Note: This is a four part series that was published on Republic of T over multiple days. Today they'll all run on Bilerico as a complete series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.
Author Elizabeth Stone, in an often quoted observation, once noted that "Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body." In the nine years since we became parents, I've found that to be true. When my kids are apart from me, or I'm apart from them, there is a part of me that doesn't truly relax again see or hear from them again. It's a tension, a tugging at the heart that you learn to live with as a parent, because sooner or later your children have to venture away from the safety of your gaze and your embrace.
It starts when they learn to crawl, and then walk. They venture a bit further out each time, looking back of reassurance. Before long, they're off to school, and eventually even stop looking back. Of course, that doesn't stop you looking after then until you can't anymore. I'm not sure if or when it ends. Our oldest is still in grade school. But I suspect it lasts into their adulthood. (My own mom, some forty-odd years after my birth, still worries if she doesn't hear from me for what she thinks is too long, and gently reminds me to call more often.) If nothing else, you need to know where they are and that they're OK.
That tugging at the heart becomes a vice-like grip when we don't know where our children are, or whether they're OK. Most of us have felt it, though -- if we're lucky -- during those brief moments when your child disappears from your field of vision on the playground, or disappears down an aisle in the grocery store. They reappear, and eventually you can breathe again.
But sometimes, like Trayvon Martin, they don't come home.
It sounds like every parent's worst nightmare. Your child walks out the door, intending to be gone for just a short time, and never comes back. Worse yet, there's no phone call or other contact from them. Trayvon's family probably felt the same mounting panic as hours passed without his return, and then morning came without his return or any word from him. Calls to the Missing Persons Unit yielded nothing. But a call to 911 brought the police to their door, with a picture of their son -- the kind of picture no parent should ever have to see -- and the news that their son had been shot and killed just 70 feet from their front door.
It's not hard to imagine the questions that must have flooded their minds. He was on his way home? He was almost home? He was shot? He was murdered? What happened?
What happened? It's the last question left to be answered. You know where your child is now. He's in the morgue. You know now your child is now. He's dead. Knowing what happened will never release the vice grip on your heart. But it may loosen it enough for you to breath again.
The Story The Police Accepted
So, what happened to Trayvon Martin? When police arrived on the scene, they accepted at face value George Zimmerman's story that he shot Trayvon in self defense, sent him home, zipped Trayvon into a body bag, and collected his Skittles, ice tea and cell phone before presumably calling it day. According to Zimmerman's story, he spotted "suspicious person" "just walking around the area" "looking at houses." Zimmerman called 911 to report this "suspicious person." Zimmerman followed the suspicious person in his vehicle. Then this "suspicious" black male, in "like a grey hoodie" looked at Zimmerman.
At some point, despite the 911 dispatcher's advice that he stay put and wait for police officers to arrive, Zimmerman got out of his vehicle and followed the young man on foot. According to Zimmerman, the young man turned and confronted him, asking "What's your problem?" Then, in Zimmerman's version, the young man attacked him from behind, as he turned to go back to his vehicle. A scuffle ensued. Fearing for his life, Zimmerman drew his 9mm semi-authomatic handgun and shot the young man, killing him. He then put the gun on the ground, and waited for the police to arrive.
Closer to the Truth?
It's said that there are at least three sides to any story: yours, mine, and the muthafuckin' truth. In the case of what happened to Trayvon Martin, there's Zimmerman's side of the story, which police accepted on the night of February 26, when Travon was murdered. Then there's Trayvon's side of the story, which he can no longer tell. But the accounts of various witnesses tell a different story of what happened that night; one that doesn't jibe with Zimmerman's story, which the police accepted at face value that night. It's as close to Trayvon's side of the story as we're likely to hear, and probably close to the truth of what happened.