Julian took a selfie at Anne-Christine’s grave yesterday. The etching on her monument is just to the right of the image while the sun actually creates a halo effect behind his head. It’s visually very stunning, but I can’t share it here for sadly obvious reasons. Meanwhile, he told me it was a great day because he got to spend time with both his grandmas during our visit to Liberty. Somehow this is backwards, in the timeline scheme of things.

He seemed as happy as a nine-year-old little boy could be under the circumstances. We took him to Dollar Store to pick out flowers for his Mama’s grave. I angled for purple, the signature color of the Domestic Violence (DV) movement. He reminded me matter-of-factly that his mother’s favorite color was red, and after some consideration plucked a red plastic spray of flowers from the white shelf and inserted purple ones into the middle of it.

At his mother’s graveside, Julian placed the flowers into a granite holder on the side of her bench-like monument. He pondered his choice for a moment, then separated the fake flowers, adding purple to the white silk flowers in the granite vase and the red ones into another one filled with her favorite seashells.

Plastic flowers like these don’t create logistical issues for my new friend, the man who mows the lawn at historic Cooke Cemetery. He’s respectfully mindful of the fresh purple flowers I sometimes lay in front of her grave alongside the cigarettes and tubes of red lipstick friends leave behind. His whirring blades vanquish weeds, grass and fire ant mounds audacious enough to encroach on my memories and the lacquered box six feet beneath. These plastic offerings will easily survive the mower and, Texas’ hot autumnal sun until our next visit.

Dia de los Muertos

Today, Julian is full of ideas for his Halloween costume, which he’ll wear to trick-or-treat and enjoy his aunt’s wickedly famous Halloween parties. Fortunately, he’s too young to connect the dots between graveside selfies and ghosts that really haunt. I myself will have no truck with treat bags and faux skeletons this year. I’m intently focused on Dia de los Muertos instead, the Mexican holiday that celebrates the dead with both candlelit altars at the home and parties at gravesites.

It’s not a single Dia, BTW. Nov. 1 is for kids, and Nov. 2 is reserved for grieving mothers seeking temporary respite, at least as I practice.

The altar part is easy. I’ll light candles atop one of the little nineties-style end tables Anne-Christine bought from a hotel furniture liquidation warehouse. Despite imminent eviction maybe two months before her death, she went out and purchased these, trying to make the sordid little apartment where she’d once been beaten and strangled into a home. A sloppy paint job testified to that during one of my last visits, where I admired her complementary green-and-maroon color palate but avoided comment on her complete inability to keep brush strokes off of crown molding. Hanging nearby now on my wall is her favorite Frida Kahlo, which she hung above the end table. I have no idea what happened to the coffee table.

Despite my own minimalist tendencies, I’m partial to this ugly little table, Anne-Christine’s final, vain last attempt to create life in the face of fists. I will honor her memory and try to find cheer as I remember her as she was six years before her death, before Shaun P. Hardy walked into Christian’s Tailgate in Midtown. I’ll pretend we’re all sitting in a sunlit future where we she’s a strong, independent woman raising two brilliant little boys. Then I’ll light a candle to remember we’re not.

Maybe on Nov. 2 Anne-Christine’s Mexican-American best friend will show me how to make “ofrendas.” I’ll buy purple marigolds. Do I bring an image of Calavera Catrina? Ana Cristina, her Honduran babysitter once called her.

Why Did Things Turn Out Like This

I ran across this poem the other day, during a random Google search for poems about violence. It’s by someone named Mariel B. Restemayer, posted on hellopoetry.com in 2014, when Anne-Christine still had two years to live:

One swing
another swing
you fall to the ground
lifeless you lay
not making a sound
as I wipe the blood from my face
I think
why did things turn out like this
and what have I done

Calavera Catrina. Ana Cristina. You were so loved.

I started a new Facebook page the other day. It’s called “Why Did She Stay?” Really, it’s nothing more than a compilation of news stories about the shadowy logic of abusers. I’ve carefully curated the articles. They must shed some light on the issue to provide @reasonstoleave for both victims and their families. As the director of Bay Area Turning Point told me, DV is the only crime where the victim gets blamed. Not on my Facebook page.

Bullying by the Bully

Meanwhile, over in family court, I’ve received indirect threats from members of Shaun P. Hardy’s legal dream team (four lawyers, mind you, including Dick “Robert Durst” Deguerin) that they are scouring “social media” i.e. my personal Facebook page, which has rigid privacy settings, to see what I’m posting. I’m not surprised and neither should you be, my dead daughter, that the bully now uses high-dollar attorneys to intimidate your mother in the face of our appeal. Troxel v. Granville will not ultimately separate us from your six-year-old son.

It would be a cliché to say that you’ll never be forgotten, Anne-Christine, as many surviving family members promised in the first flush of grief. We’ll all be forgotten in the grand scheme of the universe, remembered, if at all, by cemetery caretakers whose only obligation is abeyance of weeds. But the death of a child is primal, and in my lifetime yours will inform my every waking moment. At night I listen to my heartbeat, which once sustained yours. And I hear your heartbeat in Julian, whose grief for the moment is contained by iPhone images whose power he is too young to consciously appreciate. Your life beats on in Roland, as well.

It’s So Cold

“It’s so cold,” you wrote beneath your last selfies, posted above. I’m certain you did not voluntarily upload to Facebook these last known images of you in life. Either they were a last-minute cry for help or something your abuser, who controlled your cell phone, commanded. They speak volumes more than even the sorrowful words and observations on your sister Molly’s Facebook page, Justice for Anne-Christine, or of any grief-stricken thoughts, comments or observations I might make on my private page.

On your tombstone, the date of your death is Dec. 30, the day your body was found wrapped in plastic, surrounded by scented candles with the odor of industrial solvent and stench of death lingering in the house. But thanks to a legal document forwarded by the D.A., presented to a grand jury, we know you were killed on or right round Dec. 8, little over a month away from Dia de los Muertos. The candles on your little end-table altar won’t be scented. I’m lighting them to keep the dark away, to not remember that in a month and a half you’ll have been dead a year.

“She was alive this time last year” I repeat constantly to myself. What am I to do on the actual dia de tu muerte?

Rest in peace but know your name will not be forgotten for a very long time. In the war against DV, you are much more than a minor skirmish.