Although I’ll always have blurry spots in my memory of it, the trauma that shaped me has remained crystal clear. That’s what our minds do; they jumble information from our past when it becomes too hard to carry it. In processing unfathomable experiences, however, this can help us find our way through to the other side.

The last six months of 2000 held alternating hospital visits and major surgeries in my family, and in November my brother-in-law succumbed to cancer. I was weary from the stress, and in early 2001, we decided I should spend ten days in Oklahoma and Texas visiting family and friends. I packed up my youngest daughter, and we traveled halfway across the country to seek laughter and peace.

Just a few days after I arrived, my husband called to say his remaining older brother had passed suddenly, and he would be traveling to California to oversee his funeral. I offered to come back home, but he urged me to stay. “You may never get another trip like this,” he said. He was right in ways neither of us imagined.

The next day I went shopping with my cousins and then out to eat at one of their favorite places for Chilis Rellenos. (I had dreamed of the cheesy goodness for several months.) After lunch we made our way back to my cousin’s van. My daughter was already buckled in as I loaded her stroller into the back compartment.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a man running toward us. At first, I thought he was a panhandler, so I just yelled at my cousin to “watch out.” But then, as I made my way to the driver’s side and my older cousin was stepping out of the van, the man held up his hand, as if wielding a badge, and yelled, “Police officer! Get out of the car!”

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