiling at people as they pass by? I was so angry that I was afraid I would be unable to keep these things in my mind on the inside much longer.

As fast as I went to that horrible place, I was jolted back to reality by the opening restroom door in front of me. I darted in as if the big bad wolf was chasing me. Thank goodness for that small little room. Thank goodness for my ability to escape. I let the tears come for a few minutes, composed myself and slowly opened the door. He was gone. Now standing in front of me was a line of women, all waiting to take care of their business, all wearing “Juror” name tags. In a matter of steps I was back in the safety of the DA’s office and with my family. I didn’t say a word about what had just happened.

We were told it was time to go. We headed back in the same direction I had just come from and my heart started racing. “What if we run into him in the small stairwell? What if Denise comes face to face with her daughter’s accused killer?” By the time I realized it, we were at the bottom of the stairs and surrounded by a crowd of people, mostly potential jurors. We turned to our left to proceed into the courtroom and there he was again, holding the door for us. WHAT? “Someone get him out of here,” I screamed inside my head. An observant friend noticed and placed herself not so discretely between Mitch and Denise and shielded her from him so that we could enter the courtroom. We found out later that even though she had come within inches from his face, she never saw him. I like to think there was a big ol’ angel sitting on the shoulders of that friend, completely blocking Denise’s ability to see beyond her.

“Wait,” I thought to myself.  “This isn’t a courtroom.” It was more like a room used for council meetings. Where will the judge sit? Where will the jurors sit? Why are we being told to sit on the front row of chairs? Where will Mitch be seated? “Please Dear Lord, do not put him directly behind the defendant’s table, right beside me.” The tears started again. The uneasiness in my stomach was almost too much for me. The butterflies that had flown around inside my belly minutes before were now vicious pterodactyls tearing away at my insides. I took a few deep breaths and tried to redirect my brain to some happier place.

Minutes later, the judge entered the room and sat where I assume city or county council members normally preside over their meetings. The DA’s assistant took his seat at the table directly in front of us. The air in the room was thick but uncannily relaxed, except in that front row of seats we occupied. The judge and DA’s assistant began to talk football. I mean, what else would people talk about while making chitchat in the heart of the SEC. This banter went on for five minutes or so before the DA arrived and took his chair next to his assistant. The judge very casually called the court to order. He nodded toward the lone man sitting at the defendant’s table. “Mr. So and So, I understand you have an issue to address.” This man stood for a moment and began to fill the court in on his partner’s last few days.

He told how the public defender assigned to this case had been struggling with a tooth ache since Friday of last week. There had been an extraction, then a root canal, then an ER visit in the early morning hours on Sunday. As we sat in that courtroom we were informed his partner was with an oral surgeon trying to locate the source of whatever infection was causing the pain and swelling he was suffering. He asked that the case be continued to a later date as they weren’t sure what the prognosis will be.

The judge turned to the DA and asked for his thoughts. The DA made it clear he wasn’t happy with any of this and that both the victim and accused’s families had waited long enough. He could certainly agree to a day or two delay but didn’t feel there would be a need for any longer. He felt that whatever tooth problems the defendant’s attorney currently had, should be treated and cleared up by Wednesday.

There was more back and forth. There was some discussion about how the expert witness for the defense who had to travel had been told on Sunday night that he didn’t need to be in court on Monday morning. The judge remained calm but you could see he was not happy with the current circumstances. He was clearly in a bad situation. He reminded the attorney representing the defendant’s attorney of record that he had 2 weeks earlier denied a requested continuance. He had personally called this special session, summoned 150 potential jurors, brought in a special court reporter and now he was going to have to send them all home. The witnesses, the families, and the attorneys would all be sent home to wait.

The judge ultimately granted a continuance until Wednesday and requested a letter from the oral surgeon as to the prognosis for starting on that day. It was apparent the judge wanted to get this going but had no choice and I believe had no faith we would get our justice this week. He pulled in the court clerk and reviewed future docket times. November 28 would be the next availability. Another special session would need to be called. He asked the court clerk if that would be enough time to collect another jury pool. She confirmed it would be, but barely.

All the while these conversations are occurring around me I’m slowing falling apart on the inside. The tears kept coming and I couldn’t do anything to stop them. I closed my eyes and prayed but the tears kept falling. I opened my eyes and looked toward heaven and the tears simply spilled out of my eyelids. It seemed the more I prayed, the more I cried. The shaking started again. I was sure the whole row of seats must have been vibrating from my trembling. Again, I looked around and no one was staring at me. The earthquake that I felt was happening was only on the inside.

I needed to be here for my family today. I was terrified for Denise and how she was going to make it. For years I’ve felt that I needed to be there for her, to be the strong one she can lean on when it all becomes too much. I’m a strong person. I’ve dealt with my own personal tragedies and each time I came out stronger, wiser and a better person because of the trials of my soul. I had no doubt I could be that person for my family.

I was so wrong.

We walked out of that makeshift courtroom and exited out of the building only to come within feet of Mitch again. And again, that same friend guided Denise, Cole and I around a corner and out of sight of him. As we stood there recapping what had just happened, I lost it. The tears came, the trembling started again, and this time I couldn’t hide it. In an instant, there were arms surrounding me. They were those of the very woman I wanted to be there to support. The woman I wanted to be the rock for was holding me up, supporting me. She grabbed me and we held each other and we sobbed. In that moment, I feel we both became stronger, solid as a rock. I felt her energy enter my body and the trembling stopped and I felt a sense of comfort I had not felt all morning. I felt all the things I wanted so much to be able to give to her.

I don’t know how she does it. She was visibly shaken several times today, but when she saw my pain, she did not hesitate to put her anguish aside and console me. In a way I feel like I failed her today. However, I don’t think she would say that at all. She was so strong and I’m so proud of her. I wonder if she became strong because she didn’t feel alone. Maybe she found strength just in being surrounded by love. I can tell you that I may not have brought the strength I wanted today but there was no shortage of the love I brought with me. Where ever she found the ability to stay strong, I’m just so happy she did. I’m sure on the inside she was as big a mess as I was but she just didn’t show it. She held it together and I think she made Dee proud today. I also think she presented an image to the court that no matter what they throw in her direction, that no matter how strong the devil may be, she will not give up this fight.

Posted in Uncategorized

It’s Time for Justice

Five years ago today, October 17, at 2:00 A.M., Gil and I awoke to a phone call that no family ever wants to receive. It was my mother, sobbing and trying to tell me that my sister had been trying to call me. Gil and I had slept right through the quietly ringing cell phone. I couldn’t understand much of what my mother was saying but what I was able to understand sent a shockwave through my system. It went something like this, “Dee was in an accident and she’s been killed.” My mother tried to relay the details to me but she was just so upset. I hung up and called my sister to get more information.

Dee was my 20 year old cousin.  She was the only daughter of my first cousin, Denise. She had a brother, Cole, who was less than a year her junior and I can tell you that very few brothers and sisters were as close as these two children.  Dee and I had never really had a chance to foster a close relationship due to the 16 year age difference, and the fact that we never really lived very close to each other. However, even though Dee and I weren’t extremely close, our family in general was. Her mom, Denise, was as much a sister to me as my own flesh and blood sister has been.

The phone call with my sister left me reeling and in complete disbelief. Dee and her boyfriend were on a dark and desolate country road, around midnight, when a physical fight broke out between them. At some point, she ended up in the road and was hit by a car. She was killed almost instantly.

The family had gathered at the hospital but none of them were able to say goodbye. Dee was already gone. My sister passed the phone to Dee’s mother but I had no idea what to say. I’m sure I said I’m sorry. I’m sure I told her I loved her. I’m sure I told her I would be home as soon as I could make arrangements. She was very clearly shaken and probably still in shock, and to be honest, so was I.

In the hours, days and weeks after the accident, there were all kinds of stories, misinformation, and rumors floating around my small home town. It was so hard to hear the rumors and even harder to figure out what to believe, since only two people were on that road that night, and one of them will never be able to tell her story. For years my family has waited for answers. For justice.

Three years after the accident, in June 2009,  a grand jury returned an indictment for manslaughter against the boyfriend. The driver of the car never saw her and to our knowledge, was never suspected of any wrong doing. He was as much a victim as Dee, wrong place, wrong time. I remember the exact date I found out we had gotten the indictment. I remember it because I was in Mexico when I got the news, and it was the morning of my wedding day.  

For months after we waited for a court date. That date came and went, as did many others, as continuances were granted time and time again. For two years we’ve waited. We’ve gotten our hopes up and been devastated over and over as the man accused of taking our beloved Dee continued to live his life as if nothing had ever happened. Then, a few months ago, the judge granted the defense a final continuance. However, this was granted with conditions. He would call a special session and this case would be tried, no matter what.  Dee’s mom was told the date.

October 17.

Our family would face the man accused of taking her from us on the anniversary of her death. I asked Dee’s mom and brother how they felt upon hearing that news and they both gave me the same answer. “We feel hopeful it’s a sign that we’ll finally get some justice for her and that we’ll finally be able to let her rest in peace.” They actually both thought it was the perfect date. I shared their thoughts except that I felt this stifling sense of empathy for what they will both be dealing with on that day.  My heart ached so much for them and the idea of what they’ll be feeling as we enter the courtroom.

As I sit here typing this post, I can’t help but be apprehensive. I’m terrified we’ll get to court tomorrow and there’ll be another ploy to delay. I’m terrified there won’t be any delays and a jury will be selected and we’ll begin to hear testimony. I’m terrified for what we’ll hear and see. I’m terrified for my family and how we’ll handle the stress of waiting for a verdict. I’m terrified of that verdict. Guilty. Not guilty. Either way, we’ll finally have our closure. We’ll never have our Dee back, but her mom and brother will know that they have fought the hardest fight they could for her. They have given her everything for the last five years. Even if the jury returns with a not guilty verdict, I think Dee’s mom and brother will have no regrets in how they’ve lived their lives with the sole purpose of finding justice for their Dee.

When asked to explain how all of this has affected her life, Denise wrote the following passage and shared it with me.

What life? It has been a living hell since that night, but how do you explain having your soul ripped from your body? There is the physical pain from not eating like I should, but you don’t have an appetite so what do you do? Your body aches from not resting properly, not sleeping because you close your eyes and all you see is your beautiful daughter – the first time giving birth, or you picture her sitting under the Christmas tree tearing into her presents or as she graduates from high school.

I have been blessed with a wonderful family, without them I could not have gotten this far. My parents have stood by my side every step I have taken, without them who knows where I would be today.

And then there is my son, Cole. He has truly been my strength, the force that has kept me grounded and pushing through each day. I know he has and continues to make sacrifices for me, without hesitation. And my friends, I have learned who is truly my friend. Their words of encouragement is something I need every day. Some days though even with all of this support, I simply want to pull the covers over my head and just say to heck with it all. It is at this time I pray for justice to be done and with any luck it will be.

For more information, here’s an article from today’s local paper written by reporter Matt Elofson.

Posted in My Life

Happy Birthday, Daddy; and Thanks for the Parting Gift

Happy Birthday, Daddy!

Today is a big day for me. It would be my daddy’s 67th birthday. It’s been 11 years since I’ve been able to wish him a happy birthday. Well, sort of.

The loss of my father was not unexpected. Years earlier he had battled cancer and won. Unfortunately, the damage the treatment for cancer does to a body is often as devastating as the disease itself. He was left with severe liver damage, and after a hard four year fight, God decided to call him home. I miss him terribly, but I find that I don’t cry much for the loss of my father. When he left us, he gave us one of the greatest gifts we could have ever asked for and I wrote about that earlier this year. Being witness to this amazing event was the greatest gift my father could have ever given me. But, days later, I would find that he had something else in store for me. It was something that would bring me a type of peace that I never expected.

On May 3, 2000, we buried my dad. It was a dreadful kind of day with the realization that I would never see him again. I would never feel his beautiful, caring, nurturing soul near me again. Or would I?

We were all filled with grief as we left the church and headed home. My mom and I got home and went about doing some mindless tasks. I can’t remember what I needed to go outside for, but I stepped out her back door and almost trampled right on top of the tiniest, most adorable kitten ever. Mama Kitty was just sitting there looking at me as if to say, “This is for you”. It took a few minutes to process what I was seeing. I knew the mama kitty because she had been a barn cat that had been around for years, and my parent had told me that she had been pregnant but they had not seen her in weeks. If you know barn cats, you know this is their MO. But, she was back and she apparently had a gift for me.

When I was a little girl, I had lots and lots of pets. Our home was a revolving door for dogs and cats. However, there was one constant cat in my youth and her name was Fuzz Buzz. (Don’t judge me) She was a beautiful long-haired orange and white tabby that purred so loudly you could hear her from across the room. I’ve always had an affinity for these orange beauties, but another never seemed to find its way into my life after Fuzz Buzz. In the years before Daddy died, I had often expressed an interest in getting another orange kitty. However, I’m not sure I ever made that declaration in front of my dad.

Sweet head-butt kisses

Once I processed what was happening, I began to believe this kitten was for me. As a matter of fact, I’m sure of it. I was crying and sad and then this little bundle of fur seemed to take that away. I was no longer focused on the loss of my dad. My focus was entirely on this tiny little kitten. I scooped him up and took him home with me, and that decision changed my life and the way I dealt with the loss of the most important man in my life. For the first few days I called him Papi, but that never seemed right so it soon morphed into Peppy, the Sunshine Kitty.

This furry, four-legged creature has been the one constant in my life for 11 years. He has loved me unconditionally. All it takes is for one teardrop to fall and he comes out of nowhere to lick it away. He has an uncanny ability to recognize when I’m sad and he will climb up on my chest, wrap his paws around my neck and somehow suck that sadness right out of me.  He has removed the hurt from physical and mental ailments. He protects me and calms me. He listens to my thoughts and knows exactly when to head butt me with his special form of kisses. He even lets me sing silly songs like “You Are My Sunshine” without running away in agony like most humans do. This cat’s love for me is not like a typical human/pet bond. There is something deeper and almost supernatural about the connection we share. Others have witnessed it and once they do, almost always agree that there is something extraordinary about this animal.

Helping to soothe my physical pain after my ankle sprain

I believe my Peppy is a blessing from God, a vessel in which my father’s spirit continues to grace and to soothe me in my most trying times. People find comfort in all sorts of things after the loss of a loved one. They may feel a rainbow is a sign that everything is okay, or they may sense a deceased loved one’s presence in the birth of a child. I believe that angels walk among us and I chose to believe my father sent a guardian angel to me in the most fitting form possible, the form of a cat.

Today is the 11th year that I’ve looked through the eyes of my sweet Peppy and into the soul of my father to say, “Happy Birthday Daddy”. It’s in those eyes that I find comfort, happiness, kindness and the kind of love only a father can give his little girl. Or in this case, the kind of love a father can give his little girl through a beautiful, golden-eyed, orange and white tabby ball of fluff and flab.