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Transformation

10/1/2018

 

The sentencing of the drunk driver who killed my family was an emotional victory.  Its transformative effect on how I viewed Edgar, the offender, was a miracle. The change from a monster to a man was possible because he had accepted his role in the deaths of Shawn and Sage, was sorry for what he had done, and would pay for it behind bars.  All of that coupled with the broken and respectful man he was at the sentencing, opened a space within my heart to be able to tell him face-to-face that I forgave him for what he had done.  I knew offering forgiveness was something Edgar and I needed, based on my Christian upbringing and beliefs on the subject, and it felt good to say it to him and see and feel the physical and emotional weight it relieved.  There was also a deep sense of urgency to do it at the sentencing because I felt that there would not be another chance to tell him I forgive him face-to-face, and if I was going to say it to him, it needed to be now.  Despite the better place I had arrived at emotionally, I could sense there was a long road ahead in my journey to emotional healing; a road I had been forced to travel, cut and paved by the choice Edgar made to drink and then drive.

 

My life returned to the new normal of empty arms and a mind filled with memories of my precious Shawn and Sage.  I undertook the gruesome task of sorting through the boxes of Shawn and Sage's belongings that I had been forced to pack and move to my parent's back patio after I had been released from the hospital, to sort through at a future time.  I had desperately wanted to keep our apartment in Caldwell and everything in it exactly as it was, untouched from the world as a shrine to Shawn and Sage, as a place to reminisce over the short and beautiful life we had shared together, and as a place I could safely grieve.  Life didn't stop moving, I learned quickly, and the world was eager for me to pack them up and move on from this tragedy, despite the immense emotional wreckage still surrounding me and my desire to cling to anything I had left of them.

 

Opening these cardboard boxes filled with the items Shawn and Sage had owned felt like opening miniature coffins.  Their belonging stashed inside, elicited flashes of the happy times we had shared together, but like a sticker burr, reminded me of what I must now live without. I would stop to admire and process the memories attached with each of their belongings before either packing them away or letting them go.  I pressed my face into their clothes, inhaling deeply, hoping to catch the last of their lingering scents.   Saddened laughter and wet tears accompanied every box, and I began hating the urgency to deal with their deaths and these last remaining treasures that had belonged to them.   Every item was difficult to part with, even items others wouldn't think should be, like toiletries for example.  These items Shawn or Sage had used had become in my grief, a piece of them and by parting with those items, I would be losing another part of them.  Eventually I would become emotionally numb, and I would lose the pressing need to keep everything.  This allowed the packing and letting go process to accelerate, but eventually the emotional build-up would break me, and I would have to stop.  I struggled with this task for weeks, slowly accepting the finality of their lives with every box I opened, sorted, and re-stacked; doing what I could until I was spent, and slowly the number of boxes dwindled until all that I had left of Shawn and Sage was contained in roughly twenty cardboard boxes.

 

One day approximately six months after the sentencing,  I received a heavy envelope in the mail from the prosecuting attorney’s office. After unfolding the thick stack of papers, I began reading the cover letter.  It read, "A Motion Hearing to reconsider, modify, and/or reduce the sentence in the case of "State of Idaho vs. Edgar Vasquez-Hernandez"  has been scheduled before the Honorable Judge Juneal Kerrick..." I stopped reading, confused with what I had thought I had just read and started reading it again from the beginning.  "A Motion Hearing to reconsider, modify, and/or reduce the sentence..."  I kept reading this time, a little slower to ensure I understood.

 

"Edgar wants out of prison earlier," I breathed the words out loud, disbelieving what I had just read, shock coursing through my body.  I had no idea that something like this could be done after a guilty plea and sentencing had already occurred.  Even though the cover letter was very clear,  I flipped past the next few papers in the stack since they were just copies of the paperwork that was necessary to schedule a Motion Hearing, looking for something that would help explain in greater detail why this was happening.  Finally, I turned to a typed letter that was addressed to me and after glancing quickly over the two page letter, I saw Edgar's name at the end.  I took a deep breath as I began to read, preparing to receive the painful and emotional blows I knew were coming.

 

Mrs. Marti

I have the opportunity to write you and send you greetings this Christmas and to wish you a Happy New Year.  After my short greeting, I want to tell you how much it hurts me to know that because of me, you are without your family.  I know it is very hard for you because I am also suffering not having my children with me.  You as a mother probably feel so sad.  If I could help you with the problems you have I would.  Where I am in prison, I do not have an instant of happiness even though you already forgave me because I do not forgive myself. 

I am a father of two children, one 5 year old and a 9 month old, and they need me to be with them.  I understand what you are going through.  Your family from Heaven can see me.  They know my suffering is big every day.  I pray to God for His forgiveness and that you and your whole family can keep forgiving me for all the pain I had caused.  I really don't know how it happened, and I didn't know where I was going, or why I took the freeway in the wrong direction.  Forgive me.  I don't understand why this tragedy happened to you, but when I am praying my heart tells me that God uses good people.  I am sure your family is happy in God's arms, but you are the one suffering.  God is with you, and whatever you do will work out because you are such a nice person with a very big heart.  You have the love of God because if someone does not have the love of God, they are not a nice person.

Remember that afternoon you forgave me?  I began to feel my life have value, and I had courage to go on and suffer day and night.  Never in my life have I done anything wrong, not back at home and not here, and now that I am in prison I can't forgive myself.  If I could do anything for you, even if it cost my life, I would do it for you with all my heart.  I truly would like to see you happy.  I cannot be happy even for a moment because I feel very sad.  I cannot spend time with my family.

I do not have anything to give you but to ask God every day to keep you in good health and to move you forward in everything that you are going to do.  You can do it.  You are going to be very important.  While I have been in prison, I have understood how much wrong a beer can cause, and for that I want to tell you I will never drink a beer again.  That time I drank was the first and last time I will drink and drive.  I have learned that drinking only one or two has given me great sadness in my life.  When I get out, I will be a counselor to help other people who have problems and tell them what can happen if you drink and drive.  I don't want people to ruin their lives like I ruined yours and my family's life-my wife, children, and parents are all suffering.  

I will send you another letter if you like, and I would receive one from you happily.  God be with you this Christmas-that is my wish until next time. Amen.

Edgar Vasquez-Hernandez

 

I stood in my mother's kitchen, reading Edgar's letter he had addressed to me and then the letter he had written to the judge, both pleading for a reduction in his prison time because he missed his suffering family. The quiet in the house was in stark contrast to the storm of emotion the letter had evoked in me.  My family and I had all heard him say months earlier at the sentencing, "I would do anything for Mrs. Marti. I would cut off my other arm or even give my life for her."  I guess I had felt that he understood that accepting responsibility for what he had done and paying for it, was one of the few things he could do for me.  Shawn and Sage were individually priceless, and no sentence could ever repay or repair what was lost.  Surely he would know that to honor their lives, he should accept responsibility and punishment, no matter how difficult or long.  His request to shorten the sentence dealt by the court for the crime he had committed, felt like an enormous disrespect to them and also to me, since there was no power I could appeal to for a shorter sentence to the new life Edgar had made for me.  

 

My heart ached so badly when he mentioned the terrible suffering he and his family were experiencing from the separation prison had forced on them, and thought of the awful pain I had experienced since awakening to a world that no longer included Shawn or Sage.  I wondered if he even realized that I was experiencing that separation too, without the excitement of any visitation days with my loved ones or the hope of an early release from the "prison" I was in.  Beyond the emotional pain I was dealing with was the significant physical pain from the crash he had caused.  I knew it was going to be a life-long struggle to overcome the pain and the new limitations on my body and mind, imposed on me by his decision to drink and drive.  Again, I was struck with the huge imbalance of fairness in my situation where, despite being the victim and being made to suffer by someone else's choice, he had the ability to appeal and prod the judge and me for leniency and mercy, where I had none and must accept the life sentence I had done nothing to deserve.

 

The hot anger I had felt when discussing my case with the prosecuting attorney returned and burned away any of the other emotions I was feeling.  It consumed the new image of the broken man I thought he was and eroded the better place I mentally had arrived at with Edgar at the sentencing.  His betrayal by asking the judge to reconsider his sentence and reduce his punishment made me question the authenticity of his displays of emotion, his supposed abject humility at the sentencing, and his declarations of sorrow for what he had done.  These letter he had written the judge and me had been for show and served only him and his suffering family.  It did nothing for Shawn, Sage, or me, other than place the burden of another hearing to renegotiate his punishment he had already justly received and to ask me for mercy I was now unwilling to give. 

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