Twenty years seems to have gone by so very fast, and yet the memories of this day still bite with a freshness that moves me to a place of despair and deep, deep sorrow. July 3rd 1993 was a day that forever changed my life and the lives of all whom I called and in some cases still call family. The events of this day stole away my innocence, and youthful sense of invulnerability. I think this day stole those things from a lot of people.
I remember it was late. I was talking to someone, though who it was escapes me at this point. Their importance seems to have fallen away. Somewhere during the conversation someone runs up and breathlessly spits out that they needed to talk to “Pa” (this man is the person I most frequently refer to as Dad, though biologically we are unrelated). I remember this person saying “Rick Millard’s been killed. Rico is dead.”
Ricky was 20 years old when he was murdered. He was the person that everyone expected to sort of live forever. His life was hard. His mother wasn’t kind to him, in fact she was pretty awful to him while he was alive, and paid him no real honors after he’d passed. He had earlier that year suffered severe third degree burns attempting to save a baby from a fire. From what I had understood, he was blown out the window as he reached for her. She, unfortunately didn’t make it. She was a beautiful and sweet little one from what I remember.
Ricky had every reason to be angry, and broken. He had a pension for scrapping, and no one could beat him. On July 3rd, someone chose to bring a knife to a fist fight and in the hands of an enemy, that knife took the life of someone who was at times my champion, on occasion my love, but always the brother of my soul.
Losing him devastated an entire community of people. The people who he was close to for a time lost their minds, we also in many cases set aside their differences. Our grief rocked the small town of Carthage, Missouri in a way that kept the cops and sheriffs department on edge, and acquiring new gray hair nightly. We went primal. We came together to grieve, to comfort each other, and to love him. Over 300 people attended his funeral.
I remember withdrawing into myself for a time. I remember sleeping in fear, an enormous kitchen knife resting in my hands folded across my chest. I remember that my foundation cracked, crumbled and fell away, leaving me raw, weak, and no longer the person everyone had known. Mind you, this is not my attempt to blame the loss of a friend for the crap that I allowed into my life. No, it is merely my admittance that in my grief and sorrow, I became weak. I allowed the shitty things that walked into my life to happen, to remain there as long as they did. I failed to be strong like Ricky had always been. I failed to walk that warriors’ path.
So why today? Why on this 20th year marking the murder of my friend should I take the time to really dive into that memory? Simple, it’s been put in my face for the first time in a long time. Not only has it been put in my face, but also very distinct reminders of how low I sunk afterward has been brought to my attention. Two abusers, who came into my life one after the other immediately after, Ricky’s death. Three big life lessons all right in a row. I was lucky, it could have been much worse.
Twenty years later, I’m no longer that broken young woman. I no longer think myself or anyone else invincible. I try to remember to let the people I love, know that I love them. I walk away from the people who hurt me, and remember that just because they are hurting too, didn’t make it acceptable for them to hurt me. My foundation is stronger, and more solid than it ever was. I have a sense of self that while it waivers, grounds and centers to find a point of healing as often as possible. I no longer accept a walk of faith that doesn’t resonate with my soul. Everything I do, is for my family.
Tonight, on this horrible anniversary, I remember this tragedy that brought us all together, even if just for a short time, love of our dear Ricky, conquered all and we stood as one. We stood as one.