This is the most difficult thing I have ever written and is extremely hard to read. As you read, please keep in mind the grace and love and PEACE of God that holds us:
I fought my way out of the void and pried my eyes open. You’ve heard the expression, “I didn’t know what hit me!” Well, I didn’t know I had been hit, either, till I noticed the front of my car was gone. Smoke rolled off the engine and there was the stench of burnt plastic getting caught in my nostrils and throat. The air bags had deployed, and the passenger seat was jammed back hard against the rear seats. The windshield was shattered.
My face hurt. I was afraid to look. I told myself to stay calm. Take a deep breath. Look in the mirror to assess the damage. It wasn’t that bad, just a busted chin that was swollen to three times its normal size. I sat there wondering what to do. Could I walk? My legs were trembling, as was the rest of me, but there was no pain. What about internal injuries? Should I just stay put and wait for the rescue squad? Had anyone even called the rescue squad? With the smoke coming from the engine, I thought it best to exit the vehicle and find a place to sit along the side of the road till help came. If I had to, I’d call the squad myself. No matter what, I had to stay alive, I told myself. My little Justyce needed me.
I made myself put the emotional aspect of the wreck aside and think what to do next, step by step. First, open the door, unhook the seat belt. Find all the stuff that flew out of my purse when the car got jolted to a halt. Wow. This really messed up my day. This wasn’t what I had planned at all. Ok, now back to finding my cell phone and wallet. Where was the darned thing? What if I couldn’t find my phone, and Dimitri called just then? I would miss the call. I couldn’t have that. (Yeah, I actually thought that!)
Oh, that shock thing. I’ve experienced that a lot in life.
My car was totaled. I would be ok. I took a large chunk of what was left of Dad’s money and went to look for a new/used car the next day. Justyce grabbed her little pink shoes and tried to follow my mom and I out the door, but we told her, no, Aunt Natali is going to watch you while we car shop. By then I was stiff and sore all over, not just my momentarily disfigured face, so I felt I was in no shape to care for a two year old.
I found a silver Ford Taurus. Not nearly as pretty as my Sunfire, but, the Fords were supposed to be some of the safest cars out there, and that’s all I cared about at that moment.
I want you to know, before I go on, that this is an extremely hard story for me to tell you. I shake, I sob, and I keep going to God with it, asking Him to hold onto me as I go. It’s going to be hard to read, too, so brace yourself. But I’ve thought about this a lot, and prayed, “Lord, what should I do?” Finally I decided that you will never understand the rest of the story or the severity of my depression unless you hear what I’m about to tell you next.
Natali and the boys made plans to spend the night at my house so we could go shopping late on Friday. When we got home, Justyce was extremely pale and unusually quiet, even for her. She threw up on the floor. We thought the reflux must be bad again. Nathan gave her a bath to clean her up. I grabbed the closest thing available to slip on her afterwards, one of my striped purple and blue Eyeore shirts. Then I hugged her and told her goodnight, that I would see her in the morning.
She usually slept in a playpen by my bed, but Nathan decided he wanted to keep a close eye on her since she threw up, so he took that playpen down to Jesse’s room, where Nathan was staying, on the basement level of the house.
At nine a.m. on Saturday, I was sitting alone in my family room watching television. Nathan was in the bathroom on the first level of the house. “Mom?” Nathan yelled from behind the bathroom door.
“Did you hear Justyce?”
I cocked my head to listen. I did think I heard her shout, “Daddy!”
“Yes, Nathan, she’s up. I hear her.”
“Would you go get her?”
“Honey, I’m so sore, there is no way I can lift her out of that playpen. Hold on, I’ll ask one of the girls to do it.”
Chelsea Rose said she would, but she was feeling too queasy. Natali said she could right after she changed Brandon’s diaper. Just then the toilet flushed and Nathan said, “Never mind! I’m done. I’ll go get her.” and he headed down the stairs.
Then came a blood curdling scream from my son, “Mom! Mom come here! Hurry!” His voice was fringed in horror. It was as if he had gotten caught in a bear trap.
I ran down to the basement to find Justyce lying on the carpet with Nathan bent over her, trying to give her CPR. I joined in, yelling up to Natali to call 911. The baby was cold and blue. I thought she must have something stuck in her windpipe, so I reached my finger down her throat a ways to try to get whatever it was. I could find nothing restricting her airway.
The squad arrived in about three minutes and took over the rescue effort. They put the baby in the ambulance and took off towards the hospital. They would not allow Nathan to ride along, so he jumped in his car and went after the ambulance, on his cell phone with me all the time.
“Oh, please, God, I prayed, help Justyce. Don’t let her die. And please keep my son safe on his way to the hospital.”
Chelsea Rose’s dad picked me up to drive me to the hospital. I knew I couldn’t make it on my own. On the drive there, I called Wind and asked him to please come up to the ER. I was sure that, if the baby couldn’t be revived, Nathan would kill himself and I would have a heart attack.
Meanwhile detectives converged on my house, unbeknownst to me. The girls, who were left there to await word from us, were frightened by the probing questions and the mysterious search of the premises. What were they looking for and why?
My mom showed up at the hospital and sat with us while we waited and waited for the doctors to work on the baby. After about an hour of sitting there with my heart pounding in my ears, and everyone on the hospital staff evading my questions, I asked the receptionist to please page my dad’s former girlfriend, the head nurse at the hospital. I knew I could get a straight answer from her about what was going on.
Finally they let Nathan and I go in to see her. They were still trying to force air into her lungs, but they were only waiting for a doctor to officially pronounce her dead. I whispered in her ear, “Justyce, please don’t leave us. I know it’s beautiful over there, but we aren’t ready to let you go. Come back, baby, please.” But, seeing the nurse’s faces, I didn’t have to wait for the doctor to tell me. Somehow when the words were spoken, though, a primal scream came out of me that shook the entire place. At that point, they removed us to a private room where we could grieve together as loudly as we had to.
Chelsea Rose’s dad picked up the girls to bring them to the hospital. We sat and held the baby for hours. She looked so peaceful. I guess we just thought if we waited long enough, she’d wake up from her beauty sleep. My sister and mom were there. Wind never left our sides. It all happened in slow motion.
I went into mom mode, trying to stay solid for Nathan, while my own grief was overwhelming.
I wanted something I could hold onto, so I asked for some of her golden curls. Nathan wasn’t so sure, but I had been there, in that moment, with Sara and Derek, and knew that he might change his mind, so he agreed.
A detective had stayed at the ER close by us and was now urging us to move along. Let her go. Get on with the process of grief. I wondered why the cops were so interested in the death of the baby. No one had done anything to hurt her; she had taken a fall. But soon I learned that, when a child dies in the home that way, immediately the parents in the home are investigated for foul play. That’s just policy. That’s what I was told, anyhow.
Meanwhile, Wanda still hadn’t been contacted. They felt that we should be gone before Wanda showed up, since there had been such bad blood between her and Nathan. God, oh, God. My heart breaks every time I think of that girl having to be told that her daughter was gone. I pleaded with the nurses to call me if Wanda needed me. I wasn’t sure what kind of support system she would bring. Wanda told me later that a sheriff came to her door with the news, and that she had to be medicated before she could make the trip from Clarksburg, W.V., to Marietta.
Since there was a criminal investigation, an autopsy was ordered. The detectives showed up time and time again to make us recount the morning we found Justyce dead. Now Wanda and Nathan continued their custody battle, but over the body of their baby girl, so that meant going into court with testimony of what happened that dreadful morning. Mike showed up to give us support, and Wind had still not left us for a moment.
The whole ugly ordeal was all over the news in Ohio and West Virginia. Rumors were flying. Even today I hear whispers that my son killed his little girl. People like to talk, don’t they? I guess it’s fun, juicy gossip, huh? And I have to forgive them, but, Lord, how I wish it would stop.
It was two months later that we finally got to have the body of precious Justyce released from the medical examiner and a memorial service was held, complete with police presence. We weren’t church-goers, so Wind presided over the funeral, saying a beautiful prayer and reading a letter I had written as a eulogy. I was not strong enough to give it myself, and he confessed later that it was difficult for him to get through it.
After the memorial service, for some reason, Nathan decided to have Justyce cremated. I think it was due to the outrageous cost of a funeral. We just didn’t have the money to bury her. In fact, to this day, more than 10 years later, her ashes are at the funeral home because we can’t afford to pay for the cremation or the urn. Wanda would. But Nathan won’t have it. God is working on it, though.
I don’t want to end this chapter like this, even though this section is particularly long. So let me tell you where I find God in this story (so far): I had a car accident, so I was too weak to go down to get Justyce. Chelsea was sick, so she couldn’t go. Natali was busy changing a diaper. If not, we would have been the ones to find her. We forged a closer bond with the people who stuck by us during our ordeal, and found out who would hightail it when we needed them the most.
Justyce, my little butterfly
We know Justyce is growing up in heaven, close to our wonderful God, and that she’ll never feel pain again. We also realize this is not the end; we will see her again. We also learned that, even in the darkest times, God is still our light, our strength, and our joy. He can make you strong enough to endure anything.
There’s more, lots more to my story. But this is enough for today.