~ Dedicated to All the Doubting Mustafas Out There ~
Every now and then, when I try to open up and begin to share my past, I find myself faced with a Doubting Mustafa – someone who seems completely incapable of believing anything without seeing the evidence first-hand. When you’re someone like me, who has been abused and traumatized my entire life, being hit head on with that kind of doubt is overwhelming. When they respond incredulously and ask to see proof, it always feels like they’re accusing me of lying.
Beyond the years of day to day abuse of varying kinds, one of the most singular traumatizing events of my childhood was the day my mother shot my father. It is a difficult story for me to share because my whole world changed in an instant. I went from being a straight A student busy with babysitting, cheerleading and other mundane teenage things to being bounced around for a little over a year, ultimately ending up on the street. It wasn’t until years later that I even finished high school, earning my g.e.d. while going to college while my children were at school. But all that is a story for another day.
The day of the shooting began like any other. My mother had been a mess since my father had left a few months before, always either yelling or crying. She had been erratic and abusive my entire life, suffering from an often untreated, sometimes under-treated mental condition we did not discuss. I had waited upstairs until she left for work to begin my day.
I went to school just like any other day. Between second and third period, while I was at my locker swapping books, my guidance counselor approached me, asking me to come up to her office with her. I had assumed it was because my grades had begun to slip. She knew how strict my mother was about my grades. An A grade was acceptable. An A- was not.
She paused to hold her office door open, motioning for me to go inside first. The next few seconds have replayed in my nightmares for years. She reached out, put a hand on my shoulder and calmly said, “Your dad has just been shot. He’s in critical condition at Albany Med. They’re looking for your mother.”
The next few hours felt like an eternity. They were not sure where my mother was so I was not allowed to leave the school, not even to see my father who, for all I knew, was dying. Cops were stationed by the entrances just in case she showed up at my school. I spent a few hours up in the guidance office in a haze. Friends came in here and there to check on me. It was all a blur. I was numb.
At one point, I asked to go to one of my classes. I just couldn’t sit in that office any longer. I had completely forgotten that I had an oral report due in the class I had chosen to attend. The teacher had always been firm yet fair. I tried to calmly explain that I could hand in my written copy but that I could not do an oral presentation that day. Despite repeated pleas, she kept informing me that failure to do my oral report would result in an F.
Finally, I snapped. I brusquely informed her that, “My FUCKING father has just been shot. They’re looking for my FUCKING mother. If you want the FUCKING report read, you can read it your FUCKING self.” It was the one and only time I ever cursed at a teacher. I honestly didn’t even feel like myself. I was still looming inside that cloud of numbness and shock. I was quietly excused from doing my report.
I heard afterwards that classmates were all talking about how cold I was, attending classes like nothing was wrong after something like that had happened. None of them knew that I bawled my eyes out for a couple hours before that class and many hours afterwards. I had just been well-trained not to let others see what hurt me. I refused to let my walls down and cry in front of other people.
Eventually, they located my mother. She had checked herself into a local psych hospital. I was finally allowed to leave the school and see my father. Peeking out from the edge of the bandages covering what was left of his mouth, he winced as the one corner of his mouth turned upwards into a smile. Trying to give me some semblance of peace of mind, he tried to joke with me. He gestured to either side of his neck, where the other bullet had entered on one side and exited on the other, and informed me he had Halloween all set this year – all he needed was two bolts. Through my tears, I tried to smile back – I’m not sure that it ever made it to my lips. He kept trying to joke as I felt my life crumbling around me. It wasn’t long until my sister told me to wrap things up and ushered me out.
I always hesitate to share this story because it always feels like there’s a 50/50 shot that I’ll find myself in the company of a Doubting Mustafa – someone looking at me like I must be pulling their leg. Whenever someone starts in with questions, looking for verification and validation, I find myself wanting to scream. Why on earth would anyone make anything like that up? Did they not hear my voice crack or see my eyes mist over? How could anyone doubt my story when the pain is so clearly there even after all these years?
So – in honor of all the Doubting Mustafas out there who need to see proof in order to believe it, I have gathered a few pictures of old newspaper clippings I had googled one day. I had bookmarked them to link to anyone who doubted me because I’ve become accustomed to proving myself again and again. This time, I took screenshots to save to my blog. I sincerely hope this puts all of those doubts to rest.
This was one of the first articles I remember reading after the shooting. It was printed the day after it happened. I didn’t see it until months later – a friend had saved me clippings in case I ever wanted to read them. I admittedly threw them away because nobody needs newspaper clippings to remind them of one of the most traumatic days of their life.
This article, and others that followed, admittedly irked me because they got my father’s middle initial wrong. I know it’s such a trivial thing, and most likely a slip of the finger since the S-key resides right next to the D-key on the keyboard, but it still ate at me for some strange reason. I had seen other articles, as well, that had small factual errors like the wrong street address or incorrect number of children, things along those lines. Each mistake always seemed glaring and made me wonder how many simple things reporters got wrong on a daily basis.
This was one of the last articles printed about the shooting, almost three years after it happened. A couple months before her sentencing, I remember visiting my mother in Albany County Jail to tell her I was pregnant. When I got home, I received a call from my uncle, my mother’s brother, telling me I should “get an abortion and stop shaming the family”. I always found that call ironic because once you have to inform someone of a pregnancy while they’re in jail, an upcoming baby is not the shame anyone should be worrying about.
She shot my father twice. One bullet went in through his cheek and out the front of his mouth. The second shot was fired as he was running back towards the big heavy metal doors on the bottom level of the Dutch Quad where he was hoping to find cover. That shot went in one side of his neck and out the other, amazingly missing everything vital. The shooting didn’t kill him – as soon as he was able, he moved to the other side of the country and disappeared so I lost him just the same. Years later, cancer did what two bullets couldn’t. We reconnected just in time for him to share his diagnosis. I got to reconnect with him for a few months between his surgeries and chemo. By the time he entered hospice, he was so sick he couldn’t even remember me.
For her crime, my mother ultimately got time served counted between her time in Four Winds, the Mid-Hudson Psychiatric Center and Albany County Jail, places she flitted between when she wasn’t out on bail. Five years of probation was tacked on, as well. She shot my father twice and more or less got away with it. In her last act of vengeance against my father, she managed to outlive him by two months. I’ve since heard that in her last years, she finally got the treatment she needed and got her bipolar disorder under control. I never got to meet the woman my mother was when her mental illness was not in the driver’s seat. We had been estranged for a couple years when I got the call she had died. They both passed away in 2010.
To this day, it honestly amazes me that she could sign out her gun from the police department storage days before the shooting and still walk away in less than three years with probation and a slap on the wrist. Even more incredible, though, is the thought that anyone would ever listen to me tell my life story then ask for proof that it truly happened.