It came. The day I had dreaded for almost two years—my turn to take the stand. I don’t remember how I got there that day. Besides Rob, I don’t remember who was sitting in the courtroom watching me. All I remember was gasping for air. When they called my name I had to physically peel myself off my bench and force my body to walk up there. Each step literally felt like I was carrying a thousand pound weight—the weight of my reality. Once those words left my mouth . . . the stories I told were real. All those months pretending like it didn’t happen—over.
As soon as I found my seat—after holding my hand to the square and promising to tell the whole truth and nothing but it—I was asked to turn around and identify who was in the picture being projected behind me.
The first thought that went through my mind was that this was a trap—they had blown up a picture of Emmett’s body lying on the cold ground, and wanted to show the jury how that image affected me. The fight or flight mechanism began to send off sirens in my mind.
I swallowed the lump in my throat and felt brave as I glanced toward the picture. And there it was—as tall as the ceiling—one of my favorite pictures ever taken of Emmett and me. Almost in a sigh of relief that it was a picture of his smile—and not his blood—my heart started pounding. My mind slammed me back to the very second that picture had been taken. Emmett had passed the bar. I was barely pregnant with Tytus. Life as I knew it was close to perfect. We were getting ready to go on a date with his mom and step dad in celebration of his success as a new attorney.
I remember thinking as I kissed my kids goodbye and drove to the restaurant that night—This is all I ever wanted.
Tears began to fall as I slammed my mind back into reality—the one where I was sitting on the stand—not as Emmett’s wife—as a victim in a murder trial. I could not hold it together. I don’t remember what they asked me as I tried to get a hold of my emotions. I do remember with each question asked I fought more and more to even find my voice.
The lump only grew larger as the questions rolled on. Like a robot I answered every one— but inside I was beginning another series of grieving the life that had been taken from me. I wanted to scream it from every corner of that courtroom. I wanted to yell and share my pain with anyone who could hear my voice. I wanted to tell Rob everything his gun had done to me. I wanted to let my hurt show.
But all I was asked were facts—where and when, times and places. The only real emotion that was involved was the ones I was being forced to hide. Rob didn’t look up. Nobody asked how it felt—and in my mind I was sure nobody even cared.
When my time on the stand was over I felt like a puppy that had just gotten beaten up. All the stories of our pain were on the verge of seeping through my skin. Somehow I had built up the day in my mind—when I would take that stand—as a day of ultimate healing. I had envisioned telling the courtroom everything I had ever felt, and in my vision they all cried with me—they all felt for me.
Like a deflated balloon I took my seat. Months of rehearsing silently—felt like a wasted life.
By the time I reached my car that afternoon my deflation had turned into fierce anger. The minute my door slammed my heart gaped open and my empty car heard all the emotions that had not had a voice that day.
It started out as a gentle plea I sang to myself. Quietly I began to speak under my breath, “Nobody cares about you Ashlee. They don’t care that you have spent almost two years as a broken shell of yourself. They don’t care that every time you go to cook a meal for your family you can hardly breath thinking of the past. Nobody cares that you have spent countless hours wiping tears in the night and praying on floors that bad guys won’t come in with a gun. Rob didn’t care about you when he put that gun in his pocket. Kandi didn’t think of you as she was held in his arms. Nobody gives a shit that you thought you were living your dreams.”
By this time I was pulling out of the courthouse parking lot and onto the open roads. The angry under my breath voice gave way to shouts of pain. I screamed at the top of my lungs. Some of the screams were at the gun. Some were at the man. A few even sent Kandi’s way, but most of my anger was at the man in the picture who had abandoned me that night. I spoke louder than I ever had before to a man who wasn’t there. “Emmett . . . that was all I ever wanted. That girl in that picture—she adored you. She had set goals in her life, and she had watched them fall before her feet . . . and she deserved them . . . because she fought every day to make the right choices. She spent her entire life protecting herself so she could be worthy of such blessings. She went to college so she could be smart enough to teach her family. She woke up every morning to be the best gosh damn mother and wife—and she had everything she ever wanted. WHY WASN’T THAT ENOUGH FOR YOU? WHY? She spent her life living to make you happy. She would have gone to the ends of the earth to make you smile. Why weren’t you home fighting for HER? Why wasn’t she the one worth dying for? All I ever wanted was to be normal, to have a normal life. I gave you everything. That girl in that picture thought she had it all. She truly believed that anyone cared. But truth is . . . nobody does. Rob didn’t care about me as he planned your fate. Kandi didn’t give a hell who I was as she pranced around in your arms . . . and YOU . . . If I was enough for you, you wouldn’t have left me that night. You wouldn’t have shared something special with HER, but even more than that . . . you wouldn’t have made me believe I had all I ever wanted. All I ever wanted was you, and our family . . . and to be enough for you. The only dream I had was to be all you ever wanted . . . to be the girl worth dying for.”
I haven’t had many grand dreams in my life. I never thought I would run for mayor, or be the first woman president. I never wanted to invent something, or fly to the moon. Honestly, I never set many goals outside of my home, because I had everything I had ever wanted right in my arms. I never hoped to have a huge career or even work at all. My dream was to be an amazing wife. I always hoped to be an incredible mother—I never wanted to miss a second.
It was hard to embrace the blatant belief that was now mine . . . I was not enough. I truly believed that day that I had lost the only goals I had worked my life to achieve. If I wasn’t even enough for the man I had given my life to—I had failed at everything.
I wasn’t enough for Rob. He knew my name, even wrote me a letter. I wasn’t enough for Kandi—she had sent me presents and cards when Tytus was born, she had shook my hand and said my name. I wasn’t even enough for Emmett. He didn’t die proving to the world how amazing his wife was. He didn’t even die fighting for me. He was shot fighting for someone else.
There hadn’t yet been a day in my life—and there hasn’t been any since—when that lie was drilled any harder into my mind. In that drive home from the courthouse I was consumed with what appeared to be my inadequacy of being—every dream I had ever lost, the evidence of my apparent fail. In an all time low I could not see one ounce of the worth of my soul. I could barely see the worth of my existence. I looked upon my past as if the lies that had broken me defined who I would become.
As I pulled off my exit I knew I had to pull it together. The dark fog had grown so thick around me I could barely spark the desire, but I knew I had to snap out of the fears that were driving me home. I uttered a tender prayer. As I spoke, I burst into tears, this time with the real emotions that had driven my anger. I whispered, “Dear Heavenly Father . . . I feel so alone. I . . . I . . . wasn’t enough. Nobody cares what I went through. Nobody knows how I feel. I am alone . . . I can’t feel anything through this pain. I am suffocating. I am . . . I can’t, I can’t breath . . . and nobody cares. I wasn’t enough for him . . . I am not enough for them. I wasn’t enough for anyone. All I ever wanted was for him to adore me. I just wanted to . . . I had it, I had all I ever wanted . . . why wasn’t I enough for him? Why wasn’t my plan enough for YOU?”
I continued to drive, but for once in silence. My car pulled into the driveway and I turned off the ignition and shut the door behind me. I sat quietly in the empty garage. I sighed a few times, hoping to catch my breath. My head fell onto my chair. I pushed the seat back until I could no longer see out the window. The garage light shut off and soon I found myself in the darkness.
Hot tears streamed down onto my neck. Everything inside me hurt. The overwhelming feeling of inadequacy steamed out of each tear that trailed down my face.
I uttered one last plea, “Why wasn’t I enough for You . . . ?”
The most overwhelming feeling of love and peace flooded into my pitch-black car. In my mind a few words echoed inside of me, “Ashlee . . . maybe you were not enough for any of them . . . but you are enough for ME. I have not left you alone, and I will stand by you forever.”
Life is going to be filled with thousands of moments, and most of them we will have to do a lot of standing on our own . . . but we are never alone.
Maybe we aren’t enough for anyone else, and maybe we have lost all we ever wanted—but that doesn’t take away our worth. We were created to be strong—but even when we aren’t—we are enough for Him. My tears have burned many streams down my face, a gun shattered many holes in my family. I did not know how to see myself when so many others had helped me prove the fear of not being enough to seem so true. But that day even when reality reminded me I wasn’t the one worth dying for—I was blessed to remember someone already had.
All we ever want in this life is to be loved for who we are. Maybe nobody will ever tell you any of the reasons you are worth living for; maybe nobody will ever die fighting for you . . . but Jesus Christ did. He is the reason we are enough—because for all the days we find ourselves standing alone . . . we will look back and see He was with us all along. If all we ever wanted was for someone to believe we are worth dying for, truth is . . . He did.