Monthly Archives: January 2022



Also published in the Pearl S. Buck Literary Journal

It’s been one-thousand seven-hundred and seventy-seven days. Four years, seven months, and twenty days. 

He got to me on October 6, 2016, but when the other flight attendants began to share their experiences, his trail of offenses reached back seventeen years—at least of those who spoke up.

The allegations were shocking—after all, we worked for a highly respected private aviation company, a leader in the industry. We flew the rich and famous, the powerful players in Hollywood, professional sports, and the political and financial movers and shakers of the world.

How could a monster like this be at the controls of their airplanes?


My sleep is pierced now and then with a recurring nightmare. It goes like this:

A force slams into my chest and crushes all the air in my lungs out through my mouth that stretches open in a dry scream. My eyes bounce open and freeze.

There are rolls of whiskered fat topping a white shirt collar that is under a dark navy blazer with four stripes at the end of the sleeves. A pin of yellow gold wings shimmers over where a heart should lie beneath.

My eyelids are fixed wide open like the ones on a vintage doll when brought upright from its nap and my eyes begin to feel dry and cold but refuse to blink. The hulking predator who just swung his arm around my neck clasps his fists beneath my chin. He flexes, squeezing and wrenching until the left side of my face is touching the right side of his. He pants damp beer-soaked breath through locked jaws.

He knew that I left the lobby bar to get away from him. I walked faster than my usual stride and was shocked when seconds later he stepped into the elevator when I turned to push the floor button just as the doors were closing. The other crew members still sitting at the table likely assumed he went outside to smoke. Instead, with perfect timing, he overtakes my pace and traps me.

He insists that I join him in his room for another drink and I refuse, spurning him. His fury becomes a hissing grenade. The bottle of gin in his flight bag was the pin being pulled and with my rejection, the bomb explodes. He grabs my left buttock and claws with such force that I yelp in pain, stunned as he seizes me into a side headlock. 

He’s shouting what he likes to do to “boys”—profane things that he likes to do to “boys”. I assume he is using the word as slang for consenting men, but his tone is one of desperation—even self-loathing. 

His arms tighten as he constricts my neck inside his elbow, “You’re the only one I’ve ever said that to. I’ve never told anyone else!” and I understand that if he is ever confronted with what he has just said, he’ll know who betrayed him.

He’s probably lying—it doesn’t make any sense. We’ve only met once or twice before. Why would I be the only one he confides in?

 But this is the way a criminal sociopath wields power: he convinces his victim that she will never be free from his watchful eye. That if anything gets back to him, he’ll come for her.

He spits and slobbers as restraints on foul, repressed demons break and become undeniably real, his rage breathing them to life and then. . . silence.

A swift blow strikes the base of my skull, and it cracks like an egg. The weapon feels like a jagged chunk of ice with sharp edges, and it is lodged in the wound that now burns cold.

Piercing aches radiate over the back of my head spreading fever on my ears, along my temples, and across my forehead while I hear my brain sloshing in cerebrospinal fluid until the swelling and pressure around it is so great that the rocking becomes gentler, gentler still, then nearly imperceptible, until it halts. The remaining unshattered cranial plates cradle it in a silent embrace. 

The bones at the top of my neck—the atlas and axis, cervical vertebrae one and two—sting fiery cold, like a toxic injection of menthol, and I stay still as the vision of their scaffold-like structure upon which my head rests and pivots flashes in my mind. Are they broken? Are they crushed? Or are they still intact? Are they keeping my head from–?

 Then I feel my head jerk sharply backward, hyperextending my throat, breaking the ligaments where my ears and jaw meet. A final clutching, guttural protest gurgles and groans from my larynx, until all goes silent with an abrupt unmistakable crack! The vertebrae that supported my head have collapsed. It has torn away and is now detached from my spine, rolling slow and controlled, down the back of my body, until it reaches my sacrum. There, it drops to the floor and breaks open, and all its contents of brains, blood, and mucus ooze out.

But if my broken head is on the floor, how am I looking at the scene? If my head and brains and eyes are there on the floor, the fluids and tissue beginning to congeal, then with what eyes and brain am I processing this vision?

Here, where reason overtakes the subconscious, my sleeping eyes open and I’m fully awake and able to separate from the dream. My head throbs. My stomach rolls and my intestines spasm. I lie still and wait for the room to stop spinning.


This is the way I relive the night that Robert Jefferson* attacked me. His upper back, shoulders, and trapezius muscles were broad and bloated with layers of fat rendering a kyphotic appearance. His deportment was one of perpetual aggression, like a cobra readying to strike, accentuated by his growling face as it lurched low and forward.

I was sleeping soundly when the nightmare brought his hair-covered, muscular arm near and thrust it under my chin. His furrowed forehead separated his hairline from disheveled eyebrows that were a chaos of wiry gray and white hairs protruding from their follicles like masses of condemned men struggling to escape. They emphasized the eyes that leered for opportunities to violate. 

He had a reputation, and it generated a pair of dubious nicknames: Captain Nekkid, and the more sinister one—and more fitting—Captain Predator. His offenses became common knowledge among crew members over the course of twenty years. Unofficial briefings were given to flight attendants new to the group—by other pilots in whom previous victims had confided.

“Have you met Robert Jefferson yet? Be careful with Robert Jefferson.”

“No, I haven’t flown with him. Why?” I replied when it was my turn for the orientation.

The captain and first officer exchanged knowing looks that held a mix of annoyance and disgust. They shook their heads as they lowered their gazes to the floor. Both seemed to be thinking, “We need to tell her.”

“Someone needs to tell her.”

“I don’t want to talk about it. Maybe he will.”

“You’re the captain. You brought it up—you tell her.”

“You’re the First Officer. You do it while I order fuel.”

But instead of elaborating, they both asked, “Got any coffee yet?”

Eventually, Robert Jefferson’s name came up again and the nuances took more shape. The side-eyed sighs found a voice. The stories had similarities and differences, but the message was consistent: Don’t go anywhere alone with him, especially if there is alcohol involved. And whatever you do, don’t go to his room alone.

“So, if everyone knows about him, how does he—I mean, why hasn’t he—” struggling to form the question, “why, if his actions have been known about for so long and by so many, how has he not been stopped?”

“Oh, he has been reported,” one captain told me. “But nothing happened. He’s got friends in the office. Or he’s got something on someone that keeps it from going too high up. No one really knows, but somehow it always went away. There are a lot of stories out there but I’m not sure how many actually reported once they saw someone else do it with no results.”

He remained free to keep preying.

As he flexed his arms around my neck, I was sure it would snap and began to envision how I would collapse in three steps, recalling how the camels I rode in Saudi Arabia lowered themselves to the ground on front legs that appeared to have two knees. First, I’d bend at the waist and my chest would come to rest on my thighs. Then my knees would give out and my entire body buckle and fall, folded in a trifold: chest to thighs, hamstrings to calves, butt teetering on ankles before I topple over

I expected this because mine is not a good neck. Severe scoliosis that formed in my teens left it leaning to the right and reversed the natural cervical curve. The disks are squished on the wrong side and cause constant pain. The surgery that was planned to stabilize it never happened, not after the excruciating one that straightened fifteen inches of the spine below it.

All the disks between my shoulders and waist were removed and replaced with cadaver bones. Titanium rods were screwed into both sides to support the fusion—my X-rays look like an erector set.

While in his grip with my arms hanging at my sides, I tapped my fingertips to my thumbs thinking, “Okay, I still feel them. That’s good. Try to keep your head square with your shoulders.

Face straight ahead. Don’t let him twist you at the neck—a snap could kill you.

Who will find me lying here? Hotel guests? Employees? How long? Would I be dead?

Alive, but paralyzed? Who will call Tim—how will they tell him?”

There was no one around. I could think of only one thing that could change the situation, and it wasn’t until months later that I realized that what kicked in was something learned in flight attendant training.

Hostage Negotiation 101: Neutralize the tension—make the hostage-taker believe that you’re on equal footing, be sympathetic to his concerns. Make him see you as a person who understands him instead of an adversary.

Calm him. You need to calm him. It’s the only way to redirect this. Say, “It’s okay. . . I have a lot of gay friends.”

No, no, not that. He’ll think that you believe he just told you he’s gay but he’s a big macho pilot—if he thinks that’s what you heard he’ll want to put that genie back in a bottle. He won’t have that. Say something more neutral. Say it calmly. You have to calm him.

With purpose and clarity, I said, “It’s okay. . . to each his own.”

I wasn’t sure how it sounded as I tried to help him release the anger that consumed him and to not feel that he had just boxed himself into a corner with a whole new identity—an identity that led him to violent exasperation.

It worked. He wasn’t expecting my tone and, in his confusion, the tension in his arms relaxed just enough for me to duck out of his hold and, as if directing passengers in an emergency, began shouting commands at him.

“Go! Go to your room, Robert! Go to your room!” I stood with my feet shoulder-width apart to gain balance in my dizziness and extended my right arm parallel to the floor holding it straight and strong, and pointed past him to an unknown destination.

He was stunned and motionless as he stood watching me, contemplating his next move.

I don’t even know if this is his floor. Keep making noise to scare him away.

 Shit! I wish someone would come out of their room! Someone has got to be in one of these rooms! Someone, look out your door!

Just keep yelling. Stay in this position and you keep shouting commands until the threat is over—just like in emergency drills.

No one will believe me. It will be his word against mine. They never believe the victim really fought.

“Go! Go! Get away! Go to your room! Go!”

You haven’t said, “No.” They’ll ask you if you actually said the word “No”. If anyone is in these rooms hearing or watching through their peephole, they must be able to say that they heard you say, “NO!”

“No! No! No! Go to your room, Robert Jefferson! Go!”

The scowl that was there as he nearly broke my neck transformed into bewilderment. He seemed to be thinking, “Is she really that mad? What the—does she really mean it?”

He took a few slow steps away before stopping to look back.

 Stay solid. Don’t move. Hold your arm straight and keep pointing. Don’t let him see you weaken. Keep yelling. Don’t stop until he’s gone.

“Go! Go! Get away from me! Go! Go!”

And he did. I didn’t move again until reached the room at the end of the hall on the right,

opened the door and it clicked loudly behind him.

My own room was nearby. If I went there, it would only take him seconds to get to me and force his way in. I ran back to the elevator and pressed the down button, listening for his door. This time, I made it inside alone and was relieved to find Ray, one of my pilots, still sitting at the bar watching a game.

“Hey! You’re back!” His face began to fall as he read mine. “Are you okay?”

“I don’t know—no—something happened.”

Ray stood up, grabbed his beer, and indicated to the bartender that we were moving to a table. During those few steps, my head was scrambling with words to organize and recount the events that had occurred in the ten minutes I was gone.

 I told him everything except for what Robert yelled out—it pounded in my chest, but I could not raise the words to my lips. They simply would not form.

 I felt strangely obligated to keep that part to myself. Not to forget or hide there forever—but to not reveal it solely to destroy him. It was bizarre to know that I had the leverage to destroy him but for some obscure reason did not want to. At least not yet. Instead, there was this compulsion to keep his secret, to hide the shame that his desperation exposed.

It would be many months later before I recognized this as Stockholm Syndrome, a response to a traumatic event that involves feeling sympathy toward the offender.  Robert Jefferson divulging that he had homosexual tendencies did not offend me—it offended him—and I didn’t know what to do with that.  

“You have got to report him,” Ray said soberly. “He does this. They know he does this. You’ve got to–”

“They won’t do anything. That’s all I’ve ever heard when it comes to him—that he has been reported—that people have tried to do something, and then. . . it just. . . nothing. Nothing. Why would this be any different?”

He lowered his gaze to the table, gathering his thoughts. When he spoke again, his voice was pleading.

“This is what he does. . . but this is worse. It’s escalating. Are you okay?”

“I don’t know,” I said, “I can’t think. All I can think of is the company, the company— and I hit a dead end. I just want to get home tomorrow. I’ll think about it then.”

“Are you going to tell Tim?”


“That’s wrong. You’ve got to. He’ll support you. He’ll be really upset if he finds out later—I know I would be.”

“Maybe. I’ll think about it. I probably will. You’re right.”

“What can I do? Are you okay?”

“I don’t know. I just need a minute.”

“Let me walk you to your room. I’ll make sure you get in okay, and I’ll stand outside your door for an hour or so until maybe you can get to sleep.”

Ray paid his tab, leaving an undrunk beer on the table. We walked in silence.  

When we reached my door I said, “Ray, it’s okay. Thanks for walking me but you don’t have to stand outside here. I’ll be okay,” I said.

“Are you sure? I don’t mind.”

“No, really. We both have flights home in the morning and I’m just going to crash. I think his crew has an early trip—he’ll be gone before I have to come downstairs.”

“Are you sure you won’t report this? I’ll help you call.”

“I will,” I said, half-sure. “I just need to think, get home, talk to Tim. But thank you. Thanks for being here, for the support. I’ll be okay,” I lied.


The next morning my thoughts had already begun to scramble. Getting to the airport on time and going through the process of checking my bag and navigating the TSA drill—tasks that are as routine as making a cup of morning coffee—demanded focused concentration. I had to constantly reorient myself as I walked to my gate, blanking out every few seconds and confused by my surroundings.

At home the following afternoon, I was determined to ignore it. Tim didn’t need to be hurt with it when I could just deny it, tamping it down until it didn’t matter.

While chicken baked for dinner, we settled into the sofa to watch TV, clinked glasses of red wine and as I looked at him everything changed. Fearing that harboring this kind of secret could lead to problems between us, my resolve weakened.

I took one sip of wine and turned to him and said, “Something happened.”


Of course, Tim was gobsmacked by what I told him and wanted me to report but understood my skepticism in getting help. We danced around it.

Foot surgery conveniently provided a few months off work. I swam in denial and avoidance. When I returned, if his name ever appeared on my crew brief, a company app was at my fingertips to call in sick.

There was another personal issue consuming me. Six weeks before the attack, I filed a guardianship and elder abuse case against my father’s much younger spouse after we were informed that he had been critically ill and in a nursing home for weeks before reluctantly allowing her daughter to inform my sister Lora and me.

The circumstances were outlandish. They sold their home as well the Kansas farm Dad inherited and bought a home sixty miles away without telling us or any friends.

An asset search revealed Cindy’s name on three recently purchased cars for her two daughters and a granddaughter. She closed the joint marital bank account that held the money from the farm sale and divided the money into multiple accounts, including one that she put her younger daughter’s name on. She began construction on an addition to the new home—after my father was incapacitated and beginning to incur nursing home costs.

The half-million-dollar proceeds from the sale of the farm were being rapidly depleted.

During one of many hearings, the judge listened as an exasperated probate court attorney warned that Dad would soon be needing to qualify for Medicaid—an uphill battle for a couple who cleared $750,000 on the farm sale less than two years before.

Twenty years earlier, shortly after she and Dad married, Cindy concocted a bizarre claim that she was being poisoned while he was away on business trips. Though they lived in rural Oklahoma and more than two hours away from the nearest relatives, she attempted to convince my father that members of his family were responsible. She resurrected this absurd tale nearly every time we saw one another at obligatory holiday get-togethers.

Lora and I were determined to get to the bottom of what was happening to Dad. When a heavy metal test returned alarming levels, my lawyers consulted with the prosecuting attorney’s office and asked me to file a police report so a detective could be assigned, and an investigation would be initiated.

This fight crossed the miles from my home in Pennsylvania to the Midwest. It would be long, expensive, and mentally and emotionally grueling. Establishing a rapport with rural Missouri law enforcement was already proving to be a Sisyphean task.

Many of my weeks off work were spent traveling to Missouri for court dates and spending time with Dad, who was under strict supervision by nursing home administration to prevent him from having unfettered access to him. As a family friend and sitting judge said to me when told about the poisoning, “She’s got to be stopped. I hate to be crass, but at this point, it would really behoove her to finish the job.”

Reeling from Robert Jefferson and my father’s abuse case, I bolted awake every morning while it was still dark. The clock glowed between 4 and 5 AM.

When I imagined entering another court case that would cause more stress, I crashed and burned. The prospect of stepping out on yet another ledge where I would hold the burden of proof was unbearable.


A year later, Hollywood ogre Harvey Weinstein’s reign of sexual terror collapsed when multiple women came forward with credible allegations of rape, threats, and career-crashing encounters with the media powerhouse. The #MeToo movement exploded with testimonies of offenses that spawned decades.

As the Weinstein story grew more legs, the episode from a year earlier boiled just under the surface. I knew it was a terrible misstep on my part not to report it and the longer I waited, the less relevance it held. 

At least, that was my feeling until hundreds of other victims rose up and revealed not only assaults, but episodes of threats, bullying, and harassment. The validity given to reports of inappropriate touching and unwelcome advances—far less severe offenses—helped change the lens through which I viewed my experience.

One evening I was sitting on the floor of our office and Tim was at his desk. We compared the similarities between Robert Jefferson and Harvey Weinstein—how they preyed upon, threatened, intimidated—and how for years, others were complicit and accommodated them. I recalled the troubling things Robert said.

“Boys. He kept growling that he liked to fuck boys. He said it three times. I thought he was just using slang. . . diminishing that he liked to be with other men.”

I remembered our flight attendants who are gay males. Some are strong, fit men who could defend themselves. But there was one I met in training who came to mind. He was no taller than me and slightly built.

The thought of Robert stalking and trapping him brought the new realization that while everyone thinks he only does this to women—we always have our radars out—the men wouldn’t see it coming.

“Oh, God. Oh, no. It’s not just our women flight attendants who are at risk—our guys!”

“Oh, Sweetie,” Tim said, at a new loss for words in the year-long ordeal.

“I have to report. I know they’ll think I’m just jumping on the Me Too bus, but it’s not that—I never thought of it this way until now!”

Regret and frustration bored into my throat, and I felt like vomiting.

“I’m doing it. I know it’s been a year. I know I should have already. I can’t stand the thought of him getting to another one because of me. He may have already. I may be the reason someone else is dealing with this awful shit.”

“It’s the right thing to do, Sweetie. I’ll completely support you. Whatever we need to do.”

“He’s got to pay,” I said.  


With the help of two flight attendant union representatives, Jill and Darcey, I filed my report through a conference call. Over the following several weeks, reports trickled in from earlier victims—some no longer with the company—who learned there was a new active investigation. Darcey stated, “This thing just exploded.”

About a week after I filed the report Janet, the Human Resource Manager in charge, called to update me on the proceedings.

“We finally decided that we had to move on to the next step and bring him in for a hearing—they (multiple claims) just kept coming in.” The sound of shuffling papers covered some of the shell shock in her voice as it cracked. “There’s just . . .there’s just so many—it’s hard to keep them all straight.”

One flight attendant was on a layover in Hawaii when he swam around her and untied her bikini while she stood in the chest-deep blue waters of Waikoloa. As she sunbathed by the pool, he told her he was going to his room to look out on her while he masturbated. He returned later to share the details.

 Another brought leftover food from the flight to the hotel and offered to set up a buffet in her room.  After they both left, she went to bed. Hours later, she was awakened when he crawled under the covers, unclothed—he had helped himself to her key earlier as she served him dinner.

She screamed and ordered him out. He threatened, “If you tell anyone, it will be your word against mine, and I know people. I can make your job here great with long layovers in nice places, or I can make it miserable. You’ll work harder than anyone else.”

One couldn’t find her room key after having dinner with both pilots and had to go to reception to get another one. When she opened her door, he was in her bed, naked and waiting for her.

More than one suspected that he drugged them. They remembered sitting down for a cocktail and then nothing more until they awoke sick and unable to recall the night before, but insistent that they had not drunk enough to black out.

 One woman’s voice trembled as she told me of vomiting in the lobby of a European hotel on the morning after.

Another reported that during a stay in a particularly luxurious destination, he wanted to “show her a great view” and running ahead of her on the beach, disappeared into a cove of lava rocks. She rounded the corner to find him standing there naked.

 She marked it up to boorishness, and when her crew agreed to meet in Robert’s room for a drink before dinner, she dismissed her concerns.

 But the crew of three dissolved to a party of two when the first officer never appeared. The evening unfolded with her alone with Robert. She has no memory of those hours until, like the others, she woke up naked and nauseated.

Later as the first officer fueled the rental car, Robert turned to face her in the back seat and said, “I called scheduling and got us another three days here. And you are going to be my bitch.”

Shaking and sickened, she raged back at him, “The only bitch will be your wife when I call her!”

 Terrified, she hid in her room the entire rest of the trip.


At his disciplinary hearing, Robert Jefferson and his union representative faced the chief pilot, administrators, and corporate attorneys as allegations from over a dozen accusers were presented.

 Three weeks after filing the report, I was in Missouri for another court date. On my way to see my father at the nursing home, Janet’s name appeared on my phone, and I pulled over to stop to answer the call.  

“Daphne, I just wanted to let you know that it is over. Robert Jefferson faxed in his resignation this morning. He will never do this to anyone here again.”

“Why wasn’t he fired? He gets to walk away with nothing on his record! A fat severance check? Was he paid to go away?” It wasn’t enough. After speaking with so many other torn and humiliated women he had tormented, I wanted revenge more than ever.

“No, he was not paid to go away. He will receive what his contract entitles him to with over twenty years here, but it’s not a large severance—certainly not compared to what he’s losing,” she said. “And contractually, we had to give him the chance to resign instead of being fired. He put it off until the last minute. The fax was here when I came in this morning.”

“Janet, one thing I learned through the last few weeks,” I said, “is that he knew he had protection. He got away with this for years because there were people who helped keep these stories from getting to your office before now.”

She was listened and let me talk.

“There were men inside those office walls who knew—and he knew—that he had protection.”

“Y—y—yes,” she affirmed with a sigh.

Her admission surprised me, and I felt validated, finally, by an administrator who would not lie to me.

“Am I under any kind of confidentiality restrictions? Am I allowed to talk about this?”

“You are absolutely not under any restriction, and I hope you do talk about it—as much as you are comfortable talking about it. The flight attendants—and all employees—need to know that this will never happen again. It will never be ignored or tolerated again. They need to know that they will be listened to and protected. So, no, you go. You tell. You are in a unique position—I hope you use it.”


Dad died October 5, 2019—one day shy of the third anniversary. There’s been no justice and I’ve begun to write his story.

Now one thousand, eight hundred and twelve days have passed since the attack. Four years, nine months, and twenty-two days.

It’s time to write “Captain Predator”.

The Hitman’s Protégé


Also published in the Pearl S. Buck Literary Journal and  


            You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories.

  If people wanted you to write warmly about them,

they should have behaved better.  –Anne Lamott


They were fighting again, my father and the brain-rattling nuisance he married against the advice of all who knew her—and there were legions. The families who seeded the cluster of small southwest Missouri towns in Christian and Stone counties mingled and married into one another for generations. Our grandparents and great-grandparents had farmed and worshipped together, and some of my earliest memories involve going to her former in-laws’ nursery, where every spring, Mom bought mixes of brilliant marigolds to liven up the front yard and vegetable plants for our garden.

Cindy had little inspiration to work—that’s what husbands were for, as her ex-husband’s family said, openly discussing their experience with her. In that marriage, when her first daughter started kindergarten and she was under pressure to get a job, she got pregnant again instead.

Shortly after the younger daughter started school, she sent them both off one morning and left a note on the counter that read, “I’m sorry, girls, Mommy can’t take any more.” She drained the bank account and moved to Florida for three months.

Now she was forty-seven and married to my sixty-seven-year-old father, who became an over-the-road truck driver to supplement his pension after retiring from the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Money was still tight and the job was exhausting for him.

“She’s put on some weight, so I got her a credit card to order some clothes and she ran the damn thing up so high, dammit—I cut her off so now she says she wants a divorce. I guess we’re splitting the sheets, she’s flying the coop!”

“Do you want me to come back there and help with an attorney? Keep you company for a couple of weeks?”

“Well . . .yeah. Could you do that? And I don’t know what half this shit is on this bill. Do you know what a ‘match dot com’ is?”

In the background, Cindy screamed, “No! Noooooo!” A desperate, guttural bellow like an animal with her hind flank fatally caught in the clamped jaw of her predator.

“Hold on! Hold on!” Dad said and there were sounds of a struggle as he responded to her rushing him trying to wrestle away the phone.

“Dad? Are you okay?”

She continued to wail protests to prevent him from hearing my voice.

“Yeah, you there? What is this? What is ‘match dot com’?”

“That’s a dating service—is that really on your bill? She’s on a website to meet other men, Dad. You need to get out of this now!”

“I’ll call you back, Daph. I gotta go.”

Her shrieks became increasingly panicked. She was reacting not only to the cauterization of her spending but was furious that I now knew what she had done. She despised my sister and me for our interminable ties to our dad—a reality over which she held no leverage.

Not that she didn’t make the effort. Within the first years of their marriage, she tried to convince him that she was being poisoned at their home in rural Northeast Oklahoma while he was out of town driving the rig.

She alternately accused my sister, Lora, and Uncle John, Dad’s younger brother, and me. The three of us, she alleged, were trying to kill her by sneaking into their house and depositing poison.

It wasn’t just a one-off episode either. She retold the nonsensical yarn for the next twenty years every time any of us were together, be it Christmas dinner or an occasional afternoon visit. Much like Scheherezade lengthened her life by keeping the king rapt with continuous stories, Cindy kept her story alive by keeping it freshly aired.

I often pretended to believe her as she spoke. I reacted with Oscar-worthy expressions of feigned concern until one day the desire to exact a small degree of psychological revenge was too great to resist. Dad sat in a leather armchair and stared out a window pretending to be interested in a flock of crows pecking at the ground.

“So, Cindy, just so I remember right, how were you being poisoned?” I asked, having heard the story a hundred times already. But hell, what child doesn’t enjoy hearing the best part of a story over and over again?

“With arsenic,” she began in her soft Missouri hills sing-song tone. “I kept going to the hospital with heart failure and they finally figured out it was from chronic arsenic poisoning.”

“Mmm-hmm. But how was the arsenic getting to you?”

“They were injecting my Coke cans. They were getting into the house and injecting my Coke cans in the pantry.”

“And why would you drink flat soda? I mean, any puncture in a can and it loses its fizz. You can taste it in the first sip,” I persisted, poking the pathologically lying bear.

Her expression changed as she narrowed her eyes and pressed her lips, creating three thin, grim slits in her bloated face before she answered.

“It was the tiniest hypodermic needle,” she said, gesturing a pinch with her thumb and index finger. “It didn’t make it go flat. The hole was so small.”

“You guys lived in the middle of nowhere—I wouldn’t be able to find that house again if my life depended on it. Who would—why in the world would anybody do that?”

Her breathing quickened at my unexpected challenges. She stirred in the recliner perpetually affixed to her ballooning backside.

“How should I know?” lurching forward as she thrust her open palms skyward and shrugged her shoulders to her ears.

“And where does someone even get arsenic? Didn’t they take that out of rat poison some time back after a bunch of wives poisoned their husbands with it? Like when they put something bitter into antifreeze so it would be tasted?” That hit a nerve.

“I don’t know, Daphne!” She snapped, shifting in her chair as her fingers squeezed the armrests. Displeased with me, she scowled.

Delighted with myself, I smiled. Dad lowered his eyes to the floor, pretending not to hear any of it.

The day after the explosion, Dad called. Cindy defended her subscription to the online matchmaking with the contention that members of our family were stalking her, and she was using the site to try to entrap them. After I described the vastness of dating websites—like finding a needle in a haystack—he admitted the absurdity of her explanation and that he knew she was lying.

“She comes up with the damnedest, cockamamie things—but what am I supposed to do? She’s mentally ill and she’s my wife. I’m supposed to take care of her.”


The isolation turned sinister when Cindy convinced him to sell the Kansas farm he inherited from his father. The poor girl from Spokane, Missouri, was flush with more cash than she ever dreamt possible. She found a house on eighteen acres neighboring her daughter’s secluded property sixty-five miles away and moved “to where family could help” with my father as he declined—without telling any of Dad’s friends or family. We only learned of the move when I requested a welfare check after he missed a meeting with a friend and couldn’t be reached on the phone.

The deputy reported that when Cindy came to the door, she said that Dad had nothing to do with us—that he hadn’t for years—and I was only trying to reach him now because he was dying, and I wanted money. It couldn’t have been farther from the truth; I had no knowledge of any illness and enjoyed a lucrative job traveling the world.

My stepsister Carrie’s response to my outreach was that her mother had gotten Dad a new phone and was setting it up—clearly a ruse to drop the numbers of everyone Cindy wanted to cut him off from: Lora, me, Uncle John, and my nephew.

I kept trying to reach him and just as I was about to give up, he answered, delighted to hear from me.

“Well, hi, Honey! Whereabouts in the world are you?” He loved aviation and hearing about my overseas trips.

“Dad, we had no idea how to find you,” I said, pressing him about the welfare check.

A door slammed behind him—she was home.

“Honey, I’ll—I’ll have to talk to you later. I’ll talk to Cindy and see if we can’t come up with some arrangement.”

“What do you mean, some kind of arrangement? You have to ‘arrange’ to talk to your daughter?”

He began to sound more agitated.

“I—I gotta go now, but I’ll talk to Cindy and see if we can’t make some arrangement. Let me see what Cindy says.”

He sounded torn and cautious, pained at the separation from his daughters and fearful of the woman who was about to erupt after returning home to find him speaking to one of them. I remembered an ominous statement he made during a conversation some months earlier.

“She’s already told me she doesn’t like for me to talk to any you out of her earshot,” he said.

“She’s gonna kill you one day, Dad.”


For someone who put significant efforts into silencing others, Cindy was a prolific storyteller and the stories she told planted the seed that eventually sprouted our outlandish suspicions. The Oklahoma Coke Can Caper was just the beginning.

In the brief period between leaving her first husband and marrying Dad, she worked as a ticket seller at the Wayne Newton Theater in Branson, Missouri, and from there a splendid narrative of hillbilly mafioso was borne.

One night, as the story goes, the theater seats were filled with vacationing veterans and retired grandparents, when local mafia members stormed through the doors and kept everyone trapped and terrorized for hours.

“They made me go around and collect everyone’s cell phones so they couldn’t call out for help. I had to go between the rows of seats where everyone was lying on the floor and keep them calm.”

There were obvious questions that I should have asked at this point like, were they wearing pin-stripe Zoot suits and shiny wingtips? Or had they gone for a more local look with Wal Mart overalls and Boxcar Willie T-shirts? And had they tried any of the backwoods stills? There are some lovely vintages.

But I didn’t ask any of those questions. I was trying to picture how in 1995, the Missouri Mafia imprisoned a theater full of 50-80-year-old Bible-toting, flag-waving, RV-dwelling tourists while my stepmother—the self-proposed comforter-in-chief—navigated an obstacle course of canes and wheelchairs to collect cellphones from people trying to lower themselves to the floor in bodies riddled with hip replacements and arthritic knees.

I never have figured out what she snorted with a moonshine chaser after that donkey kicked her in the head; there is no Branson Mafia unless you count the KKK, and in 1995 Branson, the person most likely to have a cell phone and Mafia friends was Wayne Newton himself.


During our final pseudo-congenial visit before their secret move, Batshit Nellie regurgitated her oft-told tale of stage IV uterine cancer, one of her more elaborate chronicles. The latest news was, alas, they could do nothing more for her but keep her comfortable with morphine.

She refused to allow my father to speak with her doctors but remarkably offered her own detailed account of what occurred during surgery.

“When they cut into me,” again with the saccharine-soaked lilt, “they found that the cancer wasn’t just in my uterus. It had spread all over my abdomen. They woke me up and asked me if I wanted to do chemo and radiation and I said no, no, I wouldn’t bother. So, they put me back under and finished the surgery.”

Gobsmacked, I looked at my father, who lowered his eyes to the floor.

“I—I don’t think they do that, Cindy,” I said, relishing a repeat occasion to wave the bullshit flag. “No doctor is going to allow someone so freshly under general anesthesia to make a decision like that.”

She snapped back. “No, Daphne! I said, they woke me up!”

“Right. So, you’re lying there on the operating table, with your belly splayed open, and they brought you around, and you felt no pain, and carried this conversation.”

“Yes. People with MS don’t feel pain normally like other people.”

Ah. Now she had MS. She also had a bad mitral valve and needed a replacement from a pig—what would have been a waste of a perfectly lovely swine—two brain aneurysms, thick blood, diabetes, adrenal tumors, and heart failure from arsenic poisoning.

“And my brother is sick with his lungs hardening, so since I’m in total organ failure—except my heart and lungs, which is really odd because I started smoking when I was eight—I’m trying to go ahead and donate my lungs to him.”  

There was a brief stare-down, each of us daring the other to flinch.

Finally, I said, “That is some of the looniest, damnedest shit I ever heard in all my put-togethers.”

 She glared at me through narrowed eyes.

With the Lord as my witness, I wouldn’t be surprised if she said she stood at the back door and watched a watermelon hatch a litter of three-legged kittens.”


It was 3 AM in late April when I woke up in Washington, D.C., to a text from Carrie, my stepsister of 20 years, and I knew that it was going to be unwelcome news.

 “So, you need to message as soon as you possibly have time. Important.”

The last time I heard from Carrie, she didn’t know “what the f— was wrong” with her mother but that she was always sick with a new and worsening malady.

That was true and she often replicated someone else’s recent health trouble. As underwent tests that ruled out MS, she was diagnosed with it. Soon after Aunt June was diagnosed with breast cancer, Cindy said she had it too. When she professed that her cat detected her uterine cancer, a story was circulating on the internet about how a woman’s cat obsessively sniffed and obsessively kneaded her belly shortly before her cervical cancer was found.

But her most insulting, egregious hijacking of another person’s tragedy was as my own childhood best friend lay on life support with complications following childbirth. For two weeks, as neurologists ran electroencephalographs, her newborn was placed on her chest during the tests hoping to detect changes in her brain activity.

Deliriously jealous that Dad was also devastated, Cindy barked that she coded the day she delivered Carrie, but that when they put the baby on her chest, she “came to,” an account her former husband’s family vehemently deny.

  At the end of her email, Carrie promised that if anything happened to Dad or that he was unable to make a call himself, she would be sure to let me know.

But she didn’t. She didn’t let me know that in early March my seventy-nine-year-old father fell and broke his hip. He required surgery and a three-week stay in a rehab facility until he was strong enough to go home.

“And he was getting around really well with his walker—he could get up some speed!” she said with a laugh as I listened, stunned at her chirpy delivery.

“Mom said she didn’t really think he was hurt, but he just kept not getting up, couldn’t get up. So, she finally called the ambulance.”

He fell? He wouldn’t—couldn’t—get up and she delayed calling for an ambulance? How long did she stall? Once she did call for help, it would take over half an hour to reach them because of their remoteness. He was an hour away from the network of friends and providers he had known for fifty years.

“Anyway, he had been home for less than a week and one night after dinner he started

saying he couldn’t breathe. We just thought, ‘Oh, here’s Ivan again, saying he can’t breathe, he can’t breathe,’ but he kept getting worse, so Mom finally called the ambulance.”

“You were there? You were there seeing a seventy-nine-year-old man saying he can’t breathe, and you delayed medical attention?”

A few seconds of silence passed before she continued, ignoring my questions.

“He had pneumonia and after a couple of days in the hospital, he went to a nursing home. Oh, and he also has late-stage Parkinson’s.”

“Late-stage Parkinson’s, a broken hip, rehab? How long ago did all this start? Why are you just now calling me?” I screamed at her, no longer interested in holding my rage. “Your mother is a liar! I know she’s done something to him! I know it!”

There was again an uncomfortable silence before she said, “Well, she just told me that it was time to let you guys know.”

“How kind,” I said. “Carrie, thank you for that,” and hung up hoping the sarcasm was unmissable.

I dreaded telling Lora. Since she still lived in our hometown, the task of dealing with our noxious stepmother was likely to fall mostly on her. To better size up what we were about to walk into and better prepare her, my first call was to my nephew Denver.

As soon as he was off work that night, he drove the hour north to Bolivar to see his grandfather. Theirs was one in an extensive line of relationships fractured by Cindy’s slanderous allegations of theft, what Dad referred to as her “very active imagination.”  

He called as he left the nursing home and over the chimes of his truck’s ignition, sobbed as he described the painful visit.

“It’s so bad. I never thought I’d see him like that. He didn’t even know me at first but once he did, he wouldn’t let go of me. It’s happened so fast. He didn’t look like himself at all.”

“She’s done something to him. I know she has. First, she squired him away to the middle of nowhere without telling any of us—or any of his closest friends—now he’s in this condition.”

“He’s so frail, so pale. He’s just barely there,” my nephew wept.

“So, I need to come quickly?”

“Yeah. If you want to see him one more time, you need to come.” I booked a flight for that weekend.

Cindy knew that Dad had promised Denver at least two guns that held sentimental value—a pistol from his Marine Corp days and the old rifle that he taught his only grandson to shoot with.

A couple of days later, she called, asserting that the entire gun collection was stolen by a man who helped her and Dad move from Sparta to Fair Play, though she admitted she never confronted Clint with these accusations, nor did she file a police report. Instead, she alleged, multiple boxes of guns and ammunition—some still in their original packaging—vanished, and though she could have guided law enforcement directly to the individual she claimed took them, she declined to report a cache of stolen weapons.

The story fit a habitually absurd pattern; she often invented outlandish tales of victimhood, then aired them in a syrupy-sweet voice that she must have felt absolved her of the sin of the lie. The gun caper was quite a performance—I heard it. My nephew had the presence of mind to hit the recorder on his phone when she called and began to spin her yarn.

 She would be enraged—and terrified—if she knew that the recording still exists and could be easily shared. She’d be mortified to learn that Clint and I have mutual friends and that on one of my trips back to the area, we met for lunch and communed over some of her batshit crazy stories.

“I’d do anything for your dad, but I’d just as soon never see Cindy again. She’s crazy,” he said.

“I thought of something the other day that I think connects a few dots and may explain some of the things she’s done. I think she’s ripped a page out of an old story. She does that. She borrows other people’s lives and makes them her own. She knew what scared him, what got to him.”

“What happened?”

I told Clint about a grueling ordeal that my family went through when Dad was a young guard at the Medical Center for Federal Prisoners. It started before my birth and ended shortly after, but there were frequent references to it throughout my childhood. As the years passed and I grew old enough to ask for details, Dad shared much more—including media reports—about it.

 In the late 1960s, he got into a kind of kerfluffle with an inmate named Harold Konigsberg, a Mafia hitman from Bayonne, New Jersey. Konigsberg was the worst of the worst—he walked shoulder-to-shoulder with the operatives responsible for Jimmy Hoffa’s disappearance. When “Kayo” (a nickname he earned through his boxing chops) was mentioned, other mobsters winced—he was too vicious even for his own kind.

Dad tried to play it cool, refusing to wither under Konigsberg’s threats and attempts to intimidate him. Frustrated, the convicted murderer did what Mafia men do—he started making threats against our family. After a visit from his wife, the guard escorting him saw that he had a bundle of photographs in his hand.

“What are those pictures of?”

“Fail’s house and kids.” He had hired a professional photographer to take pictures of our house, the car, and of us, if possible. The guard reported it to the warden and the photos were seized during a contraband search of his cell.

Konigsberg saw my birth announcement in the paper. He asked Dad, as he walked him out of the exercise yard, ‘By the way, how’s your baby daughter?’

 There were prowlers and hang-up phone calls all through the night. Mom was only 23 years old with two baby girls and often home alone while Dad worked erratic shifts around murderers with contacts on the outside. They were terrified and for months left the upstairs bedroom and slept on the floor on a mattress in the living room to be closer to Lora and me. Dad kept a gun under his pillow.

The situation at the prison reached a boiling point. Life Magazine did an expose on Konigsberg and published it when he transferred to Sing Sing. The article included an inset story about Dad’s tangle along with two photos; one of him standing in front of the prison, and one of the pictures that the photographer took of our house with three-year-old Lora peeking around a bush to smile at the man with the camera.

“Cindy knows about that history. She knew what got to Dad, what really scared him—and I think she consciously borrowed Konigsberg’s tactics with the stalking, chasing, picture-taking.”

Horrified, Clint said, “I wouldn’t put anything past that woman.”


Dad was inconsolable throughout the summer, his first few months in the nursing home. Fatigued by the painkillers pushed at him, complained constantly of his head feeling full—not a headache, but like his head had been pumped full of pressure. It was cerebral edema and he had low blood sodium levels, so his fluid intake was severely restricted, leaving him miserably thirsty all the time, pleading for something to drink.

Allergy season always wreaked havoc and he used nasal spray all throughout the year, but this time it provided no relief. He begged for the cooling spray over and over again, but the tears never stopped rolling down his face.

“My sinuses are on fire. Can I have some nose spray?” he cried constantly.

It was supposed to only be administered by the staff, and Lora and I staunchly followed the rules, for Cindy had slandered us to his caregivers and we were in constant fear of being banned from visiting. We thought it odd when there was a bottle in his nightstand drawer.

The depression and dementia led him to fixate on the Kayo Konigsberg years. He cried and cried, confused and despondent. It wasn’t that he had regressed decades and believed it was his current situation, but I had to keep explaining to him how long ago it was—that Konigsberg is dead, his connections are dead, the danger is gone.

“Dad, those guys are all gone now—we’re safe.”

“You don’t know that!” he’d sob, his face reddened and anguished.

“You don’t know guilt until you know you’ve done something that’s going to get your family killed!”

He remembered everything and he saved everything, copies of the magazine as well as newspaper clippings, which he sent to me in more recent years. The local paper did a series of articles after the story came out, a “story behind the story,” series to explain how southwest Missouri found its way into a national publication.

It was the most horrific experience of his life, and I believe that my stepmother repeatedly triggered him over the years. I also believe that whatever happened in the spring of 2016 that initiated his rapid deterioration was every bit as traumatic as his tangle with Harold Konigsberg.


Cindy had dumped him in the nursing home with nothing but sweats and thin, stained tank-style undershirts, and he hesitated at mealtime, embarrassed by his appearance among others in the dining hall.

“I feel like I’m wearing pajamas out in public,” he winced.

Lora and I brought all the clothes he wore throughout the last three and a half years of his life—shirts, pants, slippers, socks, sleepwear—and reviewed his closet every time I made the journey from Pennsylvania to Missouri to visit him and attend court hearings.

The staff and other residents commented on his remarkable transformation when he appeared in his new “real clothes”—a long-sleeved western shirt, jeans with suspenders, and a trucker hat.

“Ivan, is that you? Why, don’t you look like you’re feeling better!”

He’d stop pushing his walker and break into a wide smile, lifting his chest to stand a degree straighter with a hand raised to shake the hand of a passing man or wave hello to a lady.

After they passed and he returned his attention to his walker and the hallway ahead, they quietly asked, “Are you girls his daughters? He’s just radiant! I can’t believe how much he’s changed. When he first got here—he didn’t look so good. . .”

When it became too difficult to work the snaps himself, the western shirts were saved for days that Lora or I could see him and spend the time that his caregivers didn’t have. We kept several in his closet but filled the rest of the space with comfortable polo shirts and lounge pants.

He needed replacement clothes due to an ever-fluctuating waistline. Allergy medications left him fatigued, diminishing his appetite and he’d lose so much weight that he needed smaller pants. When the only things I could find were basketball pants that spilled over his shoes and created a dangerous tripping hazard, my mother—his ex-wife of twenty-five years—hemmed them with elastic so they fit snugly around his ankles.

 I once came to see him after his weight rebounded. His waistband cut uncomfortably into his rounded abdomen.

“Dad, you’ve been eating too much pie!”

“I reckon. The chow’s good here,” he smiled sleepily.

“Well, these pants are too tight around your belly.”

With scissors borrowed from the nursing station and him sitting on the edge of his bed, I snipped a notch in the fabric below his belly button.

“How’s that?”

“Still a little tight. Can you do a little more?”

I snipped into the next line of stitching.

“They’re still a little tight.”

Another snip, then another.

Little by little, I cut into the wide band until he exhaled with relief.

“Oh, that’s better. Thank you, Honey.”

When he stood to get into the wheelchair, his pants dropped freely to the floor.

“I feel a draft,” he said, and we laughed


By August, his physical strength and mental acuity improved tremendously. Lora visited frequently, and the staff allowed them to use the exercise room. Dad pushed himself on the stationary bicycle, riding for longer times and with increasing resistance. He made future plans—and shocking statements.

“Lora,” he said one day as he pedaled, “I want you and Daph to get me a lawyer. I want a divorce. I want you guys involved, in my life. I think Cindy did something to me.”

She called me that night and described how she encouraged him to share without her prodding or bringing up specifics from the past. Whatever he had to say, we wanted it to come from his own memories and not be influenced by ours.

“He said she gave him something to drink one day that tasted so bad he spit it out. There was another time he got so sick after dinner that he couldn’t do anything for a week. He knows she’s been lying to him for years—that he always knew it—it’s just that now he knows it was all to keep him away from us and the rest of his family.”

It was vindication but could only be enjoyed for a moment. We now had a whole new crisis to deal with.

I hired Charlie and Jesse Ankrom over the phone from Pennsylvania because they were the ones who could get to the nursing home first. Together they took our case, and I was thrilled to later learn that Charlie had been a prosecuting attorney before opening the practice with his son. Jesse met with Dad was comfortable enough with his level of determination that he filed the petition for divorce.

Patty, the Ankrom’s paralegal, called to tell me that Cindy had been served with the papers.

“Our guy that served her said her elevator doesn’t go all the way to the top. She opened the door and tried to stare him down, wouldn’t take the papers at first. He said, ‘Lady, do you have an attorney?’ ‘Well, yes,’ and he said, ‘I guarantee you, he’ll want to see what’s in these papers.’ So, she finally took them. He said there were a lot of new, expensive cars at the house. And some major construction.”

An asset search revealed over $80,000 in new cars registered to Cindy’s daughters and granddaughter, with her name also on all three. She also closed the joint banking account that held the remainder of the farm sale—$400,000—just four days after he was admitted to the nursing home—and built an addition onto the house.

We couldn’t shake off the things Dad said. The thought of him being often sick after they moved to Fair Play, the isolation, disorientation. How miserable he said he was. He continued to offer fragmented memories that left us more and more unsettled.

On a day when he seemed particularly sharp, I asked him about the things he had begun to talk about.

“Dad, you told Lora some things that you think happened to you. Can you tell me?”

“I had a potassium supplement I used in my drinks. It was different one day. It wasn’t a powder—it was like granules. It tasted so bad I couldn’t drink it. I think Cindy’s been trying to do something to me. She wants me out of the picture, to be alone.”


“Money. She was always making me change all the money around, get her cash out of the bank. She didn’t need it—she never went anywhere. I don’t know what she did with it.”

“Do you want to be tested? There are tests, things to look for.”

He looked toward the window and sat silently considering his options.

“Yeah. Yeah, I think we oughtta. Yeah. It sure is good to see you, Honey. So proud of you, and Lora, and Denver.”


The arsenic test was indisputable.

Dad’s value: 306.

The marker for abnormally elevated levels: 80.

When the Ankroms got the report, Patty called.

“Oh, boy, Daphne. The prosecuting attorney wants you to file a police report so they can assign a detective to open an investigation. I have a name and email for you to send it to.”

Charlie Ankrom called me to suggest putting the divorce aside and immediately petitioning for a legal guardian for Dad’s protection.

“I’m very, very concerned for Ivan’s safety. His wife is going to fight this, and the judge will set a court date for ninety days down the road. He’s not safe. If we agree to bring a third party in, our chances are better that we get an order that day,” the former prosecuting attorney said. “Again, I am extremely concerned about his safety right now.”

Of course, Lora and I immediately agreed to whatever would the most quickly put a buffer zone around Dad.

Charlotte Haden, the Cedar County Public Administrator, became Dad’s legal guardian.


I filed the report with Lieutenant Roger Barron who responded that he immediately went to the nursing home administration to protect Dad. When he stopped responding to my repeated inquiries, I reviewed the report with Lieutenant Hendrickson, who assured me that he was going straight to Bolivar Police Chief Mark Webb.

As it became clear that the end of Dad’s ordeal was nearing with no further word from Barron or Hendrickson, I emailed Chief Webb, who replied:

“Thank you for your email, Ms. Freise. I have contacted

my current investigations Lieutenant and advised him

this is a priority to find out what has happened?”

He had never heard of my father’s case.


The funeral director used the underwear, socks, Wrangler blue jeans, and black leather belt that I folded neatly and left with them in a plastic Target bag. All that was missing was a pair of his cowboy boots, but no one was going to see his feet in the casket.

We didn’t bother asking our stepmother to bring a pair of Dad’s boots for his burial and never again asked for his guitar, banjo, or any of the other instruments that his hands made sing all throughout our childhood.

We had reason to believe there was nothing left.

Charlotte said that when she went to the house to get some records, she saw an area in the yard that “looked like someone had been burning things,” which was remarkable because Cindy once claimed to me that she caught Dad outside “burning things.”

It wasn’t the only time she projected. She often told on herself long before an alibi or explanation was even necessary, so when there was evidence of recent embers, I figured Cindy was destroying documents and correspondence.

We knew we would never see his stainless steel mandolin, his most cherished instrument. It was a gift from an old Kansas neighbor, Wendell Brant, whose mother was the teacher at the old one-room schoolhouse Dad attended as a young boy on the Kansas prairie. But what made the mandolin so beloved was that Wendell was at the battle of Iwo Jima when those soldiers raised the American flag. That made him worthy of a hero-worship eclipsed only by Uncle John’s service as a Marine in Vietnam.

She likely disposed of Dad’s possessions, destroying everything of sentimental value that would have been graceful for her to offer to disburse between his daughters and grandson.

There is no blood in her veins. Only venom.

He was so still. Gone was the shallow breathing that made me wonder if he was hurting. There were no more gasps that made me worry that he was scared and suffocating. No begging for nose spray. No tears poured from his eyes after what was supposed to be a cool, relieving spray of saline solution, but instead left his sinuses on fire.

Is that where I failed him? Why didn’t I think of it then? Mucous membranes? It was 306. 306. Once he was in the nursing home, there was no vomiting, nothing to alert the staff to symptoms caused by something he ate. But somehow it was there. Forensic tests don’t lie.

He looked nothing like himself. He was way too powdery pink, too pasty. But it wasn’t the mortician’s fault. His skin tone probably would have worked better with the formulas if preparations had been started the day he died instead of 4 days later.

But there was all that business with coroners and a prospective autopsy . . .

There is no blood in her veins. Only venom. Those were Dad’s words.