I find myself most comfortable breaking down in my car with music blasting. Music always reminds me of my girl. While in my car, I am alone. There is no judgement, no expectation. I can just be me. However, I wonder what the people next to me at the stop light think as I sob in my hands. I often wonder what people think of me when I walk into a room? Do they know? Can they feel the heaviness in my heart? Can they see it on my face?
I remember coming to my father a few days after Aria had passed. My dad has few words, yet, he is sharp as a tact. He knows exactly what he means when he says it. He just has a hard time getting it out. He looked at me and said ” Fathers ( then put one hand down to the ground) and then said children ( and put his hand high over his head).” With only two words and a few hand gestures, it was clear what he was saying. Losing a child is far worse than any other type of loss.
Today, I am going to write about two people in my life who have lost their daughters. Two totally different situations, yet, both very important people in my life. Both fighting for advocacy and awareness to avoid others passing the way their daughter’s did, just like me. I received permission from both to write about their beautiful girls and their legacy. Both of them have been extremely helpful, loving, and kind to me. It’s an unspoken understanding that we all belong to “A club no one wants to belong to.” Yet, for someone reason, we have been called to do so.
Aria was born March 21st, 2005. At that time, I was living with my mother and Gary in Edina, on Oak Drive, off of Wooddale. It made the most sense, me, being a 20 year old single mother with no clear direction of my future. I didn’t know it then, but the Taylor Family lived across the street and 4 houses down. It wasn’t until two years later that their family would face my biggest fear.
We only lived in Edina until Aria was about a year old. Then we moved to a condominium in Northeast, Mpls. Between the year of Aria being born and the move to the condo, my parents joined the Minneapolis Golf Club. Gary loves to golf and a lot of his friends were members. It was a score for us too because Aria could take swimming lessons.
Around the middle of June in 2007, my mom took Aria to Minneapolis golf club to go swimming. I was not there. My mom remembers vividly that Aria walked into the wading pool and came out immediately saying ” Nonnie it’s spicy, it’s spicy.” My mom assumed that meant there was too much chlorine in the pool. My mom said she told the lifeguard and they left immediately after showering off.
On June 29th, 2007, 6 year old Abigail Taylor, our old neighbor, suffered a devastating injury by being disemboweled by a faulty drain from the same “spicy” pool that Aria swam in weeks prior. She initially survived but, after months of complications from her injuries she passed away on March 20th, 2008.
I had never met her parents, I had only heard about them. I couldn’t imagine their grief, my heart was broken for them. I remember the first time I saw Scott Taylor, Abbey’s father. It was about 2 years after Abbey had passed. He was at Bunny’s and I could feel him from across the room. I could see it on his face. I could feel the heaviness I spoke about in the first paragraph. Why I knew, I don’t know? Its not an attitude, its just something we carry. I became fast friends with Scott after that, about 8 years prior to Aria’s death. I don’t know why we immediately became buds. But, I’m starting to believe he was put in my life for a reason deeper than my comprehension. I am so grateful for the love and guidance from The Taylor’s after I lost my Bug. Scott was the first person I met with after Bug passed. I wanted to talk to him about how to turn my tragedy into advocacy and change.
After Abbey passed, the Taylors started the Abbey’s Hope Foundation. Their initiative has created so much legislative change in pool safety throughout the country. Even if I tried, I couldn’t summarize all the work they have done. I encourage ALL parents to check out the Abbey’s Hope Foundation to make sure you are taking FULL swimming safety precautions. Thank you Scott and Katey for making sure the pools our children swim in are safer in honor of your beautiful baby girl.
In 2013, the news in Minnesota was flooded with the horror of 3 missing local women, Danielle Jelinek, Kira Trevino, and Mandy Matula. They were all missing around the same time, however, authorities were fairly certain that the disappearances were not related. For some reason, I found myself being fully invested in the Mandy Matula case.
She was last seen at her home on May 1st, 2013 before leaving with her ex, David Roe. Mandy was reported missing the next morning when she failed to show up to work. Police believed her ex-boyfriend was a person of interest, so he was asked to be questioned at the Eden Prairie police station the next day. According to the family via media report, Mandy and her ex were on “good-terms.” On May 2nd, Roe left a “farewell note” and took his own life in the parking lot of the Eden Prairie police station.
From the outside looking in, this was devastating news. Yet, there was no confession or admittance of guilt of where Mandy may be. Only cell phone records from Roe’s phone. I’m pretty sure Mandy left her cell and purse at home before getting into Roe’s car (don’t quote me).
The family was hopeful, yet realistic about the outcome of Mandy still being alive. The reason I was so invested in this story was the Matula family never said a bad word about David Roe. They stated he was an upstanding gentleman who cared very deeply about Mandy. They never could imagine he would be capable of hurting her. That floored me and completely changed my views on what domestic violence looks like. Was he that manipulative that he could fool Mandy’s mom, dad, and brother? Or is it possible that even the “nicest” people are capable of anything in a fit of rage?
On October 27th, 2013, Mandy’s body was found near Sartell. An area where Roe’s phoned pinged the night of her disappearance.
A couple years later I was working at Bunny’s and this new woman was training. Someone told me her name and I sat there for hours trying to figure out why it sounded so familiar. She is tall, athletic, quiet and to herself. I didn’t recognize her other than her name. I walked out of Bunny’s after my shift and got in my car. I looked up, and on the car in front of me were bumper stickers with Mandy’s name on it, and her softball number, #14. Then it hit me, holy shit, that’s Mandy Matula’s mom. I immediately burst into tears. I couldn’t talk to her without wanting to bawl for the first 3 months of our working relationship.
Little by little, Lisa and I got closer. When she would see Aria running around Bunny’s, she’d comment on how big she’s getting. She told me Mandy’s favorite color was purple, just like Bug. I remember asking Lisa if it was normal for a growing teenage girl to smash an entire pizza. She said “Absolutely.” I’ll never forget working with her after the “Minneapolis Miracle.” She told me she changed the name to the ” Mandy Miracle.”
I asked, “Why?”
She said, Mandy’s birthday is January 14th, the day of the game. She would have turned 29. The Vikings beat the Saint’s, 29 to 24. Sounds like a Mandy Miracle to me!
When Lisa found out about Aria’s passing, she came up and hugged me and didn’t say a word. She knew exactly what I needed in that moment. I see her once a week. I know all I need to do is look at her. She looks back and I can feel her and she can feel me. There is comfort in that.
If you stopped by the Minnesota State Fair this year or last year, you may have found a bench with Mandy’s name on it. The bench is in remembrance of her beautiful soul as well to bring awareness to domestic violence.
3 beautiful girls, gone too soon.
3 girl’s stories that are saving lives at the expense of their own.
3 girls who are missed immensely.
3 girls who are advocating for change just by being themselves during their short time on earth.
3 parents who refuse to let their children be forgotten.
3 parents that carry a heaviness and an emptiness everywhere we go.
3 parents that belong to A club no one wants to belong to.
I asked Lisa and Scott, “Does it get easier?”
“No, you just learn to live with it because you don’t have a choice”
Once again, beautifully written, raw and honest as I know only you can be. Love to you and your family.