Archives for posts with tag: ucla

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

I tried to muscle my way into the ambulance because I didn’t want to leave Jeanette alone but the paramedics held me off, suggesting I follow behind in my car so I would have a means of getting home. It sounded perfectly logical at the time but as soon as they’d shut the doors and jetted off toward the emergency room I realized that my ability to operate a motorized vehicle was nothing short of impossible. I was on the verge of vomiting, jumpy and shaking and sweating like a crack addict in detox. And someone was calling my name.

My neighbor Amy had arrived home from work but the cops wouldn’t let her into the backyard. One of them propped me up and moved me toward her so I could explain to her why a cavalry of black-and-whites were blocking off our street, lights flashing and bouncing across the front of the houses, flashlights darting into the garbage bins and alleys. I have no idea what I told her. It was all so nonsensical anyway.

Jeanette has been assaulted. No, I don’t know why. I don’t know who did it. I don’t know if she’s going to be okay. I don’t know anything anymore. People don’t just get attacked like this for no reason. At least that’s what all these cops keep saying. They’re saying it was a boyfriend. A coworker. An enemy. They’re saying she knew this person. I’m telling them she didn’t. She lived here for fifteen days. She doesn’t know anyone.

Amy called her husband Rob who was supposed to be working late but promptly came home to escort us to UCLA Medical Center. We stopped by In-n-Out Burger on the way, and the smell of takeout only added to my sense of nausea. Rob phoned their friend Mary who lived in the valley and had gone to college with Jeanette. Mary would know how to contact Jeanette’s family.

When we arrived at the hospital, we were told that the police thought it was possible Jeanette had been a victim of gang violence. As a precautionary measure, she’d been admitted under an alias: Kandy (with a K) Diaz.
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(This story is part of a continuing series, An Assault in Venice. Part 1 starts here.)

In some ways, I felt like I’d been communicating with Jeanette all night but I only had fragments of images, and they came at me too quickly to understand. It was as if a movie of the event was being projected onto darkened subway walls, and I was on a train that didn’t make stops. I was eager to call my friend John Edward, psychic medium extraordinaire. I knew he could help me make sense of the images and fill in the blanks.

I waited until it was light enough for me to feel comfortable being in my home alone. It would never again be the safe haven that had always embraced me so comfortably. At 5 AM I tiptoed down the stairs trying not to wake anyone. Rob and Amy were already up; they hadn’t slept much either. I wanted to shower and get a change of clothes. Rob offered to go home with me and wait until I was finished but I told him I was going to make some calls so instead he walked me across the lawn and escorted me inside. We walked slowly from room to room, opening closet doors and confirming what we both already knew: no one was there. It was a routine that would continue for months every time I entered the place.

After Rob left, I fished around in my junk drawer for the pocketknife I’d gotten with some magazine subscription and had never used. Now, and for the next six months, I would never be without it. I opened the blade and made my way back upstairs to my bedroom. The window looked down into the backyard and onto the guesthouse. I stood there for a moment in utter disbelief. It had been less than twelve hours since I’d found Jeanette, and our lives, both hers and mine, had been indelibly marked.

I sat down at my desk and called John. He’d been awakened by images, too, but he was far more equipped than I to interpret them. He gave me a barrage of information I tried my best to write down. The fragments were beginning to create a puzzle that I hoped might somehow lead to answers.

I hung up the phone. It was a start. At that point, no one from the police department had called to say they were investigating, and I wouldn’t meet Detective Mora, aka Cagney, until later that night. Honestly, I felt like I was on my own.
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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.)

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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