Today I encountered my eleven year old again. Her older sister is with her today. We share our names. Their grandmother, who has brought them, gets up and goes back with the therapist. I ask where their mom is and they say she is back in the hospital, explaining that the bullet which narrowly missed her temple is causing neurological problems and the doctors are trying to figure out what to do. Her brother will leave the hospital for another next week where they will try to teach him to walk, and talk. Maybe. He was shot in the back of the head, arm, chest. A fourth shot somewhere. Stomach?
She seems excited to see me, a fellow traveler a little farther down the road who has come back offering to show the way to move forward from the place she surely feels anchored. I am happy to see a light in her eyes. I ask how she is doing, and she says her pain has lessened since they went back in and took the bullet from her neck. Her only remaining pain is her fractured spine. It is amazing she can walk.
She excitedly shares my story with her sister. It is an odd commonality that joins us. I ask sister her age. She is thirteen. My daughter’s age, I point out. She remains very quiet, and somewhat suspicious, seemingly unhappy her sister is sharing so much information. The eleven year old tells her my children were not shot. As though to comfort sister. She reiterates it a number of times as she shares sister was not either. I ask was she away from home when it happened, and she says no, she was there. I try to process how that could be.
My son lays across some chairs and appears to be playing, and tuning us out. I switch seats and sit next to sister so she is between eleven year old and me. Eleven year old says she had a bad feeling the day it happened, in March, as she and her brother played outside. She thought they should stay out longer. He was cold and wanted to go in. She wishes he had listened to her. I assure her we cannot know the future. She says the father planned it. He told their mother while he was shooting her if he couldn’t have her no one else would, then as he shot the children he told them it was their mother’s fault he ‘had’ to do it. A child.
Quietly sister looks up. She says people think she’s lucky because she wasn’t shot. She says she wishes she had been, it would have been easier. She tells me after she has watched him shoot her family, he forces her down the hall and into a bedroom and rapes her. Then forces her to watch while he shoots himself, not before telling her she is to shoot him again after he’s done it to be sure he is dead.
I want to reach out and touch her, reassure her. Honestly I wanted to take her in my lap and wrap my arms so tightly around her and shield her from her own reality. I want to absorb it and leave her with peace. I offer comfort by looking into her sad brown eyes with what I hope is a look of understanding, reassurance, empathy and kindness.
Eleven year old says her mom always says she wishes she could turn back the clock. We agree that isn’t possible. I offer that they have a chance to begin again. Each minute to start building something new. I promise them both that while it will never go away, they will one day learn to live with it. I promise them they will be happy again one day. I am confident of this because I am happy. Sister and I exchange cell numbers and agree we will text.
I cannot be detached. It is impossible for me not to feel her pain. Their pain. Their helplessness. My helplessness. I pray for the voice to encourage them to not let him kill their spirit and take away the life they have been mercifully given, the second chance to see all that is good and beautiful in this world.
My son chatters happily in the back seat on the way home. I try and try to focus on what he is saying, to grasp onto his words. I am grateful to hear his ebullience, yet I can’t listen. I try so hard, but I can’t hear anything but my silent scream at this senseless tragedy, coming to grips once again that only by the grace of God did I not come home that Sunday, when I left my children asleep that morning under his watch, to find them dead.
So by now you wonder, why do I share this raw pain for the world to read, the ugliness that neither you nor I nor anyone else really wants to see or know? We want the world to be nice and tidy and pleasant. Why would I lay bare my soul, expose it to the world on what should be a private journey through my pain to healing?
I died in secrecy and shame for years. I am finally alive again and I refuse to hide anymore, to be the victim. Not everyone has the friends to support them I am blessed to have. I infer a social conscience so that maybe, just maybe, you will seek to be equipped to help someone one day move from being a victim to survivor before they become a statistic.