“Help, help me.” Even now, long after I first heard my grandma’s cry for help, these words haunt me.
As soon as the elevator doors of the library opened in the basement, I heard a gruff voice yell, “You know what I want. Give it to me now, bitch.”
My grandmother answered, “I won’t. I won’t.”
Then came the heavy thud. As I got off the elevator, I caught a glimpse of man wearing a Yankee baseball cap running up the stairs. I looked down to find my grandmother lying in a pool of blood.
“Oh my God,” I screamed. I ran and knelt down by her.
Her eyes half open, she barely whispered, “Zoe.”
I fumbled for my phone and somehow dialed 911. “My grandmother was attacked and she is bleeding real bad. Hurry! Hurry!”
The operator calmly asked me where I was. I replied, “The Forty Second Street Library. I think she is going to die.” The calm voice went on saying an ambulance and police were on the way. The operator then asked, “Is she conscious?”
“Barely,” I replied.
In my mind this conversation was taking too long. I started screaming louder, “Somebody, help us.” The library staff came running. I cradled Mere in my arms. Very shortly afterwards, the cellar was flooded with EMS, police and library personnel. Somewhere in between I called my dad.
“Daddy, it’s Mere. She was attacked here in the library. I think she’s gonna die.”
“What? Did you call an ambulance, the police?”
“Yes, yes, they’re here already.”
Everywhere I looked the police were securing the crime scene, sweeping the area, looking for fingerprints, blood stains, hairs, fibers. Photographs and video were being taken.
“Zoe, I’m on my way.”
“Dad, they are now loading her into the ambulance. I have to go with her. They are taking her to St. Luke’s.”
“I’ll meet you there.” he told me.
The EMS had inserted an IV and started attending to her head wound. Just as the ambulance started to roll, a young cop with a ruddy complexion jumped in beside me. “I’m Officer Weiser. I’m here in case your grandmother can say anything about what happened.”
The siren screamed as the ambulance crawled through rush hour traffic. At this point my grandmother was semi-conscious. I took her freckled hand and whispered, “Mere, it’s me.”
I could tell she was relieved that I was there.
“It’s going to be all right. We’re on the way to the hospital. Dad’s going to meet us there.”
When I was little Mere and I had a secret signal, two quick hand squeezes which meant I love you. Repeatedly I squeezed my grandmother’s hand as I thought, God, please don’t let her die. Throughout the ride, Mere kept trying to speak, but her speech was garbled. All of a sudden with a burst of energy Mere sat up and clearly said something about “In the beginning.”
What did she say?” the officer asked me.
I shook my head. “I can’t understand it either.” I lied. I did hear her say something about in the beginning. What she said later during the ride really troubled me. It had to do with her being sorry. I thought she couldn’t possibly be saying what I think she is. “I’m heartily sorry for my sins.” What possibly could the best human being I had ever known be confessing?”
“And, what name do you call your grandmother,” the cop questioned as he jotted down my responses on a small pad.
“Oh, ever since we visited Paris, when I was in the fourth grade, I started calling her Mere. Short for Grandmere in French.”
“Right,” he said with a confused look. “How do you spell that?”
I was never so glad to see my dad waiting in the ER. A medical team rushed her into the treatment area and told us to wait outside in a hallway. Stunned we simply looked at each other. While I was filling my father in on what had happened, we were approached by a detective with his gold shield open. His walk was quick and determined.
“Mr. Donovan, Dennis Donovan?”
“Yes, I’m Dennis Donovan and this is my daughter, Zoe.”
“Emilio Ruiz.” As the detective firmly shook my hand, I noticed his lean muscular body and imposing, dark eyes.
My father turned saying, “Have you already met, Zoe?”
“No, we haven’t,” Ruiz said, abruptly turning and looking directly at me. Then he asked me, “Zoe, did you actually see the attack?”
“Not really.” He waited uncomfortably for my response.
Finally he said, “Well, did you or didn’t you?”
I could feel the tears flooding my eyes. “I heard it happening.”
“Well, let’s hear it,” Ruiz said, taking notes.
I nervously started retelling how as the elevator door opened I heard Mere’s cries for help.
“Ok tell me what the attacker voice sounded like. Anything distinctive?”
All these questions were getting to me.
I felt like saying, Are you freaking for real? Don’t you think it’s horrible enough to hear your grandmother being killed? Now you expect me to describe the attacker’s voice. I said nothing.
Ruiz continued, “The perpertrator, what race was he – white, Hispanic, black, Asian?
“White, I think.”
At last, he sensed my awkwardness. He shifted gears, and softened his style.
“Sit down please. First, I know you just been through hell – this brutal attack of your grandmother. This may seem like an inappropriate time for the cops to be asking questions. But believe me, this is the best time, when the memory is fresh. With each passing day, the chances of us catching who did this decrease. We want to find the SOB who did this. Right?”
With Ruiz gawking at me, I felt my legs start to shake. My dad clumsily put his arm around me. Making me feel better has never been one of my dad’s strengths. My dad is definitely not the touchy, feely type. His infrequent hugs always communicated how uncomfortable he was with physical contact. Right now I wanted to grab his hand, but somehow I couldn’t.
I should not have been criticizing Dad. I should have been helping him. Mere was his mother. I felt like I had been hit with a sledge hammer. Now I sat between my repressed dad and this aggressive cop.
Ruiz was determined to get me to remember. “Zoe, so you heard the killer’s voice, your grandmother’s screams. Come on, tell me.”
I could hear myself responding like an echo in a cave.
“Yes, right after I heard a voice yelling, “Bitch, give it to me.” “It was so horrible someone calling my grandmother a bitch.”
“He was a white male. Are you sure?”
“I‘m not sure of anything. When my grandmother refused, I heard the thud.
It seemed to take forever to get to my grandmother, but when I finally got to her, I saw a man in a baseball cap running up the stairs - Yes, he was wearing a Yankee cap.”
“Think, Zoe, how big was the person you think you saw?”
Would Ruiz ever back off?
As I was trying to remember, a doctor wearing a white coat approached us. Just by the way he touched my dad’s shoulder and steered him into an empty corner, I knew.
I could see my dad’s shoulders shake. This was the first time I had ever seen him cry. Even when my parents got divorced four years ago, he never cried in front of me. In a haze, I watched my dad coming toward me. I hugged him as hard as I could.
“She’s gone, Zoe. Mere’s gone.”
“No, no,” I cried. I felt like an outer body experience where I watched my Dad and me walk toward the door. Somehow I was disconnected from what was happening. How could we be leaving with Mere still here? More unbelievable - how could she be gone?
In my mind I started talking to Mere. No answer. My grandmother and I believed in the supernatural. So talking to her inside my brain was automatic. Why wasn’t she communicating with me?
“Let’s get out of here and go home.” Dad said.
As we walked to the exit sign, Detective Ruiz called. “Mr. Donovan!”
My dad just shot him a look.