The detectives investigating Emmett’s murder had put items from his office they no longer needed into a giant plastic box. I put the box in my garage, afraid to throw anything away . . . I just knew that something in that box had to be evidence. Sometimes I would go out there in the middle of the night looking for clues . . . looking for something they had missed. I would rummage through all the paperwork, reading every bank statement, every chicken scratch on every sticky note. When I found receipts for purchases at the mall or restaurant bills, I created stories in my mind about what might have happened on that particular day. To me, everything had to be a clue, a clue to what? That was the only problem. Something was wrong, I couldn’t wait around for the trial for answers. I had to dig deeper for myself. I spent hours out there pretending that it was my job to find answers for the detectives . . . to do their job for them. I guess realistically, I knew I wouldn’t find what they needed, but I still searched for something . . . that I needed. Maybe by chance, I would find the missing family portrait. Maybe I would find a hidden letter he had written to me telling me how much he loved me. I hoped to find correspondence between the two of them . . . maybe Emmett telling her he wanted out because he already had a wife whom he loved. I don’t really know for sure what I was searching for—because I never did find it—but I sure knew how to waste a lot of time trying.
One of those weak moments came in the middle of the day . . . an urge that something was wrong pushing me to go and search through the box for clues. The little ones were napping. It must have been a Saturday because everyone was home. I took the three older kids out into the garage and told them they could play, but that I had some ‘work’ to do. As I searched my box, they began to wander out of the garage over to where some neighbor kids were playing. I was actually proud of them for leaving my side, and I enjoyed searching for my ‘prize’—all alone—in that box full of emptiness. This time, I was convinced I would find the missing piece to the case.
Soon, I found a file with some bank statements I hadn’t seen before. I began to scan through the dates and places where our credit cards had been used, trying to picture where I had been on the days in question. I turned the page over to skim through the other side. February 14th . . . Valentine’s Day. Victoria’s Secret. A hotel. A fancy restaurant. My heart dropped. We hadn’t spent any time together that day. No, on that Valentine’s Day—just a few months earlier—I had been at home with the kids . . . waiting for my husband. I remember having wondered that day why Emmett’s work was more important to him than me. Valentine’s Day was not that big of a deal to me . . . but oh how I had hoped to see him walk in the door with some flowers and kisses to let me know that he loved me. He hadn’t . . . and at the time, I had soothed my loneliness by helping the twins make elaborate Valentine’s boxes for their cards. We had spent the holiday without him, but apparently, all those things he should have done for his wife, he had spent the time doing . . . for her. My blood was boiling. How could he have done that to me . . . when I was at home taking care of our babies, with Tytus less than a month old? I read through the purchases he made that day—over and over. Each time I glanced back at the date, my heart thumped out of my chest, as if that day were happening all over again, right then.
All of the sudden, I heard Bostyn screaming. It sounded like she had been hurt. I dropped the file back into the box and ran towards the sound of the cries, but she came running to me first. She grabbed my hand and pulled me back into the garage. “Something is wrong,” she cried. “Why are guns real? Why, Mom? Why is this world so bad? … Why do we have to do this? I hate that we have to live here. Why are guns real . . . why does this world not care about anyone? Nobody cares . . . why are guns even real! SOMETHING IS WRONG!”
She had no idea about what I had just read in her father’s files and how badly, at that same moment, I hated the world as well. I stumbled for the words to say to her. “Bostyn, I . . . don’t . . . what happened?” She threw her hands over her face and started screaming. “Those kids out there are playing with guns and one of them shot the other one. Why did Heavenly Father make guns at all? Why can’t everyone just go away? They don’t understand that guns will ruin them. They think this is fun. I wish we could just never do this . . . I never want to play ever again . . . something is wrong.”
I wasn’t sure how to comfort my daughter. Nothing was really wrong, it was just a couple of kids playing with some toys. I looked out to the street where innocent children were laughing and chasing each other. I glanced over at my box . . . it was just a box full of garbage and some law books. If I told her that “nothing was wrong” it would be hypocritical. After all, just look at me, with my box full of crap . . . pretending I was finding answers to what was wrong . . . in that moment. No matter what I found in that box, nothing was going to change for me. No matter how many times I poured through the information in that box . . . I was still going to be right where I was. Nothing NEW was wrong. But it felt like it. Just like my little girl sitting there blaming her tears on the events of that day, I too was taking the horrible events of the past and transforming them into brand new horrible events in the present.
A few days before Emmett died, I sat in a counselor’s office for the first time, pouring out my heart to him . . . begging him to fix me. “I just have trust issues,” I told him. “I just need you to fix me. I just need to believe in things and not question them. I am here so you can fix all the issues from my past . . . and help me stop feeling so scared all the time. So if you can just let me know what I need to do to fix myself, I will do anything. I have a husband whom I love more than anything! He insists that everything is great. WE are great . . . and so if you can just tell me how to trust . . . I will do whatever you think I need to do. This is how I can save my family . . . I have to let go of my trust issues from the past!” The counselor sat and mostly listened to me that day. He listened to all the fears I had been bottling up inside myself. I told him of the loneliness I had been feeling. I felt as if I had been pushed away by my husband. I told him I was worried that Emmett didn’t love me or the children anymore, and that something felt wrong. He sat there, quietly. I could tell he was listening with his heart. Finally, at the end of my begging him to fix my trust issues he said, “Ashlee . . . you know those feelings that come from way deep down . . . those times when you feel like something is very wrong . . . ” I cut him off. “Yeah, those . . . those are the feelings I need you to FIX,” I said. “Ashlee,” he continued, “those . . . those feelings are there for a reason. Maybe you were hurt in your past, maybe you are afraid to be hurt now . . . but those deep feelings inside of you . . . are there to keep you safe. In marriage, and in any relationship, you have to work through those feelings together. It is the job if each partner in a marriage to really take a step back and look at how to support each other through those fears . . . as irrational as they may seem! Every single person on this earth has insecurities and fears. Sometimes they are because of our past, but other times, they are there for an immediate reason. So each person in a relationship has the role of helping the other person find safety, through trust, love and respect. The things you are telling me today . . . I really believe you are right. It sounds to me like those feelings are there for a reason.”
That answer gave me hope that I wasn’t totally crazy, but it also left me stirring in my fear. If those feelings were there for a reason . . . then maybe something really was wrong, and how could I find answers to that? I had begged for help—from him and from others—but no one seemed to know how to quiet my fears.
A few weeks before Emmett was killed, my friend Emily stopped by to spend the day with me. It was one of those days when sheer panic had stopped me in my tracks. She finally asked me what was wrong, and it was as if she had turned on a faucet! I told her about all that was going on. I opened up to her—for the very first time— about how frightened I was that I was losing my husband. I told her about all the clues that led me to believe that something was seriously wrong. She said, “Well, let’s go follow him. Let’s go find out what’s going on.” At the time, a part of me had thought about doing that very thing . . . like removing a band aid . . . just rip out the truth and find out for myself, and quit waiting around for him to tell me. I knew that following him might lead to answers that could be very hard to accept. It was like my heart longed for some reassurance that I wasn’t crazy, but my mind knew that ‘curing my crazies’ might mean facing some very harsh realities. Maybe Emily and I should have followed him, and found out right then what was going on, but I was afraid to see it . . . I was afraid to feel it. I was afraid that if I did find out what was really wrong, our blaming it all on my ‘trust issues’ wouldn’t hold us together any longer. So I just sat there and did nothing . . . allowing the “something is wrong feeling” to just fester inside of me.
I remember the first time in my life when I got that “something is wrong” feeling. I was in third grade and my best friend lived just a few blocks away. We had permission that day to walk over to her house. As we approached her doorstep, I could hear crazy screaming and yelling inside. My friend looked so scared. She whipped her head around to me and said, “Hey . . . uh . . . my mom has probably been drinking. Wait here, and I’ll be right back.”
I waited outside, but I could hear everything. Her mother was screaming at everyone, and then I could tell she had started beating my friend. I could hear her begging her mother to stop . . . but she didn’t. She hit her a lot. I was nauseous as I listened . . . but I did nothing. I just sat down near the side of their house, literally scared out of my mind, crying my eyes out. Something was wrong . . . and there was nothing that I, a little seven-year-old girl, could do about it. Until then, I had not realized that the world could be mean. My only experiences up to that point in my life had been all about pretty things and kind words. That was the day I learned about fear. I learned that day that there will be moments when everything inside of you tells you “something is wrong!”
Later that same year, I was walking home from school with a friend. As we turned a corner, a little, white car pulled up along side of us. There were two older men in the car. The man in the passenger seat said, “Hey we need some help . . . we need you to get in our car and come help us find where our friend lives.” He grabbed onto my arm. Something was wrong! I could feel it. Everything inside of me told me to run. I screamed, “Run . . . RUN!” I ripped my hand out of his grip and my friend and I took off and ran around another corner. We hid behind a huge bush before the men had time to catch up to us. We stayed behind that bush for some time . . . silently breathing in deep breaths, watching the car drive past us, over and over again. That little, white car must have passed that bush about six times before the scary feeling finally left and I knew it was safe to head home. Later, as the police sat in my driveway and asked us questions about the car and men . . . I felt frozen in fear. I learned more bad things about the world—that it didn’t care, and that there were real-life bad guys!
Trust issues. Pain from the past. Fear. We all have them. We all need them to some degree . . . to keep us safe in situations when the spirit tells us to run. But then at other times, we all need our insecurities to be calmed and to go away so that we can continue on and live through our past pain. It is our job, in any relationship, to be loving, and to be respectful of the fears others might have. If someone you know and love comes to you with a concern, or tells you that something feels wrong . . . listen.
I had seen things go wrong in the world, I had felt the urgency to “get out” in an emergency. But with Emmett, I sat there for months silently suffering . . . not knowing how to let those subtle urges move me to action, blaming my fears from the past from allowing me to move forward. It wasn’t because my parents got divorced the summer after I had learned—outside my friend’s front door—that there was darkness in the world. It wasn’t because I had dated a bunch of jerks when I was younger. It was because my marriage was broken . . . and I didn’t even know it, until it was gone. And then, I had to find the answers to my insecurities all by myself. My husband wasn’t there to stroke my back and tell me that everything would be all right. He wasn’t there to hold my hand as I learned to trust again. Emmett was dead . . . and somewhere inside of me . . . I was still searching for answers . . . searching for clues, searching for signs in my garage. I was pretending that finding the answers now, would somehow make everything better.
I believe there is a gift given to each of us to help us discern right from wrong. It is the Gift of the Holy Ghost. Just as there is a force in this world that tries to bring us to darkness, there is also a power of light, and I have felt the power of the Holy Ghost lead me to that light. The Holy Ghost has been for me what a Disney movie describes as our ‘conscience.’ The Holy Ghost works as our constant guide: those silent whisperings in our hearts when something is not quite right. There are moments that stop us in our tracks, when something much greater than ourselves is trying to reach us. I believe these gentle urges come from the Holy Ghost.
When my twins were babies, I remember a day when I had just tucked them into their beds for a nap. I shut their door and began walking down the stairs. Halfway down the stairs, I got an overwhelming impression to go back up and check on them. At first I thought, “No . . . they are fine. I was just in there.” But something kept telling me to turn around and go back in their room to make sure they were okay. I opened the door and heard the weirdest sound coming from Bostyn’s crib. Somehow, she had rolled over and her blanket had wrapped around her head. She was gasping for air, but the blanket over her face was hindering her attempts to breathe. I quickly unwrapped her, and she took a giant breath.
I know I was prompted that day on those stairs. I hardly ever went back to check on the twins during their naps . . . because the door would squeak and wake them up. A power much greater than my own instincts had told me that something was wrong . . . and it was . . . and I did something about it.
Sometimes we are quietly searching alone in the darkness of our garages . . . for answers to our problems, trying to grasp onto anything to help our lives make sense. Wasting hours on nothing. I was so afraid not to know everything Emmett had done . . . but I was even more afraid of the answers I was searching for all by myself. On those days, I didn’t ask for professional help . . . and I certainly didn’t seek guidance from the Lord. Absorbed by complete self-pity . . . I did it all alone.
You don’t have to search alone. Ask for the Holy Ghost to be your companion as you search for what is wrong. He will guide you. And in those moments when you need to stop searching and just look within yourself . . . He will comfort you. He will send you the still, small voice to lead you to what is important. He knows you are searching alone . . . but if you search for Christ, instead, His voice will guide you to the light that only He can bring. Don’t spend your hours searching for clues in the dark. Use His love to light your path. Use His peace to still your soul. Allow His spirit to guide you in your search when you feel that something is wrong. And when you are confused about whether you are suffering because of past hurts, or whether there is something happening right now, His spirit will enlighten you . . . and give you peace.
Bostyn had those fears for a reason . . . but the reason wasn’t in that moment. It was from something that had happened in her past. I was looking for clues about past hurts in a box . . . not because it would change anything for me, but because my fears of the past still motivated me to seek peace. It hadn’t helped to have others tell me I was crazy, but if I had been able to find the love I was searching for, it would have changed me. If Emmett had been there for me in my moments of fear . . . a lot of things would have been different. Bostyn didn’t need me to tell her that she was crazy. It was my job as her mother to comfort her and help calm her fears. She didn’t need to hear how over-dramatic she was being. She needed to find peace in a moment when everything inside of her was telling her that “something was wrong”.
We all have insecurities. We all have fears that drive us to question . . . ourselves . . . our doubts . . . even the truth. It is easy in life to get mixed up about what is an unfounded doubt and what is a truth. Let the Holy Ghost guide you . . . and help you determine if those fears are there because something really is wrong, or because something was wrong in the past, and you haven’t been able to let it go.
What people in your life are begging for your patience and love as they work through their insecurities? How many times have you just told them to stop being so paranoid . . . to blindly trust? Maybe it isn’t a lack of trust in you, maybe those insecurities are there because they are failing to see how to let go of their past. How have they felt when you squelched their fear instead of acknowledging it through your trust and love? We have a responsibility to be there for those around us who are afraid. Yes, maybe their fears are not because of anything we did or didn’t do . . . maybe their feelings that something is wrong come from their lives before we knew them, or a part of their past of which we were not a part, but it doesn’t change the fact that the fears driving them . . . feel so real.
Before he died, Emmett had spent months telling me I was just hallucinating . . . that I was crazy. I remember a few times I would run out to his car as he was driving away for work. He would roll down his window to say goodbye. With tears in my eyes I would ask “Is everything okay . . . I feel scared, what is happening? … I need your help.” He would get frustrated with me and tell me to stop being so paranoid. As he would drive away, I would just stand there feeling completely empty inside. The fear in my heart felt more than just my past pains creeping in . . . something felt very wrong.
In my case, something had been wrong. … I wasn’t crazy! I remember when the detectives shut the front door that night after telling me about Emmett’s death, as I sat there with my sister Ali and her boyfriend, Will, my first reaction was to hit the couch and scream, “I told you I wasn’t crazy!” Screaming and punching . . . relieved that I wasn’t crazy . . . punching my hand into the cushion, letting that cushion know I had been right! I punched the couch for all the times I had opened up and no one could help me. I punched it for all the clues that had been leading me to the answers I had been seeking, but mainly, I abused that cushion for all the important people to whom I had pled for help who told me that I just needed to “get over it . . . because this is real life!” Something had been wrong, but nobody, not even me, had known what to do about it. I was humiliated that I found out the truth on the same night everyone else did. Yes, I was scared because Emmett was gone. … I was devastated that he had been murdered . . . and furious that he had been unfaithful to me . . . but my very first emotion was a sense of relief that I finally had an answer to my impression that “something was wrong!”
I will never understand how shock works. In my case, it was as if it shut off my ability to choose which emotions came over me. The first emotion that came for me—as crazy as it sounds—was relief . . . relief that all my feelings that something was wrong . . . were real. I wasn’t crazy. That feeling of relief . . . it scared the hell out of me. I felt like a horrible person. Out of all the emotions I should have been feeling in that moment . . . I was relieved that those impressions that had been churning inside me and eating me alive . . . had been there for a reason. My heart had been right. I wasn’t feeling those things because I was broken from my past. The counselor had been correct . . . but unfortunately, now it was too late. My sense of relief was brief . . . but when it hit, it felt so good to know my instincts had been right. It wasn’t just because I had trust issues . . . it was because the Holy Ghost had been whispering to me and impressing upon my mind that something was wrong.
Understand that your spouse needs to feel that he or she is the most important person to you. Cherish that relationship. If you have any other relationships—a co worker, an old high school friend, another parent in your kid’s class—that make your spouse feel uncomfortable, no matter how irrational it may seem to you, PLEASE put your spouse first, the person who matters most in your life. Don’t fight over relationships that aren’t worth fighting for. Comfort the fears of those people who truly matter in your life. Eventually, after they see that they come first no matter what, their fears will be calmed . . . but work together until they do. It is not your job to bring others happiness. That is a choice they have to make for themselves . . . but sometimes their fears . . . might actually protect you from unbearable heartache . . . if you will just listen. Emmett thought I was just being insecure when I shared with him the feelings I had the minute I heard Kandi’s name. But my fears were right. Em and I were a team . . . but in that moment . . . he ignored my fears, and placed his desires above our partnership . . . and eventually, our team was shattered.
There will be moments when a feeling will come into your mind . . . telling you that something isn’t right. Yes, sometimes it is something we need to let go of from the past . . . but when it is deep down . . . insisting that something is really wrong . . . don’t let it go. It may be there for a reason. It may be there trying to lead you. It may be there for you to open up a lie that is hiding. Don’t wait until all you have left are the clues in a dark garage in a box full of dead ends. Whatever that moment is for you . . . ask for love as you find answers. Seek for guidance until you find peace. Don’t wait until it is too late, and as in my case, have the answers come to you at the same moment they are told to the rest of the world. Follow the still small voice. It is a voice of warning. It is a voice of comfort. It is a voice of guidance in all the roads you travel. And its power can be a voice of truth to you in the moments when something is wrong.