Dear Colton – There is a photo stored away in a box somewhere in my closet from about 26 years ago. I was 13 years old and holding you as a baby who had just been born. Your birth was such a cause for celebration to all of us who had been close to your family. Your mom prayed for you for many years. My mom, her best friend, prayed right along with her. You were a miracle and it brought us all such joy to welcome you. You were a pretty big boy, too, getting stuck on your way earthside, but you made it and we all celebrated your arrival.
I remember one day when you were about 6 months old, we were all sitting on the pool deck at my parents house. My mother and I, and you with your mother. Somehow you tumbled into the pool and for some reason, my reflexes were the quickest. I jumped right in and pulled you out, and you would survive. You weren't in the water very long at all, but any mother who has been through any situation remotely similar will tell you that even half a second seems like an eternity when your child is in danger. We were all thankful you were safe.
Over the years, as I'm sure you remember, you spent more time with our family. We were neighbors, after all, and our parents were very good friends. My grandmothers kitchen fed more people than any other in our community, I can say with near certainty. She was known for her baking, her hospitality, her warm and welcoming demeanor, her grace. But you know all this because you were lucky enough to be a part of that throughout your life. Unfortunately, you would ultimately make the choice to be the person who would tragically and brutally end her life.
You are celebrating your birthday today, and in less than a week we will, again, see another anniversary of her death. Seven years now, it has been since I hugged her; since my children have run up to her with their own arms outstretched, squealing with delight, "Gammy!". Seven years now, I have been on this journey, the survivor of a murder victim. And I have asked myself countless questions. I have asked the universe countless questions, and I have held many conversations with God (or who/whatever is in charge of all of this). I'm still no closer to having answers, but I still ask, and wonder.
I wonder if you would have done what you did if my children and I were still living there. I often wish that I would have never moved out of her house. Neither of us can go back and erase what happened, but I know if it were possible I would do anything I possibly could to try to keep it from happening. Would you? Do you live with regrets like we do? Do you enjoy celebrating your birthday in prison, knowing that it is what the rest of your life is going to be? Do you even celebrate your birthday there? Do you get a birthday cupcake in prison? Does it taste like prison food?
As much as we know that no one can go back and change the past, and most of all, we are not at fault for what YOU chose to do, it still isn't easy to think back to how we possibly could have prevented it from happening. But then again, would you have taken my life too? The life of my not-quite five year old children? Would I have heard you come in? Would I have had the strength to fight you? You did break every bone in her beautiful face. Would I have killed you? Would I have tried? So many questions, but so pointless to ask because it is what it is.
It is what it is. Something I have said many times over the past seven years. Do you ever wonder how life would be for all of us if you hadn't broken into her house that night and taken her life? I do. Often. And there are times that I would like to ask you, in person. But I don't know if I'm ready for that yet. I feel like I have to be at a place of total forgiveness before I can, again, look in your eyes.
I remember the last time I looked into your eyes. The day I stood in a courtroom packed full, reading the hardest words I've ever had to write, as you were sentenced. Your hair was long and greasy and I could tell that jail had not been friendly to you. And when you had the chance to apologize, I looked right into your eyes. A few tears escaped and slid down your cheek. I'm not quite sure whether I thought them sincere at that moment, nor do I know for sure what I think now, all these years later.
I do know that many days go by that I don't even think about you or about what you did. That's a huge blessing because I know the three months my father lived after finding her were plagued with the image of her in the condition you left her in. While it hurts to know he had to deal with that, I am thankful that I am able to live without being overcome by my grief. I know that my memories of my grandmother are warm, comforting and span nearly four decades, and also include stories of the generations before her. The roots here run deep as do the lessons my grandmother taught all of us.
Lessons? Well, even though you are a murderer, you are celebrating a birthday today and for that, you should be thankful, even if you are in prison, because, again, I saved your life. Well, actually, my grandmother, the woman whose life you took, she saved your life this time. For she was a woman full of grace, strong in her faith, in her belief in her God and she would have let her God be your judge.
The person I was before this event would have sent you off to your death without a second thought or regret. But the person who my grandmother was would have forgiven you and prayed for you to find God.
Perhaps one day I will forgive you, and actually send this letter. For now, I'm content with not hating you, and being okay with you possibly having cake.