A few weeks after her mother was gone, Kristen Oehlert knew it was time to look for the writings.
She knew that her mother, Nicki Alexopoulos, had started to put on paper her experiences with domestic violence in order to help other survivors. Oehlert was a young girl living in Boonville, Mo., when her mother took her and her brother away from the abusive home they shared with her father. Later, Alexopoulos got a divorce and raised her children as a single mom.
“Her writings kind of began as a way for her to let down her walls,” Oehlert said. “She felt prepared. It felt like a weight lifted off of her when she started telling her story.”
The words Alexopoulos left behind are all the more heartbreaking because of how she died. In October, Alexopoulos’ son and Oehlert’s brother shot and killed Alexopoulos, 64, at her Brookside home after confronting her about an allegation that he had embezzled money from her.
The man also shot and severely wounded family friend Alice Snodgrass, who was visiting Alexopoulos that day. Then he fatally shot himself.
In 2013, Alexopoulos told her daughter she planned to write and speak about her experiences with domestic violence.
After Alexopoulos’ death, Oehlert returned to her mother’s home and found her journals. Handwritten notes on memories her mother wanted to get on paper. Memories of being scared. Memories of how she overcame fear and found the courage to leave a terrible situation.
Oehlert rereads them often, and continues to find manuscripts.
She also visits Snodgrass frequently, and in addition to raising money for her mother’s funeral expenses and the monthly house payments she needs to pay, she wants to raise funds to help with medical expenses for Snodgrass. She has created a GoFundMe page for those who want to support this cause.
Oehlert shared an excerpt of Alexopoulos’ writings, a window into the thoughts and experiences of an educator who was beloved by many in the mid-Missouri and Kansas City community.
“Survivors must also bear witness so people never forget,” Alexopoulos wrote. She references Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel’s award-winning book “Night.”
“I learned this from a famous writer who survived the Holocaust. We tell our stories of violence against humanity not because we want people to feel bad or pat ourselves on the back. We tell our stories because, if we do not, the world might forget that this type of violence ever occurred. We do not want it repeated. If people know how bad it really was, perhaps they will just be in touch with wanting to help to prevent it to anyone they happen to know. My story is, of course, not as gruesome as what Elie Wiesel went through in concentration camps. But my story is a story of undeserved torture and survival.”
Those who knew Alexopoulos as a longtime Boonville High School English and creative writing teacher, and later as a Fort Osage High School teacher and Avila University adjunct professor, would never have caught on to the pain that she knew and was preparing to share.
It was as if she was made to teach, Oehlert said. Remember Robin Williams’ character in “Dead Poets Society” — the English teacher who energizes and inspires the students at an all-male prep school by inviting them to develop their own style and viewpoints?
That was “Ms. A,” a nickname that stuck because her students frequently could not pronounce her maiden name correctly. Some accidentally called her Miss Applesauce.
She taught difficult books and difficult lessons, Oehlert said, and loved to work with students who were already passionate about the literary world. But she was also excited by students she might immediately sense would be difficult and challenging, who weren’t into writing or didn’t like to read but ended up being transformed in her class.
She taught the classics. “Of Mice and Men.” “The Color Purple.” Oehlert thinks “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” was her favorite. Probably. It’s hard to know for sure when her mom loved all the books she got to teach.
She used big words, talked with her hands, laughed loud. And her energy was contagious.
“I was scared of Ms. A. She was sharp ... and wasn’t afraid to stand up to the snarkiest of bullies,” wrote former student Sarah Beahan in a blog post shared on the GoFund Me page. “She was, in a word, fierce. I was scared of her, but oh, I admired her, I wanted to be just like her. Her actions and her demeanor showed me how to take a stand.”
Snodgrass survived the five gunshots she sustained in her best friend’s front yard.
Years before, when Alexopoulos was escaping the domestic violence situation and leaving her home, Alexopoulos wrote Snodgrass into her will. If anything should happen to her, she wanted Snodgrass to take care of her children.
Instead, Snodgrass helped Alexopoulos and her children escape their situation. Oehlert has fond memories of going to Snodgrass’ house in the summers. Alexopoulos and Snodgrass remained extremely close.
Snodgrass remained in the hospital until right before Thanksgiving. She has various followup appointments and a few more surgeries before the spring. But she is expected to make a full recovery.
Oehlert is determined to find all of her mother’s writings and compile them into the book Alexopoulos hoped to one day publish.
She also wants to send a message to those experiencing domestic violence, but aren’t sure whom to turn to.
Don’t be ashamed, Oehlert says. Don’t feel like it’s your fault. Tell your story, it allows for a bit of understanding during the roughest time. And don’t feel like accepting help or asking for it makes you weak.
“She told me she was going to start going through her story with friends and family,” Oehlert said about her mother. “If she could share her story, maybe it would give hope to another person ... the hope that you can get out.”