life

Murder Down the Street

There was a line of police cars just down the street when my daughter and I headed out late Friday morning.

“I wonder what’s going on,” she commented.

We took our usual route, walking our dogs past the softball diamond and tennis courts, through the playground of the abandoned elementary school, across the basketball court, through the woods and back.

As we were nearing home a news truck drove past.

The hound was busy sniffing the base of a mailbox so my daughter and the beagle were several feet ahead when the truck stopped and the reporter rolled down his window.

I caught up just as their conversation ended.

“What did he say?,” I asked as they drove off. “What’s going on?”

“He said, ‘It’s the craziest thing, isn’t it?’ I told him I didn’t know what was going on, that I saw the police cars when I headed out to take my dogs for a walk and wondered what had happened. He looked stunned and said, ‘You didn’t hear about the car and the dead body?’ He looked like he was about to say more and then he just said I have an awesome beagle.”

“How would I have heard?”

Indeed, cocooned in our warm little nest there on the cul de sac, we were completely oblivious.

As soon as we were back in the house, my daughter googled.

At about 1:30 am a neighbor reported a car on fire behind the elementary school. When the firetrucks arrived the car was completely engulfed in flames. It wasn’t until the flames were extinguished that they discovered the remains of a woman.

The police followed tire tracks from the school yard to the house down the street, to the white house with the blue shutters.

My daughter looked up from her computer, “How dumb do you have to be to kill someone and leave the body and the car practically in your backyard?”

Two young men – a nineteen year old who lives in the blue shuttered house, and an eighteen year old who lives in Detroit – were taken in for questioning. The house was being searched.

“Perhaps you can get away with not covering your tracks in Detroit because there is so much crime there,” I replied, “but these are the ‘burbs.”

In the brief online clip, the reporter mentioned that the police knew the identity of the victim, confirmed by dental records, but they hadn’t released her name. He said she lived down the street from the white house.

Information was sparse: She had a child, a neighbor told the reporter she often sat in her car listening to the radio, she might have been ambushed…

We tried to figure out who she might be. We tried to figure out a motive. Why was a mother out in her car listening to the radio at 1 am? Was it random? Was she ambushed? Was it safe for me to walk the dogs alone?

I took a picture of the basketball court back in November when I was walking the beagle.

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The leaves are off the trees now and they are off the court, too. When my daughter, the hound, the beagle and I walked across it Friday morning, we had no idea a car and a body were ablaze upon it just 10 hours earlier.

We hadn’t noticed the charred spot.

But when the hub, my daughter, the beagle, the hound and I walked through Saturday morning, we looked. And there it was. No sign anything had happened there except for the charred blacktop.

A police officer walked toward us on our return loop. He said he hadn’t read the report, didn’t know the details so he could walk the grounds with fresh eyes.

I asked why there wasn’t more information being reported. He said they don’t want future jurors to have preconceived notions when the case goes to trial. I understand that.

“It would be nice, though,” I said, “to know whether there is a killer loose in the neighborhood and whether we are safe.”

“We’re pretty certain we have the killer in custody,” he said, “but there are still unanswered questions.”

The victim’s identity was released Saturday evening, along with a picture.

The picture looked like a mug shot.

An autopsy revealed that she died of a single gunshot wound to the abdomen.

Once her identity was known, comments on the news article painted a picture of a drug user who owed a lot of people a lot of money.

There was speculation that she couldn’t pay her dealer and he shot her to send a message. An eighteen year old shot her to send a message.

This is the sort of speculation and preconceived notions that I’m sure the police wanted to avoid.

But it is a relief to know that it probably wasn’t random.

We won’t know the facts until the trial, but whether she was a junkie going out to her car to shoot up or a mom going to her car for a few minutes of peace and quiet, it’s equally awful. Whether she was ambushed by random teenagers or shot in the abdomen by her dealer it’s equally awful.

It’s awful for the seven year old who no longer has a mom. Right before Christmas.

It’s an awful emptiness of soul that allows an eighteen year old to pull a trigger, take a life, burn a body, and perhaps throw the murder weapon into a nearby lake.

There is an outstanding warrant for the eighteen-year-old’s arrest in Detroit for a carjacking. Thank God there is that to hold him on.

I think about the bright, sweet, hopeful faces of the inner city boys I’ve met over the years – as a camp counselor, social worker, volunteer tutor, Bible teacher – and I wonder at what point those innocent six, seven, eight, nine, ten year old boys become boys capable of drug dealing and carjacking and killing at eighteen.

Lord have mercy.

 

 

 

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life

Killing It

I was there the day my dad shut the door of his vacated apartment for the last time. He had moved from one floor of the Riverside Presbyterian Apartments, Jacksonville Florida, to another.  Before he turned in his key, he wanted to do just a few final chores.

I helped him. He was meticulously clean and tidy so scrubbing out his tub would be a piece of cake. Except, back then, for me, nothing  was a piece of cake. So even though the tub wasn’t dirty,  I scrubbed it as though it was.

As I worked an old toothbrush into every clean crevice, my dad walked past and casually laid down a sentence that felt like a punch in the gut. A casual sentence that made my life a whole lot easier. Eventually.

“Don’t get all alcoholic about it.”

What?  My thoughts reeled, I’m not all alcoholic.

I backed off on my scrubbing and gave the tub a rinse.

It took a few years, but those 6 expertly placed wounding words cured me of my perfectionism.

Before those words I took pride in perfection.

But my brilliant dad paired my perfectionism with his disease.

Perfectionism suddenly became imperfection.

And I certainly did not want to be lumped with imperfection.

Like I said, it took some years.

I still have the occasional relapse, and when I do, I see my young self bent over that bathtub scrubbing alcoholically and I hear those wounding, healing words.

“Don’t get all alcoholic about it.”

Thanks, dad, for killing it.

#perfection

For more about my dad and his disease: Concerning Hope

 

 

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pornography

Another Brick in the Wallet

I was looking out over a sea, well, maybe a pond, of beautiful faces.  Clean, fresh, well-mannered, beautiful faces.

We were talking about the dangers that can come at a kid.

A boy in the back raised his hand. A sixth grade boy.

“I used to play with my neighbor all the time.  Then he started looking at that stuff online. Now he never comes outside.”

I caught the eyes of a boy in the center of the room, just to my right, just before he hung his head. I saw it in his eyes.

I told them my friend’s story. The one I told you.

If you have kids, or love kids, you should probably read this, too.

Hey! Billion dollar porn industry! Leave them kids alone! All in all they’re just another bill in your wallet.

 

 

 

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faith, Jesus

Sometimes My Heart Weeps

I usually leave a speaking engagement feeling exhausted and exhilarated. Today I feel exhausted and sick.  It’s not the scratchy throat and runny nose that seem to be worsening by the minute, it’s the quivering lip and the tear-filled, pleading eyes of a young face.

A face I can’t shake.

Even now I’d rather set my laptop aside and weep.

Just weep and sleep all afternoon. ‘Cuz I’m sick and I’m sick.

I got up early this morning, scratchy throat and all, loaded my stuff into my Escape and headed to a Christian school about 30 minutes away to talk to sixth graders about building healthy lives, healthy marriages and healthy kids.

The first session went beautifully, as usual. The students listed all the things that make them unique geniuses.  They listed all the good things they want from life and all the good things they want to contribute to life.

After a fifteen minute break, we talked about the things that can trip you up, pull you off course, cause you to lose your focus.  We worked through scenarios and looked down the roads of shoplifting, pornography, drugs and unmarried sex.

I shared real life examples from my years as a social worker and as a crisis pregnancy center director.  The kids had questions. Lots and lots of questions.

A girl in the front row raised her hand.

“If a man and a woman did stuff when they were young and then got married and did other stuff, would any of their kids die?”

“I’m not sure what kind of stuff you mean, like drugs?”

Head nodding yes, “And alcohol.”

“Well, drugs and alcohol could cause things like a miscarriage, or fetal alcohol syndrome or developmental delays, but I don’t think the drug usage of the parents would directly cause an older child to die.”

More kids asked more questions and then her hand went up again. Another question about dying.

“Do you know someone who died?”

“No.”

The third time her hand went up, same hypothetical scenario but this time a little more detailed, I knew she was talking about her family.

After the presentation, she lagged behind. She told me she is adopted. Her eyes pleaded with me for something, some hope that her older brothers, who were adopted separately, whose whereabouts are unknown to her, are okay. Are not dead.

We only had a minute. As her tears welled, I asked if the burdens of her heart were too heavy. I asked whether she was tempted to go the route of her birth mother. She nodded yes.

I gave her a hug. It was a limp, rag doll hug.

I wanted to ask her whether she could talk to her parents, whether they knew her concerns about her brothers, about alcohol. I wanted to know whether she had anyone to talk to. I wanted to tell her that Jesus knows all about her brothers. He knows all about her heart and her fears. He really does have enough love and power to help her.

But she left. She quickly left to catch up with her class.

And I want to make it all better for her.

And I can’t shake her sadness.

#purpose

#praying

 

 

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life

It’s a Battle, Not a Leap

You’ve heard the expression, “Leap of faith,” but it isn’t a leap, it’s a nearly bloody battle:

Dear Julie,

While reading keep in mind that although the use and abuse of alcohol began in the teen years, its all out assault began about 1975, and culminated in 1977.
Something was really pushing me to put all of this down on paper.  Having done it, I can see that the “having done it,”  and not the four pages, was the important thing…
Love,
Dad

Concerning Hope

But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.  1 Peter 3:15

On the night of April 18, 1977, I was alone in my apartment, face down on the floor and immobilized.  For years I had traveled the road of addiction.  Alcohol was the propelling vehicle.  At the end of this road is death, and death was to be found in the bathroom which was but a few yards ahead.  One travels this road with companions who are faithful to the end.  The fellowship includes perfectionism, a law giver demanding consummate tidiness even in a terminal act.  Wrists slashed at the bottom of a filled tub preclude the washing of blood from walls and ceiling.

Born into a world of taste, touch, smell, sight and sound, the cry of an infant brings response and gratification to his demands.  Response and gratification instill a sense of power, and power promises hope.  But hope circumscribed by the senses is counterfeit hope and bears within itself the seed of its own destruction.  Despair is the short-lived child born to be the executioner of its father and he who gives sanctuary to the father.  Born there on the floor, despair matured quickly and, like a lemming, yearned to dash across those last few yards to hurl itself into the water of the tub.

But despair was frustrated.  Wanting to get moving, it found itself trapped within immobilized flesh.  The delay made the last few yards ahead the turf of terror for consciousness.  The road became clogged with figures which looked vaguely familiar – ghostly manifestations of unresolved issues, hit-and-run victims at various points during the long trip in the vehicle called alcohol.  They were singing a song, my song; that seemingly immortal lyric which says, “I’ll do it my way.”  They knew the tune well.  I was singing it as they were victimized.  For consciousness, the legacy of despair is the recognition that the last stanza is being sung.  The song was inspired by counterfeit hope, but manipulation was the talent which penned its innumerable stanzas.  Fueled by alcohol, years of practicing the art of manipulation had produced exhaustion and immobility.  Peter had been robbed to pay Paul and Paul had been robbed to pay Peter so many times that both had resolved to make a trophy of my hide.  Their breath was on my neck; I could see a noose suspended from the branch of a tree.  There was no longer a will to pen new stanzas.

At this point a word presented itself to consciousness.  The word was addressed: “You are said to be omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent.  If true, You are not light years away, but here with the prodigal.  If there is a road that does not terminate at the tub, You will have to pick me up and put me on it.  I give up.  God help me!”

This appeal came as an ominous threat to my hope.  A battle ensued in which consciousness was but a spectator.  Hope drew its battle line as it addressed consciousness: “You don’t need help.  Those ghostly manifestations out there need help.  They are the problem.”  Picking up the towel that I had thrown into the ring, the Word responded:  “You are the problem.”  Gravely wounded by the Word, but not yet dead, hope crawled from the field of battle.

In his book, Power of the Renewed Mind, Bill Bansky comments on this battle:

“God doesn’t speak through your mind, into your mind.  He speaks into your spirit that’s born again.  When God speaks to the spirit, the Spirit of God brings the thought into your mind, and then you know that God is speaking to you.”

Surrender gave birth to a new spirit which was to be followed by a renewed mind and a new hope.

Consciousness became aware that the telephone table was within reach.  A pull on the cord brought the receiver to the floor.  Names and numbers were beyond the grasp of both hand and mind.  After a number of misadventures, a finger found the “0” button.  My thickly muttered message to the responding voice was simply, “Alcohol!”  She grasped the situation immediately.  Learning that I was alone she asked if I could take down a phone number.  The long established habit of keeping a ball point pen in my pocket proved useful.  Laboriously and with much repetition, I labeled my arm with the phone number of a detoxification clinic.  Consciousness ended at this point.  During my long trip with alcohol, I had come to know periods of blackout.  This is not to be confused with passing out.  In a blackout one can act, but unconsciously.

With the return of consciousness at 3:00 A.M., I found myself on the porch of an old brick building which resembled an army barracks.  Later I would discover that it was one of several identical buildings which had once been a mental institution.  The buildings were on a large, secluded piece of property twenty minutes by car from my apartment.  It would be difficult to find this place at noon while sober.  The fact of having driven for twenty minutes in a blackout was not disconcerting.  That sot of thing had been part of my repertoire.  What was disconcerting was the realization that God was giving me what I had asked for.  He had taken my request seriously and had responded earnestly.  The plan was that I must follow Him on this new road one step at a time, one day at a time.  But false hope was not yet dead.  As I lingered at the door of the clinic, it strained to find something in the plan that could be manipulated.  There was nothing.  The absoluteness of this absence was depressing.

When called from the tomb by our Lord, Lazarus emerged looking like a mummy.  He was alive but still bound by the wrappings of death.  Similarly, having been resurrected from the floor to a vertical position at the entrance of the clinic, I was wrapped in my depression and essentially immobilized.  Though I lingered with fear and apprehension, this depression was something that could almost be enjoyed when compared with those ghostly manifestations at the end of the old road.  But if one is to cross the threshold and follow Him down a new road, depression is a barrier; a bitter fruit in a bowl designed for gratitude.  On the floor the reins had been relinquished to an omniscient God.  This omniscient and omnipotent God resurrected me and set me in front of doors which marked the beginning of a new road.  Depression is to doubt His wisdom.  Doubt seek alternatives, and alternatives are born of thought.  But there is danger in thinking with a mind whose only song has been, “I’ll do it my way.”  Such a mind entertains but one thought, “Take back the reins.”  A response to this temptation came as consciousness circumvented thought in contemplation of that resurrection from floor to porch; a resurrection hidden in the realm called blackout; movement void of thought and doubt.  Consciousness opted for thoughtlessness and answered temptation with silence.  Temptation relinquished the porch and departed for a time.

With the rejection of temptation, something washed over my depression, then receded.  Depression became the sands of an ocean shore.  At high tide there was “peace beyond all understanding.”  At low tide there was a return of fear and doubt.  As the wash was receding during a low tide, the tempter returned with a thought; “Lay hold of it and pull it back over you as you would a blanket on a cold night.”  Consciousness discerned this to be but a more subtle expression of the earlier thought.  Again temptation was answered with silence and from the depths came a voice, “Lo, I am with you always.   My ebb is the season in which vessels are to empty themselves of self.   My flow cannot fill a full vessel.”  With His words consciousness recognized that something which had washed against depression – a new hope.  I opened the door and entered the clinic.  I was on a new road.

As Lazarus stood mummy-like before the tomb, Jesus addressed those present saying, “Loose him and let him go.”  Upon entering the clinic, the first respondents to His command were the staff physician and a substance abuse therapist.  The therapist’s shift was ending and his relief had already entered the examining room.  Having completed a preliminary examination and blood work, the physician addressed the relief therapist saying,  “Stay on top of him for the duration of your shift.  Don’t let him sleep; he could slip into a coma and expire from alcohol poisoning.”  Apparently Jesus had already commissioned the first therapist.  He addressed his relief saying, “Get about something else.  This one is mine.”  During the following eight hours, and without additional pay, he nurtured this fragile new life.  Sometime late the following day consciousness recognized, received and embraced the loving care and concern with which the therapist had fulfilled his commission.  As I placed my offering in that bowl designed for gratitude, counterfeit hope expired, along with doubt and its depression.  The lemming was in the water.

With the surrender of self-will and death of false hope, sin ceased to be a lifestyle.  The weight of sin which had immobilized me was absorbed by Jesus Christ as He hung on the cross.  His cross is a point of orientation which sets the course for the journey down this new road.  The point of destination is that place where “I shall know just as I am also known.”  It is a place where I shall see Him who is the author of my hope. In his book, A Theology of the Cross, Charles Cousar speaks of death and resurrection:  “Easter does not erase or eclipse the godforsakeness of Good Friday.”  At the beginning of each day I position myself at a place where both His death and glorious resurrection stand between me and the point of destination.  This destination is seen through my sin which hangs there on the cross.  On the cross sin does not invite morbidity, but gratitude – gratitude for the fact that He took it and paid the price.  The price that He paid gives my sin transparency.  The view to the destination is not obscured.  At the beginning of each day I am grateful to find that my sin still hangs there.  That by His strength I had resisted the temptation to take it back.  At the beginning of each day I am grateful that the cross is there as a place to hang that which has been emptied from this vessel.

So what sustains hope, one day at a time, during the journey on this new road?  To focus on that future point of destination, through union with Him at the cross, gives sustenance.  Charles Cousar comments, “The future so impinges on the present as to give it a distinctive buoyancy.”  In this world our pilgrimage is through terrain which would have us to stumble and fall;  “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”  That “distinctive buoyancy” keeps us up and moving, if our focus stays on the destination.  In all things I give thanks, and praise His holy name.  Glory be to God!

I first published my dad’s story in January 2015 in two posts:
Concerning Hope
Concerning Hope part 2

And then I told you how it played out for me:
Grateful

Back then I said I inherited two things at his passing: His hooded sweatshirt and his Bible. But I also inherited his love for Jesus, passed on to me by his prayers.

He is one of a great cloud of witnesses, still sharing his testimony, and I’m hoping it speaks to someone today.

 

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life

She Was a Beautiful Girl

“You are remarkably lucid for being high,” I said, noticing her pupils.

“Oh, yeah,” she said.  “I’m normal when I’m high.  It’s when I’m not high, when I’m desperate for a fix, that I act crazed.”

She was a college student, home for the summer, in for a free pregnancy test and very concerned about the effects of heroin on a fetus.

We both let out a sigh of relief when the test turned out negative.

“Where do you see yourself in ten years,” I asked.

“Between the heroin and the Hepatitis C, I’ll be dead in ten years,” she answered.

“What’s so great about heroin that you are willing to die for it?”

“It’s not that the heroin is so great, it’s that the withdrawal is so horrible.  It can take 18 months to get the effects out of your system.  I’ve been in rehab three times and it’s just too hard.  I won’t try again.”

She didn’t think she got the Hep C from a dirty heroin needle, she thought she contracted it from an unsanitary tattoo needle.  Her plan was to stay high until she died.  In the meantime she was in college studying interior design.

I asked her how a talented, intelligent girl from the ‘burbs, with a loving family, ended up addicted to heroin.

She said when she was in seventh grade she learned that marijuana is a gateway drug.  She didn’t believe it.  So she and her friends tried it.  Before long they got ahold of some that was laced with LSD.  From there it was a short progression to heroin.  And heroin is a powerful addiction. (As I told you in I Still Break Her Heart, when I was a social worker I saw moms choose heroin over their children every time.  Not because they loved heroin more, but because it takes that strong a hold.)

She said I could tell her story and I do.   I tell it often.

I usually ask for feedback after I speak to a group of kids.  What did you like?  What did you learn?  What was helpful?

Most of them say they liked the stories best.

True stories.  Cautionary tales.  From my years as a social worker and pregnancy center director.

It takes 25 years for the human brain to develop completely.  The last thing to develop is the ability to look ahead and understand the long term consequences of your actions.  That’s probably why they like the stories best.  It helps to know how things play out.

And that’s why God gave them parents, teachers, pastors, principals, coaches, mentors, big brothers and big sisters.

So tell your cautionary tales.  And if you don’t have any, tell mine.

Kids need to know.

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life

A Roll of the Dice

“Mom, it’s bad.”

“What?”  My mind scanned the possibilities.  She wasn’t dead, or hurt so badly that she couldn’t call on her own behalf.  Did she kill someone?  “Did you get in an accident?”

“Yes.”

“Are you okay.”

“Yes, the airbag went off and injured my hand, but that’s all.

I gulped and braced myself for the answer:  “Is ANYONE hurt?”

“No.  The woman is fine.  It doesn’t look like there is much damage to her car, but the front end of mine is completely smashed.”

“Were you texting?”

I was heating up left over hamburger patties when she called – organic, grass fed hamburger patties, to be exact, because, as you know, I am kinda’ BOO-zhee.

I grabbed my purse.

“You can have both burgers,” I said to the hub as I headed toward the door.  “I’ll pick something up for myself on the way home.  I’m starving though.  I hope this doesn’t take too long.”

She and her smashed in car were about 45 minutes away, I knew I wouldn’t be eating any time soon.

And then I did something that I have NEVER DONE in my entire life.  I put down my purse, and said, “I’m going to eat my burger before I go.  She can wait.”  I assembled my burger – mustard, ketchup, pickles – and ate it wolfed it down.

On the way to the accident site she called and said she had ridden along in the wrecker to the tow yard.  I should pick her up there.  The ONLY reason I answered her call en route is because I have hands free calling and answering built into my car.  Otherwise, I would have waited until I stopped at a red light and called her back.

She skipped class last night to get together with a group of friends who are in town from Cleveland and Chicago.  She is allowed one absence per semester, and she spent this one on a get together of tumblr friends.  On the way to the gathering the hostess sent a group text, and because she COULDN’T EVEN WAIT until she stopped at a red light to read it, her sweet, easy life just got a whole lot harder.

I couldn’t help pointing that out to her on the way home.

She’ll have to kiss goodbye the job she lined up for the summer at the Boys and Girls Club – which she loves, working for her old boss – whom she loves, because it is 25 miles away and she no longer has a car.  Instead she’ll have to get the kind of job she hates because those are the only jobs within walking distance of home.

Kiss summer fun goodbye because she has no car and every bit of money she earns will have to go towards saving for a new one.  And towards car insurance because she will no longer be on ours.

I would not have been quite so disgusted, quite so quick to boot her from our insurance if this had never happened before.  But it did.  Just one year ago.  Her car was still drivable that time.  But the $500 deductible to get it fixed pretty much wiped out her savings.

“You could have killed someone and ruined your life,” I said that time.

“You could have gotten yourself killed and ruined my life,” I said.

Before the first accident, she swore she didn’t text and drive.  She lied.  And that was the hardest bit, because the one thing I had always admired about her was her honesty.

She said she learned her lesson back then. And maybe she did.  But it didn’t stick.

“Why can’t you grasp the concept that if you are moving forward, you have to be looking forward?” I asked.

“I do understand the concept,” she said, “and if I ever have a car again I am going to lock my phone in the trunk while I’m driving.”

That kind of struck me as being like an alcoholic saying, “I’m going to lock my booze in the trunk while I am driving.”  He won’t.

The sheriff didn’t ask her if she was texting.  He should have.  Texting while you are driving should be as legally egregious as drinking and driving.

This morning, as I drove her to work, I asked what she might have missed in class last night.  She said, “Probably not a whole lot.  Ever since the professor started to date someone, we take a 20 minute break and then he says, ‘Have we had a break yet?’ and then we take another one.”  I’m assuming so he can resume his text, e-mail or facebook conversation.  Lord have mercy on this text addicted society.

DO YOUR JOB AND THEN TALK TO YOUR GIRLFRIEND.  When you get home.  Like a grownup.  Like a professional.

KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE ROAD.  Text when you get home, or to your destination, or AT A RED LIGHT.

I ran some errands after I dropped her off at work.  A woman was walking through the Costco parking lot with her head down, looking into her phone.  WATCH WHERE YOU’RE WALKING!  She could have easily been hit or backed into by a driver who, head down, was sending a quick text.

Lord have mercy, my head is going to explode.

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