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Murder to Middle School

I was 13 when my father was killed right before my eyes. Two weeks later, while everyone in our small town obsessed over his grizzly death, I embarked on a new horror: 8th grade.

Murder to Middle School

Who thought it was a good idea to send me back to school? Was it even discussed? Was it just to keep things moving forward, as if nothing had happened at all?  I lived in a small town. I had gone

 to school with the same 40 kids since the second grade and everyone knew everyone else’s business. It was no secret what I had been through just two weeks earlier. I knew I’d be walking through the halls with a neon sign over my head reading, “It’s me, the girl you heard about on the news.” It was all hushed whispers and turned backs, like they didn’t know me anymore, like they hadn’t known me since I was 7 years old. Even among the kids I used to call friends, I felt so alone.  

I pushed the heavy metal doors open, hot from the early morning sun, and made my way toward homeroom. My heart was thumping out of my chest, but I retained the cool, calm facade that I would wear for the next 20 years. The teacher was Mr. Nichols, an old white man with thinning hair wisping across his head. He’d never really liked me, and the feeling was mutual. I had seen him degrade a student; she had walked up to ask him a question and her spiral notebook caught his sweater. He immediately got angry and said in a venomous tone: “What are you doing? Look what you did!” I was shocked by the way he’d exploded at her, and ever since then I hadn’t liked him one bit.  

I made my way to a desk next to Kelly, the only person I felt comfortable sitting by. Tall, with dark brown hair and a perfect sprinkle of freckles spreading across her nose and cheeks, she had been my close friend for many years, and she made me feel normal. I didn’t feel so out of place or nervous sitting by her side.  

The principal came to the door, interrupting Mr. Nichols, and said he needed a volunteer to show a new girl around the school. Could he possibly borrow Kelly? She got up and moved toward the door. The farther away she got, the more my head buzzed, the room shrinking around me, the posters of safaris and world maps getting closer and closer. My heart pounded and sweat beaded on my forehead: My first panic attack. I didn’t understand why they didn’t know how much I needed her — that I was barely making it through the first 10 minutes of school. How would I make it through the day, let alone the entire year? 

It was a stiflingly hot August day; I remember that clearly. I can’t remember what happened yesterday, but I remember the smallest details of August 20, 1983. I was lying on the floor in the living room, my head on a pillow from my bed. Feeling anxious to leave, I picked at the carpet and doodled on a piece of paper to occupy my time. That swiftly turned into me writing: “I hate you, I hate you, I hate you” as my frustration mounted. I wanted to go into town and help Aunt Ruth weed her backyard, and I was angry that my father hadn’t taken me yet. I was 13 years old, and she’d promised to pay me. The prospect of earning a little extra money was making me wildly impatient. 

 My impatience is often a key point of regret for me. At 13, I only thought about myself. It was all about what I wanted. My sister often told me what a spoiled, selfish brat I was. In return, as sisters do, I held that she was “an entitled princess.” Looking back, if I hadn’t been so self-absorbed, things may have ended differently.  

My dad was relaxing on the plaid loveseat, with his arms stretched wide across the back, his green Remington hat sitting firmly on his head as he watched a football game on TV. He was in no apparent rush to get moving. But I was. I pushed until he finally relented and drove me into town. I tucked my “I hate you” paper into the pillowcase. He could never really put his foot down when it came to his girls. In my head, I kept ranting about how late I was going to be and how it was going to be all his fault. My mom had always said being punctual was very important; she once told me that I would be grounded one day for every minute I was late and that when you make people wait for you, you are telling them that their time isn’t important. Those thoughts would keep me up at night for years to come. 

Uncle Rob and his wife, Ruth, lived about 8 miles away in Pasco, with their daughters, Amy and Robin. At the time, Amy was around 5 or 6 and Robin was still a baby. They lived in a tiny house in a neighborhood just off one of the main roads that went through town. Their home had a warm, inviting feeling. While my dad and Uncle Rob were visiting on the sofa, my aunt paced around and chatted along with them. My impatience once again flared up as the adults continued with their conversations and I sat on the loveseat. All I kept thinking was, Great, more waiting. To this day, I still don’t know how long we sat there before it all happened. Time escaped. 

We were in Eastern Washington, where summer temperatures easily rise into the 100s. My aunt and uncle didn’t have air-conditioning, so the front door was wide open, letting the muggy air waft through in hopes of cooling the house. We could all see the frantic teenage boy approaching the door. I didn’t recognize him, and no one else seemed to either. 

 He came closer to the door with fear shining in his eyes, grasping at his stomach as deep red blood seeped through his fingers. He squeaked out, “I need help, call 911.” I wasn’t scared; I was just watching it all happen. 

It was as if our collective defense mechanisms had forgotten to turn on. We didn’t process, we didn’t react. My dad was still just sitting on the couch.  

The boy never set foot in the house. Auntie Ruth went right outside and ushered him toward the neighbors’ house, saying she didn’t have a phone but they did. We all just stayed there, my dad on the couch, me still planted firmly on the loveseat, and Uncle Rob standing by the front door watching Ruth walk away. We all stayed there waiting for Auntie Ruth to return and tell us what was going on. 

 Not long after they had gone into the neighbors’ house, another man, shirtless and holding a knife, charged at the front door, knocking into my uncle, slashing his arm and back as he swiftly passed by him and the lamp that sat on a small side table by the door. The man was fixated on my dad. He came at him so fast that my dad didn’t even have time to get to his feet. Before I knew it, he was on my dad and pinning him down on the couch, towering over him, his arms holding my dad’s arms down — my dad pushing with all his might to hold him off. Uncle Rob fled the house through the front door. I heard him yelling, “He’s got my brother! He’s got my brother! He’s got my brother!” He screamed it over and over again. The sound of his voice still haunts me to this day.   

 As they struggled, I climbed up on the loveseat, pushing my body into the wall, trying to disappear into it. I was paralyzed with terror. I wanted to move but couldn’t. My legs wouldn’t move until my eyes made contact with my dad’s, his big brown irises staring deep into mine as he fought to hold the man off, using what little fight he still had to say, “Run, run, Laura, run. Get out of here.” That was the last time I saw his eyes. The fear was forever burned into me. 

It never made sense to me why the man with the knife fixated on my dad. It could have just as easily been my uncle’s time, my aunt’s — or even mine. Why on that day was it his? If my dad hadn’t screamed for me to go, I might never have left the house. He used his final moments to save my life, and for years the words “Run, run, Laura, run!” haunted me.  

My legs moved off the loveseat weakly and somehow propelled me to the front door, past the small table with the lamp and through the squeaky screen door. I felt the heat hit my face, but I didn’t scream. I just ran. Uncle Rob was nowhere to be seen. I ran and climbed over the short white picket fence — that iconic sign of safety in most neighborhoods was my primary obstacle. I didn’t think; I just climbed over it to get to the neighbors’ house, where Auntie Ruth had gone to call 911.  

 I came through the neighbors’ front door and found my aunt: She was on the phone with 911. I kept hearing her say, “A boy has been stabbed, we need an ambulance,” then telling them the address over and over. I stood there yelling, “He has my dad, he has my dad!” I was still in a full panic, but no one was listening to me. Was I yelling? Was I even talking? They just stared at me looking confused. They had no idea my dad was dying next door or that my uncle had fled the house screaming “He’s got my brother!” 

Unaware, they were just trying to get help for the bleeding boy out on the lawn. I remember seeing the boy when I got to the door, lying on the grass right outside, but I don’t remember if he was awake or even if he was alive. It feels strange that I don’t remember, but I didn’t notice at the time. I never even asked whether he had survived; I never even thought about him again until many, many years later. 

When I finally stepped out of the neighbors’ house, cop cars and ambulance lights flashed in a big blur around me, and I heard the deafening sounds of sirens and helicopters circling. I walked outside and passed my uncle’s house. The officer who was blocking the gate told me I couldn’t go inside or see my dad because he had been transported to the hospital. I don’t remember crying or even fighting to go in. Later, I often wondered where my fight had been. I walked away, feeling like I was in a fog. In my mind, I imagine a different scenario: I fight, I fight so hard with arms swinging and lots of yelling and kicking — just like how I had thrown my elbows on the basketball court. If I fight, I get to see him one last time, a time in which he is still breathing. But I could not fight. I was frozen, lost in a confused daze. 

 My uncle was still nowhere to be found. I had no idea where he had disappeared to, and I didn’t care. My aunt walked with me to the corner, since the police weren’t letting any cars come down the street. We stood there on the corner, my aunt waving at passing vehicles, which were driving by slowly, staring at the mayhem and wondering what was going on. She kept waving until someone finally stopped and she asked them to take me to the hospital. She didn’t get in the car with me. She walked back down the road toward the lights and sirens, in hopes of finding her husband.  

My sister drove by with her friend Colleen, and I yelled for her to stop, but she didn’t. She couldn’t hear me, distracted by all the commotion, wondering why there were so many police cars. She just drove away, farther and farther from me.  

I got into a car with strangers; I shimmied into the backseat and sat there quietly. I don’t remember them saying anything to me. I had no idea who they were. I didn’t care. I just wanted to get to my dad. Little did I know that he was still at the house on Shoshone, lying still and breathless on the back porch, soaked in blood with all the fight drained from his body. He would never arrive at the hospital.  

I didn’t get to go back to find my dad. I had rushed to the hospital in hopes of seeing him, holding his hand, and telling him how much I loved him. All the things I never said. Most of all, I wish I could’ve said goodbye.  

It was nearly 20 years later when I found out that my uncle was there with him when he died. I don’t even remember who told me, or whether he told me himself. But it gave me great comfort to know that my dad wasn’t alone. As I think back, I wonder: If I had gone back inside, might this be a different story? However, if I had gone back inside, I don’t know that I would be sane today. I had seen enough. Was God protecting me from seeing the full massacre?   

I got called into the superintendent’s office just weeks after school started. I sat down in the chair, my legs sticking to the plastic. Nervous. Why am I here? Mr. Sappington looked at me and said, “I’m sorry about your dad. I know he was a big football fan and came to all the games.”  

“Yes, he did,” I replied, my brown eyes looking down at the speckled floor, avoiding eye contact. He went to all the games, especially if Dale, my sister’s boyfriend, was playing.  

The superintendent proceeded to say, “I want your family to have ASBs” — Associated Student Body cards, expensive passes to the games — “so that you can go to all the games every year until you graduate in his honor.” We didn’t have any money. It was a much-appreciated gift, but now I wonder where the counseling was — the question of whether or not I was okay. It wasn’t just my family pretending I was okay. It was everyone. Without my dad, I wondered if I would ever be happy going to those games again. 

I don’t know how I did it, but I went to school every day. I made my way down those halls with a smile on my face. I heard the whispers: “She doesn’t even cry.” “Does she even miss her dad?” “What is wrong with her?” Hushed, but heard. They were like stabbing pains in my back, the feelings of betrayal, and I was confused by people’s reactions. Would they rather I curl up in a ball? Kill myself? How exactly was I supposed to show my pain? I didn’t know who to trust anymore. These were kids I had gone to school with for half of my short life. Didn’t they know me better than that? Didn’t they care?  

 The strangers dropped me off in front of Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in downtown Pasco. I wandered through the entrance and looked around. There was no one there. I wasn’t frantic or anxious. I was calm, but now I realize I was probably in shock. Everything was moving in slow motion. 

I found my family anxiously waiting for information. I had to navigate a maze of halls to search for them by myself. When I finally found them, there was a group of people gathered in the hallway. No one acknowledged my presence or asked what had happened. They all knew I was with him. I only remember my mom — and Uncle Wayne, dressed in his standard button-down shirt, standing firmly in place next to her. How lucky were we that he and my grandma just happened to be visiting from Hawaii. Everyone else was a blur. 

To a 13-year-old girl, the hospital hall seemed so big. With its gray speckled linoleum floors and ugly walls, all of it dark and dingy, it just went on forever. Or is that just the image I kept in my head?   

My mom looked so worried as she spoke to the police. Her experience working as a 911 dispatcher made her fear for the worst. I vividly recall the moment my mom looked at the officer’s notepad and said, “I’m not stupid. I know what DOA means.” It seemed like that should have been the end of all the waiting, but it wasn’t. Nobody would talk to us. They just left us standing around, waiting for the inevitable news that he was gone.  

I sat on the stairs at the hospital, my back up against the cold wall, with my legs tucked under me. A nun came down the hallway and started talking to me. She was older, with kind eyes and a warm, concerned smile. She was dressed in her street clothes with a black headdress on. She seemed to be the only person who recognized that I was even there. She asked who I was and if I was okay, but I couldn’t think or feel anything. All she could tell me was: “God will take care of everything.” I was too young, with too little faith, to understand what that meant. In my head that translated to: My dad will be okay, and God will bring him back to me. She walked away, leaving me with false hope. 

When I returned, everyone was standing around, pacing and waiting. Making small talk and trying to occupy their minds so that they wouldn’t think the worst, but the worst was coming. My sister, Darla, arrived with her friend Colleen. They had been at the drive-in when a page came over the speaker telling Colleen to go to the snack bar. She quickly came back and drove Darla to the hospital. On the drive there, Darla didn’t know what had happened. I had still been waiting on the corner with my aunt, trying to catch a ride. My sister and her friend had looped around the block twice, trying to figure out why all the flashing police lights were there. If only she had heard me the first time, or if I had waited longer, we would have arrived at the hospital together. The fact that she didn’t hear me haunted Darla for years. She felt like she should have protected me, as she had always done. Except this once.  

My big sister Darla and I, 1975. She has always been my rock; we are still very close.

When she arrived at the hospital, Darla went to the payphone to try get ahold of her boyfriend, Dale. Soon, a police officer appeared again to tell us that my dad never made it to the hospital and that my mom was right all along: He was gone.  

We were devastated. Getting my mom out of there was top priority. Frantically, we ushered her out of the hospital, fearing her impending grief. When we made it back to our trailer, my father’s two sisters were waiting for us with open arms.  

Back at the hospital, Darla returned to the hallway after her failed attempts to reach Dale, expecting to see everyone pacing and waiting. But I wasn’t the only one who was forgotten that day — everyone was gone.  

 After Kelly spent the day showing the new girl around, I soon got to know her too. Gaylynn had creamy white skin, blue eyes and blonde hair, and she had come from Idaho. She was the only person in the school who did not know what had happened to me, to my family, or to my dad. I was strikingly different from her with my brown, almost black hair, dark skin with scraped knees and bruises from my tomboy ways, and eyes that had seen too much, too soon. I was starting to realize, as I stood there looking at Gaylynn and my group of friends, that I was that “dark” girl. My mom had come from the Big Island of Hawaii, and her grandparents had emigrated from Portugal and the Philippines. Not only was my skin a different shade than everyone else I went to school with, but all of a sudden so many things made more sense to me. Like the way parents and teachers treated me — long before the murder. Like the local Mormon mother who had once left me stranded, standing in the sun, when she was supposed to pick me up for a birthday party on a hot summer day — or that one teacher who deliberately favored the other children, even when I had the best costume or the most original story. I was starting to realize why I had always felt like I was less than, and it was because people had always treated me that way.  

My friends and I were walking around during lunchtime, and the subject of religion came up. I noticed a cross dangling from Gaylynn’s neck, a shiny symbol of religion blaring at me. I blurted out: “I don’t believe in God.” Not anymore. We immediately got into a tense debate. Her voice rose and heat crawled up my face. How was this girl from Idaho supposed to understand me? I didn’t even understand myself. The worst thing in her life at this point had been leaving her hometown of Sandpoint. Culture shock, for sure. But my life had been obliterated in the past month. She did not know pain. I stood there shaking as no one spoke up and no one supported me; my heart pounded, and I was left feeling even more alienated because absolutely no one understood why I felt that way. 

Returning to school after my father’s murder made me feel alone, but it also made me realize that these people I had known my whole young life had always seen me as different. Now, I was more different than I could even imagine understanding at such a young age. They weren’t the ones who had sat on the stairwell at the hospital as a nun told them that everything would be okay. She had lied. It changed me. I was damaged and my faith had been crushed. My anger boiled over at the thought of trusting God. How dare Gaylynn, someone who knew nothing about me, treat me that way?  

The irony of it all was that I was the one in our family who craved church. I’d ask my mom to take me to the services, and I wanted to go to Bible camp. I loved the stillness of the church, the clank of the kneeler coming down, the padding when my knees hit it. There was a calmness, and I didn’t know if I would ever be able to trust that again. 

I can still remember the look on Gaylynn’s face. She only knew her own faith and how it was unshakeable; she only knew that someone who didn’t believe in her God was not “okay.” She shook her head in dismay and said, “I don’t know how anyone couldn’t believe in God.” She felt safe; I did not. From that point forward, we had a rocky friendship. I never forgot. 

The days after the murder were a blur. I sat in my tiny bedroom, just big enough for a bed and dresser, with brown paneled walls meeting my eyes everywhere I looked, my closet packed full of random toys that I refused to get rid of, the Breyer horses all lined up. Would I ever play with them again? My new school clothes hung neatly, tags dangling, waiting for school to start. I remember always feeling slighted for having to live in that shoebox, but during this time it felt more like a cocoon, keeping me safe and away from the people milling around in the living room. I didn’t eat, I didn’t sleep, and I definitely didn’t speak. I just laid there staring at the walls, counting the lines in the paneling, wishing everything would just go back to the way it was. 

The living room was filled with flowers. They were sitting on every available surface: roses, carnations, pink, yellow, red, all the colors blurring, melting into each other. The cards poked out of the bouquets, leering at me, reminding me that all these people knew he was gone, making it more real.  

The lingering smell of flowers, something I had previously loved so much, became a painful reminder of my father’s absence, especially as the petals fell to the ground; slowly the flowers were gone, dead. Foil-wrapped food and Tupperware containers littered the kitchen, and people came and went through our house like a revolving door. So many people came to see us, to gawk at us. Family drove hundreds of miles to be there, and I don’t remember any of it. It was like a silent movie playing in my head. There were people moving, talking and sometimes even laughing, but for me, it’s all blank. Empty and silent. The only thing clear to me was that my dad was dead. 

The murder was all over the local news, and it was filled with misreporting that made it seem like my family was involved in some drug scandal that had led to my dad’s untimely death. One article stated that “the widow of Edward Green” cried out in court, “Why George, why?” George Johnson was the man who had killed my father; they made it sounds like my mother had intimately known him. But my mom hadn’t even been in the courtroom, let alone known George. These were the types of things that made me feel ashamed of what had happened, like we had fault in it and weren’t actually victims. That’s when I started hiding the truth. The misreporting took away my innocence — now I understood that the sources we trust to always tell the truth may not always be doing so. I don’t know why I felt so much shame, but I did. The whole thing felt dirty to me. This was something that happened to other people, corrupt people, people who deserved it. Not to a working-class family from a small town in Washington. 

My dad and me at the park, 1974.

As the days and weeks passed, the news quieted down and the articles moved farther and farther back in the paper. I heard less and less on the radio and TV, as everyone else started to move the murder to the back of their mind. Of course, I could not forget, even if I tried. I could still clearly see the headlines “2 dead, 1 critically injured in Pasco stabbing” and “Murder charges filed in stabbing.”  

After they had stopped reporting on the worst event of my life, looking at the paper and seeing trivial headlines like “Economists See Rosey Year Ahead” and “Youth Test Grooming Skills on Animals” made everything that I had gone through seem like a waste. I wavered between being angry at the reporters for using us and being mad that they weren’t saying more. But maybe it would make being at school easier; maybe my classmates would do the same thing — swiftly forget what I could not. 

What I struggled with the most was that I had been there. I continued to ask myself over and over again: Why didn’t I grab the lamp? It was sitting right by the door! I’d had to walk right past it to get out the front door, so it was within reach. I imagined myself smashing it over George Johnson’s head. I could have stayed; I could have fought. I could have done something, anything.  

I lived most of my life with survivor’s guilt, something I would learn about in my mid-twenties as I talked to different therapists, psychiatrists and psychologists. I went to so many, I eventually lost count. And ultimately, I lost faith in the process. I decided it would never work and that no one would ever understand me. It seemed like the only things that a therapist could offer me were pills and inkblots.  

Several days after the murder, we drove back into town, and I was taken back to the house on Shoshone. I don’t remember who drove me there or why they took me back. We all stood in the front yard together. Aunt Ruth, Uncle Rob and I stood there with cops milling all around us: It was still a crime scene. We walked through the door and were asked to tell them what happened. Why did it really matter? We found out that George Johnson had been high on crack cocaine and many other drugs as he’d gone through the neighborhood killing two people and injuring two more. Did we really need to go through it again? 

Pushing through the entryway where I had turned my back and ran just days earlier, leaving dad there on the couch, I saw the lamp on the table again. I stood staring at it, imagining that instead of running out the door, I had grabbed the lamp and smashed it over the man’s head, giving my dad enough time to get up off the couch. I played that scenario over and over in my head for 20 years, believing that I could’ve saved him.  

The couch, the last place I had seen my dad alive, was gone. It was so saturated with blood that they had removed it before we came back through — a small act of kindness amidst a cruel day. It was the place where he had taken the worst of it, the place where the fatal stab had happened. In its place were dried blood stains marking his last steps. I stared at the smudged, blood-stained walls where he had fought to stay standing, seeing his fingerprints where he had grabbed at the wall. I showed them where I had been sitting, then standing, on the loveseat that now sat orphaned on the opposite wall. I repeated what my dad said: “Run, run, Laura, run,” and stood in shock as we continued to tell the story of what happened. I followed the officers through the small kitchen to the back door, where the blood trail led us. Dad had made it out the back door — so close to freedom, so close to getting help. It would be there that he fell, on the deck right outside the back door. That would be where he took his last breath and ran out of fight. Soon, my grandparents would send over some friends to rip that deck up, since my uncle couldn’t stand the thought of ever seeing it again.  

Our last family photo, 1979.

Just days later, we drove back into town to the police station, where I had to go over what happened, again. I was led into a private room with manila folders littering the table, where I was left alone, waiting for someone to come back and talk to me. I stared at the folders, wanting to touch them, open them, wondering what was inside. Why would they leave them there for me to see?  

I stood in the room and answered their questions, stone-faced and broken. They asked all of their questions again, the same ones: Where were you standing? What did your dad say? Once they were done, I was able to pull it together and ask them some questions of my own. I felt my insides boiling, anger rising from my gut, begging to get out. My voice was shaking from trying to hold back the feelings that were finally emerging, and I squeaked out: “How many times was he stabbed?” My voice was laced with anger and fear. I can’t recall the number exactly anymore, but I remember the shock upon hearing that it was well into the double digits, somewhere around 30 or 40 times. The detective told me that the first stab had been fatal, straight through his heart. How then did he find the strength to tell me to run, to continue to fight him off, to try to make it out of the house after that first fatal blow? He was so strong, but not strong enough. I don’t remember crying, but I do remember the anger and the buzzing sensation in my head. I left there lightheaded, weak and more sunk into myself than ever. 

I sat in the chair in third period, alone and small. I tried desperately to concentrate on what the teacher was saying, but I just couldn’t make sense of it. I was trying to remember — remember the funeral that had been just a week before I was sent back here to sit, learn and forget. I thought about the day of the funeral and how it had brought on a torrent of emotions I didn’t even know I had inside me. We were driving to the church in our car because mom had declined to ride in a limo. I heard sirens. They weren’t close enough to see, but I could hear them so loud that it shook me: I was shaking while tears rolled silently down my cheeks, as I sat in the backseat by myself. This would be but the beginning of feeling alone, because no one knew why I was crying — no one else had seen what I had seen. They probably thought that it was just because we were heading to my father’s funeral, but the truth was that it was hard for me to hear sirens after all I had endured. With that sound, one simple sound, everything still rushes back with cutting clarity. My heart still skips a beat. I still shudder when I hear them. Over time, I finally stopped thinking that it was someone I loved in trouble. Now it just causes me to wince, before I move on.  

Twenty years later, I stood by my white van in a parking lot. It was a bright sunny day, but my eyes focused on nothing, my body going through the motions. I was meeting my “Mothers and Others” group from church at a park for our weekly summer playtime.  

Almost two decades had passed — after attempting to go to college, moving to the East Coast to work as a nanny, meeting the love of my life, getting married and having three beautiful kids. All this time ignoring the monster growing inside of me, the monster I had become very comfortable ignoring, conjuring new and destructive ways to tame it. The drinking, the bulimia and anorexia, the silence — painful tactics that did nothing to fight the monster. The illusion of mastery, when in fact I was masking it to survive. It felt more like 40 years had passed, but I hadn’t even turned 30 yet. I felt older than I was, and so worn out.  

Robin, the resident mom and facilitator of our group, came over and helped me get the kids out of the car. I had stood there for far too long with the kids buckled into their car seats, their persistent chatter about getting out of the van not breaking me out of my daze. I was just staring at nothing. She helped me get them out of the car and send them off to the other moms, then asked if she could speak with me. I stood there wondering what she could possibly want to say.  

“Laura, I know there is something wrong with you. How can I help? You are not the same woman from just a few months ago. What is going on?”  

I respected Robin greatly, and she was the first person from a church that I had trusted in a long time, ever since that fateful moment with the nun. So, I stood there with tears sliding down my face as I told her, “I don’t know if I can go on anymore.” I had tried going back to church several times and always left feeling disappointed — until I’d been invited to be a part of the moms’ group at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Federal Way, Washington. I didn’t know then, but that would be the day that someone finally noticed that I was not okay and actually said something. I couldn’t ignore it anymore; I was finally forced to see it. That day would begin to restore my faith, because I had finally been seen — sometimes miracles occur and you don’t recognize them as such while they’re happening. I had been so disappointed by the church and God, left aching and mourning a missing piece, the piece that would fix the broken puzzle that was my life.  

After the parking lot breakdown, I started meeting with Robin and finally began talking for the first time in my life. I told her the entire sordid tale of my dad being murdered before my very own eyes. No one had ever asked before. She sat, listened, didn’t pity me or try to fix it right away. She just assessed what I needed. Later, she made a plan and took me to see several therapists. None of them worked for me. Then she said, “The church has a psychologist here that rents a spot, and you would get a discount.” I met with Bruce while Robin watched my daughter Aspen for me. The first meeting was a success. And so it was decided that I would meet with Bruce weekly, and the church would help pay for my therapy. Bruce would be the second piece of the broken puzzle, which had started to fix itself. Those missing pieces were starting to show up and fit. 

During my last appointment before leaving for our new home in Portland, Oregon, I sat in Bruce’s office saying goodbye, after spending the last six months healing under his guidance. He and Robin had saved my life — saved a mother, a sister, and a daughter from killing herself. From doing something she couldn’t come back from. It wouldn’t be the last time I thought I couldn’t go on, but it would be the last time that I didn’t know what to do about it. 

My legs swung back and forth in the folding chair I had brought to the soccer field in Portland. I opened the black Dell laptop that my cousin had given me. She’d handed it over and said, “Here you go, do it.” We didn’t have a laptop — only a desktop — at home. I had talked to my cousin, the only person I dared speak my feelings and memories to, about getting it all down on paper and finally facing what I had gone through. The murder, going back to school two weeks later, no one ever recognizing what I had gone through. I needed to make sense of what had happened.  

I started typing, the keys clicking and the feelings just pouring out faster than I could type. It was like verbal diarrhea; it just kept coming out and I couldn’t stop it. As my daughter ran on the sun-dried field kicking soccer balls, I sat there with tears streaming down my face. A little piece of me started to heal as I started telling the story I had kept locked away deep down inside.  

A new battle had just begun: How to tell the story that had changed my life, changed the person I was and who I should’ve been? It was the beginning of the next half of my journey: to tell my story and stop being ashamed of what had happened to me. I had to stop pretending that it didn’t happen. I couldn’t pretend that we weren’t front-page news, that we weren’t the family from one of the most horrific murders in the state. I wasn’t going to hide anymore. I’d write the story and I’d find a way to publish it. Then it would be over … wouldn’t it?