In this photo, (our father is the photographer) our family looks normal but, we are far from it! I am eight-years-old and well into the role of my brother’s keeper as I wrap my arms around two-year-old David. December 8th marks the fifteenth year since he was executed by the state of Texas in Huntsville.
His last letter to me demonstrates that God’s grace and mercy reaches into the darkest places – even to death row.
Dear Lynda,My best memories are of you or include you. Your influence makes up the best part of me or contributes to my better qualities. I love you always have, always will and I’m proud you are my sister. Please, I ask you to view my departure as a circle completed. I’m honestly optimistic and anxiously await my journey with a strong faith and vision of God’s secret rewards.In terms of the law of the land I’m where I belong. Jesus has blessed me with his Holy Spirit. If they came to me right now and said, ‘You can go free but you have to be the man you once were, I’d tell them to close that door! Lynda, I wouldn’t give up the freedom I found in Christ for nothing.”I love my brothers and sister, always have. I just never learned to love right but Jesus has taken care of that also. Thanks for being there.Love you, David
Living thirteen years in a 5×9 cell David learned the only way to heal his heart and soul, broken by a childhood wrought with abuse, was through God’s amazing love. And, by way of death row and David’s letters, my life was touched and enriched through unimaginable circumstances, in a place I would never have guessed possible.
After our mother died I had little contact with our father. Over the years, out of loneliness he got in touch occasionally, trying to make a self-serving connection with me. The calls became more frequent when he became old and confined. He was in his final days when we last spoke he called me from his nursing home bed. For awhile I politely listened to speak as he always had, rambling on about things that held no meaning for me, trivial conversation like our childhood never happened. Never once apologizing and taking responsibility for all he did to us. Had he forgotten he had one son on the Texas death row, and another one so mentally beaten down, life was too hard to bear when clean and sober?
So afraid of stirring his hair-trigger temper I always held my tongue, cowering at the sight and sound of him, deterred from voicing my opinion to him in fear of retaliation. This time I was not going to let him go easily and allow him to sneak off and take his last breath, without hearing what I finally had the courage to say. He was not going to have the luxury of ignoring the past, and think the four of us were unaffected by the living hell he put us through. With my last chance at hand, I interrupted my father and blasted him, letting him hear my anger. He listened in silence as I refreshed his memory, and with years of bottled up words, I heaped piles of blame on his unapologetic back. When I was finished I listened for his response, his long awaited apology, pleading through a river of tears for us and more importantly, God, to forgive him. I heard him hang up without a word.
I thought I would feel a sense of gratification but, I didn’t because his silence told me what I thought didn’t matter to him and, I regretted my timing. I had stooped to his level by beating him down in his weakened state to satisfy my life-long desire. A few days later I called him back and the nurse who answered his phone said he was in a coma. I asked her to put the phone to his ear. I said “Dad, Its Lynda, I’m sorry, good bye.” I don’t know if he heard me but I couldn’t let him go to his death with my harsh stamp of condemnation imprinted on him for God to see.
Gary called to give me the news of our father’s death. The nursing home staff sent me a picture of him in what I’m sure they thought was a kind gesture. The image of what he’d become was pitiful. The man that struck terror in my heart and caused me to shutter in his presence was gone, He bared no resemblance to the Goliath I once equated him to. His body was so frail and thin he looked to be swallowed up by the recliner he was sitting on. His eyes were dark and sunken in a bony, wrinkled face and the feeble smile he attempted for the picture revealed few teeth. He was clothed in a hospital gown covering everything but his skin-over-bone stick arms and legs.
At first I wished I hadn’t seen the picture. To remember him young, handsome and mean seemed better than to remember him old, shriveled up and mean. But, the longer I looked I encountered an unanticipated benefit hidden within the photo, the years of living in fear of my father dimmed, and the way I held his memory underwent a transformation in my mind. The idea that the man in the picture was what we were afraid of seemed ludicrous. It was like looking under the bed and discovering the monster you thought was there didn’t exist after all. For the first time I felt sad for him and with tears falling on the photo I wondered…who did what to him as a child.