It was a usual Saturday in the Prince William County Adult Detention Center, routine but almost tolerable. I had spent the day talking to a couple of inmates about the nagging feelings I was trying to ignore, thoughts that kept creeping into my worried mind. The ladies in the jail knew my daughter. She had shown up and spent two days while I was still there, for a suspected DUI in which she totaled my car. Was I embarrassed when I saw her? No. Was I worried about the damn car? No. The first words out of her nervous, sweet little mouth were, “Mom, I’m so sorry about the car”. I thought I’d just get sick. “Kirstyn, are you kidding? Fuck that car. I’m so happy you are okay. I’ve missed you… ” And then we hugged, albeit a short one, “Ladies… hands off!” “Officer, it’s my daughter?”, “Rules are rules”. Understood. Did I hurt for her and for myself? Absolutely. It was almost funny, though the circumstances were far from comedy. The second the CO’s and inmates laid eyes on her, they knew. #1, she doesn’t belong here. #2, what a sweet little girl. #3, that’s Katrina King’s daughter. She and I, well, it was baffling. She detested our similarities yet I was larger than life for her. I never fully understood that until recently and you want to talk about pain or regret, trust me, that realization did it. She put me in a place in her mind I didn’t deserve I thought. Oh, I knew I adored my kids, would die for them. They were it for me. But, I had fallen so hard, I felt unworthy. Anyway, that was the last time I was able to hug my daughter. She left on a Sunday, Mother’s Day 2011 in fact, after just two short days and I thought I would just crumble, but I knew she was better off out there… or so I thought. The last time I touched, hugged, smelled my firstborn child was on Mother’s Day. The irony of things in my life sometimes is almost too wild to be true, as if it’s someone else’s life and not mine, being played out in a long, drag ass movie and I’m just standing in as an actress… really.
Sitting there in the main room of the “A Pod” on that Saturday, thoughts of the last time I had hugged and kissed my kids came to mind. I had spoken to my daughter on the past Thursday, a day she had promised to come visit me. She never showed up and for the rest of the day, I felt an urgency to connect with her. I was almost jumping out of my skin by the time they released us from our cells after shift change that evening. After getting the local bail bondsman to call her for me, I heard her sweet, yet weary voice on the other line. I knew that frustrating or reprimanding her when she was this far from my reach, was not smart. So, I started the conversation with something like… “Uhhhh… what happened today?” She mumbled something about no transportation and confusion and I could hear the exasperation in her voice. Before things escalated, I said , “Honey, it’s ok. I love you, just wanted to see you but please, it’s ok. I know it’s all hard enough. So, how are you?” On the other end… silence. “Kirstyn… are you there? Hello???” Finally, after what seemed like minutes she raised her voice and said, “Whatttt Mom???” I could tell something wasn’t right. I was already informed that she was deteriorating, her addiction deepening. She was nodding out on our call and this crushed me. She kept coming in and out of the conversation, barely coherent. Finally I said, “Who is with you????” She mentioned a couple of friends and I demanded to speak to them. When the one friend got on the line, she began to tell me just how badly Kirstyn was doing, how worried she was. I pleaded with her… “please, please, please, whatever you do, stay with my girl. Ill be out in a month or so. Just keep her alive until I’m out. I can hear it in her voice, I’m going to lose her. Please, keep her alive.” Her friend promised me she would. I spoke to Kirstyn once more, by then she was anxious and irritable and since I didn’t want to end the call that way, I softly said… “I love you, I miss you, hang on, Ill be out soon”. I hung up the phone feeling the most desperate and powerless I’ve ever felt in my life… until then at least. I knew Kirstyn’s fiance’s mom was helping her and I set aside my pride a month back and wrote her a letter, thanking her. Diane wrote me back, her letter pissed me off. It read like a dig, like I wasn’t the mother Kirstyn deserved, as if I didn’t already feel that way. I realize now it was just my own feelings of inadequacy picking at me, combined with Diane’s lack of awareness of the whole addiction crisis. She has since become a very, very dear friend to me and an empathetic supporter of addiction issues. Without my son, her son and family, my sisters, friends and a select few of my daughter’s friends who have turned their lives around as a result of our loss, I wouldn’t have survived. There’s zero doubt about THAT fact.
It was shift change on Saturday, October 15, 2011 and I was out directing the clean up efforts as trustee that day. The sliding glass door powered open and a correctional officer from intake emerged and walked to the desk. She bellowed, “Ms. King… come here please!”, in her broken English. I walked to the desk and they informed me I was “needed” in intake. Suddenly lightheaded, I was going to pass out. My first thought was, are you kidding me???? Oh hell, the FBI or local PD have MORE crap on me???? Why won’t they leave me the hell alone???? All of my “jail house lawyers” weren’t any help, as they gave me the looks of dread. There’s only three reasons you go to intake. To be processed in for a new charge, to be processed out of the jail for transfer or release, or to receive bad news. Once I stepped in the elevator with the officer, I started to grill her for more detail. She was stoic and not very friendly. Suddenly, this feeling came over me… and I knew the answer. I blurted, “It’s not my daughter, is it???”. She looked at me confused and said, “I can’t tell you, but why would you ask that?” I answered… “Because my daughter has been struggling and I have a bad feeling”… The look she gave me was suggestive to my assumption, to say the least, but she didn’t SAY another word. As I stepped off the elevator, I see my ex from the corner of my eye, also being led towards the same room I was. Before the two of us could speak to one another or get seated, two detectives walk in. They ask if I am Kirstyn’s mother. I answer, yes…but with a why built in to the sound of my response. They asked my ex’es relationship to us and he explained. I didn’t wait for the professional build up. I interrupted with something like, “what the hell happened????” I was obviously panicked. There was mumbling about when the louder, more vocal detective, a brash, “wanna be” tough guy with a New York accent looked at me and said… “I’m very sorry for your loss Ms. King”. I don’t remember my exact words but as I started to lose it with disbelief that my gut feeling was right, I bombarded him with demands for answers. “What do you mean my loss?? Didn’t I just hear someone say she was on life support?” It was evident these assholes had no empathy training and worse yet, hadn’t collected ALL the facts before calling me down. They asked me to calm down, then proceeded to get the hospital on the phone. Diane, Kirstyn’s fiance’s mom was first to get on the line as she was in the room with Kirstyn. She briefly described what I already knew but… relief and HOPE, NO, in fact she had not died. At that point, a doctor got on the phone and explained the situation in more dire and medical terms. They were describing her condition, indicating she had considerable and predicted irreversible brain damage from the extended oxygen deprivation to her brain during her overdose event. I refused to accept that this was it. I commanded them to keep working on her, I mean, the specialist hadn’t even arrived to translate the tests so I was livid that this doctor would even suggest removing her from life support. I accused them of trying to give up on what they perceived as just another junkie with a mom in jail… I gave the Indian doctor an earful. As he handed the receiver to Diane, I made it clear… my daughter better not die. Keep her alive at all costs. Diane then put the phone to Kirstyn’s ear so I could speak to her. My heart was outside of my chest and my mind was almost black. I couldn’t even think straight, not to mention speak the words I wanted to convey to my baby girl. It didn’t feel real so I couldn’t act real, if that makes any sense. My heart felt like it had actually splintered into pieces, it was an agony and disconnect that I’ve lived with since. The pain intensity has never changed, but my ability to cope has. When Diane got back on the line, she sounded annoyed and frazzled. She was explaining what Kirstyn’s body was enduring as a result of the resuscitation efforts, how awful it was. I didn’t care that she was insinuating I was selfish to keep my daughter suffering. I just thought angrily, she’s not your daughter, letting my child go without seeing her isn’t going to happen. Of course, I now understand after being an onlooker in a dying family member’s situation AFTER the fact, how difficult it is to watch someone’s body go through life saving measures and just how much love and strength it requires to let that person go. I had love enough to do the right thing, what I didn’t have for my daughter was the strength at that point, but then again, how many mothers would have and so suddenly? It wasn’t as if I had months to prepare for the probable or even possible. My daughter was healthy, disease free, beautiful and strong. How do you give up on life you brought into the world just because someone tells you it’s the right thing to do? Without seeing it for myself, it wasn’t a reality I was ready to face. We will always be grateful that Kirstyn had Diane there. It gives me peace knowing that If I couldn’t be there or her brother or other family member, at least she didn’t pass on all alone but in fact, Diane loved her as a daughter and her final moments were at least in a room with someone who cared. As Diane has mentioned in her reflection on that event, Father Jeb of the local church where we received the certificate to baptize my children, prayed over her. When meeting him, initially I was frustrated with his inexperience and inability to express himself as well as I would’ve liked during her memorial. However, after getting to know him better later, I realize, he was just the person for the job and it’s an experience he will never forget. The thought of Kirstyn being all alone in darkness in her final moments, well, that is something I honestly don’t think I could’ve come to grips with. Thank God for Diane’s strength to do that for my daughter… for our family.
I never saw my parents again the night they left us with the babysitter and didn’t return. They died on that New Years Eve night and we woke up the next morning at my stepdad’s brother’s house. Some girl called us into this tiny, cramped bathroom, my sisters and I. We looked like little barefoot hippy kids, cute as little hobo buttons. She began to speak and I knew what she was about to say… “Do you remember how your dog Lucky was hit by the truck and now is somewhere else? Well, your mom and dad…” I interrupted her with shrill screams. Screams that stopped when she screamed back and said… “STOOOPPPPPPP that!!!! That’s not going to help you!!!” From that moment until just recently, I never cried for my mom again. We weren’t allowed at the funeral. It was as if they were here and then they were gone. I almost wondered if they ever existed at all? I was determined to not feel the same for my angel, the child that had saved my life.
As the detectives disconnected the call, my ex started arguing with one of them. “How can you tell her you are sorry for her loss when her daughter is still living, like, what the fuck is wrong with you dude????” I begged him to stop, I was afraid it would come to blows. The correctional officers came into the office and prepared us to be led back to our pods. As I stood up, I thought my legs would go from under me. I remember the detectives giving us cards and assuring us they would be fully investigating the case and keeping us apprised. It certainly came as no surprise when it was determined ultimately they mucked the investigation beyond all recognition. I would later encounter that rude and unethical detective while in work release pretending to be a hero, a man that “knew” me … but that’s a story for another day. Before anyone gets the idea I’m anti-cop, Ill let you in on something now. Yes, I’ve had extremely mixed experiences with law enforcement starting as young as right after my parents died and we were force-ably removed from the home we were held up in, then placed into foster care. But, at least twice in my life, police officers have saved me from myself. Once, when I was 17. Again, just about 3 years ago when the two DEA agents walked into my life. These men gave me faith in law enforcement again and have been quite an inspiration to me to keep going. In fact, these men were so overwhelmed with the loss of life they were seeing all too regularly due to addiction, that they ambitiously pushed for the FBI to sponsor and produce the documentary that I participated in and mentioned in my prior writing. These are good men and women, facing a daunting task …fighting the drug demons preying on so many promising lives.
As the detectives go one way and we the other, my ex kept speaking to me, trying to make eye contact. I loathed him in that moment. The last thing I wanted to do was show him an ounce of solidarity. Somehow, I managed the walk back upstairs. I felt dazed and as I looked around, the stares I received made me feel like I could burst. Every look, a look of sympathy that not only surprised me but made me feel very vulnerable. I guess these guys tasked with keeping me confined had feelings too. I made it upstairs somehow, and as I walked into the pod, I looked to the corrections officer for the girl’s unit, and her eyes were filled with tears. It took everything in me to just make it to my cell without screaming until my lungs collapsed. I stared straight ahead and I finally made it in. As the cell locked behind me, I sat in silence, it was going to be a very, very long night waiting to hear when they could get me out to see her. I have never felt more dead in my life. I wanted to join her. As I sat there I felt like I was going psychotic. One moment I was crying my eyes out, the next I was seething and the next I was numb and ice cold. Yea… I prayed. I prayed more than I have in my entire life. I begged and then I was furious, I cursed God. I cursed God remembering a conversation from a few weeks ago with a guard. I was lamenting all I had lost… house, car, every possession, when she said, “But, at least you have your health and you have your children”. I remember thinking, she’s right, I do, that’s my motivation. After that conversation I felt a second wind. So naturally, I remember pleading with God, “how the fuck could you do this to MEEEE????!! You have taken my PAST and now you are taking my FUTURE????!! What have I done that was so bad that I need to pay THIS way?????!!” Nothing, and I mean NOTHING could hurt me more. “Whhyyyyy????!!!” Why not all those other addicts who were thieving, ass wipes who cared about no one but themselves??? To me, right then, God was a sadist. In fact, maybe there WASN’T a God. It just seemed unimaginable that lightning could strike again. I said to God, “If you are trying to get my attention, you have it… what do you want from me… I’ll do whatever you want???!!!” But you see, I must confess, my prayers were empty, just bitter, excruciatingly painful words, because my soul knew my child was already gone. God had claimed her and maybe it really WAS to save her innocence from this cruel world. This is something I’ve come to believe now. Truthfully, I knew that my prayers were not going to be answered and so I finally gave up. The only thing on my mind was… I’ll bide my time. I’ll get out and I’ll join her. And that was the plan… until I saw my son’s face through the window of visitation a few days later and my mind was changed. How could I choose between them? How would he feel? This was something I couldn’t do in good conscience. I had already fucked up so much. I had to somehow find a way to make it right. Even if it meant just hanging on by a thread, smiling through tears, laughing through heartbreak, working as a WAITRESS at the worst joint imaginable while on work release, I was going to get through it… for HIM and for HER.
The next morning around 6:30 a.m., they came for me again. Hoping I was being escorted to the hospital, instead I was led into the Lieutenant on duty’s office where they already had the doctor on the phone. The doctor began to speak and said something like, “Ms. King? This is Doctor ________. We tried everything we could. She was strong. She survived 7 resuscitation attempts and that’s remarkable, but, it was too much. We couldn’t keep her alive until you made it here. Her body gave up. I’m sorry ma’am.” I said simply… “fine”. I asked them to hang up. The lieutenant asked me if I needed to contact anyone. Right then I could think of no one I wanted to speak to but my son, unfortunately, he was on a plane from California on his way to reach Kirstyn too. We stood up and they led me back… I being a woman who never took no for an answer, felt the most powerless and beaten down I’ve ever felt in life. I just wanted to join her. I wanted to die of a broken heart. I believed it was possible, the ache was so bad I thought I was having a heart attack, but there’s no way I was going to tell anyone because I hoped it would actually happen and I didn’t want to be saved. I remember thinking, I hate every single breathing human except my son. God, I want to die. I don’t even care where I go, just anywhere but planet Earth…