i wandered lost in detroit circling 11 mile road before pulling up to the home of f2fb friend #301 brenda jeffries. i was late, my gps has something wrong with it. as i pulled the mini up to the curb, i noticed movement behind the front door. but i was distracted by the lot across the street.
“that’s my daughter,” a voice said from behind me.
we hugged. and then she repeated that across the street was her daughter.
at first i thought she meant that her daughter lived in the quirky little camper surrounded by tiny stone angels and plastic flowers brightening the gray city snow. then i noticed the weathered posterboard of a young girl.
“that’s where the car was parked,” brenda said, shrugging her head towards a clump of bushes. “when raven was taken.”
six year old raven was playing on august 4, 2008 in the lot while the car idled. brenda could check in every once in a while by looking out her window. the other kids went home safely. raven disappeared. three days later, her charred body was found. the police wouldn’t let brenda see her baby girl and it was left to her eldest son to text her pictures from the morgue. the crime remains unsolved although brenda has a pretty good idea (and so do the police) as to who did it. the camper is where people have sometimes gathered for vigils in raven’s honor. the lot is owned by the city, as are many pieces of property in the neighborhood although brenda is as tied to the lot as any generation of farmers to their fields. i put one of the stuffed animals that eastman has given me next to an angel.
brenda didn’t get out of the house much before–and going to the funeral was the hardest experience of her life on so many levels–but after her daughter’s murder, she found it unbearable to work at the store two blocks away where raven often hung out after school while brenda worked.
brenda finds it difficult to be in the house by herself and her three remaining children coordinate their schedules so that they can be with her as much as possible. when i was there, her eldest son had moved in with her–his bedroom is at one end of the hall and brenda’s room (which she shares with all of raven’s possessions) is at the other end of the hall.
i went to use the bathroom and i couldn’t get the light to work. then it dawned on me that the electricity had been turned off. which may have explained the necessity for turning on the burners on the kitchen stove. i met her adult children and her baby granddaughter — who is so adorable i nearly made the oft repeated compliment of “i just want to take this one home with me!” for once, my mouth wasn’t as fast as my cautious brain.
we looked at pictures of raven and some dolls that brenda has for her. we both share the catholic faith and there is a beautiful rosary dangling over a portrait of raven in the living room. i noticed the prayer card from her funeral and then another card–one of raven’s best friends was killed in a car accident two years to the exact day after raven.
brenda is part of a number of agoraphobia support groups on facebook. i never knew they existed until this year and they are generally closed and invitation only. it’s one way in which facebook protects privacy. a lot of brenda’s friends are from england. her adult children are her “safe” people–but she trusted me enough to take a walk with me.
we stopped in front of the store where she had worked. where raven had played. where she told me about her attitude about the amber alert. oddly, while i was filming her, a dark nondescript car (hell, i can’t tell the difference between any brands) parked behind me. the car and its driver stayed put, just watching–i felt kind of spooked. in fact, i sort of felt like if i had brenda’s life i wouldn’t leave the house much either.
i drove away wishing i had a magic wand. that i could make brenda’s life better. that i could make raven come back. i drove back through the snowstorm to chicago thinking that all the petty stupid things i get mad at my sons for–not calling enough, not cleaning their rooms, forgetting valentine’s day (!)–i needed to back up and count my blessings. i made a promise to brenda’s eldest son that i would return and i will.
brenda, who bears the unbearable with such grace, has often sent me messages of encouragement or of support and i wonder where she has the energy and the stamina to care so much for others!
oh, and the car that pulled up behind me while i was filming brenda? it followed me out onto lonyo avenue and up michigan until i veered off onto the 94 ramp . . . .