To the man who tried to murder my mom, on Sept. 16, 1990,
I was ten years old in this picture. That was the last birthday I had before you impacted my life, forever.
Sept 16, 1990 was just like any other day. Being a Sunday, we spent the evening at church—going to choir practice then hanging out with friends afterward. My mom dropped us off at the house and told us she was going to the grocery store to get milk, but she never came home that night.
I have a picture forever ingrained in my mind of how she looked and what she wore that night. She had on her long, blue sundress. I remember that dress well because I would always look at her when she wore it and think, “Will I ever be that beautiful?” I remember how the light blue color of the dress highlighted her beautiful, tan skin. I remember the long, dark waves that fell down her back just perfectly, and how her dimples would shine when she smiled. You couldn’t help but notice my mom was stunning and clearly, you noticed her too when you saw her walking into the grocery store that night.
We both know what happened. Your friend dropped you off then you hid in the back of my mom’s van with a hunting knife. When she turned onto the dark road less than a mile from our house, you came out from your hiding spot in the back of her van and you plunged your knife into her chest, making sure to twist it back and forth to lacerate her lung. The detectives would tell us later you knew exactly what you were doing and the wound you inflicted, would allow her to stay alive just long enough so that you could rape her. But you didn’t. She fought you. She grabbed the knife with her hand and nearly sliced her fingers off when you tried to slit her throat. She freed herself from ropes you tied around her wrist and she dove out of the van. Even when you left her for dead, lying in a ditch on the side of a road in McAlester, Oklahoma, she still fought. She crawled into the woods to hide from you—terrified that you were coming back for her again—but then realized she would die alone in the woods, her body never to be found. So as her body was shutting down from losing so much blood, she fought again. She dragged herself back to the side of the road so that she would die where someone could find her.
A coach was coming home late from work that night and he found her there, bleeding profusely and on the verge of death. He called for help and though she’d lost liters of blood and they didn’t know if she could be saved or not, she fought again. And she lived.
I remember staying the night at my mom’s best friend’s house that night. She was like a mother to me. She held me and she comforted me. She made me feel safe, momentarily, but I knew she couldn’t give me the answer to the one question I needed to know — “Will my mom live or is she going to die?”
The next day—at least I think it was the next day—my dad made it home from the revival he was preaching. I will never forget getting off the elevator and seeing him. He was always larger than life, my dad. He was always smiling, always laughing, always cracking jokes, and he was always the life of the party. So in that moment when I walked off the hospital elevator, I almost didn’t recognize him. My dad was sitting in a chair with his head in his hands—completely shattered—while he rocked back and forth and repeated the same phrase over and over.
“We almost lost her. We almost lost her.”
Only now as a grown, married woman with three children, can I understand the pain that ripped through his soul when he got that phone call. I can’t even imagine. There are no words.
Days, perhaps, went by—time really made no sense in the midst of our circumstances—and finally we got to see our mom for the first time. Everyone was so excited she had survived the surgeries that they kept making statements like, “She just looks so good. Wait until you see her. She’s so strong. She’s doing great.” No one prepared us for what we would see when we walked into that hospital room.
I walked down the hallway and into the room, excited to see my mom, but the person I saw laying in the hospital bed wasn’t my mother. She was intubated. Her once tan skin was pale, so pale she blended in with the plain, white hospital sheets. Her head was swollen, nearly twice the size it normally was, or at least it seemed. Her face was completely flat and her features were distorted to the point she was nearly unrecognizable. Chunks of her hair were ripped out—pulled out by you while you fought her—and there were places where you could see her bloody scalp. Across her chin was a huge wound from where you tried to slit her throat. I knew the woman in the hospital bed was my mother but after what you had done to her, she looked like a stranger.
As I sat beside my mom on her hospital bed, one thing stood out to me above all others. I wanted to touch her. I wanted to hold her hand and as I did, I noticed her fingernails were caked with blood. That bothered me more than anything and looking back I realize it was odd that of all the things you did to her, blood under her fingernails was what bothered me most. I wonder now if it was because I knew it was your blood under her nails? I wonder if it was because I knew she was scratching you and doing everything in her power, to fight for her life. I don’t know all the reasons—a therapist could have a heyday with all of this I’m sure—but nonetheless, I remember vividly that I hated the blood under her nails. I wanted it gone. I needed it gone. I had to have her hands cleaned. I found a nurse and asked her if she could please clean my mom’s fingernails. The next day when I came back, her fingernails were perfectly white; they were scrubbed clean of her blood—and of yours.
I don’t know how long my mom was in the hospital. I honestly don’t even remember her coming home. Here is what I do remember: I remember laying in my tiny little bedroom at night looking up at the window that was above my bed, and being scared to close my eyes. I remember knowing you had my mom’s purse. I remember knowing you had pictures of us and our address. I remember being terrified at night that you would come for me. I remember going into my mom’s room one night and being told to ask any questions we had about you and about what happened that night; but I don’t remember what I asked. Really, other than those two things, I don’t remember much at all from that time period. I think the mind is a powerful thing and I quickly learned that in order to survive, I needed to block you out. I needed to forget you. I needed to act like you didn’t exist. So that’s what I did, for a period of my life at least.
Last fall my son got off the bus and he was upset. He needed me. It was early fall—September to be exact—and I could feel that ever recognizable scent in the air signaling the weather was changing. Something triggered in that moment, looking at my son and feeling the changes of early fall—the same time of year that you tried to murder my mother. I looked at him and I realized how much he needed me. He’s a normal, happy, healthy little boy just living a normal life; but he needs his momma oh so much. In that moment, a flood of emotions I’d refused to allow myself to feel came rushing back. That was when I realized I was still angry with you. I was angry because you stole a piece of my childhood. You took a piece of my innocence. You took a sheltered, happy little girl who had never before experienced evil and you forced her to have a front row seat to the pain and agony that’s in the world. You tried to take my mother away from me at a time where I needed her the most. You traumatized my family. You changed everything.
You know what I’ve realized? Motherhood makes you see the world from a different perspective. When I looked at my son on that early fall day, I thought of you; and I realized I needed to forgive you one more time; this time as a mother.
So what did I do? What I always do when I need to work something through. I sat down and I wrote.
I wrote the first chapter to a book I never thought I would share with anyone. I wrote about a girl struggling to deal with the demons of her past—specifically her mother’s unsolved murder. Somewhere on that journey, while I was writing my book, I forgave you; and in forgiving you, I found peace; and I found healing.
Nelson Mandela says this: “When a deep injury is done to us, we never heal until we forgive.”
So why am I writing this letter? Because I have three words that I want to say to you.
I forgive you.
And because I forgive you, I am free.
My mom is doing well. She works with prisoners and tells them her story. They tell her they have hope because of her. They tell her if she can forgive you, that they hope they can forgive also. I met my husband, the love of my life and my soul mate interestingly enough, because of what you did to my mother and to my family. But that’s an entirely different story in itself.
I am 36 years old, almost 37. I’m the EXACT same age almost to the day that my mom was when you attacked her and tried to rape and murder her. When I texted her today and told her I had written you a letter she said this to me…
“God wants to take our deepest hurt and pain and rewrite a new story…one with hope, grace, and healing. He is doing that for you sweetie.”
I don’t know why but on this day—the anniversary of the day when you tried to murder my mother when she was my exact same age—it feels fitting to share the prologue of the book I wrote when I was trying to find a way to forgive you.
I’m on a journey to publish this book now and though I don’t know what’s happening, nor do I know where this is heading, here is what I do know—
Love is greater than hate. Good is greater than evil. Forgiveness is greater than resentment.
Wherever you are, I want you to know that I forgive you. God has already rewritten my story and he is continuing to do so. He took the pain you created and turned it into something more beautiful than I could have ever imagined.
Carissa (aka C.C. Miller), the daughter of the woman you tried to murder.
Update: After this blog post was written, I wrote and self-published a YA mystery/romance book about a troubled teen girl dealing with the aftermath of unsolved violent crime. Magnetic is now available on Amazon in paperback or ebook and I would be so honored if you wanted to read it and help me share the word!
She knows what waits for her in the darkness. Fear grips her throat—making it difficult to breathe—as she turns in desperation to look at the woman beside her bed.
The same thin, gold frame, adorned with tiny pearls and delicate, red roses, has been on the girl’s bedside table for six years, a gift from her father on her eleventh birthday. Longingly, she stares at the dark-haired beauty smiling back at her from the black-and-white photograph, and pleads—don’t leave me.
Her eyes grow heavy with the passing hours. The weight of paralyzing fear and years of sleepless nights pull at them without cease. In one last desperate attempt to stay awake, the girl studies every feature of the woman—the way the soft, black curls fall perfectly around her face; her flawless skin; the dark eyes that flicker with happiness; and above all else, her captivating smile.
But as always, the girl’s efforts are in vain.
She falls asleep. Then she dreams.
She is standing in the quaint kitchen of her childhood home wearing her favorite outfit—a white lace dress that highlights her dark sun-kissed skin and gold sandals that tie around her delicate ankles—and placed on the table in front of her, as always, is a birthday cake. The glow of the ten purple (her favorite color) candles blind her. Intuitively she knows who holds the cake. She knows the angelic face, and the melodic rise and fall of the woman’s trademark, soprano voice as she sings out the same familiar song she sings every night—Happy Birthday to You.
The girl leans forward and blows out the candles. As the light fades away and smoke rises, sadness overcomes her. She looks up. The familiar face that filled her with love and comfort is gone. It’s replaced with the face of someone else—someone unknown; someone that fills her with fear.
Desperate to leave, the girl pushes back from the table and lunges for an exit. But there are no windows. No doors. Reality hits. An all-consuming sadness attacks her, leaving her cold, emotionless, perhaps even dead inside.
She knows it’s the last birthday she will ever celebrate. She knows part of her is doomed to stay in that room of darkness, forever a ten-year-old little girl—never aging—and always afraid of the dark.