Excerpt #15 Dukin’ it out with God


Me with Jess at visitation

Ross Correctional Institution

I’ve found out a really fun thing about God, he’s not limited, and he doesn’t usually do things the way we think. I had prayed and prayed for Allie and Gabe to come back into my life, but, mind ya, I didn’t have a clue where Gabe was living. I heard a rumor that he was somewhere in North Carolina, but my searches proved fruitless.

Then one day, Nathan was at Walmart in Vienna, West Virginia with Justyce, and guess who he ran into? Gabe’s mom. This young woman had not exactly been experiencing positive feelings towards my son since the house fire. Remember that? But now she was ready to forgive. I wonder if seeing princess Justyce helped soften her up. Who knows? At any rate, she decided to allow Nathan in Gabe’s life.

At around the same time, Allie’s mommy also agreed to let Nathan get to know her. I was in seventh heaven. Now, if only my Jess were home, I’d have all my babies and grandkids around me for the first time in years.

However, in February of 2005, Jess was sentenced to four years in prison with time served. His baby was born in May, Xavier Marcos Rodriguez. It was a bittersweet occasion: having our wonderful little guy come into the world, but Jess missing the whole blessed event, and the next three years of the baby’s life.



Me, Jesse, Chelsea Rose, and Xavier

Meanwhile, love slammed into me, pinned me to the ground, and knocked the breath right out of me. It filled my lungs instead with some helium-like giddiness that lifted me high into the sky, above poverty, loneliness, stress over the continual custody issues between Nathan and Wanda, above the arguments my young teenaged daughter and I had on a daily basis… love tossed me up into the air, then removed the safety net. It stepped back and watched me crash to the ground, breaking every bone in my body. Then it threw me back into the air, and let me fall again. The process repeated till, not only were my bones broken, my mind had snapped as well.

Potato chip bags, empty juice bottles, crumpled up scraps of paper, music Cds, dirty socks piled up to the ceiling… Every mother’s dream? I used to pause by Jesse’s clean, empty room, longing to see just one thing out of place, some sort of evidence that he was home.

Sitting at my computer, I looked down beside my desk to see a rolled up pair of his socks he had neglected to put in the laundry. I just couldn’t bring myself to pick them up. Half jokingly, I wrote and told him they were going to lay there till he got home to clean up after himself. I just needed something, you know? Or maybe you don’t. But lay there, they did, for four solid years.


Jess with one of the socks once he was home.

Mike the “bad boy.” What can I say? I almost hate to tell you, because it might blow up his ego, but I had been just plain old stuck on him. I almost laughed at men who dared to hit on me, because, I mean, who could compare to Mike? Mike, Mike, Mike. It had been 10 years, for crying out loud, and I just couldn’t stop hoping that someday, somewhere, somehow…Then this young thing stormed into my life and wrenched my heart right out of me. He held it firmly in his grasp and alternately filled it with ecstasy, or squeezed it so hard it would shatter in his hand.

I was on the proverbial rollercoaster, sick with love, and couldn’t figure out how to make the darned thing even slow down enough for me to jump off. Remembering the many years of loneliness drove me back into my seat every time I considered finding the controls and stepping down off the ride. I was not getting any younger, after all. I was done with the bar scene. Where would I go to meet anyone? I thought I had better just close my eyes and stay put.


My life was so chaotic; I guess I started building an alternate universe around this new man. (I’ll call him “Dimitri,” since he’s of Greek descent). I escaped to this fantasy place with him much like an alcoholic with their drink of choice. You know the alcohol is really only going to complicate things, but you enjoy the numbness it produces, and the illusion that you’re “coping,” if only for a moment.

It was August of 2005. It was a lazy day, and Chelsea Rose was with her dad, so I drove to the mall in Vienna, W.V., just to hang out and people-watch. Not too long after I arrived, Nathan reached me on my cell phone to tell me I had better get back to Marietta. He was at the ER with Justyce, who had taken a fall down a long flight of steps at the Lafayette hotel.

Somehow the air got really thick. I couldn’t suck it into my lungs, let alone get my legs to cut through it, but somehow I made it to my car and sort of let my mind go on auto pilot. By the time I reached the Williamstown bridge crossing over from West Virginia into Ohio, I had a full-blown panic attack like I hadn’t felt in years. I pulled the car over in a grocery store’s parking lot and just sat there, shaking. It made me mad at myself, knowing Justyce needed me, and there I was, paralyzed with fear. Finally I got my vehicle back on the road and got to the hospital.

When Justyce fell, Nathan had taken her to the ER just for a quick evaluation, “just in case,” because, on the outside, she looked fine. There was one visible bruise on her little head. But she was groggy, not acting like herself, so Nathan asked the doctor to give the baby a CT scan. That’s when they found a subdural hematoma, which, simply put, means blood on the surface of her brain.
They had been ready to release her before the CT scan, now they were strapping her to a board and getting ready to life-flight her to Children’s hospital in Columbus. She cried out for them to let her go, and fought to get free. But I leaned over and whispered in her ear that everything was going to be ok. Grandma would not leave her. However, we were not permitted to ride in the helicopter with her, so we hopped in the car and raced to the hospital, two hours away.

We found her, upon our arrival, sitting pretty in a little hospital gown, coloring a picture and putting shiny stickers all over the page. A nurse had kept her company and painted her fingernails pink. She proudly showed them to us as we waited for someone to tell us what was going on. Would she be ok? We already figured it was something serious, since they had life-flighted her there, but how serious?

While we waited, I urged Nathan to get in touch with Wanda. I felt she had a right to know what was happening with her child. But there was so much bitterness between them; Nathan was not acting rationally as far as I was concerned. I didn’t know how to reach her myself, but I continued to try to convince him. There was no budging him.

We were told by doctors that there were two options: watch Justyce and hope the hematoma would shrink on its own, or do surgery. The experts decided to wait. That meant we’d be spending some time at the hospital, so I got busy trying to make her comfortable.
She loved to read, so we took her a pile of books to keep her occupied. One day she pointed to a princess in one of the books and said, “Want new dress.” Then she pulled at the gown they had placed on her and looked at it with disgust. Of course, being Grandma, I rushed to the mall to find something more suitable for her. She seemed to love orange and pink together, so I got a dress with huge flowers in just those colors, along with a headband. She was delighted, and couldn’t wait to try it on. She showed the nurses who traipsed in to visit with her. It wasn’t long before they were all in the palm of her hand.

We were up there for about five days or so when they decided the hematoma was shrinking, and she could be released. I went ahead of Nathan, knowing Chelsea Rose needed me home. We would get a room ready for Nathan and Justyce to stay with us while she finished recuperating.
Driving home, I heard this song by Lifehouse, “You and Me,” a song that reminded me of Justyce, because it talks about how there are all these people around, but that one person has captured your attention. It talks about how everything the girl does is beautiful and right. The song punched me right in the gut. I was so gripped by the lyrics, in such a quake of emotions, I could barely keep my car on the interstate. Without warning, I began to wail. It really confused me. Justyce was fine. She would be coming home. Why was I being so overly dramatic?

ImageMe with Justyce

Nathan got the little one in her car seat and headed home, but, about halfway, she began to throw up. The doctor’s had warned to watch for that; it might be a bad sign. So he called the emergency squad and they transported her back to Children’s hospital to be reevaluated. Justyce suffered from severe reflux, so we knew the throwing up could be nothing out of the ordinary. Still, every symptom needed to be checked. The doctor’s watched her for one day, then let her go.

Chelsea Rose, Jordan, and I went shopping about a week later and got a bunch of school clothes and what not. Then I dropped the two of them off at the water park and headed home with my new stuff.  The radio was blasting as I cruised along in my red Pontiac, thinking of Dimitri. What time would he be calling? Was he possibly thinking of me, too? We had talked every day, at least three or four times, especially after the baby’s accident. My own legs had gone out from under me, so to speak, and I had leaned on Dimitri pretty hard for strength and to glean some sense of joy out of my harsh life.

Stopped at a red light, I checked my cell for missed calls. Nothing. The light turned green. I stepped on the gas, and everything went black.


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