This story is by Gloria and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I’ve been here before. It seems like I live here lately. I loathe this room and I crave being here. Today is the big day, the day they sentence him.
They found him guilty much to my relief. I thought when I heard “we find him guilty”, that there would be a high, a righteousness, a justification, any feeling that would wash away the agonizing sorrow and hate that consumed me. None of the feelings eased my pain. I hoped coming this morning for his sentencing would do it.
I wanted to hate this sixteen-year old boy-man. I wanted to hate him enough to cut out his entrails. A sadness awakening in me, left me confused. I stopped listening to the lawyer with his bullshit-stories. I wanted to remember my little girl. She loved when I sang Daddy’s Little Girl to her as we danced around the living room. Her smiling face. Her laughter. Her tears of joy and happiness when we brought home the puppy for her birthday. Her sleepy head on my shoulder as I carried her around. And I wanted to remember what this bastard did to her. That I could never hold her in my arms again. I could never dance with her again. I could never forgive myself for not protecting her. Yea, I know it’s “not my fault”, her Mom keeps reminding me of this and our parents, too. But it was my job to protect her, love her, teach her and guide her through life. Seven years old is not life enough for anyone, especially my little girl.
I promised I would remember what he took from me and my hatred to push away the sadness. I could not understand how Elizabeth could forgive. Something about God commanding us to do so as He forgives us. I knew God and loved Him, but forgive that bastard? No, I could not.
I closed my eyes and tuned out the cold, dark paneled walls with the judge’s big mahogany desk, and two guards standing on each side. Grey-haired Judge Whitney seemed fair. The thirty something people in the room were a blur. Elizabeth did not come. She said they found him guilty and he would do his penance for what he did to our little girl. That going for his sentencing would be a waste of time. Instead, she went to Elizabeth Park, one of our favorite places to walk as a family. I could still hear Ashley’s excitement as she saw the rows of flowers in an array of colors. I could still see her racing over to touch the flowers before her Mommy stopped her, saying, “Don’t touch the flowers dear, the oil on your hands causes the pedals to wither faster.”
My heart felt lighter. I forgot where I was. Then I heard his voice. A shiver went through me and I opened my eyes. I looked around. There was no one sitting next to me. “Where is Elizabeth?” I spoke out loud. My face was wet. I was confused and must have been weeping sitting on the hard bench in this cold court room awaiting the sentencing for the boy-man who raped and murdered my little girl. I reached for my handkerchief and wiped my face. I missed Elizabeth not sitting by my side comforting me. I missed her whispers of encouragement. She came every day for the two-month long trial. The verdict announced, we heard the words, “we find the defendant guilty of first-degree murder”. We cried openly together as we often did at home. Our parents came too, taking turns, as they baby sat for little Richie. Today, only my parents are here, sitting in the back row.
This boy-man bastard is now being given a chance to speak on his behalf, explain why the judge should be lenient and not seek the death penalty. “You gave my daughter a death sentence, why not you”, I said audibly, to myself. He talks about his abusive childhood. How his father raped and beat him and his Mom. How he was a sick man and had no control over his actions. How he did not want to kill her.
He described what happened. He broke into her bedroom window and carried her out in the night. He brought her to his parent’s basement where he lived. All he wanted to do was have sex with her. She was screaming, so he stuffed a sock in her mouth. He undressed her and raped her. Done with his hideous act, he looked into her face. He saw the fear and her tears and her pain, her eyes wide open, big and scared. He said, her eyes went blank but remained open. Her hands gripping his chest, went loose. She went numb. He wanted to bring her back to her bedroom and hoped she’d forget the whole thing by morning. He couldn’t do that now. He had to get rid of her body now. He wrapped her in a blanket and carried her to the family car, drove to the woodlands, and buried her. He pleaded for leniency and mercy.
My heart was pounding, the venom oozing out, my hatred rising. My anger at him, at God, and at myself caused me to sweat profusely. I was feeling out of control. I was afraid of my anger and hate. I knew I wanted to kill him with my bare hands. I wanted to pour out my anger and hurt and rage on him. I wanted the death penalty, and I wanted to be there and watch him suffer. I wanted to spit on his dead body.
Then, a ray of light seemed to come through a window, out of nowhere it seemed. Within that ray of light, I could hear Ashley’s muffled, soft voice singing, “amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved this child me.” Ashley made those words herself. Again, I closed my eyes surrounded by memories of Ashley and her sweetness.
My thoughts flowed. Ashley is okay now. Ashley is not in pain. Ashley is dancing and singing, happier than she had ever been. “How do you, Richard, want to remember Ashley,” I audibly heard myself say. “I want to remember Ashley as that lively, loving, kind, an amazing little girl I knew and loved. I want to remember our last date night, just days before he kidnapped her. I want to remember her in her First Communion dress with the bow in her hair, her beautiful smile, the joy she expressed with the chicken nuggets and her strawberry milk shake. Her head tilted back laughing at me when I called her my princess.”
I heard a voice calling my name. I came out of my daydream. Judge Whitney was asking me if I wanted to speak. I said, “yes, Your Honor.”
I got up and walked to the front of the courtroom. I had my prepared speech in my hand. I stood there. I looked at the judge. I looked to the jury. I looked at the lawyers. I looked at the boy-man who raped and murdered Ashley. The one who silenced her singing. The one who caused my arms to become empty, my heart calloused, and my spirit wavering. I put my prepared speech into my pants pocket. I closed my eyes again, silently I spoke to Elizabeth and Ashley. I told them how much I loved them and how important they were to me. I spoke to myself and I asked myself to forgive me. I asked Elizabeth and Ashley to forgive me. I felt the hatred and anger flow out of me. It seemed like hours I stood there, though only minutes. Tears rolled down my face freely.
I turned to Judge Whitney and said, “Your Honor, what you determine to be a fair judgement for this man is okay with me. I want to remember the wonder, life, love and joyfulness of my daughter, Ashley. Not this man and what he did and what will happen to him. I will not let him take any more of my daughter from me. I forgive him and release him to God’s judgment and your judgement, your Honor.” And with that, I walked to the back of the courtroom, and embraced my Mom and my Dad.
It was still early in the day. Through our tears, I spoke about Elizabeth and little Richie walking around in Elizabeth Park. I shared with my parents the incidence with Ashley reaching to touch a rose. I told them I would pick the biggest, prettiest, pink rose and give it to Elizabeth. I could feel the pain of a thorn pricking my finger as I gave the rose to Elizabeth, thankful for her unconditional love. I would tell her how much I loved her and that I learned through her example, that love conquers hate, that love wins, and that love can heal a broken heart.