Saturday, January 28, 2012

Victim Impact after 7 years

Last summer I worked on a biography of my dad for the online journal Its November, 2011 issue was dedicated to my Dad. It contains a comprehensive review of his life and his profound impact on several different branches of paleontology. He continues to be deeply missed by the scientific community.

Now I have been invited to contribute to a very different kind of review: the parole hearing of one of the 5 people who ended his life. What relevant contribution can I offer to a parole hearing? It seems to me that what I have to say can best be expressed in an open letter to Ms. K.

Dear Ms. K,

Just over 7 years ago, you had a home and my dad was alive. Then, just after New Year's in 2005, you sat at your kitchen table while your husband and his associates plotted to ransack my father's home for drug money. I heard you took notes.

Mr. S claims that he told your husband and his friend to go at a time when my ailing father was not at home. This is ridiculous since he was mostly housebound. So they chose to go in the middle of the night. They succeeded in ransacking the house and savagely murdering my father.

Here we are 7 years later and I have been invited to write a Victim Impact Statement for your parole hearing. I don't know you. I don't know what the last 7 years have been like for you. I doubt that living in a Women's Correctional Institution has taught you much compassion. Perhaps you have learned to respect other people's property. Compassion and respect for others are the two qualities you need to learn. If you had either, you would never have participated in this inexcusable and horrific crime.

I understand you didn't know that my father had been murdered by your husband and his friend until a few days later. But the basic point is that you do not have the right to take other people's things just because you need more money for drugs. If you and the others had understood that basic fact, none of you would have planned to go over to his house that night in the first place.

But this is supposed to be a Victim Impact Statement. I am only one of the victims of your actions. Let me tell you a bit about what the impact of that night has been for me and for some others.

A large number of paleontologists are also victims of your rash deeds. They still miss him badly. You robbed the world of science of a unique and brilliant man.

My brother still worries everytime he goes out in public with his small children. He has become aware, thanks to the five of you, that the world is not a safe place and that he is helpless to protect the people he loves most from crazy, drug addicted people like the five of you. He copes with terror.

As for me, every year about this time, I have a very strong reaction. Sometimes I don't consciously remember that this is the anniversary of the murder, but my body remembers. I feel horribly sick or I have a night when I am utterly awake and jump at small sounds. Or I feel strangled and suffocated.

I saw the photos of what your husband and friend did to my dad and I heard the description of what it was probably like for him while he died. For a long time, I would dream it was me that it happened to and I would live through his last few moments over and over. I felt horribly guilty that I allowed him to die alone and by violence. It was his worst nightmare. I think I felt that, since I wasn't there for him when he was murdered, I could at least face the horror of his death and stand witness to it.

I think you knew that he was a WWII soldier since you wanted his Nazi memorabilia. Maybe you didn't know he had PTSD. He often had flashbacks of being a POW. I know he expected to die in POW camp. I wonder if, as he lay convulsing and suffocating, he hallucinated that he was back in the Stalag and dying. I imagine he did.

About a year after the murder, our landlady needed some work done on the roof of the building and insisted that I stay home in case the roofers needed anything. All I could think of was that the people who planned my father's murder were roofers! The first day I spent quivering and sobbing in a little ball in the corner of my living room as they pounded on the roof. I was sure they were coming in to murder me. The next day I told the roofers my fears and they assured me that I didn't need to be home for them. I spent the next few days at Starbucks.

This was about when I decided maybe I needed therapy. I have been in therapy ever since. My therapist has helped me let go of my fears, for the most part, and I rarely dream of my father's murder anymore. But only a year ago we needed a new furnace and the man who came to install it reminded me of Michael M. I completely paniced all over again. I called everyone I knew and talked to them loudly so that the installer would know that I was not alone. A good friend came over and stayed with me until he left and that really helped. But I still had trouble sleeping for the next 3 weeks because I was afraid they were going to come back in the night and murder my family the way you all did.

Any day I get mail from the Colorado State Department of Corrections is an automatic signal for my husband to order pizza because I will be in no condition to cook dinner. Yet I can't feel safe unless I know that they will keep me updated on the 5 of you.

We pay for the most expensive burglar alarm system we can afford. It connect directly to the police and fire departments and it has a “panic button.”

7 years ago, I was a confident, cheerful, happy woman. Most days I still appear to be that person. But a hard kernel of fear and mistrust has taken root inside me. It will bloom into full scale panic from time to time unexpectedly. I miss who I used to be.

I am a Catholic. Every week during Mass we say, “Forgive us our tresspasses as we forgive those who tresspass against us.” And every week when I say that one of your faces pops up in my minds eye. There is no one who has tresspassed against me more than the five of you. And I am supposed to forgive you. This makes me angry.

In the last 7 years, I have come to realize that you hurt me badly and damaged me (perhaps permanently) by your actions. But that was a one time act. As I allow myself to relive it, I am hurting myself over and over again. Some of that I can't help, but some of it I can stop by trying to forgive you. As I let go of my anger and grief and learn to forgive the five of you, I can slowly put an end to the nightmares and the terror. I must forgive the five of you so that I can stop the memories from hurting me any more. I have made some headway in forgiving the five of you for damaging me and my family so badly, but I still have a way to go. My father managed to forgive his captors and become a brilliant scientist in spite of his PTSD. I imagine he would want me to finally forgive the 5 of you so that I can be free from the damage you all did to me. 7 years has not been enough time for me or my family or the scientists to completely move on from that day.

I have no idea whether or not 7 years is enough time for you to be sufficiently punished or whether you deserve parole because I don't know what you have done with yourself while in jail. I am grateful that it really isn't my decision to make. I hope, if they allow you to move to a halfway house, you will manage to live a better life. I hope I never need to hear your name again.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Star Stuff

We've been streaming documentaries about how the universe works and physics beyond Einstein and I've been listening to Richard Feynman on Audiobooks lately.  It's fascinating stuff.  Frankly, I don't understand it at all, but it gives me lots of grist for random philosophical thoughts.

For example: I love the idea that we are made up of star matter and that the cells in our bodies are constantly renewing themselves.  I forget how fast this happens, but all the cells in our bodies are completely different from the cells we had just recently.  The man who said that mentioned how amazing it is that we stay the same even though we have no single cell in common with those we were made of a few days ago.

I've also been sorting, scanning and publishing all the slides my dad left behind.  They go back more than 60 years and there are a lot of them. I can tell you personally that MY cells have not been replicating themselves exactly for the last 60 years.  There is a big difference!  It might be a gradual evolution, but I'm definitely not the same person I was.  Looking at the photo of me beside the fossil "zebra" I found in 1965, you can easily believe that young girl shares no cell with me.

I'm clearly not the same collection of cells as this high school graduate in 1969 either.  Oddly, we have almost the same hairstyle...

You can see more of my family photos at if you are interested.

This idea that I move through the universe as a random, loosely connected, bunch of atoms with a bit of consciousness intrigues me.  This bunch of atoms will someday loose their cohesiveness and that flicker of consciousness will shuffle off this mortal coil and um do something else.  (Or not.)

This bunch of atoms I call me landed here and has been traveling through the illusion of time for a bit, but it is closer to the end of this interlude than the beginning.  I'm thinking a lot about that since my 60th birthday.

My parents both were very active into their 80's and I hope to follow in their footsteps.  My mom is still running things, but you can't deny she's slowing down.  So I think it is safe to say I probably have a few decades left in me.  But I'm about 75% done.

Or maybe I'm just 75% ready for the next big thing.