Everyone makes choices, some good, some not so good. The difficulty lies in learning to live with them. Author Carol Graham learned the long-term effects of one bad choice that led her life into a downward spiral. Her sharpest memories were shrouded in darkness, and no amount of hope for the future could change the past. She wanted to find her reset button, but the only thing she could do was put one foot in front of the other and continue onward, hoping each cloud had a silver lining. This is not a story of an abusive or sordid childhood, but one of mistakes, poor choices and circumstances as an adult that developed into a series of major physical, financial and emotional losses. Her story of triumph shows incredible strength and tenacity, as well as sheer determination to become successful against all odds.
The silence was deafening. The only sounds I heard were coming from inside my head. I could hear the blood rushing through my veins from the palpitations of my heart. My sweater was visibly moving to the uneven rhythm. I had to keep telling myself to remain calm. I must not appear flustered or guilty. I tried taking deep breaths to slow down the pace of my heart which took every ounce of strength and fortitude. I grabbed my knees with both hands in an effort to stop them from shaking. It didn’t seem to help and fear confused my ability to think rationally.
How had this Saturday become so different from any other? Saturdays were reserved for house cleaning. That had been drilled into me since childhood. “Don’t make plans because Saturdays are for cleaning.” Always were – always would be. Sundays were for relaxing but Saturdays meant cleaning. All these years later, I still kept Saturdays for cleaning.
It started out just like any other Saturday. No passerby could have guessed that my life was about to change forever. How could one fleeting moment, one microsecond of a person’s life make such a difference? If only that moment could be snatched back from eternity, erased, but that was impossible.
It was one of those days when I felt grateful to be alive. It was bright and sunny and the air was fresh from a light snowfall the night before. I cleaned the house with a fury to have everything in order before going to the airport to pick up my husband, Paul. He had been in England for a week on a speaking tour and I was so excited to see him and to hear all about the trip. Our four-year old son, Jason, was helping with the business of the day getting ready for Daddy’s return.
Now, here I was in the police station, alone, and scared. The holding room was more like a phone booth with no windows. I was sweltering under a choking fog of body odor and stale cigarette smoke. Nausea swept over me and I had to force myself to take a breath.
“You wait here,” a man’s gruff voice demanded. The door was slammed shut and locked. That sound resonated and felt as though my life was ending. It sent shivers up my spine and made me shudder. I could not explain my emotions or why I was so scared because I wasn’t even sure what was going on. My mind raced. It was an emotional whiplash between “why” and “what if.” What was going to happen? Why were they holding me? What if they found Paul? What would happen to my son? The questions wouldn’t stop and I could not think clearly. I felt sick to my stomach; completely oblivious to the fact that deep within my belly, new life was growing.
Earlier that day, Jason and I picked Paul up at the airport as planned and headed home. We had lots of plans for that evening and the next few days. Now, hours later, I was arrested and restrained by rude, pushy, border police. They said they were holding me for questioning but I didn’t know why. The only thing I knew I should do was to pray, and I wasn’t sure how to pray in this situation.
A gentle, yet firm, still voice inside me was saying, “Admit to nothing. Only tell them your name and address. Say nothing else. Be careful, they will try to trip you up.”
I did not totally understand this, but the voice got louder and louder until I knew I had to obey. I didn’t know what was about to happen, but I knew I had to get through this one moment in order to get back home with my husband and son. If only I could snap my fingers and make this all go away.
We had arrived from the airport just long enough to take off our jackets when the doorbell rang. Immediately I looked at Paul. His stark white face made my body tense as I watched him flee through the back door without his jacket or shoes. The bell rang again. I had to answer it. The doorknob was cold and slippery and my hands felt so weak. I kept telling myself to get control and stay unruffled. I opened the door and without introduction three plainclothes officers filed in showing me their badges. One of them deliberately shoved me out of the way. I felt violated and terrified. Another one asked me my name and read me my rights before accusing me, “You have just brought an illegal alien across the border, and we’re going to hold you until you tell us where he is.”
Our Doberman stationed herself between me and Jason, extremely agitated and showing her teeth. One of the officers pulled out his pistol and held it in position to shoot our pet right in front of my son. Things were spinning out of control, and I was scared and getting angry. I couldn’t believe what was happening. I felt lightheaded and nearly passed out. This was supposed to be my family’s time to relax and hear all about Paul’s trip overseas. I had left dinner in the slow cooker that morning and the aroma of roast beef had been so welcoming when we walked in the door.
The man lowered his gun and began speaking in a loud, condescending tone asking if I had any weapons in the house. Jason exclaimed, “You want weapons? I got weapons!” They followed him into his bedroom, all three with pistols drawn, as my innocent unsuspecting four-year-old opened his bottom drawer and exposed all his “weapons.” The three towering men looked into the drawer. One had the gall to search through the toys in great anticipation of finding something illegal. My son beamed with pride to have real policemen interested in his plastic revolvers and holster. If I hadn’t been so scared, I might have laughed.
From where I was being held, I could hear the police radio reporting an ongoing sniffer dog search through the woods behind my house. After all the years he’d spent hunting with his father, now Paul was the prey. The 40 acres were dense, dark, and swampy. I wondered if Paul had watched me being shoved into the patrol car. He would be half frozen out there, in only a short-sleeve shirt. I was so worried. I didn’t know what was going to happen. Would I ever see him again? I didn’t even get to hug him or kiss him good-bye. I bit my tongue to stop a tear from running down my cheek. I knew I must appear unflustered.
With no findings to report they were getting frustrated. “Those dogs are useless mutts sometimes.”
I smiled to myself feeling a moment of temporary relief. Finally, someone opened the door to my hellhole. “Follow me.”
I had to concentrate on not tripping as my legs were the consistency of Jell-O. I must not appear weak. I was led into a dingy office that smacked of Government Issue paint. The entire room lacked color. There was a distinct odor of mold. A quick glance around the room showed nothing personal, not even a plant. The desk was covered in files, and I could not help but wonder if I was one of these. I demanded to know what they had done with Jason. “You better talk and talk fast lady if you want to get home to that kid of yours anytime soon.”
Even under that threat, I knew I must listen to the gently nagging voice inside my head telling me to “say nothing.” The pressure was building and the voice getting louder. I did have the presence of mind to ask, “Don’t I get one phone call at least?”
Reluctantly, one of the officers handed me a phone book. I randomly picked an attorney from the telephone book and dialed the number, carefully trying to keep my hand steady to not show my nervousness. The lawyer said the exact same thing as the inner voice, adding “Be careful what you sign.” I wondered why he’d mentioned signing something.
The questions were quick and repetitive. “Where is your husband?” “Where did he go?” “Do you realize you have broken the law?” “Why did you bring him here?” “Where has he been?” Where is he?” The interrogation continued but I stood my ground and did not waver. Amazed at my own courage, I had a strong sense that I must obey my inner voice. After ten or fifteen minutes, another officer entered the room. He looked unkempt wearing a wrinkled suit. His tie was crooked and didn’t match his shirt. I found it odd I should notice something that insignificant but it gave me a little more courage. He bent down and whispered something into Mr. Plain Clothes’ ear. It seemed they were going to let me go.
“Read this release form and sign on the bottom.” I sensed irritation in his voice. I assumed he was upset they had to release me. I looked the form over and it basically said I was being released for lack of evidence. I was about to sign it when I felt compelled to turn it over. In print almost too small to read at the bottom of the page, was a statement admitting my guilt.
I could not believe that such deception would be used in America. I stood up and threw the paper across the desk. “What kind of a game is this?” I raged. “There is no way I’m signing this form.” I stormed out of there and headed for home. My adrenalin was rushing which gave me the audacity I needed to hold my head up high and walk out of there. It was only about a mile to walk home and gave me time to think. My hands were quivering and my stomach ached. I needed to go to the bathroom. I knew that if I could just get home I would be able to think clearly. The tears flowed easily now and I tried to keep them at bay. I had to keep my head clear. I had to figure out what to do. Should I get Jason? They had taken him to a daycare, and I felt he was safer there than to see me in this state. I didn’t know if I should stay at home and wait for the phone to ring or start driving around. Would I be followed? There were no answers – only questions.
I was still very frightened. I was in a cold sweat and my hands were still shaking. I tried to button up my sweater but was all thumbs. Every time I took a breath, my chest hurt. The cold air was helping to clear my head, but I didn’t know of anyone I could call or trust.
I had no idea where Paul was, what had happened to him, or how we ended up in this situation. I later learned that Paul could see our home from his crouched position and watched closely as a figure in the back bedroom kept motioning him to move forward. He assumed it was me and so he obeyed. However, I never did and other than the officers looking at Jason’s toys, no one was in that back bedroom. He began his trek through the dense forest with no idea of what he was going to do.
Then he heard the voices. There were several. They were approaching him and his heart momentarily stopped. He held his breath as a German shepherd approached him. He knew it was over now. His chances were slim to none he would ever escape. The hunter had found his prey and would be duly rewarded. Paul’s heart was pounding so fast, he was afraid the dog would sense his fear and attack. Oddly, he just smelled Paul and relieved himself. Then the strangest thing happened. The dog let out a slight whelp and jumped back, like he was being slapped by something unseen! He quickly ran away. The voices diminished and then they were gone. The relief was overwhelming and even weakened Paul as the adrenalin slowed down but the task at hand was to find safety. It was not safe to go back home. Now what? Go where? What was happening on the home front? He remembered the figure in the back bedroom motioning him to move onward and so he did.
Nothing in my upbringing had prepared me for what was ahead.
Copyright© Carol Graham. All rights reserved.