(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.

Depression arrived right around week three. It had been building. The mounting medical bills would force Jeanette to declare bankruptcy. She didn’t have a home to return to once she was able. She couldn’t read because the strain on her eyes was too difficult. And she couldn’t even get a decent night of sleep because she couldn’t breathe through her crushed nose. She would awaken periodically throughout the night with a horribly dry mouth and sore throat. We tried all kinds of things to open her nasal passages to no avail; we would have to wait for surgery.

I had called Dr. Keller’s office right after Marianne arranged the introduction. I spoke with a warm, gentle woman named Gretchen and set up an initial appointment. As I described Jeanette’s injuries and stumbled my way through a thank you, her sweet compassion embraced me, and I cried. I couldn’t imagine how “thank you” would ever be enough.

In so many ways, finding a plastic surgeon was the one thing I contributed that gave me a sense of power. Everything else left me with a feeling of inadequacy, if not failure. My initial prayer, the one I so desperately struggled to find the words for in the aftermath of the attack, had been to find a way to make this right. Putting Jeanette’s face back together again seemed to be a huge leap toward that. And all my hopes hung on this one man.

Although Dr. Keller’s main office was in Santa Barbara, once a week he held clinic hours at UCLA. I insisted on going with Jeanette to her appointments—that first one, and every one after that.

Dr. Keller was a strikingly handsome man with a huge smile of perfect teeth. And he would forever change my opinion of plastic surgeons. As he evaluated Jeanette, he told us that while he was in college studying cardio-vascular surgery, he was in a car accident that left him with serious injuries to his nose, eyes, cheeks and jaw. And because of the miraculous reconstruction of his face, he decided to devote his life to the same pursuit. I studied his face: there wasn’t a mark or blemish on it. For the first time in weeks, I was elated. At least on the surface, I thought, this trauma would eventually be undetectable.

Dr. Keller was shepherding a young surgeon named Dr. Victor Lacombe. The two of them studied Jeanette carefully and decided to begin their work right then and there. They wanted to re-open the gash on her forehead that was healing with a divot and appearing like an unsightly third eye. Dr. Lacombe put a blue surgical paper over her face, and I sat holding her hand as he numbed her brow, and then cut it open. He worked like an artist, explaining that cuts that were made in a line healed with an obvious scar but ones that were jagged, like a zigzag, were less noticeable.

We left their office with more stitches but the sense that we were now, finally, in very capable hands.

…go to Part 15