Cheri and Gene split up and Cheri, with Carrie almost 18-months-old, moved in with us. I did like Cheri and never stopped wanting to help her, but we walked a fine line with each other. As long as I smiled and gave her everything she expected, we were fine. We spent time together watching TV and teasing Wilson. But again, I was the one that had to do the bending in order for us to get along. If I asked anything of her or refused her requests, I messed things up.
One afternoon after she had been with us about three weeks, Cheri went out with Misty and didn't come back. This took us by surprise. Although we had had our hard times with Cheri, we never expected her to walk away from Carrie.
Now Carrie was my responsibility. A few months earlier, Carrie had been diagnosed with anemia and a yeast infection. Cheri had gotten the medicine but had never really used it. Now with her gone, I wrestled with Carrie twice a day to get her to swallow the bitter liquid iron and grappled to get rid of her yeast infection. The infection had been going on for so long that the normal salve wasn't effective. I took Carrie to the doctor, who gave some stronger medicine, but even that didn't work. Something was still there. I took Carrie again to the doctor.
"The yeast infection is gone; this is something else. I'm going to have to call child protection. This problem is sexually transmitted."
Child protection was called and a report was made. The doctor assured us that the incubation period was such that he did not suspect our home to be the source of the abuse. However, we were told Carrie should not visit her father's house.
Two weeks later, Cheri came back. Sitting on the couch and taking Carrie onto her lap, she asked "Carrie, do you love me? Did you miss me?"
I was surprised her first words to her daughter after three weeks absence were self-centered, but those words gave real insight into some of the problems. When told about her daughter's diagnosis, she said she didn't know how or when Carrie would have been abused. But she seemed willing to believe it might have been someone in Gene's family. The doctor's statement gave her opportunity to be in control and keep Carrie from them.
Not that she was hung up on having Carrie, herself, though. Cheri left again without warning the next day.
I could have spent time chasing Cheri down, but I wasn't keen on having her back in the house, and it was kind of fun to have a daughter. I picked up pretty dresses for her at the Crisis Nursery, fixed her hair, and took her to the college day care along with Andrew. At night, sitting in the rocking chair with her kneeling on my lap clinging to my neck, it would take only a few minutes to put her to sleep.
That same month Annie was in the hospital, just having given birth to little Shaine. I had worried about this pregnancy. She'd been drinking the whole time.
Bringing a gift to her room, we visited for a little while. Shaine looked good. I was relieved. Annie also looked good. Her long, silky, black hair, washed and brushed, literally shown. Two days of being cared for, sleeping in a comfortable bed and eating three meals a day had been good for her. Or maybe it was the little boy. She held him closely in her arms and spoke softly to him. I hoped that maybe she would leave the hospital determined to stay straight for him - and herself too.
January 11, 1987 was the afternoon of a big football game. Mathew and Wilson watched it together in our living room. Annie called a couple of times that day asking Wilson to come over and talk with Lila.
"She’s sick," Annie told him, "she's coughing up blood and won't go to the hospital. She wants to talk to you."
Wilson was reluctant. He had been over there several times this week already. All they wanted, Wilson figured, was to ask him to run to the liquor store again.
Lila had some money and a group had hung out with her all week helping drink it up. Lila hadn't moved from the couch the whole time. Wilson said the apartment stunk from the smell of alcohol, urine, and "some other strange smell." He really didn't want to go back there.
Nevertheless, he told them he’d come, then settled back down to finish watching the game. While he and Mathew watched the game, I opened one of my nursing books and tried to look up the symptoms that had been described.
After the game, I went with Mathew and Wilson. I usually didn't go with him anymore, but I was worried about Lila. We pulled into the alley behind the brownstone building, the same building Julia had died in four months earlier, and parked. There was an ambulance parked near the back door. Wilson got out and moved quickly toward the steps. I was slower; I had to help Andrew out of the car. As Wilson began to go in, two men carrying a stretcher came out. Wilson stepped aside to let them pass, glancing only a moment at the body with its sheet covered face, then started up the stairs. I also looked. The belly of the person was huge, as if it were a pregnant woman. The way my mom's belly had looked when it was filled with fluid just before she died. I hesitated, then turned to the two men now loading the corpse into the ambulance.
"Is that Lila Hunter?" I asked them.
"Yes," one responded.
I called up the stairs, "Wilson! Come back! It's Lila!"
He turned and looked down at me, "No it's not."