This is a true story of love, happiness, lost innocence, dispair, and ultimately death.
| UNTIL DEATH .........
The ordinary quiet of small-town Danse, Georgia was interrupted on a warm November night by a blast from a ten- gauged shotgun that rang out across town, through the 1:30 a.m. wooded darkness, announcing the death of my husband, my baby boy's daddy. The gun was owned by my grandfather but I was the one holding it when it took Terry Smith's life.
Danse is a gun-totin' little town, which is maybe why it's such a peaceful, safe place to live. A country town, the neighboring Atlantans refer to it as "Hicksville", or the "Boonies". Most of the folks that live there own guns and most of those folks carry their guns with them. Many are hunters and the many competitions regularly tests their markmanship, so rarely is a second thought given to the firing of a gun, even in the middle of the night. The light sleepers who were awakened that fateful night probably just thought it was a disgruntled neighbor firing off a round in an attempt to scare away some garbage-can-raiding raccoon or some other mischievous wild animal. The morning would tell them, though, that it was really me shooting my husband of ten years to death.
"Did you shoot Daddy?", asked my precious little boy of four years, who seemed to suddenly appear from nowhere. In fact he had been in bed asleep when the gunshot noise awoke him and now he stood wiping at his sleepy eyes with the backs of his hands, trying to adjust his vision to the sight of his father sprawled out in front of him on the dining room floor.
Quickly I grabbed my lightweight cotton bathrobe from the back of a nearby chair, covering my child with it ( in attempt to shield any further view of his father) as I lifted his little body into my arms. He didn't struggle, as if he knew on some level it was a thing better left unseen. His father, who only a few hours earlier had been playing kiddie games with him, had been in a rare good mood that day and so made it a good and happy day for little Michael, giving him good memories for their last day together. "It's okay, baby", I lied. "We're going right now to get help for Daddy, so don't worry, okay? Everything's going to be alright."
Somehow, while holding Michael awkwardly hiked up on one hip and keeping his view of Terry blocked, I bent over my husbands' still body close enough to look directly into his open eyes, They were blank, unaware, blind- staring into nowhere, nothingness. That was when the strange feeling began to creep over (and through) me; What lay there on the floor was real enough but was becoming incomprehensible. This man who had been my husband and lover for the past ten years simply could not be dead. To me he was omnipotent and it seemed almost against nature that I could possibly do him physical harm, much less take his life. This man who could, in my mind, strike fear into the hearts of man and beast alike without much more than a single glance - this man just simply could not be dead! Not Terry! To me he was invincible so I half expected him to suddenly jump up and take my head off. But he didn't. He just lay there . Dead.
Although I knew in my heart that Terry was really dead, I spoke to him as though he could hear me - for Michael's sake. " Hang on, Terry. I'm going for help. Someone will be here in just a few minutes. Okay? Just hang on." We had no phone so I had to drive to the police station which was only about three blocks away.
I turned to run for the door when I was greatly surprised by the amount of blood that had already almost covered the dining room floor. I could see it moving, rolling slowly but surely to cover the living room floor, too. So much blood, so much more than one would think the human body could hold. I realized then that I had shot bullseye through one of his prison tattoos, the one that lay over his heart. It was a picture of a broken heart, broken jaggedly from top to bottom and about the size of his real heart. In the left piece was printed "Michael" and in the right half was "Lily". That's me. I'm Lily.
Since Terry had been only a couple of steps in front of the shotgun barrel when I shot him the slug blew out a large section of his back.Such a wound would leave no need for a heart to pump the blood out of his body, especially since he landed on his back. A small river of blood ran its path into the living room which was of hardwood, no carpet or rugs there to soak up the blood that was now beginning to crawl up the floor-length draperies. To say the scene was surreal would be putting it mildly, especially if you consider the strong odor that comes with that much blood. And the fact that I took the time and energy during such an emergency situation to deadbolt the door as I left because I was afraid a wild ( or otherwise ) animal would pick up the fresh scent of Terry's blood and be hungry - well, maybe it meant my mind was beginning to teeter just a bit. A little bit, at least.
I ran through the darkness about fifty feet to get to my car, almost tripping once because I forgot to turn the outside floodlight on. When I turned the car ignition on, the stereo was suddenly blasting the song, "ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST!" Those very words! I felt as if some giant cosmic joke was being played on me. I turned the stereo off.
We made it to the police station in less than five minutes. The very front of the building featured a large picture window, so from the parking lot one could see most of the goings on of the inner office. I could see two officers standing at the window, looking outside, talking, coffee mug in one hand, cigarette in the other. I can barely imagine what they thought when my car came to a screeching halt just inches outside their window. They didn't move a muscle but watched wide-eyed as a wild woman in her mid twenties, bare-footed, wearing only a thin nightie and bikini panties ( all splattered with blood, clothes and skin alike) pulled a likewise half naked toddler from the car and swing him around to land on her hip as she broke into a run toward the station door.
For just a moment or two after we entered the room there was utter silence. I lowered a wriggling Michael to the floor thinking I wished I'd at least remembered to grab his clothes, once again feeling incompetent as I often did when it came to my child. In my state of mind at this particular time, though, I was unbelievably unaware of my own state of undress. He was wearing only his action figure underwear, which were the only clothes he would agree to sleep in during this particular phase of his life and the weather was still warm but I still worried that people would judge me unfit. When an officer did bring us some clothes from home he brought Terry's clothes for me to wear: jeans, shirt and coat, all several sizes too big for me. I wondered why it didn't bother me to wear his clothes just after killing him. I don't know why I thought it should bother me. Actually I felt rather comfortable and snug in the oversized clothes.
Suddenly doors were opening and people were entering, filling the small office. Some of them I knew, others were strangers but not for long.
A couple of police cars screamed out of the parking lot. A siren sounded off a short distance away, probably an ambulance leaving the hospital which was only two or three blocks away. Later I learned that they had to break into the house to get to his body because I had locked the doors.
In the meantime while I related the evenings events to one officer, Michael pled my case with another; " Mama had to shoot him or I would have had to do it!" He often amazed me with his intelligence and insight for his age. I knew he had been afraid of losing me before when he would see his father physically beating me and seeing the fear in my son's eyes was worse than the beating itself. Now a new fear is born - one of losing me to jail. I wanted so badly to take him up in my arms and run from all of this and everything that could worry him or hurt him in any way ever again. Of course all mothers want that for their children. I wanted to reassure him and make unbelievable promises like, "We won't ever have to be afraid again, or I'll never let anything worry you again" or " Never again will we have to hide in silence and fear!" I wanted to see him smile a true happy smile and often. I planned to make it all up to him . I made it a private promise to myself.
My father was blessed with one sister, Aunt Rebecca , a truly wonderful person who married an equally wonderful man, Bobby. If anyone ever loved my son and me it was Aunt Rebecca and Uncle Bobby, so naturally it was them I called to come for Michael to keep him until the law was ready to release me.
It was not until after the Danse police department labeled my actions "justifiable homicide" and turned me over to the Patton County Sheriff''s Department to do their own investigation that I fully realized that I actually could be charged with a crime. I had done only what I had to do: kill or be killed. Honestly it had been Michael's condition I had been concerned with most until he was safely tucked away at my aunt's and uncle's house. I knew they would do anything, whatever it took, to protect his well-being, physical as well as emotional.
When the deputy actually fingerprinted me and took my mugshot I let my eyes wonder over the miscellaneous papers and spied my arrest sheet when the capitalized word jumped out at me, "MURDER". Not "justifiable this or that" or "...to such and such degree", or any other such legal jargon. It read one ominous word, "MURDER", plain and simple, seeming to leave no room for questions.
"CLANG!" , I went to jail. It was 1980 then and I believe the jail was old-fashioned even for it's time, with lots of loud metal-on-metal clanging and almost constant echoes of one kind or another.
The cold, hard sound of the turnkey locking me in jarred and dislodged some long-ago memories from the early 70's when Terry and I had been locked up together in this very cell. Just the two of us in this one cell.
Listening to the loud clanging of the turnkey's footsteps on the metal staircase, I turned and walked over to one of the two barred windows in search of some fresh air. I looked out over the fenced-in backyard, which held two big Doberman Pinschers as guards and prisoners.
Beyond that, a few yards, lay the railroad track that carried the
same train that had so long ago and so many times woke me up thinking that a tornado had hit the building I was locked up in.. The windows rattled, the whole building shook as if it was about to fall - the train always at full speed, it seemed.
I wondered if our artwork and words of wisdom still adorned these ancient walls. It didn't take me long to find it all mixed up with the hundreds of other drunken words of genius. I suddenly became overcome with a overwhelming sadness when my minds eye looked again at that young and naïve girl, feeling wise and invincible, scribbling nonsense on that jail wall.
At that long ago time I had thought myself incapable of having children and later in '74 when I became pregnant I felt so unworthy of that precious baby. He deserved so much better than me for a mother. "Why," I wondered, "is my motherhood the main thing on my mind at a time like this, more so than Terry's death? What's wrong with me?" "I just don't know" was all I could come up with.
Bringing myself back to the jailhouse cell, I had to push hard on the window frame to open it enough to get some fresh, cool air in my lungs. It was then when the incoming air made my face feel cool and damp that I realized I was crying. I curled up on the bunk nearest the window then and tried to bury myself in Terry's big clothes, pushing my face into the curve of my elbow. I closed my eyes and drifted back, far back into the past: back to things said that could never be forgotten, actions that could hardly be believed, incredible magic in love, incredible horrors. Back......Back....
Libby Lee Gentry Sewell Lawler 18 Feb 11