The Day Everything Changed
This happened three weeks ago and I am now, finally emotionally able to write about it. If you don't know the context, my daughter Widlene is a Dominican-born Haitian living in Dominican Republic. In their typical unevolved form, the Dominican government launched a purely racist legislation and "social cleansing" against all people of Haitian decent. For the last 2-3 years, Dominican forces have been violently deporting anyone with dark skin, regardless of where they were born. Amnesty International calls it one of the greatest humanitarian crises in the history of the Western Hemisphere.
People experience trauma and shock in different ways. For some, it is an outburst of unimaginable chaos, while for others it is pure unintelligible confusion. Still for me, after 44 years of life, I am not certain if I drew the short straw or not when it comes to trauma.
I am a peculiar one.
When I am experiencing trauma, my world becomes enveloped in a deafening silence. Everything fades into the background apart from the actual traumatic event itself. Other sounds are muffled and muted and I hone in on that one thing that is messing with my emotional equilibrium. For this, I believe I ought to be thankful. While in the moment, trauma is actually quite peaceful for me. Focused, deliberate and peaceful.
When the trauma ends, however, and the shock begins, is where I start to come apart. It feels weird to me that I can walk out the craziest of situations with a calm that is as serene as it is inexplicable. My heart rate goes up more in a Bruce Willis movie than it does in any near death experience. But after, I am absolutely useless for an indeterminate period of time. Night terrors, vomiting and stomach bleeds are only a few of the things that become a regular part of my post traumatic life cycle.
Until Dec 10, 2019, I have only had three such situations. I can tell you that all three put together could not compare to what happened just three weeks ago.
December 10, 2019 8:22 AM
“Daddy!” Came the shriek from the passenger seat of the car. That shout would have not been necessary if I had been looking to my right. As it was, I was looking out my left window in an attempt to pull a pretty swift U-turn in the middle of the highway. You see, I didn’t go wide enough to make the turn in one cut so I was having to back up a little to gain the required distance for the turn without wandering too far into the ditch. Again, that all might sound simple had it not been for the dump truck closing in on my right and passenger bus on my left.
I am certain that only 1 or 2 seconds elapsed during this time but, even as I reluctantly relive it, it feels like several minutes, as if time had stood still.
When the cry for help reached my ear, I was still, at least for a brief moment, trying to decide what to do about the bus that was inching up on my left side. I heard her voice, I am sure I did, but there was that lag before my brain computed the panic that was being conveyed in that voice.
Once my brain registered that there was something drastically wrong, my head whipped toward the sound of my daughter's cry and everything became so painfully clear.
Then the silence.
I heard no horns honking, although I was aware that they were there, nor did I hear subsequent screams despite my awareness of their uncomfortable presence. I heard nothing but muffled noises far far away. As the sounds all but disappeared and time slowed, my vision focused on only one thing. The object of my eminent trauma. The cause of Widlene’s crisis.
I would guess he stood about 6’4” with a slender build. Slender meaning a little more athletic than skinny. He was shrouded from head to toe in full military fatigues. Even in this moment, the irony of his cold weather camouflage gear in the 101 degree Caribbean heat, was not lost on me. As he noticed that I was pinned between to larger vehicles, I saw the look on his face go from token attention to militant determination. He leaned into his run and dropped his front shoulder like he was expecting a medal for this particular sprint. His jaws jarred abruptly as his rate increased and his giant paratrooper boots did little to absorb the shock of the pavement. Draped around his torso was his standard issue M-16 assault rifle which looked to be about twice as old as he was. On his right hip was an old school Smith and Wesson 38 Special which really didn’t seem to fit the the military theme, but I imagine appearance was less important than function for this soldier.
He was close enough now that I could see the pupils of his eyes. I began to assess my options and realized that I had to venture into the muddy ditch to have any hope of escaping our pursuer. As I looked to the left to, again, see how close the bus was, I stepped on the accelerator and felt the sudden drop of my front wheels leaving the pavement. I quickly threw the shifter into reverse but something happened. Maybe I was over zealous or even a little shaky, but I missed reverse and went straight into park. I looked over my shoulder to back up only to hear the engine redline and feel the car go nowhere. Well within the confines of a split second, my heart sank as I realized that this simple error might just be the difference for my daughter’s safety. Was I going to let her be captured because I missed a gear? No. Not today.
I finally found reverse and put my right foot to the floor. As I did, my curiosity got the better of me and I looked, once again to my right and there he was. Almost close enough to touch the car with a solid contingent of his comrades now running right behind him. Apparently, they also assessed the potential of a young beautiful Haitian girl in the car of a white foreigner and decided to join the party.
My hatred for them boiled in the core of my soul. How could anyone with a conscience do what they were doing? I am certain that some would say that it is their job or that they were just following orders. That is utter bullshit. I don’t care about the chain of command, there is still right and wrong and attacking children is unequivocally wrong.
Fueled now by my disdain for my pursuers, I got the car turned around and pointed in the right direction. I thought it was over as the silence continued. Then I glanced up into my mirror only to see that we were not, by any stretch, out of the woods.
This soldier could see that traffic was stopped in the direction that I was headed and they were occupying both lanes. He knew that I had nowhere to go. I did move ahead toward the aforementioned traffic jam and I did put a little distance between my daughter and her attacker.
Then everything changed.
As I kept looking in the rear view mirrors, this soldier did the unthinkable. I can only assume that he was tired from the pursuit and realized that I had a decent chance of getting away. So he stopped running.
He stopped running? Why would he stop? Yes, I certainly did get a little jump but I was driving the wrong way into two lanes of stopped traffic. Why stop? Then, as I trained my eyes on him to see what was about to happen, I saw him plant his feet and shoulder his M-16. This motherfucker was about to open fire. In the last three years, I have had more than enough guns pointed at me by these idiots. I have had enough experience to know that this animal was not pointing his weapon at me.
I hear nothing. Silence. Peace.
My left hand gripped the steering wheel with white knuckles and veins popping. My right hand reached up and pulled Widlene’s head into my chest. “We are going to be alright,” I whispered. “He stopped running. We got away.”
Widlene was looking straight ahead, thankfully. She was not seeing what I was seeing in the mirror.
I, again, put my foot to the floor. The only path out was to cross over oncoming traffic and drive on the opposite shoulder, so that is what we did. The added benefit of this move was that we became shielded by the giant bus that was constantly getting in the way. We sped down the oncoming shoulder at about 60mph until it was “safe” to get back on the road.
Breathing. I could finally hear something other than my own heartbeat.
As we flew down the highway, I looked over and Widlene was in a full scale anxiety attack as you could only imagine. She couldn’t talk so I told her to stop trying. Just breathe. “We are ok,” I kept telling her. “They can’t catch us.”
Then I saw the headlights of 2 military motorcycles in the rear view mirror. Those bastards weren’t done terrorizing my daughter. We had a long head start and I was up to about 110mph by now. Those little 125 cc bikes were not going to catch us but I had to be sure. I knew that there was a subdivision coming up at the end of a long stretch. If I could get there, I knew I could enter the gated community and disappear before they would even get around the corner to see that I had turned. That is what we did. As I tucked in behind the “Welcome” sign, the two bikes sped by unaware that we weren’t still ahead of them.
As I sat in that car I looked over at Widlene and saw the pure terror in her eyes. In that moment I made a promise to myself that she would never again experience that type of trauma and there will be hell to pay for anyone stupid enough to try.