Wednesday, October 13, 2010

back to trauma

Because it keeps coming back, keeps getting triggered.  That's what
makes it a disorder,
so they tell me.
I dropped Otto off at the airport today at
around 8am.  The accident happened at
 around 8am after I had dropped Otto off at the airport.
 Different countries, different destinations, but
it's a trigger now, something similar to superstition.

The only scenario in which I can imagine that
 I somehow caused the accident,
connects me being anxious about Otto leaving to
 feeling overwhelmed about being left alone to somehow,
             shutting down while driving into the sun and involuntarily
                           giving in to unconsciousness.

I have done this airport drop-off enough times now since then that we have a safety routine.  If I feel really bad, I call someone in my family to pick me up or take a taxi
 If I'm a little shaky, I sit in an airport coffee shop until I'm solid
  Today, I drove just a few blocks to the art supply store, and spent two hours
                 drooling over colors and patterns and art books.

I still got a scare on the way home when Pearl Jam came on the radio.
                 (Pearl Jam?  I don't even like Pearl Jam.)
  But something about Eddie Vedder's voice caught in my chest and hit me with a powerful urge to....I don't know exactly.  Cry.  Sing. Dance.  Scream.  none of which I wanted to be doing at 65 mph on the freeway.  I punched the radio off and concentrated on my breathing.
My skin is thinner now....
Not only is my skin thinner, but apparently my eardrums are  as well.

This is a letter I wrote to notify close family and friends about the accident.  It must have been the 2nd week of February, 2009.

greetings, i am writing to let you know that I was involved in a tragic car accident in Managua in which 2 women, 2 sisters, pedestrians died. It is incredibly hard for me to comprehend how such a thing could have happened. I felt outside my body for the first 2 days, watching this happening to someone else. I came to Nicaragua to help, not harm. I always insisted people wear their seatbelts in my car, even in the backseat. Last year I had several conversations with the transit police about the dangers of allowing babies and small children on motorcycles, without helmets. I also talked to them about my concerns when they removed the speedbumps on Carr Sur, where I live, and I still slowed down where they used to be. But none of that prevented this tragedy.

I don't remember the accident clearly, I don't remember how it happened. My memory starts with the airbags hitting my face, shattering my glasses, and then an impact against what looked like a metal pole. I have no memory of seeing the sisters at all, before or after. Doctors tell me this loss of memory is the product of trauma. 

photo of accident scene el nuevo diario - would not allow me to post photo itself

What I do know is I am more sorry than I have ever been for anything, that I feel deeply for the family, that I can't stop crying, that this is a nightmare and I can't wake up. The more I learn about the good work of the Espinoza sisters the more I understand the depth of their loss. One of them worked with her church as a counselor to addicts, prostitutes, people who had been abused, etc. There was a story in the paper here last Sunday about how she and I were united in our service to other people.

I have been in court twice, had my face all over the newspapers and television. 
As I had been in shock right after the accident, 
the prosecutor's statement was first time I heard the horrifying details of what happened to the Espinoza sisters' bodies, crushed against the outside wall of their own church. 
The elder was pregnant.

Fight or flight animal instinct overcame me. As neither option was available I started banging my head against the court bench.  My attorney tried to put his hand between my forehead and the wood, but I just smashed his hand. I couldn't stop myself.
Jessica Fairfax fue remitida a juicio oral por homicidio imprudente doble, pero sigue libre. Al fondo la observa su padre. MANUEL ZAPATA / END  Translation:  Jessica Fairfax was referred to trial for double reckless homicide, but she remains free.  At right is her attorney, her father in background.

On the second court date when the prosecutor read the same thing again, but with more details from forensic witnesses, I totally lost control and fled into one of the court offices and locked the door.  
You aren't allowed to do that. The person on trial is not allowed to stand up without the judge's permission, much less lock herself in his office.

You can read the newspaper account in Spanish here:

elnuevodiario newspaper article on court case

The mother of the sisters has reportedly also been incredibly distraught, and wanted to designate her son to represent her. The prosecutor by law was meant to be representing and protecting the Espinoza family, but she has repeatedly seemed more interested in creating as big spectacle as possible. She refused the mother's request, forcing her to endure hearing exactly how life left her daughter's bodies. It was beyond horrifying.

The evaluation by the government forensic doctors concluded that my life was at risk due to post-traumatic suicidal thoughts, but I was still put back in jail rather than sent to a hospital. One of my cellmates was a hysterically psychotic woman who had drowned her baby in the toilet, and she did not receive any treatment either as far as I saw.

My father and stepmother came down and met several times with the family, mediated by their pastor and a long-time missionary from the US, no lawyers. They thought they had arrived at a settlement agreeable to all the parties. Then the prosecutor refused to accept the agreement, discounting its validity because she had not been involved in its negotiation. I don't know what her personal agenda is, don't know what is going to happen now, and I am very scared and sad. My parents went back to DC for what they said were strategic reasons, but in the moment I feel abandoned and even more afraid. My whole family is grieving about the accident, and wants to do what we can for the Espinoza family.  

My brother just discovered today that Nissan did a recall on 2001 Pathfinders, the car I was driving, because the airbags were going off when they weren't supposed to - SRS means Secondary Restraint System, a techie word for airbag. So perhaps my memory wasn't so fractured after all, if the accident began with the airbags exploding in my face.

the notice:


[The notice went to mechanics, not owners. I must have taken my car to at least 5 different repair shops and none of them ever mentioned this notice. Of course I had one of the only cars in Nicaragua with air bags at all, so no one knew how to maintain, inspect or fix them. How horribly ironic would it be that my concern for safety, which led to my extensive search for and purchase of a vehicle with airbags, was what indirectly killed the Espinoza sisters. Not even safety technology always makes us safer.]

Why am I writing all this? Because this accident could have happened to anyone who drives in Nicaragua. In fact, these sorts of accidents happen all the time.  

I know at least five other people who have had similar accidents.  Meaning they accidentally killed pedestrians.

It is horrifying. Because life is precious. Because you can't be too careful. Because terrible, tragic things can happen in the blink of an eye. Because after this kind of tragedy comes the additional hell of going through the system. I was in jail for several days without being told anything about what was going on, what might happen to me.  

I am very very sad, and very very anxious, and I need moral support. And the Espinoza family needs support, even tho they probably don't want to hear from anyone related to me right now. I have been told that things are worse for me because I am from the US. I'm not sure. I just want the Espinoza Reyes family to know how very sorry I am, that I know they are in terrible pain, that I want to help them the best I can, and that continuing with this trial is incredibly painful for all of us. I really really wish, I pray, that we can come to an agreement soon and start the long process of healing. Please drive carefully.

ps  I am under house arrest and we do not have internet at home.  Please write back, I need all the moral support and strength I can get, and please be patient that I may not be able to get back to you for several days.  Otto has been checking and downloading my email for me.
[I was under house arrest for several weeks in February to early March 2009]

I'm writing this note today:
Holy shit.  All this time I had let myself think homicidio imprudente was involuntary manslaughter.  Because it certainly felt involuntary to me, and what happened sounded like slaughter from the prosecutor's description.  But now the translation program tells me it means I was charged with (not convicted of) reckless homicide.  Holy shit.