All this chaos in my three older kids’ lives sorta makes you wonder how Chelsea Rose was doing all this time, huh? Believe it or not, she was doing great! Her dad remained a regular part of her everyday life. She was smart, studious, and started planning for college when she was in first grade.
In kindergarten, she started playing basketball for the YMCA, and stayed with it until third grade, when she joined the school’s team. She was faithful to basketball till her sophomore year, then got burned out. She was also a hurdler on the Middle School track team. She was a member of the Girl Scouts, and I was assistant to the leader.
Chelsea Rose was always a “social butterfly,” making friends easily wherever she went. This was not as easy as you may think. She is a mixed child, after all. Prejudice is alive and well. She’s experienced her share of racism.
She’s also had to battle anxiety since the day she was born. She’s a worrier and a perfectionist. It’s not easy to have so much craziness going on in your life and stay sane.
In March of 2003, a month after Nathan and Wanda’s baby, Justyce, was born, they packed up and moved into my teeny three-bedroom apartment. I gave them Jesse’s room, since he was either spending the summer at his dad’s, or locked up someplace.
The newlyweds fought savagely with one another. I often found myself in the middle of the war, speaking peace into the situation, trying to get them to behave reasonably. Not only did I not want them to hurt each other, it was a terrible thing to put Justyce and Chelsea Rose through. The tension was oppressive.
I waited till fall, then, seeing that Nathan and Wanda were not even close to a ceasefire, I told them to find another place. I worried about Wanda being alone with the baby while Nathan was at work. She didn’t have anyone in the area but my family, so I tried to make a trip to see her at least once a day.
Knowing that my son was seeing other girls, even while Wanda was carrying their daughter, and not showing her the love a husband shows a wife, I identified with Wanda. I had been there. Eventually my concern for her grew to a genuine love, not unlike the love I had for my own children. I urged her, finally, to end the marriage. I hadn’t chosen Wanda’s side, nor had I joined Nathan’s team. I just wanted peace for Justyce.
Wanda took the baby and went back home to Clarksburg. This began a long custody dispute between the two of them that found me, once again, right in the center of it.
I had gotten through my first year at our community college, taking social service classes. I thought I could help change the system from the inside out. In September, I would begin my second year of working towards my associate’s degree.
In June we got word that Natali’s dad had been killed. She had met him when she was about 12 or so, and they’d written back and forth for a short time, but then the letters stopped. She was 16 the last she’d heard from him.
All her life she’d been sitting on the edge of her seat, waiting for her dad to come riding in on his white horse and save the day. Surely, if he met her, he’d love her so dearly he’d never be able to leave her again. But it was not to be.
Her paternal grandparents came to see her as soon as they learned of her existence, and she had become close with some members of their family. They asked her to drive to Arkansas to attend her dad’s funeral, and, with apprehension in her heart, she accepted the offer. Five or six of them crowded into a little car, and Natali rode in the back, center, for over a day. Once they arrived in Arkansas, they sought out her dad’s widow for information about the funeral. But, seeing that Natali was with them, she fell on the ground screaming for her to leave. Immediately they turned the car around and headed back for Marietta. Her dad’s boys contacted her via the internet sometime later and told her that they had gotten in the car and went looking for her as soon as they realized she was in Arkansas, but it was too late.
A couple months later, Jesse’s uncle died, (the one with whom he had lived for a time), and I had to travel to Indian River Juvenile Correctional Facility to let him know. They let us have a private room for half an hour, then took us to the visiting room to finish out our visit. Jesse bucked up, in true convict style, and took it on the chin. Till he got alone, that is, and the reality washed over him. I hated knowing he was suffering that way, again, with no arms to hold him, no shoulder to cry on, and no words to uplift him. But, there again, I knew God could hold him; I counted on the comfort God could give him.
Front row, My younger brother, Nathan, Natalynna
Back row: Dad, my older brother, Jesse, and me
On October 16th, my mom called to tell me that my dad had had a heart attack. Everything inside me screeched to a halt while I tried to process this information. “How bad is it?” I asked her.
“I don’t know yet! Your brother is up there with him. Your dad was at the airport when he decided he was too sick to fly. You know your dad, he hates doctors. He’s been sick for days.”
“Months. He didn’t look good the last time I saw him.”
“I know it. I know he must’ve felt really sick if he actually called your brother to take him to the emergency room.”
“I agree. Is Teresa with him?”
“I think so.”
“I’m going to call up there. I’ll let you know what I find out.”
Teresa was the head nurse at the hospital and my dad’s girlfriend for years. Things obviously hadn’t worked out between my step mom and dad. He had hit the jackpot again with Teresa. She was beautiful, fun loving, and very kind.
When I reached her, she told me that the doctors had given my dad medication, and not to worry, that it probably wasn’t that bad. Never the less, they were life-flighting him to Riverside hospital in Columbus.
When I talked to my brother, Andrew, he told me that dad had walked into the ER saying, “If this is only the flu, I’m going to be really embarrassed.”
I called Nathan, who was living in West Virginia with a woman and her son. He would come up early in the morning and drive to Columbus with my mom, Natali, and me. We had to make arrangements, but the next day we would be on the road.
My dad was so young and active for his 65 years, always on the go. We couldn’t imagine that the heart attack was serious. He had retired from GE and started his own company just months earlier. The million-dollar mark for his business was just around the corner. He had never been so alive.
All of us, including my two brothers and sister, thought that we’d go in to see dad in the morning and tell him that he’d better start taking it easy. He’d be sitting up in the hospital bed, reading the paper and sipping on coffee. Decaf, doctor’s orders. I could just imagine.
The update I got from Andrew was that dad was headed for open-heart surgery. The doctors had given him a 50/50 chance at survival. Still, I knew my dad was tough. I expected the best. But when I went to bed that night, trying to rest up for what I knew would be an emotional trip the next day, I knelt beside the bed and asked God to have mercy on my dad. I asked for healing and comfort for him.
I got up early and paced around waiting for Nathan and the others to arrive. My sister would be driving up from North Carolina later that day. My brother would be in from Delaware. While I waited, a call came telling me that my dad didn’t make it. Not minutes later, I received another message letting me know that someone else had died as well, one of the uncles who had sexually abused me as a child. (I’ll call him Aaron for the purposes of this writing).
It was a gut punch. I had forgiven my abusers, understood them, prayed for their salvation, even felt sorry for them. This one had had a violent, tumultuous life. He had been mentally ill since he was very young. Now his hard life was over at the age of 50.
I called the Juvenile Center and asked them to tell my Jess about his grandpa. They agreed to bring him to the funeral home for a short viewing. When he got there, in an orange jumpsuit with shackled arms and legs, I got to sit next to my dad’s casket with my arm around Jess and comfort him for about 20 minutes. Then the guards took him away.
A viewing room just down the hall from my dad’s held Aaron’s casket. People my dad and Aaron had in common would mill tearfully by one casket, then have to go through the whole process again in the next room.
It wasn’t long after my dad died that my siblings and I got together with the executrix of his will. There was a lot of money to be divided, I was told. We were asked to talk to some guys at Morgan Stanley to help us figure out a wise way to invest the money. Everyone seemed so excited for us when we bought our big new houses. But a dad for a house wasn’t a good trade as far as I was concerned.
So many people thought my life would change for the better now that I had some money in my pocket, but there are problems and heartaches that money can’t touch.
I went on hiatus from school till I could get on solid ground emotionally. But if I had no idea what the future had in store.