I wasn’t going to discuss this story because it hits so close to home, but now I feel like I have to. Before I became a parent I was extremely judgmental. I never knew why people with kids houses and cars were so dirty, and why moms couldn’t make themselves look better when they went outside. Now that I am a parent I am less judgmental, but I still find myself frowning upon the antics of other parents.
So today, I am here to tell on myself, and to do so in support of a man I have never met.
Wednesday, June 18th, 2014, must have been a day for forgetting. Wednesday is the day the trash man comes to collect our garbage. It is my husband’s duty to take out the garbage every week. He has done this for 11 years, and I can only recall one other time – years ago – when he forgot to do it. My husband was preoccupied with trying to get “frisky” that morning, and I wanted none of it. I wanted to keep reading the news, so he got up to go to work. As he made for the door, I called for him not to forget to take out the trash.
“I won’t,” he called back.
Then I heard him make his breakfast, grab his backpack, and walk out the door. There was no rustling of plastic bags or metal scraping concrete. Had he taken out the trash? A trip downstairs 5 minutes later confirmed he had NOT. I called him immediately to make him aware of his folly.
“Don’t worry,” I said dryly. “I have already taken it out.”
That was a lie, but I didn’t want him turning around in Atlanta traffic to do something that although I am loathe to do, am very capable of doing. I muttered obscenities as I dumped soaked pull-ups and sticky yogurt containers into the larger bin for collection.
Later that day, I was driving with the kids to go get some lunch and was reminded of how annoyed I was with my husband for making me perform this menial task. Then I was distracted by something a prickling in my armpits. Gosh it was hot. My phone said the high was 93*. My car said it was 97* outside. I turned on the A/C, but that hardly had any effect on the suffering my children and I were enduring. How ironic that unbeknownst to us, another child was going through a thousand times a worse agony.
On Thursday morning, my husband sent me a text at 8:48 am. He usually waits to call me at lunch so I knew something exciting must have happened. When I read the message and felt sick.
“My co-worker left his son in the car yesterday…”
I gasped in horror. He didn’t even have to finish. The sensation of that extreme heat we all felt in my own car on that Wednesday flooded my body.
“The baby didn’t make it,” I typed frantically. I waited for him to tell me I was wrong.
“No,” Marshall confirmed. “He died.”
I inwardly and immediately forgave him for forgetting to take out the trash the day before. Without warning, I was overcome by anger and fury. I typed a cryptic message.
“If you ever leave one of our kids in the car, I’ll kill you. I’ll kill you and then I’ll divorce you.”
A few hours later Marshall called to tell me he’d be coming home. He couldn’t take it at work, and he wanted to be around his kids. He had held the child who’d passed away not too long ago.
“Malaka, he was THE cutest white baby ever,” he said in amazement. “He was perfect…like a little Gerber baby.”
His face had a blank, drawn out look. His eyes were devoid of life. I’d seen this same look before. It is the same vacant gaze that clouds his co-workers mug shot. The look that internet trolls have described as “unfeeling”. Perhaps they are right. Some things hurt too much to feel….
I suppose Marshall wanted a distraction from all this horror, which might explain why he announced on Friday that he wanted to take me out. With four kids in our arsenal, there is no room for spontaneity. I informed him that i he wanted to go out, he would have to make the arrangements. I certainly was in no mood to try to secure a babysitter, figure out rates, go to the ATM to get cash to pay her, etc. Fortunately, we had a willing party who had no plans of her own that evening. She lives in Norcross, which meant a 40 minute drive to her house, coupled with another 40 minute drive downtown to have our outing, and then the same journey in reverse just to get home.
I was exhausted by the time we pulled up to our driveway and fell asleep in the car while Marshall and the kids got out. When I had rested enough I got out, locked the car and the front door and went up to bed. Marshall was putting on Stone’s pajamas as I groggily slipped off my shoes.
“Did you get Liya out of the car?”
All sleepiness abandoned me as panic took over.
“Liya,” he repeated. “She asleep in the backseat of the car.”
I raced down the stairs and went to retrieve my child; but the car door was locked. I growled for Nadjah to have her father unlock it from upstairs. She casually went upstairs to relay the message as I had my hand on the handle waiting for the mechanical *click*. Why wasn’t the door unlocking?
Nadjah suddenly materialized and handed me the keys saying, “Here you go, Mommy.”
Those were not my instructions! Whatever. I thanked her and told her to head for bed as I opened the back hatch to pull Liya out. She was completely knocked out, sleeping soundly and silently. I never knew she was there.
And that folks is how I too could have left my kid in a hot car all night. If my husband had not asked if I had gotten her out, we might have been living through our own Hell this weekend. We try to be good parents, but we are neither perfect parents nor do everything perfectly as people. I do not know what was going through Ross’ mind that morning when he left his first and only child in his car. I don’t know if he saw him. I don’t know what changed in his routine that morning. All I know is that I believe he did not intentionally leave his kid in there to die such a painful death.
“Ross is a good man,” Marshall lamented. “He was a good father who loved his son very much.”
That this tragedy occurred so close to Father’s Day is something that Ross will have to live with the remainder of his life. I hope and pray that his wife can forgive him, that he can forgive himself, and that the AJC, Yahoo and other internet trolls will realize that it is only by the grace of God that similar tragedies do not befall us all more often. One slip up, one lapse in attention for a moment is all it takes. You are NOT perfect.
Just be vigilant, my people. If you have kids, remember to look twice. Look out for one another and if you see something amiss, please say or do something.