A Broken Fall

by Jamereia Rouse

A Broken Fall

Falling leaves and occasional wind chills signaled that horrific time of year again. That first Fall day was a true eye opener and let me see who I was really living with for the past sixteen years. It was as if the whole episode was a made-for-TV movie and I was cast as the lead. I was a witness to something that would no doubt haunt me every single day thereafter. That was the one and only time I actually wished I was never born.

Even though I moved away years after it happened, something always brought me back on the first day of fall. Instead of revisiting the house I lived in, I went to my moms favorite place, which was a campground with a lake a few miles outside the city that had the most beautiful waterfall. I found peace there because the surroundings were so amazing to look at. The lake had to be hundreds of years old and, in my mind, the water flowing was not the same as the year before, but it was the same lake despite any new flowing deposits; just like my life was still my life despite moving on and trying to forget the past. New beginnings still harbored old feelings and watching the water flow was like reliving every sickening memory one wave after another.

Since Fall had officially arrived the leaves were changing colors. The trees around the lake were gorgeous reds and yellows. Such a beautiful time of year yet such a depressing feeling it gave me. It felt weird being at the lake by myself; although I had been going for the past couple years. As I sat down on the gravel by the shore watching the waves flow on the lake, all I could think about was whether or not I should jump in. If I did, Id probably want to stay in and drown. That would be the only way for me to see my mother again. The hours leading up to what happened five years ago played over and over in my mind while I sat there. I never wouldve imagined Id be put in such a situation and I remembered it like it was yesterday.

The day was like any other normal day in our house. Dad had gone to work at his security firm and mom worked at home as a seamstress. I came home from school, did my homework, ate dinner then went to bed a few hours later. For some reason I had a hard time staying asleep and I kept tossing and turning. At 3:35 a.m. I got up to get a glass of warm milk hoping it would help me sleep. I walked to the kitchen downstairs and I heard a faint thumping noise and muffled screams. It sounded like it was coming from the basement. The door to the basement was shut so I leaned up against it and tried to listen. The noise continued and got a little bit louder as I slowly opened the door, but left it cracked just so I could peek inside. What I saw at the foot of the stairs made my stomach drop. It was my dad - - repeatedly beating my mother with a hammer as she was sprawled out on the floor. I could see her spitting out blood and her face grotesquely battered. Then he kicked her in the face with his boot. There I was at the top of the stairs peeking through the door holding my hand over my mouth silently screaming in agony while my father smashed her head into the floor over and over again. He was a monster in a human form.

Once she stopped moving he quit beating her and stood up and walked away for a few seconds. As he walked back over to her I saw him pointing his gun down at her and he fired one shot into the side of her head. The shot wasnt loud because the gun had a silencer on it. At that moment I knew she was gone. I wanted to turn away so bad, but I couldnt. This was so unreal that I had to keep looking. Regrettably, I looked one second too long. After he shot my mom in the head he looked up and saw the basement door wasnt completely closed. I didnt know for sure whether he actually saw me or if he just noticed the door was cracked. Fearing for my own life, I tried to run back upstairs making as little noise as possible. As soon as I got to my room I locked the door and hid in my closet, but made the huge mistake of not grabbing the house phone to call the cops before I shut the door. Then, I heard my bedroom doorknob rattle. He was coming to get me and I had no escape.

The doorknob rattled a few more times before it completely stopped for a few minutes. The rattling stopped, and the banging began. He was literally trying to break the door down. He was grunting and yelling out my name for me to open the door. Every passing second I prayed he would forget about the skeleton key for all the bedroom door locks that he kept in the kitchen drawer. I sat in the closet crying and waiting minute after minute for the banging to stop. I figured while he was making all that noise he wouldnt be able to hear me creep out the closet to grab the phone. So I snuck out and crawled over to my nightstand where the phone was. The banging stopped and I quickly grabbed the phone. Before going back into the closet I opened my window. My room was on the second floor and pavement was directly below. Jumping out wouldve cracked both my ankles then I couldnt run away. However, I did leave the window open so he would think I jumped if he somehow did get in my room. Then I hid back in the closet and called 911.

The dispatcher picked up the line. 911, whats your emergency?

I need help, please. I spoke softly into the receiver.

Im sorry, maam can you speak a little louder please? the dispatcher responded.

I tried to speak my words more slowly and clear. My dadkilled my momand hes trying to kill me.

Maam, did you say your dad killed your mom? the dispatcher asked again.At that moment I heard the doorknob rattling again then the door opened. He had found the skeleton key and was now in my room. I quickly hung up my cell phone and remained quiet. I bent down to look through the crack at the bottom of the door and saw my dads feet walking in the direction of my bedroom window that I had opened. Even though I couldnt see much I was really hoping he would think I jumped out. He turned around and started walking back towards the door when the house phone rang from inside the closet. 911 was calling me back since I hung up. My plan to fool my dad was foiled and I saw his feet walking towards the closet door. He paused in front of the door, then swung it open. My heart was beating a million times a minute as I stared into my fathers eyes. His clothes were covered in blood and he had the gun in his hand. The phone started ringing again and he grabbed it from my hand, threw it up against the wall and it shattered. He was breathing hard and knelt down in front of me as I huddled up in the closet crying and scared to death.

Who was that Candice? he asked me sarcastically. Who could possibly be calling you this late?

Daddy, please, I begged him. Please dont.

Whatchu doin in the closet Candice? The sarcasm was gone and anger was written all over his face.

Wh-what are y-you doin with that gundad? I was trying really hard to play dumb. What is is that all over you and w-wheres mom?

You think Im stupid Candice? Huh?! He started to get even more angry and stood up and pointed the gun at me. Get out here. Now.

I stood up slowly, never taking my eyes off him for even a second. As I moved closer to my window I backed up against the wall. I wanted to make a run for it so badly, but I didnt risk it. I kept glancing at my bedroom door, which was wide open, but I figured one wrong move and hed put a bullet in me. I couldve tried to jump out the window, but the pavement underneath wouldve hurt me before his bullets could hit me. So I just stood there watching at him shake like a leaf pointing that gun at me. He almost looked scared or nervous himself. When I saw him in the basement hovering over my mom, he was an animal; now that he was facing me, he didnt seem to have the same expression he had with her.

Why are you doin this dad? I asked quietly. How could you turn on me and mom like this?

How could I? His face showed so much anger as veins popped out of his forehead and neck. How could you and your mother lie to me? How could you and that tramp lie to me about you being my daughter?!

I looked at him confused. What?! What are you talkin about; I didnt lie to you about anything!

Shut up! Just shut up and dont say nothing to me! You had your chance to talk and so did your mother. Its too late for apologies.

Im not apologizing! I have no idea what youre talkin about, dad.

He reached into his back pocket and pulled out a picture. He held it out in front for me to see. The picture was my mom, me as a baby - only a few months old - and an unknown man dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit. My mom was holding me and the man was standing next to her with his arm around her. I had no clue who this man was.

Dad, I dont even know who that is, I tried explaining.

Oh you dont huh? he replied. Then he pulled out a piece of paper from his back pocket. Then I guess you dont know what this is either. He tossed the paper at my face and it fell to the ground.

I bent down to pick it up and realized it had a lot of writing on it. After I unfolded it I read the words My dearest Samantha at the very top and on the back it was signed Your True Love, Calvin. Obviously it was a letter written to my mom from some guy named Calvin. In the middle of the letter there was one sentence in particular that was circled with a red marker. The sentence read Im happy our daughter knows who her daddy is. My stomach fell to the floor and I was at a loss for words.My dad was still holding the gun pointed at my face. You know who daddy is? Is that daddy, huh, Candice. Is that daddy?!

Dad, this has to be a mistake! I dont know this man, I swear! You cant believe what it says! I am your daughter!

Of course I wont believe a picture. He lowered the gun and his voice was no longer as loud. I had a blood test done, Candice. I wanted to know for myself before I even confronted your mother with this picture and letter I found hiding in her dresser. He started to pace around the room. The other night before dinner I slipped a few sleeping pills in your drink before you and your mother came to the table. After you ate and you passed out on the couch I slit your arm and wiped up the blood with a tissue. Then I picked you up carried you to your bed.

And when I woke up I wondered why I had a bandage on and I saw the cut underneath when I unwrapped it. You told me my arm grazed up against the corner of my nightstand as you put me in bed.

He nodded his head yes. Yeah I know what I said. I opened your mouth and swabbed it too. Trust me I did my homework Candice. When I went down to the lab and had that test done, everything inside of me just died when I got the results back. 99.99% sure I was not the father. And I didnt need Maury to do it.

Tears started streaming down my face once again, but I still didnt take my eyes off him the whole time. I looked so deep into his eyes hoping that he would feel my hurt and pain and realize I had no idea that he wasnt my real father.

Dad, I began to speak softly. Do you honestly think I knew? How could you possibly think that?

I mean, dont you think over the years I wouldve said something to you about it or asked you who my real father was?

Not if your mother told you not to.

Dad, what kid listens to their parents?! At some point throughout these sixteen years I wouldve spilled the beans, I mean cmon, dad. Honestly. No adult tells their five or six year old kid a secret like that and expect him to keep it. Mom never told me anything.

He raised the gun at me again. Then why did he say Im happy our daughter knows who her daddy is?

I dont know dad; I swear I dont. Maybe she told him that she would eventually tell me or maybe she would show me the picture one day or just because he was pictured with me and mom I would somehow miraculously know he was my real dad or some other stupid reason. Dad Im telling the truth.He lowered the gun once again and placed it on my bed. I know youre telling the truth Candice. But all I could think about was her lying to me about you and whoever that bastard was in the picture.I wiped the tears on my face. Is that why you did that to her?

I didnt do anything to her Candice! She did that to herself! Shes the one who stepped outside our marriage! Shes the one who lied to me about who my child was! She broke up the family; not me!Dad I understand you being pissed off about it, but what you did doesnt justify it. Dad Ive never in my life seen you so much as hurt a fly or yell at anyone. All of a sudden you turned into a raging bull. He sighed and sat on the edge of my bed. Look I dont care who that man is. Youre my father and no stupid letter or picture will ever change that.

Suddenly I noticed blue and red lights shining outside my window. I stood up and saw policemen get out of two squad cars and walk towards the front door. I didnt know what to do and my dad just sat on my bed covering his face with his hands. The doorbell rang over and over and the officers pounded on the door. They were yelling for us to open the door and I didnt know if I should risk going to answer it because the gun was still next to my dad. I thought about picking it up, but also thought the police would assume I shot my mom if my fingerprints were on his gun. After the officers banged on the door a couple more times my dad got up and walked out my room straight down to the front door. I followed behind him slowly and peeked around the corner. He opened the door and before the cops said anything, dad bluntly told them what he had done. The officers arrested him on the spot.

The other officers came into the house and saw me standing with my back against the wall in the hallway. They asked if I was all right and led me to one of the squad cars separated from my dad. I sat in the back and stared out the window at my dad who was staring back at me with the saddest and most disappointing expression. My mothers lies and deception drastically turned my dad into a cold-blooded killer. Down at the police station my dad told them everything that happened and the events leading up to the murder. He explained how he found the letter in my moms drawer while he was searching for their checkbook. He told them that he didnt immediately confront her because he wanted to see for himself that he really wasnt my father. After he drugged me and cut my arm for blood he had a DNA test done. The results coming back as another man being my father sent him into a downward spiral, but the thing that ultimately put him over the top was catching my mom in the basement after hours writing a letter to her lover Calvin. Then things got out of control when my mom was trying to turn it around and make my dad out to be the bad guy by telling him he invaded her privacy and had no right to read her letters or ask her about any of it. She wouldnt even admit what she did and told my dad to go straight to Hell. Seconds after that, my dad completely lost it and grabbed a hammer off the shelf. Not even thinking once, he lashed at her causing her to fall to the floor then proceeded to beat her senseless. He also told them why he decided to shoot her even after he had already beaten her to death. The beating wasnt enough for him. He shot her to make things even between them. She had hurt him twice so he killed her twice.

Surprisingly enough, he told the officers that he never intended on killing me. The thought ran through his mind when he spotted me watching him, but said he wouldnt have had the guts to shoot and kill his daughter - blood or no blood - I was still his little girl and all the anger and resentment in the world couldnt make him kill his child. At the time, I didnt believe him. Obviously he had the guts to viciously attack his own wife so why not his daughter too? He never gave any indication that he wouldnt shoot me too since he thought I knew he wasnt my dad. But then I realized his rage really wasnt directed towards me; it was either my mom or my biological father. Through all the pain he refused to see me as the girl he raised and was a father to. I honestly couldnt say whether I thought he would kill me or not. I just didnt know for sure, but his gruesome act towards my mom and pointing the gun in my face spoke an entirely different story than the one he told the cops.A few weeks later after I had been placed in a group home, my dad pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and avoided going to trial and face a possible death sentence. With his written and verbal confession there wouldve been no point in having a trial. Unlike my mother, he owned up to what he did and took his punishment as it stood in front of him. I attended his sentencing and the judge asked me if I had anything to say to my father before he was officially handed his prison term. At first I declined, then I changed my mind and stepped up to the podium behind the prosecutors table. I let out a big breath of air and spoke into the microphone.

I began to speak while glancing around the courtroom at all the people who had attended the hearing. My dad always told me that blood is thicker than water. Family should always help family. No questions asked. No if, ands or buts about it. My father was the best male role model to me and has always put me and my mom before anything or anyone. Thats what blood would do. Him finding out that his own blood turned out to be water caused him to lose his mind. He felt betrayed by my mom and at the time it seemed as if I betrayed him too. He told the police he never wanted to kill me, but I cant honestly say I believe him. I would like to, but I cant. I wasnt his blood anymore and there was no need for him to be a family with me or my mom. It terrified me to see my dad welding a gun at my face. It shattered my heart to see him do what he did to my mother. She was his wife for so long and he loved her more than his own life. She dug a hole so deep in his heart and in his mind and she never even took responsibility for lying. She wasnt his loving wife because his wife never lied to him. Although he did kill her, I dont believe he intended to kill her. He had never been that pissed off before and he knew of no other ways to handle it except revenge. I love my father and I love my mother too even though she played us both. Im still trying to forgive her and Im also trying to forgive him.

My voice began breaking and I wiped tears that fell down my cheeks.

I hate what he did to her and I absolutely hate what she did to us. But I love them because they are my parents and they will always be my blood. I know my dad is not a monster and everything he did came from the darkest place in his mind. He felt hurt and he acted out his pain. He always told me that time heals all wounds and forgiveness is the one thing people dont wanna do, but I dont know if anything will help him heal from this. I dont know if anything will ever help me.

I turned to face the judge.

Whatever sentence he receives still wont be enough time to heal his broken heart or find it in himself to forgive her at all. I pray that it does happen. This may be an unforgivable act, but I have faith in him. Hes my father and no DNA test can tell me were not blood. So thats all I want to say.

I continued to wipe tears from my face and sat back down on the bench. The judge thanked me and told my dad to rise. After a few brief words about his crime and his state of mind during the killing, the judge stated that acknowledging the truth and being overwhelmingly livid about a situation does not justify such a brutal attack that ultimately led to him violently beating her and shooting her in the head. It was a crime of passion and he let his emotions run wild and refused to realize that what he was doing was still wrong whether he was understandably furious or not. The judge handed down a sentence of thirty years to life with the possibility of parole. He was also required to undergo psychiatric treatment while incarcerated and could not have any contact with me while I was still a minor. In a way, that decision kind of relieved me; on the other hand I felt like he was once again being hurt, but I had no say in the judges decision. What happens after my eighteenth birthday and being a legal aged adult was solely in my hands. But it was too early to tell whether or not I would want to have contact with him, yet I knew I would feel guilty if I didnt and it would end with me being the last one to hurt him.

Weeks and months following the sentence were some of the hardest for me to deal with. The whole ordeal was fresh in my mind and I experienced horrendous nightmares and night terrors, which led to me speaking to my guidance counselor at school and a crisis counselor who personally visited me in the group home. I spent an entire year in the group home trying to recover and trying to focus on school. Eventually I got back on track and became an honor student again. I continued to excel during 11th and 12th grade even though I was still living in a group home. Near the end of my senior year I was offered full scholarships to colleges nearby and one college in another city. I didnt even think twice about choosing the college out of the city because it would be just the thing I needed to officially start a new life. However, just like in high school, every time I realized summer was about to be over and the first day of Fall arrived, I couldnt help but think about what happened and I made the decision to drive back to the place where I grew up with my family. I knew going back by the old house would automatically make me think of the murder and nothing else, so going to the campground was a better idea because nothing bad had ever happened there.

As I neared the end of my college years and prepared for the real world, I wondered how many trips I would continue down to the lake. Each visit I could picture all of us having a ball playing in the water or fishing or having a cookout. If I really planned on moving on from the past I would have to give up the lake too. I would also have to give up my dad. I left town, but I did make the choice to continue being apart of his life and write him every so often. All the letters I received from him reminded me of how much I loved him and missed him. Unfortunately reading his name as an inmate in the department of corrections and not being able to see my mom on her birthday reminded me why he was there. It was an ongoing love/hate feeling whether I was reading his letters or writing my letters. I also resented the fact that my mom had no burial plot since we had no family anywhere near us and the city just decided to cremate her body and dispose the ashes with other unclaimed bodies. Since I couldnt visit her grave I chose the place I knew her presence would be felt. In this situation I had to be fair. If I couldnt physically speak to or see my mother ever again, I made the decision not to visit my father in prison - except for one particular day, which was his birthday. That was the one day most important in his life and I felt he should at least have a few minutes of happiness from his only family who still loved him and I was grateful that I could actually see him and talk to him no matter how angry I was.

Spending time at the lake and privately reminiscing about my family always had my mind racing and wandering in every direction. Not once did I ever consider contacting my biological father. Doing so only wouldve pulled me further away from the man who raised me. There were still unanswered questions I never got to address with my mom and there was no closure to that. The only closure I got was actually coming to terms with who she really was and what she really did. My mother broke up her marriage and dad broke up the family. Blood or not, water or not they were both still my parents and I never stopped loving either one of them; even in the season of our broken Fall. Maybe next Fall I could finally say to myself out loud Mom and dad I do forgive you and the first day of Fall wont be broken forever. Whats important is that I dont break in the process of healing from it all.

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