Exactly a year ago.....
October of 2008 started out like any other month, busy at work, doing inventory, planning for Halloween and thinking about the upcoming Holidays. Though it STARTED like any other month, it ended like nothing before. When you are going through your routine of getting ready for bed at night, the last thing on your mind is that something bad is going to happen while you sleep. I know that when I went to bed on October 24th, 2008, I was thinking of work the next morning, and the customers I had coming in to see a treadmill. When I woke in the middle of the night to the sound of sirens, of course, I went outside to look. The site before me was unbelievable; still to this day I can’t believe that I witnessed the fire that ultimately took my uncle’s life. Less than half of a block away on the corner of 7th and State, the entire top two stories were engulfed in flames. I saw his blazer sitting there, and somehow convinced myself that he wasn’t there, after all he worked Friday nights, and this was a Friday night. I saw this entire building in flames. I saw the firemen. I saw the police. Yet somehow I couldn’t accept that my uncle, my favorite uncle was there. I finally forced myself to go back inside, to go to bed, and to sleep. A couple hours later I woke and forced myself to go outside and look at the building. Somehow I had convinced myself that I had been dreaming, and that it hadn’t really happened. Instead I saw the remnants of the building, while still standing it was a shell of the building that had been there, and the blazer was still there. I went inside and sat on the couch. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t bring myself to believe what my eyes had seen. I sat there not knowing what to think or do. Unable to function and knowing in my heart that what I was going to find out was the last thing I wanted to know, I called work and told them I wouldn’t be in.
I barely remember the rest of the morning. I know I went through the motions; I called my Uncle David’s work and tried to see if he had worked the night before, and the fact that they didn’t want to give me information when before they would always tell me if he was working, gave me the sickest feeling in the pit of my stomach. I turned on the news to see what it was saying and the fire was all over the news, I went to the corner gas station and got a newspaper and it was on the front page; the next thing I did was call the police station to try and find things out. They took my name and number and said they’d be in touch. It seemed like an eternity before I heard anything, in reality; it was probably an hour, though if you had asked me that day, I would have said it was five. The next call I received forever changed my life; it was the county coroner. Apparently, I was down as my Uncle’s emergency contact person at work. I kept thinking to myself during that conversation, well, I guess that explains why they wouldn’t tell me anything at Per-Mar. The coroner asked if I was Nicky Brookhart, and if I was in fact the niece of David Jones. I told him that yes I was, and he said he regretted to inform me that my uncle had in fact been involved in the fire the night before and ultimately died of smoke inhalation. The following hours were really a blur, and while I never really understood what people meant by that before I finally did. I was responsible for calling my dad, aunt, and all the rest of my family and letting them know. Do you have any idea how it feels to tell your father that his youngest brother is dead? How it feels to tell your aunt that her baby brother is gone? To tell your own little brother that our favorite uncle, that lived with us have our lives growing up was simply gone? It was, in all reality, the hardest thing I have ever had to tell anyone.
The following week was insane; it was all about putting my Uncle David to rest. I couldn’t believe it when I was asked to go to my uncle’s apartment and clean it out, to see if there was anything worth salvaging. Believe me when I say there wasn’t. I spent three days taking pictures of the damage, of the melted computer equipment, of the charred boxes and books. All the while trying to plan a funeral, trying to notify out of town family, doing a news interview as the family spokesperson, doing a newspaper interview with Rodney Hart for the same reason; just trying to handle everything that I could so that my family wouldn’t have to, and to this day I believe I was on auto-pilot through all of this. I know that for us and for the other victim’s families, the burials of our loved ones were heartbreaking. We had the initial court date, when David Bentz was formally charged with three counts of first degree murder and four counts of aggravated arson. Hearing the charges that morning, and being in the court room with this man, seeing him with a smug look on his face was almost too much to bare. The following day we began the memorial services for our loved ones, and it was too much. I remember going through the services with a calm look pasted on my face just wanting it all to be over, to be done with and all these people gone so we could say goodbye in peace.
We did make it through the burial, and as we were trying to prepare ourselves for what was yet to come it seemed like we were hit by more and more all at once. We buried my Uncle David on October 29th, and my brother was attacked while out with friends on October 31st. He was not only mugged he was attacked, meaning he was hit in the face repeatedly with a brick and it broke his jaw. I woke in the middle of the night after finally getting to sleep to a call from my brother needing to go to the Emergency Room. I spent the entire next day in the surgery waiting room waiting to see if he was going to be okay. Thankfully he was able to get through it with only having his jaw wired shut, and a little plastic surgery. Needless to say, I moved him in with me immediately following his release from the hospital. The following day I was sitting at home trying to write thank you notes to people that had sent flowers and things to my Uncle’s funeral when my phone rang once again. It was my step-mother crying hysterically. Turns out she was walking to work and was mugged ONE block away from the restaurant where she worked. I went to meet her at the police station where she was giving her statement and then took her to the ER. The ER nurses and I became very good friends at this point, and it’s about this time that I started being scared to death to answer my own phone.
By the end of October I knew I was irrevocably changed for the rest of my life, I felt like I would never have a moment’s peace again. It was about this time when I started feeling the first tinges of numbness. It was like no matter what was going on I couldn’t bring myself to cry anymore; instead of being able to be sad, which I knew if I allowed I wouldn’t be able to handle anything, I simply became angry. The more I dealt with the angrier I became, the madder I got, the more I wanted this man to pay for taking our loved ones. And to think this was only the end of October.
At the start of November, I was hoping for some kind of peace, for something good to happen, when in reality I should have known better. The month started off with the insurance company still riding us about wanting lists and pictures, and sometimes I felt like they didn’t give a damn about what we were going through. By the middle of the month, I was hoping that things were going to turn around, that we’d be able to get through the beginning of the trial when both attorneys made opening arguments without a hitch and everything would be fine. I came home early from work on November 17th because I was simply emotionally drained to find my then boyfriend moving out. Turns out he thought it would be a good idea to do it while I was at work so that he wouldn’t have to face me. What a man, and please believe me when I say I have absolutely mean that in the most sarcastic way possible. He said he simply couldn’t deal with it anymore, at the time I actually felt sorry for the man, looking back I realize he was spineless. He in actuality was dealing with nothing. Nothing. I not one time talked to him about it because I didn’t want to stress him out about anything. He was a man that was over ten years older than me, he was 40 after all, and he had known my family since I was four. You would have thought that if nothing else he would have had more decency to do this when he did, but we’ll get to that in a moment. That night I decided to do what I think many women in my situation would do. I went out and got completely drunk. Did I mention this was the day before my birthday? My 29th birthday?
The following day was awful, not only was it my birthday, it was also the day the trial formally started. I was sure this day couldn’t get any worse, until I remembered that I also had traffic court in the morning. Sitting in court that day at the trial was even harder than the initial date; I swear it when I say that man was void of any emotion what so ever. He of course pled not guilty, and we prepared ourselves for the long road ahead. My dad was so angry at this point that the bailiff had sit next to him to keep him from getting up and actually trying to do bodily harm to David Bentz; I can’t say I blame him in the least. I know the thought had crossed my mind more than once, much more than once. I was at the point of not feeling anything but anger and rage at this point. I couldn’t allow myself to feel anything else I thought. I didn’t know how I was supposed to process any of this, I mean I know he was my uncle, and to some people that may not seem like much, but to me he was so much more. When we were growing up he lived with our family, and he was closer to my age than he was to my dad’s age, so he was a lot like an older brother to us. We both worked third shift so we met a lot in the morning for coffee since we lived so close to one another and it brought us even closer as I became an adult. I was starting to think that nothing was ever going to make me feel again.
During all of this, even before Uncle David was murdered, my grandfather was starting to get really sick. To the point of us admitting him repeatedly to the hospital and ultimately putting him in a nursing home. On November 25th, a month to the day after Uncle David was taken from us, my grandfather Glenn D Jones died of heart failure at 2 am. My father called to let me know, and to tell me he had already contacted the funeral home and arrangements were being made. Somehow, I still couldn’t cry, I was still so numb, and so tired of losing people in my life I couldn’t feel. I was seriously thinking that I would never feel happiness again.
Later that morning, at approximately 6 am, my nephew Parker Jonathon Thomas was born, and when Sarah and Josh called to tell me that I smiled for the first time in a month. I rushed to the hospital to greet my new little nephew and was the first person other than his parents to hold him. As I was holding him, I suddenly felt all the emotions I had buried for so long and I cried. I cried because after all the pain I had felt and all that we had lost, finally we gained something. We gained this perfect little boy. I don’t know if you have ever cried cleansing happy tears, but there really is something quite magical about them.
After the birth of Parker, I realized that I needed to do something to take care of myself; I was tired of being angry, and I was tired of being mad. So I put myself into counseling through the Victims’ Advocate Fund. It is this great program that is offered through the state’s attorney’s office for the families of victims and victims themselves. It is where I was finally able to talk to someone without feeling like I was burdening them or causing them more pain or grief.
I finally starting feeling again after I was in counseling and I am not ashamed to say that part of that is due to the fact that she put me on anti-depressants, and pills to help me sleep a full night. The combination of the two helped stop the nightmares and helped me heal. To know that I didn’t have to take on the entire burden myself and that my family was going to be okay if I allowed myself to hurt and heal with them.
There came a point where I had to stop obsessing over the trial and move on with my life, and while no it didn’t happen over night, it did happen. I quit reading every news article about the trial; I quit watching the news when it was on. I didn’t dream about the fire every night, and I allowed myself to have fun again; in my heart, I knew it was something that Uncle David would have wanted for me. I enrolled back in school because for so many years he was on my case to finish my nursing degree. I think one of the biggest reasons I was able to move on is because the wife of the man that started the fire ended up being in one of my classes. The fact that I was able to talk to her, and I took the time to tell her that it wasn’t her fault, it was his, and I knew it helped her move on with her own life, well that helped me more than anything else in the world probably could have. I guess it’s true when people say you get more from giving than you do from taking. It’s honestly the truth.
Today I am finally happy, and I can say I am finally at peace with all of this. The nightmares show up every once in a great while, like last weekend because I knew the jury trial was starting Monday. Today, October 2nd, 2009, I had two major events happen in my life that actually caused me to rewrite the end of this paper; I not only had my knee surgery, but the jury came to a verdict. David Bentz was found guilty on all five charges and has a mandatory sentence of natural life in prison with no chance of parole. The fact that I feel that justice was actually served, that he will no longer be able to hurt another living soul, well, if that doesn’t help someone move on I don’t know what will. I know that right now my Uncle David is in heaven smiling down on me because I was finally able to write about this, I was finally able to let go.