Archives for the month of: June, 2011

(This story is part of a continuing series, An Assault in Venice. Part 1 starts here.)

My new home was the Eartha Kitt room in the finished attic space at Rob and Amy’s, named for the dozens of pillows in wild prints that covered the floor. It acted as a sort of bunker during the long, sleepless nights, and it was also where Rob and Amy and I gathered to pray. We prayed about everything—that Jeanette would have a good night, that Detective Mora would be blessed with fruitful leads, that we would all be able to sleep, that Karen and David would find some measure of peace and comfort. We’d already experienced a series of miracles, like the fact that Jeanette had not sustained any trauma to her brain, and even more surprising was that her right eye would eventually regain normal function—something I was particularly worried about. Perhaps the best news of all was that Karen had been able to convince the hospital administrators to not transfer Jeanette to a county facility. Jeanette didn’t have health insurance, and already the medical bills were staggering.

Every night in the Eartha Kitt room, Rob and Amy and I lit candles, held hands, closed our eyes and prayed. We visualized the details of her upcoming surgery—that the bone fragments in Jeanette’s face would come together seamlessly. We blessed the surgeons and the nurses and the assistants. We filled the room with loving energy. We even prayed for the man who had done this to Jeanette. Oddly, none of us felt particularly vengeful or pitiless. In fact, I often imagined myself sitting across from him, trying to understand who he was and what horrible things in his life had led him to this. Most of the time, the only thing I had for him, besides fear, was compassion. Certainly, he was hurting. Of course, when I imagined him, he was always behind bars. If I was ever to see this man, I wanted to see him behind bars.

I awakened early on the morning of Day 4. I slipped out of the house and walked over to the grocery store across the street. It was only about 6 AM but the store was open 24 hours. Employees were in the aisles opening pallets of items and stocking the shelves. I asked one of them if I could speak with the manager. The daytime manager didn’t arrive until 9, he said. I explained to him what had happened—that there was a violent crime that had been committed in the neighborhood. I told him the police had reason to believe that the perpetrator had followed the victim home from the store, and that they were interested in seeing the surveillance tapes from that day, if they were still available. The guy explained that one tape holds 24 hours of surveillance, and that they tried to keep tapes for a week. But, he added, sometimes they forgot to take the tape out of the machine, in which case, it got recorded over. I asked him if he’d have the day manager pull the tape from Monday, and said that a detective from the LAPD would be by later to pick it up.
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(This story is part of a continuing series, An Assault in Venice. Part 1 starts here.)

I opened the envelope and popped the videotape into my VHS player. The screen was divided into quarters, each displaying footage from one camera—down the aisles, in the meat section, across the cash registers. Images from each of the four cameras flashed on and off in such fast motion I couldn’t track anything. Luckily, there was a function on the remote to play the tape frame-by-frame. When I did I discovered that each camera captured one frame every few seconds, and the camera views in each quadrant of the screen changed frequently to show the whole store over time. I could see various angles of people in different parts of the store, their jerky movements jumping across the screen before disappearing.


The images were grainy black-and-white video. You’d be hard-pressed to identify anyone from it. I knew that Jeanette was wearing a white sweater and jeans; the contrasts would make it easy to identify her. I had intended to fast forward through the tape to about the 4:30 or 5:00 hour, but then I noticed the date stamp on each camera was 2/11/99—three days after the attack. The tape I needed had either been recorded over or I had the wrong tape. I scrolled through it to make sure there was nothing from 2/8/99, then I popped it back into the envelope and returned to the store.

I was feeling more confident. I told myself I hadn’t actually impersonated a police officer since I never told anyone I was on the police force and certainly not a detective. If they believed I was, they were mistaken. And if anyone had asked me, I would have told them the truth and promptly sent Cagney over in my place.

I confronted the store manager again. I told him I’d scanned the tape and it had yesterday’s date on it. I needed Monday’s tape. I asked him if I could look at all the tapes from the entire week, hoping they’d been mislabeled. He went back upstairs, returned with two more tapes and handed them over. I thanked him and left, feeling like a total fraud but an arrogant, victorious fraud.
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(This relates to a continuing series, An Assault in Venice. Part 1 starts here.)

Before I started publicly blogging about Jeanette and including the gruesome details of her assault from my perspective, I sent her an email. It was a—hey, I’m thinking of writing about this and I want to make sure it’s okay with you—email.

She wrote back:

Write, write, write! I will want to read it. I’d love to hear your story.

I was both excited and afraid. I was excited because I’ve wanted to write this story for a long time. From a purely story perspective, this is a knockout. But I was afraid to write it because on a personal level, this story is filled with emotional landmines and psychological trapdoors. What’s clear is that my number one goal through the event was to protect Jeanette as much as I could, and it seems as though that has continued with time.

Certain recent events have transpired that have drawn me toward the telling of this tale. Those events will be revealed over time. And the public forum of blogging was really just a tool to keep me writing, which has been highly effective.

Now that we’re public, and there are readers who keep encouraging me to continue (thank you!), I thought it would be fun to “break the fourth wall” and include a few words from Jeanette. This morning she sent me the following email…
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(This story is part of a continuing series, An Assault in Venice. Part 1 starts here.)

It was Thursday, February 11th, four days after the attack, and Jeanette was having her first surgery. Her sister Karen had basically begged the hospital administrators to let Jeanette stay, and they had miraculously agreed despite knowing that all the expensive procedures would very likely go unpaid.

Not only would she be allowed to stay at UCLA, but apparently she was about to win the surgical lottery. None of us knew anything about Dr. Keith Blackwell; we simply prayed for a capable surgeon who would help us. At the time, we were oblivious to the fact that Dr. Blackwell was “among the most experienced and busiest surgeons in the southwestern United States… Visiting scholars from universities in Korea, Japan, Italy, Germany and the Philippines [had] traveled to UCLA to learn his surgical techniques.” (In fact, it is only now as I write this that I have discovered his impressive accolades.)

I spent most of the day in the surgical waiting room with Karen and David. It would take Dr. Blackwell and his team more than six hours to repair the damage to Jeanette’s face. The bones in her right cheek and eye socket had been crushed, with pieces seemingly everywhere. Her nose was caved in and blocked. There was a fracture that extended from her right cheek, through her right eye socket, across the bridge of the nose and through the left eye socket. And the two halves of her skull were twisted making her bite out of alignment. Once they’d put all the broken bones back in their proper place, her jaw would have to be wired shut in order to stabilize them.


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(This story is part of a continuing series, An Assault in Venice. Part 1 starts here.)


Jeanette’s surgery was a success but her forehead had become infected so the doctors inserted a drain. The new device, in addition to the stitches, the wired jaw and the swelling, made her appear like a wounded alien. Jeanette had not yet gotten out of bed since she’d arrived—which meant she hadn’t seen herself. But that was about to change. Her nurses were eager to get her on her feet the following day, and her doctors were expecting to release her the day after that.

I had wanted Jeanette to stay with me in my spare bedroom during her recovery but I knew how unrealistic that was. Not only was I unable to spend a night at home myself but my spare room was just steps from the scene of the crime and her sister Karen would never allow it. Instead, Jeanette would begin her healing at her friend Mary’s home in the valley.

As the days wore on, I was eager to find some sense of normalcy but I knew that was still too big a word. Instead, I’d reach for equilibrium and settle for moments of stillness. They were fleeting at best.

I went to the gym to work out and discovered the anger I’d been holding below the surface. I pushed weights and pulled at pieces of equipment with increasing aggression. Would I have been powerful enough to ward off that attack? I daydreamed scenarios of walking in on that man, pulling him off of Jeanette and beating him to oblivion. With one, I used the frying pan. With another, it was a baseball bat. I ran through in my mind what I knew about self-defense tactics, and I imagined kicking my foot into the side of his knee and hearing his cartilage tear. He fell to the floor, screaming. I held a knife to his throat as Jeanette called the cops, and we waited for the handcuffs to ratchet around his wrists.
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(This story is part of a continuing series, An Assault in Venice. Part 1 starts here.)

We were both afraid to close our eyes. In darkness, I was visited by nightmares while Jeanette felt desperately alone. The night after the surgery, she lay awake listening to the hospital noises. Finally, she decided it was time for her to get up. She didn’t want to make trouble for the nurses so she hoisted herself out of bed, clung to the rail and shuffled across the floor. Then she stopped, halted by the image of someone looking back at her from the mirror, someone with a bruised and beaten face. She searched her own eyes but couldn’t find herself in her reflection.

After four nights of sleeping on a rolled out blanket in the Eartha Kitt room at Rob and Amy’s, I was eager to go home. Jeanette’s brother David came with me and stayed in my guest room to serve as protector. Despite the comfort of my bed, I still lay awake and wondered how I’d manage on my own. Fear is a powerful and insidious force.

Jeanette was released from the hospital and moved into protective custody at Mary’s house. With her jaw wired shut, she started eating through a syringe until we perfected the art of making shakes and mashing food. Karen stayed with her but she would soon have to return to work, so another friend spearheaded the effort to provide around-the-clock care for Jeanette. An elaborate schedule of rotating friends was laid out—when one would leave, another would arrive.

My neighbor Amy decided she’d feel better if we got a dog, and she found one pictured on a notice at the café down the street. She called the number and arranged a meeting. I was out on patrol with Cagney when Michael showed up with his dog Gus. Michael had just moved from the east coast to study yoga at a teaching center on the beach. When he ran out of money, he moved into an ashram nearby but the group home didn’t allow dogs. Amy thought the arrangement would be perfect—she and Rob could take Gus on a temporary basis. She was excited about the prospect, more excited than the event seemed to merit. That’s when she revealed that Michael was an extraordinarily handsome young man. “I can totally see you with him,” she said.
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(This story is part of a continuing series, An Assault in Venice. Part 1 starts here.)

Jeanette’s assault coincided with a time in my life when I was searching. Perhaps everyone goes through a period of time when things aren’t working out the way you’d hoped, and so you search for deeper meaning. This was my what’s-it-all-about phase. My writing career hadn’t materialized in the way I imagined it would. My life partner hadn’t yet arrived. I didn’t have as much money as I expected to have at that point in my life. And so I kept asking why and looking for new sources of insight.

Southern California was offering a smorgasbord of answers, from the wacky to the holistic, and I was willing to try a little bit of everything. I read books, went to workshops and consulted psychics. I had my chart read, my palms read and my cards read. I meditated, got therapy and delved into my past lives. I became a vegetarian, ate macrobiotically and took herbs. I cleared my chakras, I studied Reiki, I wore magnets, I consulted a pendulum, I carried a medicine bag, I bought gemstones, I recited affirmations, I visited monasteries, I journaled, I journeyed, I fasted and I cleansed.

I’m not sure if what I found through it all was clarity or confusion. All I knew was that I kept returning to one resource over and over again. The book A Course in Miracles rooted me in a way nothing else had before, and my mentor Marianne Williamson was the clearest voice I’d ever found on matters both physical and metaphysical. She was the one who taught me how to pray. She also, in so many ways, taught me how to think. And so it was an enormous blessing that on the morning after I’d spent my first night alone, hers was the voice of comfort that reached out to me. It was still early when she phoned.

“Tess, it’s Marianne,” she said. “I just heard what happened.”

“Oh, Marianne.” It may have been my first moment of relief. “I don’t know what to do with this.” I struggled for words as I recounted the story to her, as well as my fear and sense of loss. “I’m trying to figure out how to frame this event in my mind and it’s not coming, I don’t know how to do it.”

I expected her to say something deeply profound, something that would radically change my perspective. This was, after all, what made Marianne famous the world over: she provided nuggets of wisdom that dispelled all questions. Especially mine. So her response surprised me.
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(This story is part of a continuing series, An Assault in Venice. Part 1 starts here.)

In the ten days since Jeanette’s assault, my life had become something I hadn’t expected, something completely unfamiliar. During the days, I walked the streets of Venice looking for clues—houses, people, dogs. I spoke at length with all the mail carriers. I traversed the alleys and peered over fences. And when nothing panned out, I widened my circle. The place in which I had chosen to make my home had become a place that was filled with suspects and witnesses and criminals or potential criminals. I was aware, in every waking hour, just how on-the-edge my neighborhood really was. I read the crime reports. I knew where the black clouds hovered. And still, I found nothing.

I talked to Cagney every day, and most evenings I saw her. She had to deliver the news that the first police technician who’d dusted for prints had found none. I was heartbroken and lobbied for her to try again. She’d have to pull some strings in order for that to happen, so she wanted me to make sure we could find some viable prints. I consulted with John, and together we mapped out the areas in which he strongly believed there was real evidence that would lead us to a suspect.

When the second police technician arrived, I directed him to walls, countertop areas, the stovetop and other surfaces. First, he’d paint a layer of gray dust over wide sections, and then he’d zero in on something and carefully lift dust particles in the form of fingerprints onto squares of clear plastic. I watched him for the better part of an hour pull at least 15 useable samples. When I wasn’t watching him, I was scanning the room trying to imagine what had happened. All the blood was still there, untouched. The toaster oven was open and a paring knife was lying nearby. One of the last things Jeanette said she remembered was making dinner. I asked the man about the possibility of getting prints from the knife, but he said it had already been dusted. I asked him how they determined the difference between all of our prints and anyone else’s, and he said that if the prints didn’t match any that were in their system, it didn’t much matter whose they were.

As it happened, the prints didn’t match any that were in their system. It seemed like we were getting nowhere with the investigation, and when I wasn’t frustrated, I felt hopeless. This detective stuff was crap. In fact, it was tedious crap. Much as I loved and appreciated Cagney, I wondered if we’d have more resources or if the case would have been a higher priority if Jeanette had been murdered.
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(This story is part of a continuing series, An Assault in Venice. Part 1 starts here.)

Being active had initially helped me get through the days. Knowing that I would be speaking with Cagney gave me incentive; I looked forward to the moment I could tell her what I had done, and we could collaborate on what I could do next. Those conversations gave me a sense of purpose, as well as the comforting feeling that I had a real partner who was in this with me. But as the weeks went by and we were seemingly no closer to arresting anyone, that sense of purpose waned.

Fortunately I had Jeanette: I could visibly see her healing. Her face returned to its normal size and shape. Her sense of humor returned, fully intact. And although her jaw was still wired shut, her incredible circle of friends found increasingly creative ways to prepare her meals. Much as she seemed to look to me for answers—I was in regular contact with the detective, I had found a plastic surgeon, even I had been the one to initially come to her aid—I looked to her to help me navigate my way back toward wholeness. She kept saying, then and for years after, that I was the keeper of her memory—I contained the gaps in the story that had so profoundly altered the course of her life. But at the same time, she seemed to be the gauge by which I would measure my own healing process. If Jeanette could be okay through this, then certainly so could I. And the truth is, her courage, her humor and her utter lack of anger or bitterness helped light my way.

I was trying to find comfort in spirituality. I collected sentences and repeated them like mantras. The greatest power we have is the power to change our mind. I found prayers and clung to them like life rafts. Dear God, I don’t know why this is happening but I know You do, so thank you. And I copied passages from books and kept them close at hand to read again and again. When a tragic event happens, we cannot change the course of that event. We will feel sadness, we will feel pain, but it is what we do beyond that moment that defines our Mastery. We must look for a deeper meaning. We must see with different eyes and use our intelligence to find a way to bring love and happiness back into the world.
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(This story is part of a continuing series, An Assault in Venice. Part 1 starts here.)

Jeanette was ahead of her time; she was sporting a fantastic lightning bolt scar on her forehead years before anyone had ever heard of Harry Potter. Unfortunately, right after acquiring hers, it became infected and in order to help it drain, she had a toothpick jutting out from between her eyes. With pus and blood dripping down her face, she met with a bankruptcy attorney who took one look at her, gathered all of her paperwork and told her that he wasn’t going to charge her because he didn’t want this to be her experience of Los Angeles.

Although the image of her—jaw wired, crushed cheek and nose, facial lacerations—may have been daunting, it certainly wouldn’t be her worst look. That was still to come.

On our second visit to Dr. Keller’s office, Jeanette’s car broke down. I hoped it wasn’t a sign that moving forward was going to be challenging; maybe it simply meant she had an old car in need of attention. Regardless, Dr. Keller and Dr. Lacombe outlined a plan for the year ahead: rebuilding her nose, inserting a cheek implant to replace the missing tissue, and performing collagen and laser treatments to minimize the scarring.

The following evening, on Friday March 5th, we all gathered at Mary’s apartment for a farewell party for Jeanette’s friend Jeff who’d been her caretaker for the last week. Those sorts of parties happened on a regular basis. As one friend arrived to be with Jeanette, another left. The comings and goings were always marked by celebration. The next morning, Jeanette’s brother Richard was arriving from Florida. Jeanette had been waiting for Richard to come; he was the prince who could comfort her like no one else. She had wanted to go back to her home, the scene of the crime, and pack all of her things up, and she felt like she would have the strength to return with Richard by her side.
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