Dear Kelli

My friend Kelli Stapleton is in jail, and will be sentenced tomorrow, for a crime she committed a year ago. She could get anything from Time Served to Life In Prison.

I've put off writing her for an entire year, but I've never stopped thinking about her. Not one day passes that I don't miss her smile, her cheerleader posts, her passionate conviction that Issy COULD get better, and her generous spirit. 

My friend. My sister. My cheerleader. My inspiration. She has been all of these things to me, and more.


For the past two days I've been wearing a t-shirt that Kelli sent me two years ago. It's for a drive-in up in Northern Michigan, and I fell in love with it when I saw a pic of Issy wearing it. So Kelli sent me one as a surprise.
I love that shirt.
__________________________________________________
Dear Kelli,
For over two years, I made sure I subscribed to your facebook posts. I loved the back and forth banter between us. Whenever I think of you, I see you in that Hawaiian dress, with flowers in your hair, and your tongue sticking out. That feels like a hundred million years ago.
I only know a portion of what you've been through. There's no way ANYONE can ever know what you and your family have been through. I know you were terrified of living in an apartment with Issy. Alone. Two hours away from Matt. All because of a school meeting gone wrong.
Fuck.
I've felt horrible for the past year, because I hadn't written to you, and I know how important it is to you to know that people still love you, despite your poor choice (Remember, I love you, Kells<3). And I failed you in that.
Because I didn't know how to say this:
I love you. 
I will never stop loving you, or proclaiming you as my friend.
I will never stop telling people that what happened isn't black and white, and that life can change on a dime for ANYONE.
It's not ok, what you did. I hate what you were going through, but what you did is not ok. Not ever. I believe you weren't in your right mind at that time, but it still isn't ok. And I know you know that.
I love you.
I'm so fucking glad you're alive.
I'm double fucking glad that Issy is alive and healthy.
I love you.
I didn't write a letter to the judge, because I honestly don't know what your sentence should be. Because what you did was terrible.
But I love you so much.
I hope and pray that you get a just, yet FAIR sentence. I want you to come out. I want you in my world again. I want to see a picture of you with your bright blonde hair shining in the sun.
I love you.

Hi cutie! You don't know me, but my name is ....... That's right, we have the same name! Now, listen to m...no, I don't want to see your underwear, I need to... I don't care if they have flowers on them. Anyway, what I wanted to....FINE! Show me your freaking underwear, but then you're DONE, got it? You listen, I talk. Yes, those are very pretty, very grownup. Oh, that reminds me. When Jimmy Saunders asks to see your underwear next year, YOU SAY NO! And then you kick him in the nuts and run like hell, got it?

Now, where were we...sweetie? Sweetie. SWEETIE. Look at me, not at that shiny bike, forget the shiny bike. Next weekend you're going to fall off of it and rip your knees to shreds anyway. Plenty of time for that. Now, this is important. To you, it's 1971 and you have your whole life ahead of y....what? No, I don't have a dog. NO! I DON'T HAVE A CAT EITHER! If you must know, I had two, and they both died. If you're smart, you will never own a cat because all that will come of it is a cuddly furry best friend with a wet cold nose who knows when you feel sad and lonely and she jumps up on your lap and purrs really loud and licks the tears off your face and she lets you hug her even though everybody knows cats don't like to be hugged but she lets you because she gets you. You know what I mean kid? SHE F*CKING GETS YOU!  Then she dies.

Now, you need to listen to me, 'kay? I have some very impor.....What are you...stop sucking your thumb and alternately rubbing your cheek and nose with your index finger at the same time!!! That makes you look crazy, don't you know that??? If you don't stop sucking your thumb your dad is going to yank it out of your mouth at 4:30am every day for a year, and it will f*cking HURT because your teeth will...never mind sweetie. Just don't let him catch you sucking your thumb.

Now, where was I? Oh, yes.

You're going to do some stuff. A lot of it will be stupid stuff, or funny stuff, or stuff that nobody else would ever do or even think about doing. So this is just a heads-up and no, I'm not going to tell you to change anything, because then you wouldn't grow up to be the AWESOME person you end up being. So you...what? I just do, ok? No, I'm not telling you how I know because then you'd go and tell your parents and you'd end up in some kind of mental hospital and I don't wa..I mean you definitely don't want that, do you? Oh, that reminds me. We never met. *sigh* Of course I know we really are meeting, but you can't tell anyone, got it? Or I'll come back and beat your ass. Just kidding. Not really.

Ok. Short and sweet. You're going to pull some bonehead moves. And some super funny moves. You will have some bad memories because of this, but you will also have some pretty funny memories too. Who knows, you may even end up writing about those awesome memories.

And indeed they are awesome.

1. That cute boy in 2nd grade will not fall in love with you just because you run past him a lot at recess and then pretend to faint in front of him. He likes STACEY.

2. When Stacey moves away in 3rd grade, it still won't improve your chances of being Mrs. Michael Nimmonsky.

3. When Mrs. Murphy tells the class that she's going to swat anyone who forgets to do their homework, she means it. It's best not to test her.

4. Not everything you read or hear about is going to happen to you. This includes, but is not limited to: going blind, going deaf, going retarded, being stung to death by killer bees, becoming posessed by the devil, being trapped in a burning skyscraper, being kidnapped or being targeted for death by costumed people in sharp cars.

5. You are going to want glasses so badly in 3rd grade that you fake your school eye exam. Horribly. Your parents will decide to punish you by forcing you to wear your mom's rhinestone cat's eye glasses from 1963 all evening. When they finally say you can take them off, you will not eat dinner because you are too nauseous. They're going to feel bad but won't let you know. Savor it.

6. You can have a lot of creative fun by picking a bunch of white wildflowers such as daisies, and putting them in every single glass your family owns, after you have dyed the water different colors, using up all of your mom's food coloring.

7. It is not a good idea to do this on the Friday before Easter.

8. Speaking of Easter. DON'T. Just Don't. Seriously. You'll be scarred for life.

9. When your grandma tells you to stay out of the hen house because you might scare her baby chicks to death....believe her.

10. Grandma Josephine will love you even when you do kill the Easter Bunny and 10 of her baby chicks.

11. When you steal your uncle's class ring and then give it to your school principal as a token of friendship, you will get caught. Be ready.

12. When you are home alone one day, you might want to have fun making 10 glasses of lemonade and dying them all different colors, because you want to see what purple lemonade looks like. You should admire your handiwork, and then dump it all down the sink, because when your mom sees what you've done, you'll have to drink every glass.

13. Your mom will eventually decide that she will not be leaving you home alone anymore. This puts a crimp in your plan to make Baked Alaska because you read about it in a Bobbsey Twin's mystery and baked ice cream sounds AMAZING.

14. You can solve problem #13 by simply not telling your mom about the Teacher's Institute that one March day in 4th grade. You know only 2 things about Baked Alaska. It consists of ice cream covered in merengue, and it is baked. Your lack of knowledge regarding oven temperature, baking times and merengue recipes will not deter you from "just winging it."

15. When you are 10, you will spend an entire day scrubbing burnt Baked Alaska from the bottom of the oven. Your mother never finds out. Until the day she reads about it in your blog.

16. You cannot walk a cat. Especially the feral cat that you catch in the backyard when you are 9.

17. No cat likes to be dragged by it's homemade ribbon leash. Especially the feral cat.

18. Those cornrows that looked so awesome on Bo Derek in 10? Yeah, well this is East Peoria. You are going to get teased.  A LOT.

Ok kid, did you get all that? Good. What? Oh, I'll be back, don't you worry. Somebody is going to have to be there to unlock the bathroom door next year so the fire department doesn't have to send an engine and 3 firemen to climb the ladder and unlock the door for you.

Now come here and give me a hug.

Do You Hear Me?

I just left the below comment on TPGA's Facebook page. If you know what TPGA is, great. If not, I'm sure as hell not giving them free advertising on my blog post. I wasn't sure how long my comment would stay up, because this group has a habit of deleting posts they disagree with. This particular thread was regarding Kelli Stapleton, who is a friend of mine. 

Before you begin to judge, know that I ABSOLUTELY DISAGREE with my friend Kelli's decision to try to kill herself and her autistic daughter. HOWEVER. I also have this thing called "compassion." Trust me, if you ever run across me in real life, you will be SO FUCKING GLAD to have a friend like me in your corner. Yes, I judge Kelli's choice as poor. Yes, my heart breaks for her husband, for Issy, and for her other two children. My heart breaks for Kelli, who has love in her heart for The Lord, her family, and her friends. My heart breaks for all parents who have reached their breaking point, and believed that their only option was to murder their child. BECAUSE THIS IS MOTHERFUCKING AMERICA AND WE SHOULD MOTHERFUCKING BE HELPING EACH OTHER AND NOT TRYING TO KILL OUR KIDS OR EACH OTHER.

So, about this Facebook page...unless you're willing to mindlessly nod your head and agree with the Party Line, you'll get deleted. And blocked. And then talked about. Because that's how an authoritarian regime TPGA rolls. This is what I wrote, in it's entirety: 
"Here is what I want to say. Kelli was/is a friend to me. She was there for me when I was struggling with my own austistic kiddo. She encouraged me, supported me, cared about me, and gave me hope. She's done that for A LOT of parents I know, and for that, I will be eternally grateful. NO, what she did was NOT ok, and nothing will ever make me think or feel otherwise. 

My heart is broken, not just for Issy and Kelli, but for the entire family. She and Matt's kids, and Matt himself, have to try and wrap their heads around what she did. FOREVER. And yes, my heart DOES break for Kelli, and for that I will not apologize. Someone I care about made a terrible decision, and that choice carries lifelong consequences for all involved. My heart breaks for the family that was torn apart by Kelli's decision.
But I'm hearing a lot of disturbing things on this thread. Hearing that it was about a lack of services. No, no it was not. I donated a hefty amount (for me) toward Issy's treatment, because I had HOPE. Hope that she would get the skills and help she needed, because who wouldn't want Issy to learn skills and get help? I want her to be as successful in life as possible, and treatment was the start of that. 

And then Kelli made a horrible decision, and those of us who know her are heartbroken. Because of the SITUATION, not because we think Kelli should have a get out of jail free card. None of the people I'm friends with think that, and we hold Kelli accountable for what she did. And many of us still love her. Her own husband said he still loved her, but could never forgive her, and Issy is HIS child. 

I understand the confusion that can be caused by hearing people discuss emotions that are diametrically opposed. Love and anger. But that's what most of us feel. Some of us feel betrayed. Some of us feel afraid, but most of us feel angry, but we still love Kelli the person. BUT NOT WHAT SHE DID. We're confused by this whole thing, too. There isn't a simple answer, a singular viewpoint/mindset, or an easy solution.
I'm concerned with the person who said it isn't important to try to understand, but only to punish. Yes, Kelli will be punished, but that won't solve anything. People go to prison everyday, has that stopped murder? No. We need to UNDERSTAND, so we can PREVENT. 

Understanding does not equal acceptance. Understanding does not equal approval. Please re-read those last two sentences. 

I'm hearing people say that parents are coming forward saying they've felt the same way that Kelli did, and I'm hearing that admitting that is a bad thing? 

How can it be bad to admit to feeling trapped, desperate, and hopeless, but still be able to say I DIDN'T GO THERE. We NEED to hear from those parents. They are who give others of us hope. I think this has given parents a kind of permission to admit the most terrible thing a parent could think. 

I just wish Kelli had felt permission to tell someone how she was feeling, this all could have been avoided."

And? Within 5 minutes of posting my comment TPGA deleted this post as well as others, called me a "murder apologist", and banned me. They have a policy of deleting comments that are "disrespectful", however, my comment was not disrespectful.My comment calmly and respectfully stated my thoughts, feelings, and opinions. My comment that understood the helplessness, fear, and anger from autistics and their families, directed at a woman who, in their eyes, tried to kill each and everyone of them. My comment pleaded for us to try to come together as a community of people who love and cherish our autistic loved ones. My comment expressed my sorrow and anger that this choice was ever even on Kelli's table.

Without useful dialogue, solve problems, or prevent future tragedies such as this from ever happening again.

We need to HEAR each other.

TPGA, I hear you.

I may not agree with  many of the statements that you make, or the suppositions that you present.

But I hear you.

Do you hear me?

Because I don't understand Minecraft. Also, I get carsick.

My son Z is OBSESSED with Minecraft. He knows the backstory of Minecraft Steve. And Enderman. And Heberon. According to Z, Heberon was Minecraft Steve's twin brother, but he died in some horrific accident, and LEGEND HAS IT that Heberon shows up in Minecraft every once in a while. I'm not sure why, because just watching my son play Minecraft makes me dizzy and nauseous. If I was Heberon, I would prefer to spend my free time at the pool, or perhaps at Kartville.

Minecraft confuses me. I truly don't understand how it works. I don't know how Z is able to dye his sheep blue, or build a roller coaster through molten lava without dying, or why he would want to attempt to breed a blue sheep with a pink pig. I'm not sure what he thinks he's going to get out of that combination, but unless my high school Biology teacher was WAAAAAY OFF, I can tell you with some certainty that it is NOT going to be a pink-and-blue Pigsheep.

And the roller coasters. Oh. My. Damn. Building roller coasters has been his obsession for the past 2 years. I feel horrible saying this, but I just don't care. Don't get me wrong, when he builds a roller coaster that goes up and down and all around, I think that's really cool. But here's a rough draft of the roller coaster he built today.

Then I got to watch a bumpy-ass cart careening drunkenly around this roller coaster for at least 5 minutes, before it landed in the lava pit. I almost threw up, that's how dizzy it made me.

Also, it doesn't help that I have adult friends who seem to TOTALLY UNDERSTAND how Minecraft works. People like my friend Flannery, who told me that she got her "ass handed to her in the ether the other night."

WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN???

I don't want to understand Minecraft. And I don't want my son to not love this awesome game. I just want to be able to watch him play without being subjected to nauseating twisty-turny roller coasters that only seem to exist on flat terrain.

Because I get carsick.

April.


April is the month I will never get through unscathed, as long as I live.

Let me start by saying that, for me, April had always been a month of happiness. Of love. Of goodness. It was a month of joy.

April 15, 1993 - Ira and I decided to commit to only dating each other.

April 4, 1995 -  Ira asked me to be his wife. I joyfully, tearfully, accepted.

Obvi.

April 6, 1996 - We become husband and wife in the eyes of God, and the State of Illinois.

But then April turned bad.

April 10, 2011 - Ira's grandfather died. Except he is never told about it. That's right. His mother, sister, brother-in-law, and uncle decided, for whatever reason, to keep the death of his grandfather a secret from him. What kid of family does that?

April 11, 2011 - I, through some bizarre twist of fate, discover that Ira's grandfather has passed away. I text him my condolences. Little do I know that my text IS THE VERY FIRST HE HEARS OF HIS GRANDFATHER'S PASSING.

April 17,  2011 - I find the father of my children dead.

Let me repeat that.

I

FIND

THE

FATHER

OF

MY

CHILDREN

DEAD.

April 21,  2011 - My children and I bury their father in the cold, musty earth.

April 21, 2011 - My ex-mother in law tearfully claims to anyone at the funeral, shiva, etc, that I killed him. She's batshit crazy, so all of her ramblings are taken with a grain of salt.

April 22,  2011 - My ex-sister in law and her husband rent a van, and drive three hours from Chicago, only to steal everything out of his apartment. They steal the pictures his children had make him in school. They take the Father's Day gift my children gave to their father. It was a small wooden bat that said, "#1 Dad." Jeffory Jacobson and Debbie Jacobson steal my children's toys. They take Z and J's LEGOS. They. Take. Everything.

April 23, 2011 -  I drive to his apartment, hoping to talk his sister into allowing my children ONE REMEMBRANCE of their father. My daughter only wants Ira's #54 Bear's Jersey. Z? He just wants Daddy's train set. Upon talking to Ira's neighbors, I find that they had driven into town a day earlier, and had stripped his apartment of everything.

April 25, 2011 -  I receive a formal letter from Arlene Wojtalik's attorney, stating that if I simply sign a "waiver", I will be allowed to drive 1.5 hours (midway between Chicago and the town we live in), collect the belongings of my children's deceased father, and drive everything back home. Where it had originally been.

Have I mentioned that these people are SCUM?

April 29, 2011 -That month my attorney fires off a letter to the attorney representing my in-laws, reminding them that his children are his sole heirs, and thus were entitled to receive all of his property. They are informed that they bear the burden of driving all of Ira's belongings back to our town, thus delivering to my children the very last of their father.

On the pre-arranged day, my mother takes my children for the afternoon. So they don't have to witness their father's belongings unloaded like so much random gypsy furniture. He deserved better than that, and so do they.

Do you know that “feeling in the pit of your stomach" that precedes a terrible premonition? That's what I had the weekend of April 17th. When Ira didn't return my daughter's texts all weekend, I just knew something was wrong. Something really, really bad. Imagine that, after 2 unsuccessful days of trying to contact your ex-husband, you tell your children that you’re "going out for a loaf of bread.” Only you drive to your ex-husband’s apartment, with that pit-in-your-stomach-feeling. That feeling that forewarns you that life, as you know it, will never be the same. Ever. Upon arriving at your ex-husband-of-just-three-months apartment, you find the door locked, his poor cat yowling, and that goddamn fan that you bought him last Father's Day oscillating back and forth...back and forth....back and forth, and you text him. You inform his cellphone that he has FIVE GODDAMN MINUTES TO ANSWER HIS PHONE, OR YOU'RE CALLING THE POLICE AND YOU'RE  AS FUCKING SERIOUS AS A HEART ATTACK!

Your hands shake as you text this message to him. Because you already know. Deep in your soul, you know that your husband of 16 years, your lover of 18 years, the father of your children, the one you envisioned yourself growing old with....is dead. You simply know. When the police arrive, they call the Coroner.

Because the police aren't allowed to pronounce anyone dead. Only the Coroner, or the Deputy Coroner, has that right. The Deputy Coroner that presents himself at the "scene of the investigation" is named Jerry. And Jerry is very, very, very kind. He oh-so-carefully hands you a pamphlet entitled, "What To Do When A Loved One Dies", and he gives you his personal cell-phone number. He tells you to call him whenever you feel the need.

At the time, the only need you feel is for a stiff Vodka and Tonic.

That's the day you discover that the Coroner's office doesn't arrive in a hearse anymore. They now drive black Ford SUV's, with the emblem, "County of Peoria" on the driver's side door.

Try to imagine what it’s like, driving back home with his elderly cat on your lap,choking on horrified sobs. Bursting into tears at every stoplight, only to stop crying once the light turns green. Because from this moment on, your kids now only have ONE parent, which is you. And the very least you can do, on this oh-so-sunny late afternoon in April, is to ensure that the one parent they still have arrives safely at home.

Now, try to imagine this. Your children are being cared for by a neighbor (you made sure of that), and as far as they're concerned, all is right with the world. They are happily eating pizza and watching Spongebob Squarepants. Meanwhile, you are driving home with your dead ex-husband's (has it only been 3 months since the divorce was finalized?) elderly cat on your lap.

That was the worst day of my life, hands down.