BACKPACKER’S BANDAID FOR THE SOUL.
What do you do when you can’t take anymore, soaked to the bone with a wound on the soul? When you carry everything you own on your back, bent under the weight of your pack, when you feel isolated in a crowd, in a city by yourself, standing, being apart, when you see the doubt and the question, “Are you telling a lie?” in people’s eyes, what do you do? What do you use?
Me? I cry. My tears flow inside. There is no protection against the rejection. Can’t hide the scars anymore. They burn away joy.
Hiking along the trail, away from civilization and shopping malls, loaded down with whether or not I will survive jammed into a big bag on my shoulders, I slap on the backpacker’s bandage, a maxi-pad, used by both sexes when out in the woods. Can it absorb the hurts in my soul? When will the wounds be no more? Nightmares that haunt me at night, migraines that pound their way into my brain, agony hiding behind my teeth as I smile.
When the hurt heals just a little, when I feel strong enough to be with people I attend a support group of my peers. They are my equals - but are they?
Death is the common theme we discuss. Death claimed someone we still love. We express our grief, share a common memoir of loss, sorrow. Each story is different. No worse, none easiest. We survive, but do we?
Death is not a stage of life. Death is the end of life. Death happens when a baby is born too soon or too sick. Death visits without warning after a sudden illness or a wreck in a vehicle. Sometimes, it’s welcomed as a long awaited friend after old age has broken down the body with aches and ailments and our loved ones are worn from taking care of us. Heroes, our soldiers kill in war defending our country.
Murder is deliberate - an - out of control sick rage evil abuse. Murder is the means of death against those we lost.
What happened to being sentenced and condemned, eye for an eye, pay with your life for taking one away violently? Victims’ families are advised to request a sentence of natural life - instead of death – because of the cruelty of the years and decades of appeals the murderers have the right to receive. Only a few of the convicted receive this wicked compromise - life in prison. Most murderers are freed too soon to make room for more murderers in luxury-over-indulged prison systems - like the one who murdered my six-year-old, freed – after serving nine years behind bars – out early because of “good behavior.”
Convicted murderers have their rights: free legal counsel, free room and board, free medical care, free clothes, free toilet. Once released, they are free to burn and destroy again, if they choose. We have no right to know where they go or what they do. They could be planning on coming back and snuffing out the rest of who we love, our rebuilt lives, pieced together with barbs in the wires.
Convicted murderers continue on - in jail or out - while we struggle to breathe. For as long as we live. For as long as our loved ones are in their graves, or become cinders in an urn on the mantle by the tired clock, or line the roots of a new tree along a glistening river, or a jumping cholla cactus in rocks and sand and desert.
The murdered are a mother and her fetus, a two-year-old wide eyed toddler, a seventeen-year old kid sprouting proud whiskers on his chin, a fifty year old sister with tight black curls and whispers of silver at her temples, the adopted son of your heart and your wife’s blood. We hear in horror how their lives were obliterated by bullets, a fist, a knife, a high-speed chase powered by a drunk/drug influenced maniacal idiot slamming into an innocent at the wrong place/time.
We share our shock, denial, guilt, bargaining, depression, isolation, and acceptance and are told once we go through these “stages,” we’ll be fine. Sorry, Kubler-Ross, these rules don’t apply to us.
We are given six weeks, six months, then we are told by those who don’t know to, “Get over it.” Get over it?
Get used to living without our hearts, our purpose, our loves? How are we supposed to do that?
We cry and grieve and wander, lost. We touch their clothes, inhale their scent, remember the holidays, recall the joy, listen for their voice, expect them to come through the door, pick up the phone. But no more.
We bond in our thoughts, reminisce, share how we deal with our grief, shock, fear, panic. Talk about the trials, charges, what’s been done to prosecute the perpetrators, the monsters who ripped our families apart.
Justice? There is no justice in the justice system for us.
For a moment, in my group, as we share, I feel that connection, my spirit rises. I hope - I might connect and stay for a bit. Welcome.
But then - there’s the truth – the dissociation between the bereaved of the murdered – and me.
The truth? I was accused of being one of those, the murderer of a child, a bad guy, a heinous cold fiendish freak hated with passion. I was fingerprinted, photographed, arraigned, brought before a judge - and condemned. To hell. Alone. In a crowd. Forever.
The chasm of prejudice sets me apart.
Charges of murder against me were eventually dismissed without prejudice. I wasn’t declared innocent. Charges could be brought again. For eighteen years. I waited, lived in fear and panic. I grew old, disabled in the interval, thirty-four years, waiting, wondering, until charges were dismissed with prejudice. Charges can’t be brought again. I wasn’t declared innocent but another was declared guilty. As sin.
If bad things don’t happen to good people, I must have been a devil in another life, or this one, hiding from God, evil thoughts, demonic treason, to be charged with killing my child.
The truth? They chose me. The police, my ex-husband, the babysitter, the coroner, my-ever- loving family, the good righteous people of my church, the prosecutor. They chose me. They accused me. Choosing me threw the guilt and responsibility off of their lazy-ass role in my vulnerability.
To exonerate means to clear from blame, relieve of responsibility, or hardship.
Exonerate me. Please. Make it go away. Like it never happened, this heritage of nightmares from PTSD, constant, incessant migraine making thyroid killing reality, the most savage experience of my life, when I was accused of murdering my child.
That moment should have been when I was beaten by a husband who loved to abuse me. That should have been when I was told my baby was born with Cornelia de Lange Syndrome and he wasn’t expected to live or grow. That should have been the moment I realized my son had died.
But I was charged with his murder by a bunch of incompetent misogynistic men with political titles and power. Brutal. Cruel. Hell.
Fear is the panic I feel when loneliness hits me on the skull. I can’t do this alone. Not at this moment. Not anymore.
The doorbell rings, the dogs bark and growl and run around. It’s Annie, my new neighbor. She read my book and wants to talk. I’m a bit apprehensive but sure, come in. She offers coffee, compassion, concern, kindness, care. Her benevolence in listening is an unexpected gift of hope and acceptance. We greet, really meet. We bond.
Her friendship recharges me to forgive the ignorant again, the ones who question me, reject me. They haven’t hiked in my boots or carried my pack of fear and grief and despair. I’m the only one who knows how burdensome that is but it’s certainly nice rest for a while.
As Long As I Breathe is dedicated to:
survivors of emotional, physical, spiritual, or sexual abuse,
those who have had to bury a murdered child,
former members of a misogynistic religious cult,
children born with Cornelia de Lange Syndrome,
and anyone who was falsely accused of a crime.
Joyce A Lefler is the author of
From Miracle to Murder: Justice For Adam.
She is a facilitator for Parents of Murdered Children,
a bereavement counselor, registered nurse,
and an advocate against abuse.
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