Escaping the Shadow of Death

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| This is the 152nd story of Our Life Logs |


At six years old, I was used to living under the shadow of death in my home. I grew up in a house with an abusive father who would turn to violence at the slightest inconvenience. Whatever anger he held inside, he released it on his wife and kids. So, I took any chance I could to get out of the house, but the shadow followed me. When it started manifesting itself with my neighbors and friends, I began to believe I was cursed.

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It all started with Sandy Shape, my childhood best friend. She lived in the house behind mine in Santa Fe, New Mexico where I was born in 1961. Sandy and I loved to play with dolls. At six years old, we never worried about much of anything other than if Barbie should marry Ken and what her wedding dress should look like.

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On one hot summer afternoon, as Sandy and I were playing in her room, her mom came in and asked me to go home. She said Sandy and Danny, Sandy’s five-year-old brother, needed to go to the store with her. I remember Sandy trying to get Mrs. Shape to let me come with them, but Mrs. Shape said no. She said that I could come back after dinner.

I went to Sandy’s house many times over the next 24 hours, but I never received an answer at the door. After dinner a day later, my parents calmly announced that the evening before, Mrs. Shape, Sandy and Danny had been in a car accident and all three had died.

At six, all I knew about death was that it meant you would never see that person again. While it was something I feared every day at home, it never occurred to me that it could happen outside my home. Sandy had the warmest smile that seemed to light up the room; and now it was gone. After she died, I stopped playing with my Barbies.

I found out later what really happened to Sandy and her family. Mrs. Shape had found out her husband was having an affair and was going to leave her and the kids for his girlfriend. Mrs. Shape decided that wasn’t going to happen. One day, she left a suicide note for Mr. Shape, but he didn’t find it until he got home from work and by then they were already gone. Allegedly, she put the kids in the car, parked on the railroad tracks and waited for the next train to come barreling down the tracks. I cannot even imagine how terrified Sandy and Danny must have been because eventually, that train did come, and it hit their car.

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After my mom told me what really happened to the Shapes, I knew that it wasn’t my imagination that kept me and all those I loved in the shadow of death. It was a reality. In that moment, I thought that those I loved and cared for had their death clock started the day that they met me.

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That crazy notion became reality yet again when I was twelve years old. My dad had received a transfer and a promotion the summer of 1973, so we moved to a new state. I had new neighbors and friends, yet death continued to touch my life, inside and outside my home. Every day, I hoped the beatings in my home were over, but they didn’t stop, so much like in New Mexico, I tried to stay out of the house.

I met Gloria and her younger brother David, who was only two years old. He was forever toddling after us, chasing us from room to room. Gloria and I often got on our bikes and rode around the neighborhood for hours at a time. We would often end up at a small pond and a creek that ran behind our neighborhood. We would sit for hours dangling our feet over the water rocks and talk about life and our innocent, grand plans for our futures.

One Saturday afternoon, Gloria and I played with her baby brother for a few minutes and then we ran out of the door to bicycle to the creek. Around dinnertime, we parted ways and I told Gloria I’d stop by later.

After dinner, I went to Gloria’s house and saw a bunch of cop cars, an ambulance and what seemed like the entire neighborhood gathered around her home. David was missing. Gloria told me that he somehow wandered away from the house. I felt my breath leave my body in gut-wrenching fear. Gloria and I sat on the front stoop, praying that he would be found safe. Our prayers were not answered. Harm not only found David, but irretrievably changed his life.

That afternoon, there was miscommunication on who was watching David, and he toddled away from his home. He made it all the way to the pond in the back of our neighborhood. In a cruel joke of time and destiny, Gloria and I had already left by the time David found it on his unsteady little legs. David fell into the pond that only held less than three inches of water. It was enough. He had drowned, but the paramedics revived David enough for him to maintain a heartbeat. We thought a crisis had been averted, and I went home happy that he was okay.

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What we all didn’t know until many weeks later was that a heartbeat wasn’t enough to live life. It was only enough to sustain it. David had lost his ability to construct thoughts, dreams and imagination, unable to feed himself or utter another word for the rest of his short life. Yes, David did live. He lived for another ten years before dying of pneumonia prior to his thirteenth birthday. Gloria and I never went back to the pond again.

Looking back, I think that David, not Sandy, was my first glimpse into the capriciousness of life which revealed itself to be callous, heart wrenching, and tragic. Sandy’s life ended because of an insane, deliberate action by her own mother, but I feel that David’s accident was much more powerful, teaching me that the daily traumas I suffered at home weren’t the worst thing that could happen in life. Life could offer other hells to endure.

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When nothing happened to anyone I loved over the next year, I began to breathe. The beatings continued in my house, but no one on the outside knew about those. Since no one else had dealt with tragedy, I thought, maybe I wasn’t cursed after all. But the next summer proved that I had been too optimistic.

By 1974, I was thirteen and babysitting for a little money here and there. My favorite babysitting job of all was for our next-door neighbor’s son, Adam, a beautiful baby boy with big brown eyes and blonde hair. He was so bright and energetic.

Toward the end of summer, there was a hot spell that lasted all week. One night at 4:00am, I woke up with a start when I heard my parents running around the house slamming doors. Outside my bedroom window, I saw familiar red and blue lights.

I rubbed my eyes and stumbled around looking for my parents in what seemed to be an ever-growing number of people on the street. I remember seeing the EMTs (Emergency Medical Technicians) and police moving in and out of my neighbor’s home rapidly and speaking very fast, when suddenly, I recalled the exact same nightmarish scene that had just played out in Gloria’s front yard when David went missing.

Then I saw a stretcher with a tiny body on it and two paramedics performing CPR as it was wheeled into an ambulance. I realized it was Adam. Later, we learned that Adam died sometime during the night of what we now call SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).

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To this day, I cannot answer why the shadow of death has been around so much in my life, especially in my youth. It seems to create parents who lose part of their soul in the aftermath, souls that are never whole again, but still reside in their bodies, floating around in broken pieces. Though painful, I have found that you can survive that way. You can just never be put back together the way you were before, but you do mend, even with the shards of memory inside.

I know this because I’ve seen joy return to Gloria’s life. We had many happy moments together on her parents’ boat and on other hot, summer nights after 1973. I witnessed Adam’s parents have two more little boys. People slowly heal, and light returns to their lives, despite the tragedies.

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I know life does go on even after tragedies, trauma, and abuse. I do know recovery is possible, whether you take the reigns of life, or life carries you through. It takes work, belief, prayer, counseling, meditation or whatever you need to help make it happen. But purpose, love, and light does live again. I now know that curses aren’t real, and they have power only if you believe in them. I don’t, anymore.

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This is the story of Samantha Seconds

Samantha began her life in an abusive and violent home, but she never thought tragedy so severe could occur outside the confines of her home. When she encountered three instances of freak accidental deaths in her childhood, she began to believe that the “shadow of death” was following her. As she grew up, she became less afraid that she was cursed and learned that life has its own agenda that cannot be controlled. Samantha married three times and divorced twice. However, she has currently been married to the love of her life for fifteen years and between them they raised four children. In what she calls her epiphany moment, she shared her crazy, unstable, happy, sad, joyous and tragic and loving life story with a group.  Her life has never been the same since.  She firmly believes that mistakes and tragedy can sometimes be avoided through truth and shared experiences.

 

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This story first touched our hearts on August 29, 2018.

| Writer: Samantha Seconds | Editors: Kristen Petronio; MJ |

 


 If you are interested in learning more about Samantha’s journey, please read more of her stories with us: 

Seconds and Inches OLL

“Seconds and Inches”

After a rough childhood full of abuse that couldn’t be talked about, Samantha learned to wear a mask and pretend life was perfect which led her to destructive behaviors in life including choosing abusive men and serving some jail time.

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“No Longer Home”

Despite growing up in an abusive home, Samantha was convinced that all people were inherently good. She soon learned how wrong she was after a dangerous encounter with an officer in Syria who detained her, taking her away from her son and husband at the time.

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