“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”—Martin Luther King Jr.
Though I have certainly experienced variations of anger over the journey with Vernon, I had no idea how much anger was ready to come out till last week. It was the the last straw of injustice that finally pushed me over the edge. I had just come back from that restorative trip to England, I had just seen his family and had given them their son and brother’s ashes. I had finally been far enough way from American election news so that I could think straight. Beyond that, I was no longer trying to keep Vernon alive. I had space in my heart again…the perfect setting for another stage of grief to set up camp. Make yourself at home, Anger.
There was an email with attachments from my attorney waiting for me when I got home. Then after a couple days, phone-calls: “Have you looked at the statement yet? All you need to do is sign and we can close this case finally.” By signing, he meant “dropping the lawsuit” against Mr. Travis Phillips, the man who caused the accident which killed Vernon. We’ve known for ages that there would be no compensation from Mr. Phillips and his wife Laura, who happen to live in Talega, a well-to-do suburb of our town, San Clemente.
Mr. and Mrs. Phillips never once reached out to us, through lawyers or otherwise, to take any responsibility for Vernon’s injury and eventual death. It took me ten months to get the police report with their names on it, but I had known about them from the beginning because I knew their nanny’s friend. Yes, their nanny. It took another ten months after that to hear anything from Mr. Phillips (it was a complicated case and these things take time, I was told.) Actually, there was some relief in that because I didn’t have to worry about my feelings toward the other family while caring for Vernon. I just assumed the attorney would take care of it and some sort of justice would emerge. Maki and I sent our letters, not asking for money…but an apology. The attorney sent a lawsuit to Mr. Phillips, ensuring that we would hear something back from him within 30 days. On the 30th day, I was told he had JUST contacted his insurance lawyers (State Farm) so they were asking for an extension. We had already been told how in the early days, Mr. Phillips had avoided the calls by his insurance company so this seemed consistent with his character.
I was in no rush though— this has been dragging on since June, 2014. Once lawyers fees and medical liens are extracted, there will be less than $7,000 dollars of insurance coverage to compensate for Vernon’s injury and wrongful death. At this point, that’s an insulting amount of blood money and I don’t even want to touch it. Had it been a million, I might feel differently. But I’d agreed there was nothing else I could do (though believe me, I’d explored every option save going up to their house and demanding that they look at us in the eye.)
Back to the email now: along with the paperwork for me to sign, there was a list of Mr. Phillips assets, signed under penalty of perjury, outlining the basics of his income among other things. Basically as sheet of paper saying he had nothing. I knew they didn’t own a home or have andy investments, but what threw me is that he had no bank account. What father and husband, working a full time job and paying over a third of his income to a nanny, doesn’t have a bank account? According to another statement, he and his wife were separated and living in different homes. I called my friend (the one who knows the nanny) who assured me they were still living together. Why would someone lie about their marriage?
When this couple hit Vernon, it was an accident. I’m sure there was no ill-intent by the driver. When the Phillips refused to contact us, when they hid below the radar and avoided responsibility, I was offended by their lack of conscience, compassion. When they received letters from Maki and I, pleading our case and asking for some accountability, we still heard nothing. These people live in the same town, but they seem to be ghosts. The main event of that fateful night is in their memory, but I’ll never get to hear. It’s as if without them, it never really happened. Just like Vernon couldn’t remember his own accident and heal…we don’t get to remember it for our own closure.
But suddenly I was indignant, this man had gone out of his way to hide his accounts and also lied about being separated from his wife. Injustice is bad enough, but lying under oath? It was the final insult to major injury that I could take. I felt myself toppling over the edge and since then have been figuring out how to live with a fierce anger every single day. (I hope to write about this more in another entry.)