Some 194 crosses were on the front lawn of the Leawood Baptist Church on Dec. 21. The crosses represented the people who had died in 2016 in the Kansas City area because of domestic violence. The church was hosting this event for friends and family of those individuals who had been murdered. I was there for very personal reasons.
It might have been the second inning when my phone rang on Tuesday, Oct. 25. I was watching the first game of the World Series. My ex-stepdaughter, Kristen, asked me if I was sitting down.
“Mom is dead. Patrick killed her then shot himself at the house.”
“Dead?” But I had talked to my best friend and former wife on the phone that morning. Nicki Alexopoulos was at the bank, she told me, closing another account, one of several that her son, Patrick, had embezzled money from and that she’d learned about only a few hours before.
I had said I would come over to the house on Wednesday.
“Alice was shot three or four times,” said Kristen. “She’s in critical condition in the hospital.”
Alice, a close friend, had come up that afternoon from Anderson, Mo., to spend some time with Nicki.
“I don’t know about Turbo,” was the last thing Kristen said. Turbo, Nicki’s small Pomeranian, was adored by both of us.
Numerous television crime shows depict it, but it’s different when it is personal and real. The police investigate the crime scene, gather the information, take away the dead and then depart.
What is left are the pools of blood, the brain matter, the bullet holes in the floor and wall, and the white chalk marks in the house and leading out to the front steps ... and of course, the memories. Your responsibility is to call the “cleaners.”
Their business appears to be doing well.
Of course there’s more to this story; there usually is, but suffice it to say that the tension had been building over the previous four weeks. Door locks had been changed, bank statements gathered, police reports filed and death threats made.
Nicki had recently had knee-replacement surgery. Kristen and I had taken care of her while she was recuperating.
Only four or five days before her murder, Kristen and I learned about the real fear and intimidation Nicki had been dealing with. She had not wanted to worry us.
Is there a larger story to all of this? Of course there is. Domestic violence is all too real in America, whether one lives in a big city or in rural America. Nicki suffered serious abuse in her first marriage, and her son, Patrick, was also physically abused as a young child.
The carnage in Kansas City alone is appalling and devastating to many of our communities.
Even if you have the financial resources, it is often difficult to obtain timely mental health care.
If you are poor, uneducated or live in certain parts of the country, it is virtually impossible to get needed help.
If we Americans persist in our childlike fairy tales about pulling ourselves up by our “bootstraps” or going it alone like some 19th-century character out of a dime store novel, or continue to tolerate the cheap hustle of “trickle-down economics,” it will certainly not get any better in America.
I am not optimistic.
Nicki Alexopoulos was my best friend, and I will always love her. She left so much lasting good behind. Turbo, who now lives with me, reminds me of her every day.
Walter Winch is a writer of fiction and nonfiction and trains medical and nursing students. He lives in Kansas City.