The phone woke me up at 7 this morning. It was my editor asking me to proof a murder story. No one was in the newsroom and he wanted this online right away.
“Thure,” I said, my mouth guard still fitted securely around my upper teeth. “Gif me a foo minuths to theck my email.”
I went downstairs, turned on my computer, and after a few minutes, started reading. A man allegedly stabbed his girlfriend to death yesterday afternoon in the tiny town of Knox. Shit.
I read it as a professional and was disconnected for the most part until I got to the part where the woman’s father went into her home and found his daughter lying in a pool of blood on the floor: “Paul Card entered the residence and asked Officer O’Neil to enter the home. Officer O’Neil observed the body of an adult female in a room to the left of the doorway. Officer O’Neil observed blood on the floor and on the woman’s body. According to court documents, the woman’s body appeared to be pale and Officer O’Neil believed the woman was deceased.”
I know Paul Card. He was my neighbor when I lived above my antique store a few years back. He bought an old car from me and his grandkids used to come in my store to buy candy, the same children whose mother was dead on her kitchen floor.
I proofed the story, sent it back to Rodney, and then I started shaking. A familiar shake, the one I get every time I read about domestic violence. I thought I’d be over it by now, but it’s always like it happened yesterday.
That could have been me.
I thought I was going to die that November night in 1986. I stayed calm only through sheer will, the grace of God, and an enormous amount of adrenaline. My then-husband (whom I’ll call “J” from here out) was drinking vodka, talking shit like he did when he was drunk. It was around 9:00, the girls were in bed, and I was feeling really uncomfortable.
A few months earlier we’d argued about whether to grill pork chops or chicken which led him to punch a hole in the bedroom wall, put his fist through the living room window, stab the front door several times with a butcher knife, and threaten to kill me, my brother and my father. I was able to grab the kids and get in the car while he was in the bedroom smashing a wall, and as I drove away he screamed from the front door, “You fucking bitch!” I went to my parents’ house, stayed there a few days, then went back home. All was forgiven. He promised it wouldn’t happen again.
At least I knew enough to put the knives away, just in case. I took them out of the block that sat accessibly on the counter and put them in separate drawers. I was most afraid of the butcher knife and kept it well hidden.
Good thing I did, because there I was, a few months later, extremely uncomfortable, knowing J was in a fist-fighting, knife-grabbing mood. I walked to the kitchen and calmly called my mom.
“Can the girls and I come stay with you tonight?” I whispered.
“What’s wrong, Lynnie? What’s going on?” asked my mother.
“Nothing. We just need a place to stay for awhile,” I assured her.
That’s when J’s hand reached over my shoulder and ripped the phone out of the wall. It shattered across the kitchen floor.
I was in big trouble.
“Donna Card allegedly told Knox Borough Police Officer Justin O’Neil (no relation to Jennifer O’Neil) that the children, who had stayed with Donna Card the previous night, had tried to call their mother several times but had been told by Sevard that their mother was in the shower.
“The reply raised Donna Card’s suspicions and she contacted Knox police. Officer O’Neil went to the residence along Best Avenue, by then accompanied by Jennifer O’Neil’s father, Paul Card.”
A few seconds later the phone rang on the extension downstairs. I knew it was my mother and I knew she’d sent my dad after me. But it was going to take him awhile to get to me and this was going to get ugly.
“You want to leave?” J yelled. “Then get the fuck out of here!”
He pushed me toward the front door.
“Get out, go!” he yelled.
I couldn’t let him push me out of the house. All I could think was that if he succeeded and locked the door, he’d find that butcher knife and kill my kids.
“Let me take the girls,” I kept saying calmly.
“No,” he kept answering.
I managed to slip under his arm and run to the hallway just beside the kitchen, the hallway that led to the bedrooms, when he grabbed me and shoved me against the refrigerator and then tossed me against the wall, pinning me there.
All of this took about 10 minutes, but it felt like a million. I struggled against J’s hands on my shoulders, my feet barely touching the floor when my dad knocked on the side door, the one that led to the kitchen.
“Lynnie?” he said calmly, like he was there for a Sunday visit. “It’s Dad. I’ve got a few friends with me. Can you let us in?”
J was mad. Madder than I’ve ever seen anyone. He kept screaming for them to “Go the fuck away!” But the police broke down the door and J released me and I ran down the hall.
I ran to Cassie’s room, grabbed her out of her crib, and then ran to Carlene’s room, grabbed her out of her bed, and then shoved them both in the closet. I put on a Sesame Street tape (James Taylor was singing "Jelly Man Kelly") before they really woke up and asked me what was going on. It helped drown out the noise down the hall as J fought the police and was dragged out of the house.
When the melee was over, I told the girls to stay in the closet, that I’d be right back. An officer was in my living room writing a report. There were scuff marks all over the floor and the refrigerator was moved a few inches from its normal position. The phone was scattered all over across the kitchen floor.
I gave my statement, then I gathered all the necessities I could think to “pack,” wrapped them in a blanket and put the kids in my car.
I was alive. My children were alive. J was in jail.
Jennifer O’Neil is dead. Her father couldn’t get there in time.
That could have been me. That’s why I shook this morning. It’s why I’m still shaking now. Yes, it’s been 21 years, but the memory and the fear is never far from the surface.
The blog entry just below this one is a column I wrote in 2000. It gives a bit of insight into how and why this all happened. I still hear from J once in awhile, in emails, and I never respond. He’s still an angry man. Angry at the world, I guess. And as I was in 2000, I’m still a little afraid of him. I doubt that will ever go away.