Empty Chairs

empty chair


I was angry. Even though two years had passed, the pain was still deep. I understood her attempt at an apology was meant to bring closure to me and my family, but I felt like she was just trying to ease her conscience. It didn’t stop me from wondering what kind of animal she raised. There wasn’t anything that she or her son could say to ease the pain. I stopped short of wishing her son dead. I wasn’t cold enough or hateful enough to wish this kind of pain on anyone else.

There isn’t a word that describes the loss of child. There’s simply a void – a painful, sickening,  and overwhelming void. A piece of my heart died. The person that was a physical part of me for nine months, who I nursed and held in my arms, that looked up to me with loving and dependent eyes suddenly stopped being because somebody else didn’t value his life. It doesn’t make sense. It will never make sense.

I still mourn. Two years later and I still break down and cry when I think about the milestones he never achieved. He didn’t get to graduate from high school, he didn’t get to go to college.  He had a girlfriend. Maybe they would have gotten married one day. Maybe they would have settled down and started a family. He would have carried on the family name. Her son robbed us of that future, and now she stood before me and before this crowd and offered a heartfelt sounding apology. I admired her courage.

She talked about her son’s life, his desire to become a professional athlete, the scholarships he lost because of the murder he committed, all of his academic achievements and his regret for his mistakes. I listened as she made it a point to turn toward me and apologize for her son’s “mistake.” I would have been able to accept her apology and move on if she hadn’t said the following:

“I can relate to what you are going through. I’ve lost my son, also. His future is gone. We are forever changed by his mistake.”

I heard several gasps from the crowd. I remained still. She continued to speak with a pained expression on her face as she talked about her son. There was quiet applause as she sat down. The facilitator called me to the podium next.  I looked out into the crowd at the other families who were somehow affected by the violence that has overtaken our city. I saw politicians, police officers, and members of the media in the audience waiting for my speech.  I glanced down at the note cards in my hands. They were shaking. I wasn’t nervous. I was angry. I felt tears stinging my eyes. I let them fall.

“I had some statistics and other information I wanted to share with you today. I wanted to tell you a bit of my son’s story and about the process – the entire process of going through the court system to get justice for my son while mourning his loss. But, I think it’s more important to address a few of Mrs. Bellamy’s comments,” I began. I turned toward her and looked her directly in the eyes.

“I can understand that you miss having your son at home. But you get to visit him. He can call you. You still get to hear his voice in real-time, not on video or an old voicemail. He is still alive. He may not be comfortable, but where he is more spacious than the grave my son rests in now. How dare you attempt to compare the two. Your son is losing time ‘on the outside.’ My son’s life was taken. People have tried to comfort me by saying his death was ‘God’s will.’ No, it wasn’t. It was your son’s will. He took my son’s life, not God. I am respectfully asking you to never make that comparison again. Our losses cannot be compared.”  I took a deep breath and turned back to podium and tried to still my shaking hands. The audience began to murmur and I heard movement behind me. I looked back to see Mrs. Bellamy’s seat was empty. I turned back to the audience and shared the information I originally intended to share.

After the program was over, some of the panelist and audience members came up to me and offered words of support and comfort. I needed to find Ms. Bellamy. Even though I was direct and meant what I said to her on stage, I didn’t want her to leave believing I didn’t understand how her son’s actions changed her life. I found her in a small conference room with her husband and daughters. Her husband saw me first and moved towards me with a stern look on his face.

“You can’t come in here! You’ve said enough! My wife tried to apologize to you and you weren’t even graceful enough to just accept the apology,” he yelled as he shook his finger in my face and attempted to close the door on me.

“David,” she shouted, “You aren’t helping matters! Stop yelling at her! She was right. Girls, take your father out of here. Let me and Ms. Dreyer talk.”

“I’m right outside this door, Rita! You call me if you need me,” he made sure to plant me with an angry look before leaving and slamming the door behind him and his daughters. I sat down next to her at the conference table.

“Ms. Dreyer, I didn’t mean to make you angry with my apology, but I’ve been through something, too. I’ve been hurt by this and it continues every day. It doesn’t end.”

“It doesn’t end for me either! The person that is missing at your dinner table is still able to communicate with you! I don’t have that anymore! The empty chair at my dinner table will never be filled again! My daughter doesn’t have a brother anymore. I lost my husband and son in the same month, and to hear you say that your son being locked up is anything like burying a child…yes, it made me angry. I know you regret what’s happened. I accept your apology for that, but you cannot compare our losses.”  We sat in silence for a moment. There was more to be said, but I certainly didn’t want to add to the hurt with my words.

“I had to leave my job,” she said softly. “The firm was concerned about all the attention my son’s case getting. They didn’t want their name associated with my son’s case in any way. They offered me a package to leave. All those years I worked and fought to become partner…no one in town will hire me because people have the notion that I raised a murderer. I’ve read the comments to the news stories online. Everyone wonders how come I didn’t supervise my son better, why didn’t I know he had a gun, why didn’t we lock our weapons up better. His crime was my fault. I was on trial with him. He wasn’t a bad kid. You know that. He used to visit your house sometimes.

We’re struggling to pay bills. My husband lost his job. He got in a fight with co-worker who kept making remarks about our son being a gangster and a thug. David was charged with assault. We’ve gotten death threats, our home and vehicles have been vandalized multiple times. Neighbors that we once considered friends no longer speak to us. Our lives don’t belong to us anymore. The media practically lives outside our front door. This is no kind of life. I try not to let Ricky know everything that is going on. He’s going to be in that place for the next 18 years. But he knows – he hears about the things that are going on. He’s depressed about this. He realizes how much his actions have changed all of our lives. He tried to kill himself twice.

Even my daughters had to deal with bullying in the classroom and parents expressing ‘concerns’ about having the siblings of a murderer in class with their precious children. We’ve been home schooling them since the trial. This is the weight my family has carried for two years. It’s nothing like burying a child, you’re right. I should not have made that comparison. But it’s hard as hell to live like this.”

I watched her as she spoke. Her face was wet with tears. I’d been unfair in my judgement of her, just like everyone else. I took her hand and gave it a squeeze. Then I reached over and hugged her.

2 thoughts on “Empty Chairs

  1. Reblogged this on Nikewrites Blog and commented:

    Today’s #TBT story was inspired by a writing prompt about an empty chair and a snippet of a documentary I saw years ago. It’s a bit of a sad story, but I hope you enjoy it!

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