Sunday, April 29, 2012
I was nearing the end of my 3 mile daily walk. It was February in San Diego, where 90% of the time is walking time. Two kids in their teens were chatting to my left. As I passed them, one asked for a match. Over my shoulder, with the barest of efforts, I managed. Don’t smoke. Suddenly, I heard a sound which sent chills up and down my body and dominated my dreams for months to come. Their matching footsteps brought them face to face with me again. This time they wanted more than a light or the time. This time they wanted a piece of me. They reached for my fanny pack, I instinctively pulled away. Two children, no more than nineteen each, committing a felony was of no real consequence to them. I took a quick glance up and down the road. It was eerily quiet for early morning. There should have been more activity. There should have been people in sight. There was no one. I stole a glance to my left. My apartment was within 100 yards. I pivoted and took off. I ran the way my speed and daring had saved me from a sack in all my years of playing the game. There was one problem. I was now fifty-seven years of age and a sack here might mean death and not loss of yardage. It was too late to turn back now. My Nike’s slipped when I stepped on a boulder, but I recovered nicely for an old man. Now, I was at the parking lot. My front door was in sight. I didn’t turn around, but my sixth sense was telling me that they were not in pursuit. Twenty five feet away. Pure adrenalin was carrying me now. I pushed open my door and tumbled into the living room. My 14 year old daughter looked on in wide eyed wonder. She was home on a President’s Day holiday and she knew I had gone out for my morning walk. She hadn’t expected me to make such a dramatic return. For a few minutes, I wasn’t sure there was going to be a return. I had scared Lizzie. The look of panic must be still sketched on my face. I couldn’t hold back the flood of emotions any longer. And with that, I started to cry. For Lizzie, it was tough to see her daddy break down and tremble and shake like a little boy. But I had been violated. I came as close to sexual assault as I dared, but I felt I could at least make comparisons. The police came and I gave detailed descriptions, but you could see this wasn’t high priority stuff for them. Maybe if I was the Chief of Police’s son or at least had someone in my family murdered so the media was involved, but this was the case of me being cornered and somehow getting free. There was no urgency in that. They summed it up as they left my apartment. You are one lucky man. Twelve months passed and most all was forgotten. Occasionally, I would have a night flash of hearing the shoes of those perps hitting the pavement and cornering me. But time has a curative value which distances one from an event once so horrifying. It was Chelsea King’s murder which brought the subject of true crime back to our sinner table. She was only seventeen when she was hunted down like a dog while on a trail run at a San Diego park. Lizzie was the very same age. She was a great student and a writer. Lizzie could relate. She was headed to college in the Fall. So was Lizzie. And this animal of a man, who had already served time for a vicious sexual attack on a teen and slipped through the cracks of California’s weak and underfunded probation system, had snuffed out the lights of two beautiful young women and forever changed the worlds of the families who loved them so. All of San Diego mourned the deaths of Amber and Chelsea. No one more than Lizzie. It seemed to hurt her even more. ************************************ A few days later I brought home a gift for my baby daughter. Open it I claimed like the proud papa I was. Lizzie did as she was told. She let out a piercing scream and fled from the room. I thought that this was a particularly odd reaction to a keychain edition of pepper spray. My idea for her protection had failed miserably. And then tragedy came home with a violence never seen before. It seems that the two young men who had mugged me in February, were caught by the police mugging another couple with the same details. I was asked to testify which I did gladly. The jury was still out as I pulled into my driveway. This time, I didn’t make it to the front door. I was only 54 years of age and I had left Lizzie without a Dad. She cried a river of tears and I tried to make it clear to her that I would try to stay with her until I thought she was going to be all right. I had no idea if she sensed me in the slightest. Yet I could feel her pain. One day, she came to breakfast with something clasped around her neck. It was the keychain sized pepper spray which had made her so upset after Chelsea’s death. I wondered why she had changed her mind and decided to wear it on her person. I was determined to extend my stay on earth until I found out. I followed Lizzie to school that same morning. She took the trolley to school which was always a problem for her. Every wacko on the train or at the station was a possible attacker. There were many times she chose the warmth of her bed to the hostility she had already witnessed in the cold outside world which she lived. Today, she seemed to have a spring in her step. I knew I could not be seen, but I still hung back. When I reached the school, I could tell that there was a big assembly on the lawn outside. The school had some an amazing job of creating a stadium on a hill where everyone sat on blankets on a hill and watched a myriad of speakers down below. No sooner had I taken my seat when I heard the very familiar voice come through the powerful speaker system. It was Lizzie. My daughter addressing the entire school. Many of you know that my Dad was killed by the men who attacked him. First the two cowards mugged an older man. But he got away. So they cam back and this time they killed him. And his absence has left me with a whole in my stomach. But my Dad was not a coward. During his lifetime, I was a coward too. That time is over. Today, I have starred a new foundation. The Gift To My Dad Foundation named after one of my Dad’s books. You see, like my Dad, I am a writer as well. And my Dad and I were working on a book together when he met his tragic death. He called it Assault. It calls for all women to carry a small canister of pepper spray on their person in case of an attack. It encourages men and women to enroll in self –defense classes. It declares war on anyone who is going to threaten our personal safety. (clapping and cheering) Lizzie looked pleased and more comfortable than at any time I had ever seen her. You know my Dad once told me a story which I would like to share with all of you, my classmates joining me here today, on this picture perfect day in Paradise, as he called it, AKA San Diego, California. The story was about my grandfather, who was the subject in my Dad’s Father’s Day book, Gift To My Dad. My grandpa, the family called him Poppy, but I never knew him well. He passed away when I was seven and lived in Florida, thousands of miles away. Well, when Poppy was 12, he was diagnosed with a heart murmur and forced to stay in his bedroom for an entire year. So he read and he read and he read! Clair Bee. Zane Gray. Jack London. But grandma had heard about Dad’ problem. And while everyone was talking about doing it. The Yankees manager did something about it. He put Dad’s favorite in the lineup and the Yanks began to win. And unknown to grandpa, his mom was paying off the school bully not to beat up grandpa at school. When poppy found out about it, he went to the bully and knocked the money from his hand. The bully beat him senseless gain. But this time, the Bully was caught with a couple of punches and was bleeding himself at the end of the fight. Bullies don’t like to bleed. They like to win easy. The bully stopped bothering poppy and poppy became a hero at school because he stood up for himself. Lizzie was on a roll. First, she had talked about me and Chelsea and what the school could do to help keep their legacy alive. Then she went right after bullies. I was so proud of my girl And she was just getting started. It wasn’t easy saying goodbye to my girl. But I knew it was time. Seeing up on that stage that day, confidently addressing thousands and whipping them into a frenzy to take action with their lives, to make a difference in the world, to discover their purpose in life. It made me think about the day she was born. I was walking with my now ex wife Trisha when she crumpled to the ground. I carried her to the car and the next day, both anxious and confused, we visited an orthopedist. We never expected to hear the news he delivered to us that afternoon. I will be sending you to a specialist, an oncologist actually at the well known Miami Jackson Hospital. My jaw dropped. Jackson was famous----as a cancer hospital. What Trish was suffering from was mind boggling. Consider you have the ability to stand on your feet, primarily due to the cluster of bone in your heel, You never think much about it. It can be sore at times, but it isn’t likely to vanish. The entire sheath of bone in Trish’s left heel had gone missing, And at east this doctor was being cautious enough to send us to an oncologist if a bad situation was going to get worse. What had been an amazing life with Trish had come screeching to a halt. Cancer? Was that even remotely possible? Trish was only thirty-five years old. We hugged and we cried in those early days. We made friend s with a lot of very sick kids who made Miami Jackson their home away from home. You started a relationship with one of these darlings and then they would go right out and die on you before you could ever see them again. It was heartbreaking and it was how we lived a life for those many months while Trish was preparing for the surgery of her life. Finally, a date was selected and with great anticipation, we showed up at Jackson with checklist in hand. We have been trying to get you all morning, the lead nurse informed us. Trying to reach us? What in heaven’s name for? Your doctor had a major heart attack during the night. He is barely hanging on to life as we speak. Could our lives get any more bizarre? The question was answered before it was ever asked. No! What do you do when the surgery you feared finally arrived and you knew nothing more than you did the day before. You start all over with a new Doctor. That would be Dr. Cat and he was no carbon copy of his Miami associate. Younger, confident, brash, bold about using his new laser on Trish’s tumor. And on November 13, 1991, DR Cat bolted out of the operating theater with the excitement of a fourteen year old boy. All I heard were these golden words and nothing more. It’s not cancer Trish recovered slowly, very slowly. Until she switched from morphine to Demerol to contain her pain, she didn’t seem to be interested in the abrupt change of her prognosis. Gradually, she came around and whispered something hoarsely to me. What about the baby. And it all came back to me. I had asked the woman who I met when she was a teenager. I had granted one wish to the lady I married 20 days after we first met. And true to the magical history of our time together, she did have the baby, almost a year from the date of that surgery. On November 5, 1992, Lizzie was born. Just a year ago, our once shining life had hit the rocks. Now, we had the daughter Trish had always felt was needed to complete our lives and a new clean bill of health. It was safe to breathe deeply again! This was a very strange airport. Of course, my plane has no destination. I settled into first-class (why not treat myself well) and picked up the newspaper that was on the seat next to me. SAN DIEGO GIRL SAYS HER DAD WAS HER VERY BEST FRIEND! Lizzie Tartakoff, 18 has had a high school career shared by few. In the span of four short years, she has managed to become one of the most visible fund raisers for Chelsea who was murdered in her own senior year at a different high school. Lizzie became friendly with the family, participated in events in Chelsea’s memory at Balboa Park and spread the word about Chelsea to high school students ariubd America. She started to speak about personal safety and wore a pink key chain canister around her neck. It became her signature as she tirelessly shared with high school girls how a little shot of pepper spray could have helped Chelsea get the 10 seconds she needed to sustain her life. Chelsea came to me in a vision and pleaded with me to continue with this important work. And then my own life ended when my dad was killed. I took off my “necklace” and my dad would have said, I felt sorry for myself. My dad was only 57 years old and he was killed by two men who should have been locked up long ago. America has problems protecting it citizens from killers. We helped to change the laws for Chelsea in California and we will change them again for you, Dad. And I put my canister of pepper spray back on my neck and I left my bedroom and rejoined society. And one more thing. I met Natalie’s mom on a plane recently. Like me, she spends her days speaking to young girls. She tells them to visualize a plan where they return home safely after an evening out. That movie in your mind means you know what your transportation will be to return home and under no circumstances do you accept a ride (as Natalie did) from someone you do not know. And just in case things go south, you have your little canister of pepper spray to give you the seconds that Candace had to get away and Chelsea didn’t . The flight attendant in first class repeated what she had said to me. Is everything OK sir? I wiped at my eyes which were damp with tears. Yes, everything is OK. My daughter is going to be OK. And finally, he could let go. Now that I have your attention, I’m just getting started. Our newest foundation is Speak Up America and kids, this one is all about you! Join me there and put a Pepper Spray canister in the hands of every woman in America, Chelsea didn’t die in vain. She just died because she wasn’t prepared. If she could, get the chance to return, she would do this in a heartbeat and she would join me at this microphone. She would join me as one day we ask for the public to support our positions, the schools to support us. For local and national business to become more involved. The success of SpeakUP America has been so dramatic that demand for public speaking classes in schools have skyrocketed. Who is going to fund this demand? Schools? Parents? Citizens? You, Weinstein? No, we mean business!! We need business. To step up and join us at the local level or as national partner. Bullying at your school? We have speakers who can educate the public and bring together the community. Business leaders prosper by helping their communities with local issues which schools have ignored for whatever reason, for years. National partners spread our message wide and connect with the high schools and college leaders who will begin lifelong identification with their brands and services. Our founder, The Professor began by teaching a new way to build and enjoy personal vocabulary over 40 years ago. That is what you are joining and making stronger today. The Professor, Monica, America, Dad Tartikoff, Lizzie. And then came you!
Posted by Steve Tarde at 2:14 AM