Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Bases Loaded

Tuesday night I leaned on the bar, glued to the TV.  In Arlington, TX the bases were loaded in the bottom of the 9th inning, Yankees 12, Rangers 11.  The Mariners had already secured a win against Cleveland.  With a genuine shot at the playoffs this year while the Yankees scrape at their heels, every Mariners win matters, and so does every New York loss.  Besides, every time the Yankees lose, somewhere on the East Coast, Bar Crush cries.  Adrian Beltre was up to bat with a full count and a reckless, nervous swing.  It all came down to one pitch.

Beltre swung, sending a fly ball to left field, easily fielded for a Yankees win at the last possible moment.

My favorite part of baseball are those moments between that pitch that could make all the difference, and the hit that could make all the difference.  That face-off between the batter and the pitcher where all the tension lies is long and silent, and frequently what causes people to describe the American passtime as "boring," when I think it's about as exciting as life gets.

These days, my bases are loaded.  I returned to work this week.  Yesterday I woke up, gave Eden her bottle, got dressed for work, got her dressed for daycare, brushed against Marcos in our hurried passing, ate my breakfast pre-made on Sunday night, knocked back a cup of coffee, dropped Eden off at Grandpa's, went to the office for a second day of catch-up.  I spent the day trying to prioritize files that I hadn't touched for three months.  Somehow I found the time to e-mail the mock trial teacher coach that I work with; our season will be starting soon with a boot camp for hopeful new students.  Throughout the day I found myself longing for my daughter, and throughout every day I long for my son.

Sometime before 5 I left, grabbed a burger from a fast-food drive through, came home to feed my dogs and mix a batch of baby formula while I waited for Marcos to bring Eden home.  We had some quick cuddles, but she was already cranky, and I had to leave for my closing shift at the bar. There I relaxed into the routine of pouring and chatting and counting the weekly inventory, and watching a baseball game.  I was thankful to share those final moments of anticipation with T.J., a surprise visitor on my Tuesday night shift.

I'm overwhelmed.  Through a series of choices - good and bad - this is the life I've chosen for myself.

I'm up to bat, facing off with time.  My job, my friends, and my extracurricular commitments load the bases, and I love every step along the way.  I love my beautiful, tense, fruitful, stressful perfectly imperfect life. But at the end of the day, all I want to do is make it home.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Remembering Amanda Zubia

Once, just once, in my life I wondered whether I had it in me to be a criminal defense attorney.  I must say "it," because I'm not quite sure how to explain the qualities of a criminal defense attorney.  I know that in large part being a criminal defense attorney is an innate part of one's character, in their heart probably before one realizes that is their calling.  So, of course, the case that called into question my capacity to pursue that calling was one that tugged at my heart and reached that innate part of me that I still can't put my finger on.

Ten years ago Amanda Zubia was 17 years old, and the mother of a toddler boy, when she was summoned to a home in East Bakersfield.  There, four young women including Amanda's cousin, and a young man were waiting for her.  Over the course of two days believed to be July 12 and July 13, 2004, in a display of complete depravity, Amanda was tortured and beaten by this group of perpetrators, a fact established by snapshots taken with a disposable camera and found at the home.  She was struck, burned with cigarettes, bound and gagged and thrown on the floor to be kicked, had chunks of her hair ripped out, and was taunted.

Amanda was kicked in the face, causing major crushing to her facial bones.  Her perpetrators believed that blow to be fatal so they folded her body into a suitcase, where she suffocated and died. She was then stuffed into a 55-gallon oil drum, which was filled halfway with cement, and stored in a garage in a home near East Bakersfield High School.  On July 19, 2004 when neighbors complained of the smell coming from the garage, her body was discovered by the police.

For the rest of that summer I was haunted by Amanda's story and the horror that must have been her final hours.  She was somebody's little girl.  She was somebody's mother.  Stuff like that just doesn't happen in Bakersfield.  I was especially bothered by the fact that four women were involved in her death.  Women just don't do stuff like that.  Yet, it didm and they did.  And they would need lawyers.  What would I do if any one of those were assigned to me for representation?  I didn't know, then, if I could do it.

All of Amanda's perpetrators were caught.  The defense tactic was an obvious one:  Everyone alleged they had the lesser role.  That defense was bolstered when the young man involved, Robert Vallejo, was killed in jail.  How easy it became to allege that Vallejo was the ringleader and the greatest aggressor, once he was unavailable to deny it.

I think of Amanda often.  By now, some of her perpetrators may have been released.  Over the years information about the case has become less available and I've been unable to look up articles today to confirm their sentences, but I remember clearly thinking that this girl died a horrible death, and within ten years more than one of these aggressors would be set free.  I remember at the time thinking about how unjust the punishments seemed given the depraved nature of the crimes.

I wish I could say that the lawyer in me now believes the punishments were acceptable, but I can't.  All I can do is hope for a conversion of the hearts of those women who participated in Amanda's killing.  Whether I like it or not, some of them may be walking the streets already.  I am, if nothing else, a firm believer that when we set a convicted person free we accept that they have done their time for their crimes and they should be able to carry on with their lives.  I hope they can find gainful employment, re-establish meaningful relationships and live fruitful lives.  God knows, the odds are stacked against them and they should have someone in their corner.  I hope for the best for them, because the worst has already happened to Amanda and there's no undoing it.

Her little boy will be a teenager soon, if he's not already. I pray that he's managed to have a peaceful life.

I pray for Amanda's mother's peace.  During those days when she was held captive Amanda called her mother, Blanca, and asked to be picked up from the house.  Not knowing what was about to happen, Blanca refused to go get Amanda.  I am sure she's wrestled with guilt over the years.

Now a mother myself to a little boy whose suffering and death I witnessed, and to a little girl whom I would lay down my life to protect, I still can't imagine what Blanca's life has been like since Amanda's been gone. I suspect that I am not the only local who still remembers Amanda's case and I hope her mother's heart can be warmed by the knowledge that though Amanda is gone, she is still remembered.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Crying It Out

For several weeks now my counselor has been urging me to consider the use of antidepressants.  And it's no wonder.  Several weeks ago when Eden wouldn't stop crying in the lobby of the doctor's office, I could have walked out of that lobby and left her behind, believing I would never look back.  Postpartum depression, unsurprisingly, hit me like a truck.  With my history of depression and emotional trauma, anyone could have seen it coming, and the recommendations to medicate myself began even before Eden was born, and have continued.

"No.  I'm just going to tough this out.  I'm going to cry this out."  I feel no sense of shame associated with the use of antidepressants.  I'm a believer in their effectiveness.  I accept the medical facts which indicate that some people will only have a normal life with the assistance of psychotropic medications.  I'm just not convinced I am one of those people.

As the weeks went by, I did cry.  I always had the sense to step back from the situation and cry, but I did cry.  Sometimes that meant that Eden had to cry too.  Sometimes we cried together.  Sometimes I cried as she fed contentedly, her primal need having been met and all of her newborn demands satisfied.

I'm certainly not the first mother to feel as I do.  I'm certainly not the first mother to wonder if I'm doing anything right at all.  "They" say that's how you know you are in fact doing something right, when you're assessing your actions.

The trick then becomes to find a balance that works for you.  Every parent wishes that their child never had to cry, experience pain, feel hunger.  But that's part of life.  When Eden made it to Day 11, when she was born healthy with a long life ahead of her, she was also on track to experience every one of those things.

I recognize my calloused nature as Eden cried herself to sleep in her bassinet today.  I've grown weary of her dependence on the swing to fall asleep during naptime and decided today, she was going to cry it out.  After rocking her to a light sleep, I placed her in her bassinet for her scheduled nap.  Now used to her routine, she'd already shown the signs of being tired and ready for that nap.  Having become reliant on the swing to rock her through her naptime, she cried as soon as I set her down, which is when I decided to test the recent bit of information I've read that the average baby her age will cry for 5 to 35 minutes before settling down to sleep.  I guess 42 minutes is close enough.  I should take pride in her strong-will and determination, really.

"They" also say that a baby's cry is irritating to an adult as nature's way of pushing us to soothe that baby.  It makes us want to fix whatever's wrong.  Perhaps I lack that instinct, because as Eden cried I was primarily annoyed that I couldn't hear the television.

That is not to say that listening to Eden "cry it out" was easy.  I forced myself to stay in the room with her, though I was occupied with other things, knowing if I was going to do this, I must not distance myself too much from the situation. I wondered what kind of damage I might be doing to her infant psyche, how this crying session will manifest itself when she is 13 years old.  Maybe now she'll be a sociopath.  I questioned what kind of mother straightens her hair and watches "Devious Maids" while her 2-month old baby cries.  I almost caved.  I have caved in these situations before.  I see nothing wrong with caving, and being that mother who picks her child up and soothes her after a given amount of time, or even with the mother who holds her child for the duration of her nap.  I just don't want to be that mother.  I want to be the mother who loves her baby enough to let her cry, because sometimes she's just gonna have to cry.  That's life.

In less than three weeks I have to return to work, and I won't be there to hold her through her naps.  I don't want to go - I have to go.  I simply can't hold her for the rest of my life, as much as I might want to.

There will be times when I won't be able to soothe the hurt or fix the wrong.  There will be times when all I have to offer is an embrace, a fruitless remedy done only for comfort.  There will be times when I won't even be able to give her that much.  I would love to create a world where Eden never has to hurt.  I just can't.

When Eden woke for her scheduled feeding with a whimper I took my time to respond to her as I finished preparing her bottle in the next room.  When I leaned over her bassinet she appeared relieved to see me, and I was relieved by her relief.  I thought she might be mad at me.  She looked into my eyes as she drank her bottle, and continued looking at me even when I took the empty bottle away.  She sat on my lap and cuddled with me for the duration of the hour, observing her microworld in the living room from the security of my arms, leaning against me knowing that I was there, even if she couldn't see me.  That's what I want for her.  I want her to be able to lean on me, even as she grows more and more independent.  I want her to know I am always there, even when she can't see me.  I want her to know that the adage is true:  It hurts me more than it hurts her, even when I don't show it.  And I will rarely show it.  I want her to know that I am doing the best I can, that I've given her all that I can.  Sometimes my all means that we both just have to cry it out.