Memoirs of TD: Life Congealed
“You have to love your children unselfishly. That is hard. But it is the only way.” — Barbara Bush
Her life still haunts me after 21 years. It’s a sad story of poverty, incest, love, lack of love, homelessness, and depression. Children can overcome and become successful through those circumstances but sometimes, your life is damned whether you do or don’t. I didn’t have the perfect life. Both of my parents were alcoholics and parental supervision for me was sometimes watching myself. But her life, her life was created out of a nightmare. Doomed the moment she entered the world and took her first breath.
It is not our intent to repeat the cycle of abuse or poverty. It comes as natural as blinking. We grow up wishing, hoping, searching for a different outcome but insanity is doing the same thing while expecting something different to happen. Kayla was no different. A beautiful five-year-old who just wanted to have fun, belong, and be loved.
Kayla was the sweetest child I have ever known. She was a petite, big eyed mocha delight with a bright smile. I hadn’t known her long. You see, I met her while living at a women’s transitional shelter. My son was 9 months and Kayla’s mother was his paternal 2nd cousin. We both were young and ended up at this “rough” patch in our lives. Kayla had 2 living siblings and 1 deceased that was born before her.
Her mother knew only sorrow. She was used by her biological father as a prostitute on the street along with her mother and sister. Her father also used her for his own personal fantasy which produced a son she had at fifteen. I only know of this because Nyla, Kayla’s mother, had a tattoo on her arm with the child’s name. The rumor was her father’s brother smothered the child at 4 months because he was a result of incest. The death was ruled as SIDS related.
Nyla departed from her father when he was jailed for the prostitution of her, her sister, and mother and incest rape. She then began a cumbersome excursion into the Department of Children and Family Services mesh of destruction from which she would never recover.
Upon first meeting Nyla, I judged her instantly. She was 5 years older than me and at the tender age of 17, I was trained by the elder women staff to stay away from the women in the shelter. Most were going through drug rehab and chugging thick orange methadone every day. I wasn’t even supposed to be there because I wasn’t 18 so the agency made previsions by putting my bedroom next to the office and staff watching me and controlling who I socialize with.
Nyla was sweet but ditsy. She immediately took to me even before we found out my son’s father was her first cousin. I kept running away from her because she felt like trouble. Once we learned the relation of her and my son, I embraced her and her children. At this time, she had custody of 2 girls and her son was taken by the state and given to his paternal grandmother.
I tried to bond with Nyla and her daughters by hanging out with them. This one time we decided to hang out on a warm day. We went shopping and to the park. It was me, Nyla, and her cousin. Out of nowhere, Nyla says to Kayla, “Happy birthday heifer”, pushed her head and Kayla just smiled with joy. To a child, mother is God, so Kayla took the negative for terms of endearment. Everyone instantly got upset because she hadn’t told us it was her birthday and she turned 5. We would have thrown her party, bought gifts, and cooked a meal. Nyla thought nothing of it. I remember feeling so angry at how she treated her daughter. Who does that? Why would you shortchange her day like that? She only gets to be 5 once.
Nyla went back and forth to court a lot in the month of April and May. It rained a lot making the months sad. Kayla’s biological father had just gotten out of jail. He had been in jail since Nyla was pregnant. He didn’t know Kayla but wanted to get to know her so his family starting spending time with her. While he was bonding with Kayla, Nyla was going to court to get custody of her son. She had done everything she needed to satisfy the court system.
I remember that day like it happened yesterday. It was a Thursday, May 2nd. In the shelter we had house group meetings at 5pm every Thursday. I remember running in to get a seat. I had plans afterwards to meet up with a friend, so I was excited. I did notice Nyla wasn’t there. I kept looking for her. She ended up coming into the meeting 30 minutes after it started. She was different. Totally different, not the same at all. Kayla ran to me so she can play with my son.
I asked Nyla was she ok and she simply looked at me. She had these quarter sized hazel eyes that were mesmerizing. But today, they were anything but. They held anger and she looked plain evil. Once the meeting ended, I went up to my room to prepare for my evening out. Kayla was still with me playing with my son. Since I didn’t see her mother anywhere, I allowed her to come to my room.
In my room, she continued to play with my son. She loved playing with babies. She had the best spirit in the world. She was graduating from kindergarten in a few weeks. I overheard her leaving for school that morning and it was my first time witnessing her mother say, “I love you”. That day, I witness this, that day a lot of things came forth.
Once I realized my ride was outside, I had to take Kayla to her mom, but I couldn’t find her. My friend Cherry ended up taking Kayla until we could find Nyla. I walked all around this five-floor building, and would you believe she wasn’t here? I decided I had to go so as I approached the front door, in comes Nyla. I instantly start barking at her, “Where the hell was you at? Kayla upstairs with Cherry because I got to go. What’s wrong with you?” She doesn’t look my way; she ignores me and walks up the stairs.
All I kept thinking was she is an ignorant woman, and I will deal with her later. I met up with my ride and we went to get something to eat. By the time we made it to my friend’s house, I was tired, so I took a nap. I didn’t want to be out long, so I needed to get back by 8:30. I remember being half asleep and my friend was watching New York Undercover, a television show. I opened my eyes to catch the opening scene. It was a little girl in a project hallway playing with her friends. She went to press the elevator and as it opened, she fell down the shaft and died. I didn’t see the rest because I needed to get back.
I was so tired as I approached the building around 9pm. I saw a Channel 2 News van in front but that was nothing new. Murder and crime were the main attractions in this area, so I became numb to this. I by-passed the reporter and came in the building. My son was asleep, so I was carrying him to the elevator. As I approached the elevator, two people came running up to me screaming, “Noooooooo!!!!”
I was so startled; I wasn’t sure who they were talking to. When I turned around, one of the staff, Ms. Marina had tears in her eyes. She stared at me and said, “You don’t know?” Now I am on alert and I’m yelling at her, “Know what, know what!!!! What’s going on?” She said in a low monotone voice, “Kayla died tonight on the elevator. I’m sorry.”
I remember my vision going black. She had to take my infant son from my arms. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t cry, I couldn’t think. My brain was trying to rationalize this. How ironic I was just watching a television show an hour early regarding a little girl dying on an elevator, then this. All I kept thinking was I had Kayla tonight in my possession, and I gave her up. I knew that night had a black omen shadow hanging over it. Things just didn’t jive that night.
As I gathered, myself and made it to my room, I saw the police tape. My room was two doors down from the elevator on the 3rd floor. It is here where the fire fighter opened the door and pulled her lifeless body out.
My friend, Argalye, was there and told me the whole story. Kayla was a victim of a parent’s neglect. She was restless and wanted to play. The elevator was old fashioned with a collapsible gate. She was quite petite. The door on the outside had a hook on the left side that would lock when it was called to another floor. As Kayla was trying to exit the elevator, the gate slammed behind her. Before she could press the door open, Argayle called the elevator to the 5th floor near the kitchen which locked it. She was caught between a moving elevator and a locked door.
Argayle, was the last to hear her voice, a faint cry for her mother. Kayla’s mother was outside again, smoking a cigarette, not even knowing her child was dying. When the firemen came and got her out, they asked our friend Diana for a white sheet off her bed to cover the body. As they walked Kayla’s body out, Nyla still hadn’t realized it was her child. Argayle felt so guilty for pressing that elevator. We know, it was no one’s fault, unless you want to blame her mom.
Blaming doesn’t bring her back nor does it take away the traumatic effect of her death. It doesn’t close the wounds or reprieves the guilt. We must believe everything happens for a reason and maybe, she was taken, because a higher being wanted to spare her from what was to come.
The scene at the hospital was hectic as every family member needed to blame someone. Including the newly reunited biological father. He jumped on Nyla and had to be escorted out the hospital. His rage, anger, and confusion about the situation was understandable but his violence towards Nyla was not condoned.
A local funeral home donated their services to Kayla’s funeral. The father’s family purchased all clothing and accessories. The shelter’s agency provided money as well for the family to purchase the appropriate attire for the funeral. Her kindergarten teacher gave the family her cap and gown pictures she took a week before to use for the obituary. Unfortunately for me, this would not be the last time I had to endure a friend losing a child under 5.
My last memory of Kayla was viewing her body before the next day services. I was holding my son and he reached down and pulled her dress and mimicked the words, “Kayla, Kayla”. As if he were telling her to get up. We buried her on a cold day in May.
I left the shelter after that and moved back home. I moved out and left Kayla’s obituary on the dresser. I could not deal with the emotional strain. I couldn’t keep living there. In the office, there was a little toy that played Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. After Kayla’s death, that toy would just go off on its own. Staff felt comforted to say its Kayla still running through the halls and playing. I guess people were used to spirits there. The shelter was an old nunnery attached to the local church. It was a beautiful building that was full of secrets.
Her family was awarded over a million dollars after her death from the shelter. I can’t say the money was put to good use and would have made her proud. I learned that sometimes, broken people stay broken. I have asked family members why and how Nyla could do the things she does, and they told me to accept it. Do not try to understand her mental illness.
I pass the building where Kayla died almost daily to get to work. My son, now 22 has no memory of her, but I make sure he knows the story and sees the building. I too feel guilty about the day Kayla died. If I can do nothing else, I try to keep her name alive, and her story told. Had she lived, she would have been 27 years old right now and probably would have gotten married, had kids and a dog. I like to think she would have grown more beautiful and became successful. A flower that bloomed out of fire, dirt, garbage, and misery. Sleep on my little marrón princess. Although your life has congealed, your memory has not. Rest in peace Kayla………