Friday, June 25, 2010

All We Need Is Just a Little Patience

When God was handing out patience, I didn't get any because just couldn't wait. I have no patience, and it's getting worse as I'm getting older. Superstores *coughWALMARTcough* that have 30 checkout lanes but only 6 open annoy me to no end. Couple that with my bad line karma and I can't win. Seriously, if you gave me a choice of two lines, I will pick the one that the cash register will break down, someone's credit card won't go through, the price is wrong, or the car in front of me at the ATM is refinancing their mortgage. However, I have good parking karma, so I can't complain too much.

But this lack of patience has been quite trying over the last 7 weeks, which will turn over to 8 weeks on Monday. Eight weeks since we wrapped up the girls' trial. Eight weeks since we walked out of the courtroom and were told to wait. Again. My attorney said to try to forget about it, and I know he meant well, but that would be like asking me to forget I ever had Jessica and Kelli. Sorry, it can't be done.

The court has no timeline, no deadline, no schedule. We could get a ruling at any time. Every day I wake up and think, "maybe today." And so far every night I've gone to bed thinking, "maybe tomorrow."

It sucks. No one likes to wait. And in my case, it just gives me time to review and rethink and analyze everything that happened in the courtroom. Should I have done this? Should I have said this? Did I do good by them?

In the meantime, I am trying to distract myself by making some changes in my life, pursuing new and exciting avenues, and guess what? I'm in a holding pattern with those, waiting for a phone call or two that may or may not come today. Talk about your all time backfires.

The thing that makes me smile during all this is the title to this post. I certainly never imagined that Jessica could be put to sleep by Guns and Roses. Who would have belived that the talent behind Welcome to the Jungle could put babies to sleep? So now when I hear that oldie but goodie, I can't help but smile and remember rocking my baby girl, when I could hold her tight and tell her I loved her.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Making A Difference

People ask me how I manage every day, how I am able to get out of bed and carry on with life. My main motivation has always been to keep Jessica and Kelli's memories alive, to find the positives in this negative situation, and to do good work in their names.

This morning I spoke to a class of recruits attending the St. Louis County Police Academy. These men and women will graduate next Thursday, and begin their careers as law enforcement officers. I was asked by the Chief of Police of St. Louis, Tim Fitch, if I would come and talk to them about what happened to Jessica and Kelli. You can read about these tragedies in a classroom, but sometimes having a personal account can be a more powerful teaching tool.

For the last few weeks I have struggling with what to say. I didn't want to come across as telling them how to do their jobs, but yet I wanted to tell them what happened and hope they remember Jessica and Kelli, and others, when they have to drive at high speeds.

This morning I walked into the classroom, put my cheat sheet on the podium, and began. My only visual aid was a blowup of their last photograph, taken just a couple of hours before they were killed. I didn't fall, I didn't stutter, and I only lost my place once, when my pages stuck together.

After my speech, several of them came up to me. One man, who had two young children, even cried, and said that he would always remember my girls. Another one said that they had just had driver training yesterday, and this really opened his eyes on what could happen. Another simply said "thank you, I know this must be hard for you."

Yes, it's hard to tell that story, but it's also cathartic. If I touched one person, saved just one life, then perhaps my girls didn't die in vain. As I've said before, maybe this is God's master plan for me, and if not, I'm still doing good work.

My speech is below:

Good morning. My name is Kimberly Schlau. I have three daughters: Jessica, Kelli and Madelyn.

My daughter, Jessica, was 18 years old. She had graduated high school and was attending college, as well as working two jobs. She was beautiful, smart, strong, blonde and determined to succeed at life. She wanted to get her degree in business and pursue a career in marketing or PR. She had a large circle of friends and my house was generally filled with laughter and music thumping in her room. Jessica was never shy and always managed to make friends wherever she went.

My daughter, Kelli, was 13 years old, just 39 days shy of her 14th birthday. She was in 8th grade, a cheerleader, and an A student. She too was beautiful, smart, strong, blonde and determined to be a successful veterinarian. She loved animals, and was also an avid proponent of recycling and being green. She too had many friends, and always seemed to be a happy person, smiling and making people laugh.

My daughter, Madelyn, is 11. She also is beautiful, smart, strong, but a redhead. She loves basketball, softball, photography and has a pretty awesome sense of humor.

Jessica and Kelli were killed on November 23, 2007, when an Illinois State Trooper crossed the median at 126 mph and drove through their car, killing them instantly. When they walked out the door that morning, on their way to have this picture taken, I never dreamed it would be the last time I’d see them, or that this would be their last photograph.

Their car was sheared in half. Their bodies were mangled beyond recognition. It took over five hours for the coroner to notify me of their deaths, and even then they weren’t sure who they were, because they asked me if Jessica was driving, and who would have been in the car with her. Their caskets were closed, and they couldn’t even be dressed. All we could do was give the funeral director items to be draped over their bodies. For Jessica, I gave him her prom dress and her boyfriend’s hockey jersey. For Kelli, I gave them her cheerleading uniform and her Jonas Brothers concert shirt.

Their deaths were avoidable.

The former trooper made many decisions in the minutes prior to killing my daughters. He chose to respond to a call that was originally given to another officer. He admitted in court that he did not hear the entire radio transmission, specifically the portion that advised that other first-responders and law enforcement were already on the scene. He chose not to verify that information. He chose to drive at almost twice the posted speed limit in heavy day-after-Thanksgiving traffic. He chose to use his onboard computer to email another officer for directions to the scene of the call while driving over 100 mph. He chose to conduct a personal cell phone call, talking for almost 4 minutes, while driving over 100 mph, weaving in and out of traffic and driving on the shoulder. Cell phone records show that call was terminated just seconds before he killed my daughters. The vehicle’s black box showed full throttle and no brakes before impact.

All this for a call that was secure. Had he arrived at the original accident scene, his only responsibilities would have been to write an accident report and to direct traffic around the scene if necessary.

The trooper testified in court that he felt his actions showed reasonable care. The director of the Illinois State Police testified otherwise. In fact, he called the trooper’s conduct “indefensible”. The community believes that as well. His actions gave good officers a bad name.

Because of his actions and decisions, my daughters are dead, and he now is a convicted felon. He will never again be a police officer, never again be licensed to carry a gun, and as part of his probation, he cannot drive for the next two years. He is also unemployed.

I am not here to tell you how to do your job. I was raised to have the utmost respect for law enforcement and first-responders, and I still do. We, the public, put our trust in you, to keep us safe, to uphold the law. You have chosen a profession in which you are asked to make split-second decisions, including life and death decisions.

I was asked to speak to you today by Chief Fitch, in hopes that hearing a personal account of the circumstances that led to Jessica and Kelli’s deaths will influence how you might handle a similar situation.

In the moments leading up to the impact, the former trooper could have re-evaluated any of his decisions, but he chose not to. I would respectfully ask each of you, to remember this picture of Jessica and Kelli, and the pictures on the sheet in front of you of the other civilians killed, and also the officers who have been killed, and ask yourself, “if my family were on this road, how would I react? Would I continue on this course of action?"

Congratulations on your graduation next week, and good luck and godspeed to all of you.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Village Idiot Rides Again

I thought I'd regale you with tales of my latest idiotic moments, so you can feel better about yourself. It's a public service, you're welcome.

Last week I went to the Cardinals game with some girlfriends, and afterward went to a nearby pub for another friend's birthday. We were having a nice time, sitting around one of those tall tables, chatting and having a cocktail to celebrate. My sister-in-law decided she needed to powder her nose, and she asked me to accompany her. As I descended from my tall chair, I managed to smack my head on the support pole behind me, knocking my sunglasses off the top of my head. As I tried keep my glasses from hitting the ground, I managed to kick the stone firepit next to our table and more than likely broke my pinky toe. It still hurts, a week later. The nice young men at the table next to us did ask if I was okay, in between hysterical laughter.

The next day, I was getting my lunch from the deli in our building. As I was walking away from the counter, the heel of my shoe on the uninjured foot decided to turn right while I was turning left, and down I went on my knee. My sandwich flew out of my hand and landed about 10 feet away. I got some distance! Of course, standing behind me is the VP of Legal for my company. He helps me up, asking if I was okay, without laughing! (he may have laughed once I was out of earshot). I said yes, I'm fine, I'll just go over here and pick up my lunch and take my humiliated limping self back to my desk.

I managed to maintain my dignity through the rest of the week, until I went to the grocery store on Sunday afternoon, sans bra. Yep, I took the boys out for a walk completely unleashed. I drove halfway there before I realized I was feeling a bit, unrestricted, shall we say? I only needed to get a couple of things so I said to hell with it, at least I have on a shirt that covers them, and shorts that cover my dairyaire. I've seen people with less on, perhaps I won't stand out as much. No one pointed, laughed or fainted, so I think I was okay.

And finally today, I managed to trespass. There is a patio with a table and chairs on the back side of our building. I never see anyone sitting there, and I thought it would be a nice place to enjoy my lunch. So today I decided to give it a try. I had just sat down and was getting ready to eat, and I hear the door behind me open. This older guy sticks his head out of the door and says "Can I help you?" I said "I work in the building (in case he thought I was homeless or something) and was just going to eat my lunch." He says, kinda snottily, "This is our patio." I apologized, gathered up my lunch, and left. It's not my fault, there wasn't a sign that says "Reserved for Random Unfriendly Company." I'm kind of glad he told me, though, because it was filthy and I was thinking of wiping it off the next time I used it. But now they can do that themselves.

So, there you have my most idiotic moments of the week. Tune in next week to see what I've managed to do to myself or others. No wonder my husband says I need a helmet.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Cake and Gravy

As I sit here, eating my breakfast of biscuits and gravy, I am reminded of a birthday party we had for Jessica. I think she was 11 or 12, I can’t remember exactly. I do remember that she had a slumber party, and that for breakfast she wanted biscuits and gravy, her favorite. As I set the plates in front of them, she and her friends all dug in except for one girl. She looked up at me with an expression of confusion and said “what is this?” Jessica replied “biscuits and gravy, duh. Haven’t you ever had it?” Much to our surprise, the poor child had never heard of it. As we all stared at her, she took a tentative bite, chewed and then politely asked if I had any cereal. Bless her heart. Jessica was dumbfounded that she’d never had what we deemed the Food of the Gods. It was her comfort food, and her “I should have gone to bed earlier” food, if you know
what I mean.

I remember Jessica’s first birthday party. I decorated our small apartment with balloons and streamers while she napped, and when she woke up the balloons freaked her out. We gave her the obligatory piece of chocolate cake with inch-thick frosting, and she didn’t make too big of a mess. Classy even way back then.

I remember her 16th birthday, which was not as exciting for her as she had previously planned. You see, the month before, she and her friend had this bright idea that they’d “borrow” my car while I wasn’t home, and she was busted big time, grounded for a month, and told she’d have to wait to get her license. She did eventually get her license but not until almost July. Oh, the shame she endured for those few weeks.

I remember her 18th birthday, the last one we had. Her birthday fell on a Monday, and she was mad because the bakery she loved, Kruta’s, was closed on Mondays. I made her a cake, which she appreciated, but I could tell it really wasn’t what she wanted. I told her I’d buy her a and Kruta’s cake on Tuesday, and she cheered up. Spoiled little princess.

But today. Today should have been different. She would have been 21. She had been planning her 21st birthday for a few years. She was so excited that it fell on a Friday. She made all kinds of plans, such as renting a party bus and bar hopping on The Landing, going to the casino in St. Louis, or maybe even going to Las Vegas. We liked to dream big, you see. Whatever we did, it would have included new shoes, of course.

I woke up this morning and knew it was going to hurt today. Hell, it’s hurt all week. It’s so damn unfair that she’s gone, that Kelli’s gone, and that although we will celebrate her birthday today, it will be under the cloud of loss that we live with now.