4484 words (17 minute read)

Broken

Chey’s parents, Montgomery and Jasmine Stamberg, shared the same condition that their daughter inherited from them. Montgomery was a man who married his best friend, who he loved with everything in him, and build a life with her that he was immensely proud of. Jasmine was a woman who had denied her feelings for her best friend, Moe, for a long time. He never stopped being there for her through it all, until she finally admitted her true feelings to herself. She worked for the town/county government in the Public Relations office as a Media Specialist for the Event Planning department, and was a prized employee there. Montgomery was a Foreman for a construction company, and, as a boss, was stern but well-liked by those who he worked with him. He engendered so much admiration and respect from them that they eventually give him the nickname, “Big Moe”, to symbolize how much bigger his presence in their workday was in comparison to his physical body. He accepted it graciously for what it was, and never thought of it as a dig against his physical stature. This was who it was for Chey’s family for as long as she could remember, but one night a couple years ago changed everything for them.

Moe Stamberg was driving home from work as the sun was setting when he received a text from Jasmine. She was stuck at work in a meeting that was running long, and wanted him to pick up something from the grocery store that he could quickly cook for himself and Cheyanne. She would pick something up for herself when she was able to escape. He drove to a grocery store that was on the way home after deciding that he could put together a spaghetti dinner pretty easily. His shopping took less than five minutes, and exited the grocery store holding handles of two plastics in one hand and fumbling with his keys in the other. He wasn’t sure when how he ended up lying on the pavement, but there was a blinding pain in his head. There were repeated shocks of pain as he realized he was being kicked at and stomped on. He tried to cover his head, but someone kicked at his arm away from his body before stomping and grinding his right hand into the asphalt. It felt as if someone else was kicking at head, and another rummaging through his pockets. He swore he heard laughter. It seemed to go on forever before his assailants vanished from around him, and he heard someone screaming.

Cheyanne noticed that it was getting late as she was finishing up her homework, and no one was home yet. She was sitting on her bed with papers and school books scattered all over it as if she was floating in a sea of things she was trying to understand. It was not uncommon for one of her parents to be working late, but both were an incredibly rare occurrence. She heard the buzzing of her cellphone on the bedside table. On the screen, she saw that it was her mother calling from her cellphone. The moment she picked up the phone, she could tell something was not right.

“Cheyanne…” said her mother in peculiar tone.

“Yeah, ma.”, Chey answered apprehensively. There was a silence passed for a couple seconds over the phone.

“You’ll need to eat some of the leftovers tonight. We won’t be home in time for dinner.”, her mother finally said.

“Is everything ok?”. There was another couple seconds of silence.

“I’ll talk to you about it when I get home.”. Chey thought she heard noises in the background of wherever her mother was. It was overlapping voices of people talking with what sounded like P.A. system blaring announcements in the far distance. “Honey, I have to go.”

“Ok, ma, love you.”, said Chey concerned.

“Love you too”, said her mother before hanging up the phone. Chey did as she was told, and put together her dinner from leftovers of meatloaf, green bean casserole, and mashed potatoes that may have sat in the refrigerator for a little longer than it should have. From that call onward, everything just seemed to be not quite right. It was like she was living in some alternative reality where the world was slightly tilted sideways and she couldn’t stand up straight. She went to bed that night in an empty house. She woke up the next morning for school, and the house was still empty. She called both her mother and fathers’ cellphones, but got their voicemails. Chey went ahead and got ready for school as she normally would, but there was a deep worry setting in. At school, she was distracted by continuous secret checks of her cellphone during class instruction which she could have gotten in trouble for. She hoped that her parents would have left her a text, a voicemail, or had attempted to call her. There was nothing. When Chey got off the bus from school that afternoon, she saw her mother’s car was sitting in the driveway of her house. She rushed into the house to find her mother waiting right on the other side of the door for her. From the first glance, Chey could see that her mother was exhausted and drained of sheer life more than she had ever seen or could have imagined.

“Ma, what’s wrong?”, Chey asked fearfully as she drop her book bag on the floor.

“It’s your father…”, her mother replied as if the words were having a difficult time coming out of her. Chey’s heart dropped, and her mother saw it in her expression. She had known something was wrong, and now her fears were real. Chey started to try to move or to talk, but, before she could, her mother grabbed her and held Chey tight to her own body. “He’s out of the woods now.”, her mother said hugging her tight. Chey could feel the warm tears running down her own face, and her heartbeat thumbing in her ears. It was then she noticed the packed bags sitting near their feet.

Moe Stamberg was still conscious while he lay on the ground in pain. There were multiple voices around him telling him not to move and that help was on the way. He felt himself fading out, and called out into the encroaching darkness for someone to call his wife. A concerned voice asked for her number which he gave them. Jasmine Stamberg saw the call from an unknown caller on her silenced phone while in the middle of a tediously drawn out meeting. She did not normally answer calls from people she didn’t know as they were usually some form of telemarketing, and swiped the screen of her phone to send them to her voicemail. She went back to trying to pay attention to what was going on when the same number called again. She, irritated by the incessant caller, swiped them to voicemail again. After a couple minutes, another call from another unknown number appeared on her phone. She decided to find out what was going on, and slipped out of the meeting room with the phone.

“Hello!”, she answered the phone in an annoyed tone. A person with an authoritative tone answered her by asking for Ms. Stamberg, and, when she confirmed it was her, the person identified themselves as a police officer.

Jasmine arrived at the hospital just to be told to sit in the waiting room. She sat there surrounded other people, but they did not exist to her. The one thing that was real to her was the mountain of her worries that seem to physically sit on her shoulders. The seconds that ticked by were small eternities where she stared off into the distance trying not burst into tears. A female officer would eventually come out to her, and led her to a quiet place where they spoke. The officer tried not to go into too many details other than her husband being assaulted, his condition when the police arrived, and that doctors were making sure he was stable before she would be able to see him. The officer asked her a couple questions, but she had very few answers to give. The officer left her in the waiting room to return her to fear and worry. She looked at her phone, and was startled by how late it had gotten without her noticing. She had to check on Cheyanne, but what would she say to her. She did not want to worry her daughter, especially when she still had no information on her husband’s condition. She called the Cheyanne’s cellphone, and, as it rang, she tried to make sure she was composed and not emotional. The phone picked up.

“Cheyanne…” said her mother trying to force any indication of how she was feeling out of her voice.

“Yeah, ma.”, Chey answered apprehensively. Jasmine, hearing her daughter’s voice, felt as if her heart was breaking apart in her chest. She wanted to say something to her daughter, and not pretend as if the world wasn’t trying to come crashing down around her. She wanted to hug her daughter, and assure Cheyanne that things were not as dark as they seemed. Jasmine thought these things, and knew that she was trying to convince herself of them.

“You’ll need to eat some of the leftovers tonight. We won’t be home in time for dinner.”, Jasmine pushed those words out of her mouth feeling her need not worry Cheyanne right now. She made the decision to let her daughter stay oblivious to whatever this horror was that had invaded their lives for at least another day.

“Is everything ok?”, asked her daughter. Jasmine started to open her mouth to speak, and choked on her words as she was becoming overwhelmed by her emotions. She held the phone away from herself as she took a deep breath, and steadied herself. She would protect her daughter from this. She brought the phone back to her ear.

“I’ll talk to you about it when I get home.”. Jasmine heard someone call her full name, and looked up from where she sat to see that it was one of the waiting room nurses. “Honey, I have to go.”, she said to Cheyanne.

“Ok, ma, love you.”, said Chey concerned.

“Love you too”, said Jasmine before hanging up the phone. She quickly went over to a tall blonde nurse who told her that her husband’s doctor needed to speak with her. She followed her out of the waiting room and into a series of hallways, and tried to keep up with the nurse’s long strides as best as she could. They were a couple feet away from an unassuming door when a slender young man stepped out of it. They walked up to him, and he introduced himself as a doctor. He addressed her as Ms. Stamberg, and began speaking to her without any formalities. The doctor parsed his words carefully to make sure that she understood all that he was saying. He used words like “hemorrhage”, “pressure on the brain”, and “emergency surgery”. The last word “surgery” struck her in the cheek, and sat there as if was it was attached to her heart like a heavy weight. They wanted her permission to perform surgery on her husband. She was dumbstruck as the doctor waited for her answer.

“Yes”, she said limply, the words almost dribbling out of her mouth. The doctor nodded, turned, and went back through the door that he came through without another word to her. The nurse would take her to another waiting room, and gave a set of forms to sign giving consent for the operation. Another eternity of hours would pass before she would hear another word.

Moe Stamberg would come through surgery successfully, be put in ICU for observation for a couple hours afterwards, and finally moved to room where his wife would be able to see him. At first sight, Jasmine felt as if she were looking at a bandaged, bruised, and broken hunk of flesh that resembled the form of the man she loved. It was early in the morning at the point, Moe was still unconscious, Jasmine did not and was not ready to approach him, and did not to want to disturb him. There was a flat couch in the corner of the room which she laid on, and tried to find rest, but all she found were tears.

When Cheyanne saw him the next day, she had no words. He still laid there unconscious with his head wrapped in a bandage, stitches in his face, and his right hand in small traction device that lay next to him in bed. She was in shock. She could not believe that her father could have been hurt like this. Her father had always been her hero. When she was a little girl, her father was the brave knight that, right before bed, would leap into her closet to battle the hidden monster, so it wouldn’t brother her at night. At some point, she got old enough where her father bumping around in a closest elicited extreme eye rolling, so he switched to reading her bedtime stories. Her father’s family was historically German, and so he read her things like the Brothers’ Grimm fairy tales. She always found them odd but interesting like the demon Rumpelstilzchen who wished to steal a child or the Huntsman facing a dragon billowing smoke and fire from its mouth to save a princess. She looked at her father and tried to see the person that stood beside her that first time they went as a family to the beach. She was still a little girl afraid of the big water that had no end. She stood at the edge of where the tide stopped, and wouldn’t allow a single toe to touch the water. Her father walked up and stood beside her. Her took her hand, and slowly started to walk down into the shallowest part of the waves. She didn’t want to go in, but she trusted him, and they slowly waded into the water up to her knees. That version of her father did faded with time, especially as she got older, but seeing him like this was breaking her heart.

Two days would pass as Cheyanne and her mother waited for her father to regain consciousness, and her mother kept trying to convince her that her father would be fine. Her mother tried to convince Cheyanne that she could go to school. Cheyanne refused to leave the hospital, and began to notice that she was experiencing another emotion that she wasn’t ready for and didn’t understand. It was hatred. Cheyanne felt it, not just for the anonymous assailants of her father for whom it started welling up in her, but against everyone. It was a general hatred for everyone from the well-meaning nurses that periodically came in to check on her father to, surprisingly, her own mother. The more she thought about how her mother had kept her in the dark for a whole day after the assault, the more she despised her. She kept having thoughts about how she could have been sitting in a classroom while her father was dying. She could not cry for her father as her mother did and would try to hide it, because her eyes burned white hot with anger. It scared Cheyanne to know she was capable of feeling that way about someone she cared for as much as her mother, so she buried it. It felt like it settled deep in her bones to the point of affecting the way she moved as she tried to act normal around everyone. Her mother’s attempts to get her to go home only added fuel to the fire. She couldn’t have cared less about anything her mother had to say about anything at that point.

Moe Stamberg woke up in a haze of confusion. His sudden stirring pulled his wife and daughter out of the dark clouds that had descended into the hospital room that had been their home for the past couple days. His doctor would keep him for another 24 hours just to monitor him during which investigators stopped by to get a statement. He told them that he never saw his assailants, but that it had to have been a group of men that jumped him from behind and viciously attacked him for several minutes. At this point, the investigators had already viewed the security camera for the grocery store, and confirmed that his assailants had been two individuals that appeared to be teenagers. In the video that looked out on the parking lot from the main doors, Moe had been walking into the background of the image when the two came from what was mostly likely the side of the building. He was struck in the back of head with an object, and he landed on his left side. The weapon couldn’t be seen on the video cause it was on the other side of the assailant’s body from the camera. They started kicking at his head to keep him down, and seemed to only kick at his free right hand when he tried to move it towards his body. The investigators theorized that one of the attackers had gotten frustrated with Moe’s attempts to move his hand towards his body, and purposely ground it into the pavement. The other attacker took that opportunity to go through Moe’s pockets, and took his keys and wallet before they ran back the way they came. The attack lasted less than 20 seconds. While the investigators didn’t get anything useful from Moe, the previous days had proven more fruitful to them. They had found that the attack resembled a series of similar attacks in the same area. Those attacks involved two assailants running up to the victim, and blitz attacking them, until the victim gave up their valuables or the assailants could get it themselves. The problem the investigators were running into was that the perpetrators of those crimes were in custody when the attack on Moe occurred. There were differences between both sets of attacks as well. The attackers in custody were drug addicts who had come up with this plan of assault and robbery in an effort to quickly get to their next high. The violence they committed as only in service to their robbing of the victim, and they never used weapons. The assault on Moe had more inherent violence to it. By the time the investigators visited Moe in the hospital, they were investigating the possibility of copycats with an emphasis on anything that might connect them to Moe directly. Before they ended their visit with Moe, they asked him if he knew of anyone that wanted to do him harm, but he knew of no one who had any malice towards him.

The next couple months for the Stamberg’s would be hard, especially for Moe. Jasmine had to take time off work to take care him. When he first came home, he had a hand broken in multiple places inside of a portable traction device, broken and bruised ribs, multiple bruises, stitches in his face, and a bandaged head. He couldn’t get around on his own for weeks. It was fear that hit them next when they realized that his attackers had taken his wallet containing his driver’s license, and his house and car keys. They immediately replaced the locks on the house and cars. It didn’t help with the other losses that were harder to bear like a sense of security and normality that they had always taken for granted. Moe’s hand would come out of the traction device after a couple weeks, and that would be the start of a long, painful series of rehabilitation sessions. His body hurt, but his soul suffered. Moe, like many men, had defined himself by what he did. He had been a provider and head of his house, but now what was he. His wife did whatever she could to comfort and support him, but he didn’t want her worrying over him. His daughter clung to him as if his next step would be his last. It was to her that he felt a mix of shame and disappointment in himself as if he brought this on himself and let her down somehow.

The investigators had the Stamberg’s to come to the police station to answer more questions. For the second time, the investigators asked Moe if he knew of anyone that meant him any harm, and he gave them the same answer as before. While his answer was truthful as far as he knew, he and Jasmine felt that they already knew what had happened. Moe and Jasmine never forgot where they lived. Their town and general area around them had a mostly hidden underbelly of intolerance that showed itself infrequently to remind everyone of its existence. There were the stories buried deep in the newspapers and television newscasts of beatings based on someone’s race, sexual orientation, or other things about them that were regarded as not being "normal". When they would found those stories, they would always regard them with general sadness over that state of their community, but be secretly grateful that it was far from them. It was supposed to stay far away from them. It was supposed to be someone else.

Cheyanne started to notice the man that went to work one morning was not the same person that came from the hospital days later. At first, she just figured that it was everything he was going through. The pain he dealt with on a daily basis would cause anyone to be irritable. She had to be understanding of what he was going through. She almost wept when she saw he could use his right hand again after all of the considerable, painful work he put into rehab. When she was home, she tried to stay in the same room as him in case he had one of this sudden, paralyzing migraines or blackouts. His doctors would diagnosis him with what she, her father, and mother had already expected. He was having seizures caused by brain damage. He was put on medications to minimize the seizures, but they caused multiple side effects including a noticeable loss of coordination. Her father had worked most of his adult life. He had worked hard to get where he was, and was proud of it. She felt as if she watched the life drain out of him when her father and mother decided that he couldn’t work anymore. That’s when she could tell that the man she knew as her father was just gone.

There wasn’t a physical pain as deep and debilitating as what Moe Stamberg felt in the moment had realized he couldn’t work anymore. He had to retire. He was angry, and it was hard to get passed it. He felt robbed of who he was, and, the ones responsible could not be confronted or made to pay for what they had done to him. The investigators were honest with him when he called to ask them about the case. They told him that they had exhausted all of leads they could find, and there hadn’t been any further assaults like his or the ones preceding it. He tried his best to be his old, jovial self at the retirement party his co-workers threw for “Big Moe”. They presented him with a “Going Away” card, and inside was a check. They had collected donations for him. He should have been as grateful as he acted, but he wished he didn’t need it as much as he did.

Jasmine just wanted to help her husband find a way through to find some acceptance of his new life. She knew that he was angry and felt he had a right to be. She was as supportive as she could be, but he seemed to become more distinct to her, and so quick to anger. There were arguments daily. They were usually over things like the mounting bills which included a constant stream of his medical bills. His retirement payments were half the amount of what he got when he was working, his insurance was slow to pay out anything, and their savings were draining fast. Cheyanne could do no right in his eyes. If she left a dirty plate lying around, then she was being disrespectful and ungrateful for all of the struggles they went through to provide for her. If she came home later than he expected, she was being stupid and endangering herself. If she brought home a low grade, she was being lazy. Cheyanne still had that hate lingering deep down inside her, and eventually began to fight back. The arguments between them were fierce, and Jasmine just wanted both of them to stop. She wished her daughter would just try to be as understanding of what Moe was going through as much as she did. There were arguments about Cheyenne grades, her attitude, or if she helping her mother enough around the house. Cheyenne started keeping to herself, and taking refuge in her room. Jasmine just didn’t know how to deal with it all, and it always left her feeling tired. It affected her at work; she just didn’t have the energy to put into every day or to care as much as she used to.

Moe lost all interest in dealing with people. He did not leave the house unless Jasmine was taking him to a doctor’s appointment. He expected his wife and daughter to limit their time outside the house as well, and didn’t want visitors coming in. Jasmine took it as him being overly concerned about their welfare after what had happened to him. Cheyanne was having none of it. She felt as if they were being punished. “Why are we hiding?”, she would think. “My dad was the victim, the men who did this were free to do whatever they wanted, and my parents were the ones scared.” The only exception was when coworkers dropped by to check on him. Otherwise, Moe wouldn’t talk to anyone most days including his wife and daughter unless he had a problem with something. His wife just tried to find a way to cope, but his daughter, more and more, wanted to find a way out.

Next Chapter: The Beautiful Things