Month: August 2018

Natural History (2014)

We drive over the mountains through manzanita and scrub brush. Soon the land turns to hard Mojave, with scattered cholla and endless sand and the painted badlands wrinkled like an old seaman’s weathered face. A few miles on a narrow, state-maintained road winding through red and brown shattered volcanic cliffs, and we enter the hamlet of Borrego Springs. In this desert town, everyone has an ample yard filled with small white stones, sand, cactuses, and for the extravagant, palm trees and a chain-link fence.

After more driving, we are finally at the state park at the foot of the mountains. These appear tall because they are so rugged, but in reality, they are not very tall. Indian Head peak is less than 4,000 feet in height though it towers above the low, sloping valley with the visitor center and the campground.

We park and are grateful for the water and shade of the buildings, though it is only March and nothing like the heat that comes to this place in high summer. The visitor center grounds have been manicured into a Disney desert with examples of desert plants carefully arranged. Smoke trees, tall ocotillo, and cactus. The small cactus that grows like crooked thumbs and fingers I had always thought were all the same, called cholla. There are many types of cholla marked by the gravel trail, including one with fatter fingers than usual called Teddy Bear cholla. A massive barrel cactus taller than a man stands near the entrance to the low-slung visitor center. It is proudly phallic, bending slightly to the left, the top ringed with reddish thorns.

This handsome building does not change. It is exactly as I remember it. The bronze doors have handles worked in the shape of bighorn sheep antlers, which are the namesakes of this place. In Spanish, borrego means bighorn sheep. They are beautiful animals but we will not see living ones today. They are wise to live in the mountains and do not come down on the flats.

I am excited to see the pupfish, which I remember as swimming happily in a small, reedy pool.

The pool is still there, but it has changed. Now it is brackish and filled with thick mats of ghostly gray algae and foamy yellow scum. Hordes of fat bees buzz about the fetid pool; where there are no bees, there are tadpoles and flies. The pupfish are invisible. They are either dead or hiding from the bees.

“Poor pupfish,” Bruce says. “I feel sorry for them. They have to hide or the bees will sting them.”

We sit for a time on a bench overlooking the valley. In the distance, some 30 miles, are the Laguna Mountains. It is so clear they appear much closer. Farther still are the much higher peaks of the Santa Rosa mountains near Palm Springs. This bench is sturdy and well-made. It has been donated to the center in memory of a handsome couple dressed in 40’s clothing, smiling out at the watchful camera.

Behind us, people from the Nature Center are laying out a desert feast. We are sheltered beneath a paloverde. Somewhere in the tree or ground below is a dove which cries and moans like a grieving woman – a mourning dove. I look for it, but cannot see it.

We kiss as the dove cries.

After a while, we go into the Nature Center and squeeze between narrow, lumpy concrete walls made to duplicate a box canyon in the badlands. After displays of fossils and geology and a massive plaster tortoise shell which strikes me as ideal to ride, though it’s clearly indicated as a “fossil,” we come to a display of stuffed desert animals. There’s a handsome, long-legged jackrabbit and a delicate little kit fox with a fluffy, ringed tail. A mother, father and baby bighorn sheep are the centers of the display.

A small, loud boy with a black walking stick taller than himself approaches, leaning on the rail that protects the display. His father stumbles behind him, arriving just in time for the boy to announce, “Are these extinct animals?”

The father mumbles something about them being real animals. Bruce’s eyes flash with humor.

The boy says, “Are these animals dead?” He is braying with stone-cold certainty that he knows all there is to know or ever will be.

The boy’s younger brother arrives with a similar large walking stick. He mimics his brother’s manner but clearly cannot compete in this sweepstakes for the depths of vacuity and ill manners. The father, dressed in vintage Sears Nerd, seems helpless as the two jostle madly back and forth for the best position overlooking the small display.

“See those sticks?” I say quietly to Bruce, looking toward the boys. “I’ll use them on them.” His eyes twinkle.

The center is closing and the elderly volunteer must release us with the handicapped button which opens the beautifully-cast bighorn sheep doors. We are outside only moments when the idiot boys and their father exit.

“Give me that fuckin’ stick,” Bruce says in his low Philly accent. “I’ll show you your animals.”

The boys do not hear; despite being about ten and seven years of age, it’s doubtful either has heard much besides television or video games for their entire lives.

But the father does hear. His eyes widen behind his thick-framed glasses.

“Haven’t you ever seen a fuckin’ stuffed animal?” Bruce continues. “It’s a fuckin’ stuffed animal.” His voice lowers still. “Are they alive or dead,” he adds in lazy contempt.

We know the father can hear, but he needs to hear. His children are monsters in training, soon to be extinct.

This is a stark, beautiful, hard country. We drive away to the village of the mad at the shores of the brackish Salton Sea, where nothing can live. It is not hot but the air presses down on us. We are traveling along the small of the world’s back, which feels as though it bears all of its weight, tired, ancient and brutal.

Yet even in this place, there is life, burrowing under the desert sand, nestled in a paloverde, driving in a Jeep. Like the blind, buzzing bees besetting the poor pupfish, these monstrous boys will rampage on.

If things were otherwise, I think, as we drive along the gray ribbon of desert road. If things were otherwise, I would have put a bit of the stick about and made them jump like kangaroo rats on hot rocks in August.

My Rescue Dog Rescued Me

One time I heard someone say that g-o-d was d-o-g spelled backward.

He was strong and silent. I loved him so. Maybe he wasn’t as tall as I would have liked, but he was fit and well-built. He had a big heart on his back and a much greater one inside of his body.

Mom. You gave Badger a Payday and he threw up. You let him eat gummy worms.

I thought I rescued a Jack Russell Terrier from a kill shelter as a pet for my daughter.

Mom. You fed Badger scrambled eggs and McDonalds hamburgers.

Badger rescued me.

Badger was his shelter name. He had many nicknames, including “pony” because he looked like a pinto pony when he ran, and “onie” (short for “pony”) and “stank” (I regret that one).

Badger was smarter than most people.

I hadn’t had a dog since I was in high school, so I was little-prepared for the challenge of raising any rescue dog, much less a high-energy, whipsmart Jack Russell Terrier.

Badger had already bombed in his first rescue house. An older lady who lived in a mobile home returned him saying he’d torn up everything in her place in only a couple of days. All the animal rescue lady wanted to know was “Do you have a big yard?”

Sure! We were living in this big house on San Pablo. Just me and Meredith.

“He may hide for several days once you bring him home,” she said. “He may take a while to warm up to you. Don’t be alarmed if he acts standoffish.”

As she spoke, Badger was reclining on the back seat of my car.

Meredith and I picked out his dishes, his first food, some treats, and several dog toys.

When we got home, Badger took a three-minute tour of the house sniffing each room while I put out his food and water. I opened the toys and put them in the back yard.

He ran outside, trotting around with his pony-like gait, grabbed every toy, played with it for a minute or two, then came back in, gobbled half his bowl of food and gulped his cool water. Then he leapt nimbly onto the onto the couch, put the pillows the way he liked, and closed his eyes.

Onie, dozing (by me)

I guess we passed muster.

The rescue lady said that Badger had been dumped in the animal shelter because he’d grown too tall to be a desirable Jack Russell. The breeder had docked his tail. He had been aggressive, so they neutered him. He was on his last day at the kill shelter when the rescue team picked him up.

Badger went through every single negative behavior of a rescue dog, one right after the other.

He hadn’t shown aggression toward little kids the way I’d been warned until a very small girl about 7 years old joined Meredith’s neighborhood friend group. Badger spotted this kid playing in our front yard and shot out of the front door, barking loudly and terrifying her.

Can’t be around children under age 5.

He took to barking and jumping on anyone who came in our house.

He started peeing in the house when we were gone.

One day before I went to school, I tied him to a 100-pound dog stake (Badger weighed 20 pounds) in our back yard. When I got home a few hours later, our neighbor Matt brought a shame-eyed Badger over along with the dirt-covered stake and broken collar.

He pulled up the stake and jumped the fence with it trailing behind him, nearly strangling himself before his collar broke.

One afternoon I was sitting on the sofa grading. Badger was at my feet. I could see the kitchen from this vantage point.

A small dark shape zipped across the kitchen floor, disappearing under the dishwasher.

Aw man. In the house? Really?

Badger jumped up, twice as fast as the scuttling shape. His head dipped and shook back and forth once. Bam! Bam!

He trotted calmly back from the kitchen and laid the still-warm rat at my feet.

Badger and I had a lot of silent conversations during which much was communicated and nothing said.

Every time we’d conquer one problem behavior, another would crop up. One Saturday, Meredith was playing with her friends in the front yard when a man pedaled by on a red beach cruiser. As he rode across the street, Badger spotted him and shot across the street at top speed.

I watched in horror as my dog harried this man like a hound with a fox, circling the bike and barking. The bike wobbled this way and that.

Losing control, the man toppled into our neighbor’s ivy bed just as I caught up and grabbed Badger’s collar.

“I’m so sorry!” I said. “I don’t know what — “

“It’s fine,” said a grumpy voice. The guy turned and —

It was Meredith’s vice principal.

We were already in hot water at that school because Mike and I had gotten divorced, I wore “racy” clothes, and Mike occasionally dropped her off on his Harley.

One day I got Meredith some fried chicken and she was allowed to eat it in her upstairs bedroom.

Badger liked to sit in the bay window halfway up our stairs overlooking our front door and the front yard. I had put a seat cushion in it, and Meredith had put out a sign to deter him from sitting on it that read:

No Bager No

The written warning didn’t have too much effect because just as Meredith started eating the fried chicken, Badger was in his window spot and suddenly ran downstairs, barking at the door like someone was there.

Meredith ran downstairs to answer, thinking her friends had come over.

She opened the door looking right and left — but no one was there.

When she went back to her room, the chicken was gone.

A few days later I was preparing to enjoy a delicious “special burrito” from El Burrito. Badger started barking at the front door. I left my plate on the coffee table. When I got back from answering the door only to find no one there, the burrito looked normal enough.

I picked it up and it was strangely lightweight — almost like —

Badger had sucked out all the filling without disturbing the tortilla.

No Bager No!

We started hiking together. We did the Pacific Crest Trail. We did Bertha Peak. We did the Devil’s Chair. Badger came with us to Mammoth. He drank out of the Hot Creek.

He was so adventurous.

I started going on writing retreats to Ojai when Meredith was with her dad. I took Badger to Lake Casitas. He spotted these weird white birds (Chinese geese) on the shoreline and chased after them. They flapped their wings, took brief flight, and landed a few yards out in the water. Badger kept going. As soon as the water got deep, he just kept running which became swimming. I finally had to jump in after him. Now they say no one is allowed to even touch the water in that nearly-dry lake.

Times change.

I didn’t know much about the Ventura County backcountry (or the Santa Monica Mountains) before we moved to Woodland Hills, but Badger and I got to know them well.

On a cool, misty spring day we visited the Middle Lion Canyon campground and set out on the Lion Canyon trail in the Los Padres National Forest. The previous fall we had been to the same location when I realized … it was deer hunting season. That was when we saw the bear claw marks 9 feet up on the trees.

This trail runs along the Sespe River. About five miles out, I got the strangest feeling. The hair stood up on the back of my neck. I stopped and looked to my right across the river bed. Lines of aspens waved in the light breeze and mist.

I suddenly understood (and I seriously hadn’t before) why they called it “Lion Canyon.”

A mountain lion ambled along the other side of the stream, no more than 50 yards away. She looked coolly across the rocky streambed at me. The hackles on Badger’s neck stood up.

“No boy,” I said, kneeling close. “She’ll kill you.”

Yeah she could have killed me too, but instead, she went on her way.

Oh Badger. He ran away countless times. When we moved to Woodland Hills, Alan wanted to take his kids to the zoo. He didn’t want Badger in the house alone so I left him outside on the huge upstairs deck in his crate.

There was no way to know when he busted out but when we returned, Badger was gone.

Devastated, I drove endlessly up and down the byzantine winding streets in our neighborhood calling for him. Then it started to rain.

I lay on the couch in the living room — wasn’t exactly sure why — but at 3:00 a.m. I heard a scratch at the front door. I leapt up and threw the door wide open.

This time there was someone there.

Badger jumped into my arms. He was soaking wet and his legs, belly and chest were muddy and oily like he was a truck driving offroad in the rain.

Oftentimes he’d wake me to go outside in the middle of the night. He had a typical patrol route along the little alley-like street where we lived. He’d investigate the thick hillside covered with ivy, the tall pines, the plantings around our circular driveway.

One night we went out and I felt a strange feeling, very much like the pre-lion thrill of warning. It was a full moon and a shadow darkened the drive. I looked up just in time to see an enormous owl swooping overhead on its way to the tall pines. His wingspan made him seem larger than Badger. And he was absolutely silent.

Another night, I was surprised to see the hugest coyote I’d ever seen ambling down the drive. Still groggy, I couldn’t stop Badger. He rushed the coyote, twice his size or more, and began barking and harrying just the way he had with Meredith’s vice principal.

“Badger!” I cried. “He’ll kill you!”

The coyote just looked disdainfully ahead and continued ambling on his way. Badger finally answered my call. The last I saw of the coyote, his expression seemed to say, “Dumb Jack Russell …”

On the trail if there was any type of scat, especially coyote or lion, Badger would be sure to roll in it.

So Badger knew what he was doing when he’d escape. And — he knew his way home.

After Anthony died and Alan returned home from the hospital, I left Badger at the house in Woodland Hills because I couldn’t afford to board him much longer.

I was lying in bed in my lousy apartment in Redlands staring at the dingy popcorn ceiling when my cell phone rang.

“She came,” Alan said breathlessly. “Everything’s ruined. Badger’s gone.”

This was about midnight.

I drove 90 miles to Woodland Hills. When I walked into the kitchen from the garage, my feet immediately crunched glass. Someone (Alan’s ex) had trashed the kitchen. Every hanging pot was on the floor. I saw huge divots in the wall. The glass was from my kitchen pictures. I went out the front door where we had seen the owl and the coyote and called for Badger. Nothing.

Alan said that his ex had shown up screaming at him and rampaged through the house, throwing things. Mr. Moron, he said, never came inside, but instead stood at the front door yelling instructions.

He said when they showed up, Badger had run upstairs barking, then he heard him yelp loudly, and nothing else.

“He killed him,” I said. I drove down to the Van Nuys Sheriff’s station.

It was one of those moments where you think, “I could just go over to their shit apartment and kill him with a knife and cut off her hands” or “Maybe the Sheriffs will help. They know you and your dog. They know what happened with Lali.”

I went down and it turned out that Alan had called the cops during the attack.

“What will you do to him if he killed my dog?” I asked. One of the cops explained to me that Alan’s ex was the one who’d be charged since she had actually entered the house.

“That guy’s a creep,” one of the officers said. “He knows what’s what — he thinks he couldn’t be charged if he stood outside. It’s like Manson.”

They put out one of their bulletins. I drove home, showered, and went to work the next day. I was nearly dead from lack of sleep and part of me just wanted to lie down and die. My baby was dead, the law was telling me I couldn’t even speak to my daughter, and 95% of me thought Mr. Moron had killed my best friend Badger.

I asked if I could leave work early to go to the animal shelter and put out flyers for Badger. Receiving permission, I drove from downtown to Woodland Hills. Once I got in the house in the daytime, I saw the damage from the night before was even worse than I’d thought. I went around the corner from the kitchen to the living room and saw something unspeakable.

My hammer lay on the floor. On my grandmother’s dining table lay sheets of newsprint and what remained of Anthony’s Christmas houses. Completely shattered. Just shards of pottery and broken colored glass.

Alan’s ex had taken my own hammer and smashed the few things I had that were a memory of my baby who had died three weeks before.

I sat cross-legged on the floor in that huge living room and wept. Next to Lali dying, it was the worst moment of my life.

So then my cell phone rang.

“Hello, I’m calling about Badger Cass-eeel,” said a polite woman’s voice.

She lived by the golf course, she had rescued Jack Russells herself, and she had Badger.

I want to tell you that — and I understand there are a lot of people who don’t believe in God — that He is real. At least that’s how I call Him. Maybe Her. We don’t know. But just as there was unspeakable evil at play in this situation, so too, was there good.

I went over there and got Badger and wept like a baby in her living room. I didn’t burden her with too much of the horrible story. She was one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.

One of the reasons I stayed alive after that was so I could buy our house in Redlands with Cathy and bring Badger home.

He ran away there, too.

Badger loved to run down to the Sankey.

He busted out the back of the house one day and jumped the fence. Getting home and seeing the screen flapping in Cath’s room, I got in my Landrover (aka “The Banana Car” — it was a repo) and drove slowly by the Sankey. Along the stream were fields of tall, dry, uncut grass.

I had the window rolled halfway down and I called for him.

Something told me he was near.

A pair of rabbit-like ears rose from the waving grass.

“Onie!” I called.

He bounded through the grass and jumped into his seat. We drove home in the soft, fading light.

He was dirty and covered in weeds and burrs. That was my best friend. That was Badger.

I thought I was rescuing him but it was Badger who saved me.

Mom. You gave him a Payday and he threw it up.

I know Bal. I know. He loved me anyway.

My Baby Died in My Arms And I Was Accused of Killing Him

My Baby Died in My Arms And I Was Accused of Killing Him

My son Anthony Sterling Rodgers, who I called “Lali,” died in my arms on the night of January 11, 2005. He was exactly six months old.

In terms of his eyes, they were blue.

I have never felt such fierce love as I did for Lali. He was a pure spirit of love.

It was my second day of work at Beyond Shelter and I had stayed late to meet the board of directors. It was also one of the rainiest periods in Los Angeles history and I struggled to drive home in near-hurricane conditions.

Twenty minutes before I got home, I spoke to Lali’s father Alan on the phone. He had just fed Anthony, he said, and was putting him down to sleep. Earlier that day my daughter Meredith had gotten sick with the flu at school and Alan had packed Lali in the car, driven down the hill, and brought her home.

When I came in from the garage, Meredith was on the couch in the living room. She got up and was quicker than me to get to the bedroom.

Alan was downstairs in his office.

Why had Alan put the baby in —

I can see this in my mind but it’s very difficult to say.

Meredith found Lali. He was in her arms and she said, “Mom — “

Mom. I just had dinner with her. I love her so much.

He was unconscious and there was putty-colored milk all over his little face.

I can’t describe what it was, but I put him on the floor and started to breathe in his mouth.

CALL 9–11!

I tried so hard to clear his airway but I couldn’t. I pressed his little chest. I breathed in his mouth. Our neighbor ran in. She took over.

I heard the ambulance. The sirens stopped. Our front door was wide open and I could see the lights flashing in the hallway. Red white red white red white —

I screamed for them.

Nobody came.

They were on the wrong side of a jerry-rigged fence that divided the two halves of our short street in Woodland Hills. They had to drive all the way down winding streets and come back the other way.

I estimate it took about ten minutes.

At the hospital, they worked on Lali for over an hour.

One thing that took me many years to verbalize was that I felt Lali’s soul leave right after I saw the flashing lights.

I couldn’t accept that. It was why I cried out so.

— Where was Lali’s father, the horror writer and editor Alan Rodgers? —

When he realized what had happened, he had a cardiac “event” and was also taken to the hospital.

Lali was a late baby, an unexpected baby — I was 41 when I had him. I was independent. I was making good money teaching at 3 different colleges and earning several thousand dollars a month writing.

I was a late baby, an unexpected baby — my mother Sterling was 40 when she had me. She had been fighting pancreatic cancer for at least two years before becoming unexpectedly pregnant. She stopped chemotherapy and radiation upon learning she was pregnant with me. I was born three months prematurely and she died three months after I was born.

In 2003, I had put money down on a small house in Calabasas and was going to move there — leaving Alan —to start a new, happy life with my daughter.

I had withdrawn from a sexual or romantic relationship with Alan, whose life was in constant, unremitting, unspeakable turmoil due to his horrific, decade-plus divorce and custody battle over his three children. Alan was depressed (he regularly threatened to kill himself — and a lot of people would have, or murdered their ex) and he had already begun to suffer personality changes due to small strokes resulting from inherited small vessel disease, made much worse by his misuse of alcohol and tobacco. I didn’t know that then. I just knew things were bad, and I had a Down Syndrome baby and a 12 year-old daughter and that’s why I’d started working at Beyond Shelter.

I had already been looking for a house and had saved enough money to buy when Southern California was engulfed by fires very similar to those devastating Northern California today, fifteen years later.

Lali would be a big boy now, in high school.

Alan was terrified by the fires. The smoke poured across the valley and hellish red glare lit the hillsides day and night.

Alan said it was like one of his stories, for he had written a number of apocalyptic visions after moving to Los Angeles to follow his children who had been parentally kidnapped by their mother (his ex) and her new spouse — an individual who had previously indicated to Alan that he was his “best friend.”

The kids weren’t around and Alan seemed softer, almost like his old self.

As a 5th generation Southern Californian I wasn’t afraid the fires would make it all the way through miles of suburbia to our house.

We made love.

Two and a half months later, I was driving to class at Moorpark College and I felt nauseous.

I didn’t even really need to buy the home pregnancy test but I did need to go to the doctor.

I had a choice.

I chose to give Alan an opportunity to be a good father to this child and — even if I did end up moving out — I knew I would never do what his ex-wife had done to his children.

I knew that Alan had sacrificed everything, including a potential happy marriage with me and mini-celebrity-dom in the sick and twisted world of “publishing” and “horror writing” to be there for his children no matter what happened.

At my age I knew there was also a big risk of the baby having problems. I didn’t go for early amniocentesis to “prove” Anthony had Down Syndrome or didn’t. I didn’t opt for anything except Level III ultrasounds. Anthony’s body was growing normally. There was nothing physical on the ultrasounds indicating a problem.

Before he was born, Lali was completely different to my daughter Meredith. He was calm. She pummeled my ribs 24–7 with her little heels.

Before she was born, I was sure Meredith was a boy. If I hadn’t had the ultrasounds and known Lali was a boy, before he was born, I would have sworn he was a girl.

When I was about six months pregnant I talked to a lady who was in charge of the Down Syndrome Association in Los Angeles. Her son was a gifted actor and a handsome young man. He had been in CSI and other popular shows.

I went to see him and his friends performing in a theater company. Down Syndrome young people were attending UCLA. My dad and brother were Bruins.

Even if Lali didn’t have Down Syndrome, I wanted to learn about it. It was nothing like what I thought. These kids were wonderful. I felt wonderful just watching them and talking to them.

They were gifted —

Their emotional IQ was off the charts.

One of the happiest memories I have of Lali is shopping at Christmas-time at the Target on Ventura Blvd. I had half a day off. I put him in his seat in the cart. The store had the cutest display of a toy train, cotton snow, and little lit Christmas houses.

He was only 5 months old but eagerly looking at the choo-choo, the little houses, and the little people, laughing every time the train tooted its horn.

He loved them so and I bought three and put them in the huge living room in this massive, insane house we lived in because Alan wanted to prove to his children he could “provide” for them.

I’m not writing about what Alan’s ex-wife and her spouse did and forced the children to do after Lali died.

But next to Lali’s death and being charged with responsibility for it — the baby who I would die for right now this minute if it would give him back his life — what that woman did to Lali’s Christmas houses was the lowest point of my life. Alan suffered gross domestic violence and so did I — and so did my completely innocent daughter who today, like me, has a diagnosis of PTSD.

She found Lali first.

The night Lali died, the ER nurse put him in my arms.

They let me sit with him and hold him as long as I wanted.

I held him for an hour.

I called Mike and told him what happened. He said he would come first thing in the morning to get Meredith.

When we got back to the house, Meredith and I stayed in the living room, where she had been on the couch. This would be the last night either of us spent in that house and the last time she was ever there.

First, my cell phone rang. It was the organ donation people. Would I give permission for my son’s organs to be used?

Of course, I said. Then she started asking questions.

Was he an IV drug user?
Did he smoke tobacco?
Did he use alcohol?

He was a six month-old baby with Down Syndrome.

I lay on the couch staring at the ceiling. There was very little “me” left. I wanted Meredith to go with Mike. That was it.

My breasts ached. I was in physical agony and my soul had shrunk to a tiny flicker.

Then I saw lights flashing outside the front door and a series of loud bangs.

It was a man and a woman backed by Sheriffs. I saw two of the same ones who had responded before when the ambulance finally made it the right way up the hill.


This was approximately 2:00 a.m. My daughter and I were questioned separately for five hours. The man and woman tag-teamed us, switched up, went backwards and forwards.

At 7:00 I watched the woman put my daughter in the back of a patrol car in our driveway.

They were taking her to Mike, so I guess it saved him a drive out to Woodland Hills.

The next time I saw my daughter it was at Ed Edelman’s Children’s Court in Monterey Park.

I was not allowed to spend time alone with Meredith for the next three months.

Public service message to women: if you are involved with a man who has an extreme custody battle and you have children of your own, you can’t be involved with him. You are putting your innocent child at intolerable risk. I didn’t “get” this then but I absolutely “get” it now. You would too if you’d walked in my shoes. And if you were white like me, you wouldn’t be lecturing people about how to live their lives because during my unhappy months sitting in that place of horror I saw countless children ripped out of the arms of their mothers. Forever.

For nothing.

The only differences between me and those moms was the color of my skin, the number of my friends in influential positions, and the balance in my bank account.

By the end of it, the balance in my bank account was pretty low, too.

Both Alan and I were charged with responsibility for Anthony’s death. Alan’s children too were called in to the court even though they had barely seen their little half-brother and knew nothing about anything and should have been shielded —

as my daughter was.

The first thing I said to the judge was “Please, let my daughter stay with her dad and grammy. She shouldn’t miss school because of this.”

The judge agreed.

I’m not going to over-dramatize what happened to me at the Ed Edelman Children’s Courthouse.

After the first three days, the judge herself realized why the officers had shown up the way they had, and why my daughter and I had been questioned the way we were.

Alan’s ex-wife had the same first name as me.

On my first courthouse appearance I was presented with a stack of paper about 10 inches high that consisted of over 200 reports made to DCFS about Alan Paul Rodgers abusing his children.

The DA was screaming at the judge and pointing her finger at me, her eyes as big as saucers —

– SHE left her baby with a father who left her children alone to play with electrical outlets!
– SHE left the baby with a man who let her children eat popcorn off the dirty floor!
– SHE left her baby alone with an alcoholic who beat the children!

I was still in shock, like the people in war who lose their loved ones, then are dragged to some insane mock trial.

Alan’s children were 16, 14, and 8.

SHE was his ex-wife and the first time I’d heard these allegations was right there being screamed at me.

I didn’t really have an attorney. There was some court-appointed woman who assumed I’d murdered Lali with a phone cord.

The judge herself looked at the paper and looked at what the DA had written.

“This defendant is not the mother of the children or the woman who made these allegations,” she said.

I stayed at my job — which I did eventually 6 years later quit — and I know I did a horrible job. But my boss did keep me on.

My friends at Saddleback stood by me.

My friends in Redlands stood by me.

Mike stood by me. Grammy stood by me.

I used the money I had saved to put down on the house in Calabasas (it was a mobile home) to pay the best attorney I had encountered that Alan had contacted during his custody case. He knew me and he knew how monstrous Alan’s ex and her husband were and how much abuse had gone on. He was able to quickly communicate that the child abuse reports were custody-battle motivated.

I did exactly what he said. Meredith never had to go to that place and she was able to get started in school in Redlands.

Three months later, the attorney told me they were going to close the case.

It was the same judge. She was a blonde, blue-eyed Jewish woman.

I went in my suit, I went before work.

Once again, waiting in that long line to enter the facility. I think they tried very hard to make it “decent.” I know all of them there thought they were doing the right thing.

Even on that day, even though I knew for me — the ordeal was almost over — and yes I had an Armenian case manager visit my crappy little apartment in Redlands with its minimal furniture and she did go through my drawers and closets to prove there was “no man” living there (Alan was forbidden contact with any children involved and he had much more to answer for than I did because he did leave Lali by himself with his bottle).

I looked around in that line, and this was indeed one of the moments that defined a new realization for me. Much as I wrote about my encounter with criminal CHP officer Craig Peyer, who eventually escalated from pulling young blonde women over to murder, I realized that for me, an ending was possible. And an opportunity for some type of recovery for my daughter.

No justice: just escape.

By the skin of my teeth.

As to the other grief-stricken women whose children had been taken away in patrol cars — brown-skinned, brown-haired, brown-eyed — I knew it wasn’t going to go so well for them.

I was already working at Beyond Shelter and I had worked at Family Service for ten years. I had been in those courtrooms and I had been a mandated child abuse reporter.

I had been caught in this maelstrom because my baby had been born with Down Syndrome and he died because his father put him on the end of the bed with his bottle. He drank the formula while lying down and choked. He aspirated the formula and struggled in his blanket. He was unconscious when Meredith found him and could not be revived.

And because Alan’s ex-wife and her husband had been calling in false reports against Alan for years and DCFS responded to her house — likely while I was sitting in the emergency room holding my dead baby in my arms.

She — a screamer herself — apparently screamed to them all the bad things Alan had done to “her babies” while they were young.

At 2:30 a.m. after I’d been asked if my baby was an IV drug user and smoker by someone who insisted “I have to ask the questions and you have to answer if you want his organs to be donated — “

Then the investigators showed up and questioned me and my daughter for 5 hours.

It’s a good thing our stories agreed.

When they put Meredith in the patrol car that morning, the woman — slightly better than the man whom I now know was certainly dirty and bad — said:

“Sometimes we have to take children from good mothers.”

I lost my son and my daughter on the same night.

I just had dinner with Meredith. I love her so much.

There was a man behind me in line at the courthouse that morning.

A middle-aged white man and I liked nothing about him.

He was garrulous, eager to show everyone around a thick white binder he had which consisted of court paperwork and a photo album.

In the album — and I can see the pictures to this day — were photos of three little girls. They were dark-skinned and dark-haired.

The youngest looked to be about five, and the oldest, about ten. They were standing stiffly, each dressed in elaborate dirndls and old-fashioned white cotton and lace shirts, buttoned tightly at their necks, with frilly, puffy sleeves. White frilly socks. Black patent Mary Janes.

These are my daughters! he said. Today they’re going to terminate the mother’s parental rights [he actually said “the mother”] and my wife and I will finalize our adoption.

My wife works for DCFS.

There’s nothing you can do, I told myself. You are here for you and Meredith.

For you, today, it’s going to be over.

At the end of the very brief proceedings, the blonde, blue-eyed Jewish judge rapped her gavel, stood, and walked around the bench.

I cannot say I had friendly feelings toward her or anyone anywhere in that place, but she held out her arms.

I let her embrace me.

“That’s it,” she said. “It’s over. You can go home and take care of your daughter.”

Then she said, “I’ve closed the case and ordered the records expunged.”

My attorney said he knew of only five cases expunged in the entire history of the children’s courthouse.

So, you might find a web page that accuses Alan Rodgers, me, and even my daughter, of murdering Lali. It’s probably still there. You might even see it referring to “court records.” You’ll see the man promises videos of Alan’s children talking about how he abused them and killed their little brother.

That’s the same guy that told Alan he was his “best friend,” that then broke up his marriage and kidnapped Alan’s kids, married Alan’s ex- (after she had 2 kids with him) and was responsible for the overwhelming majority of over 100 false child abuse reports made against Alan over the entirety of the custody battle.

So here is a postscript. Alan’s custody battle pre-dated me, and it post-dated me.

Alan is himself, now dead. He died in 2013 after suffering a series of devastating strokes.

That web page I mentioned appeared three years after the judge told me I could go free and be a mother to my daughter without fear.

Seeing that s**t is what pushed me over the edge into full-on PTSD.

The motive? Unbeknownst to me, Alan had hired a private investigator to find his children, who had been parentally kidnapped — yet again — after he too, was exonerated for responsibility in Anthony’s death.

We used to call the guy who did all this “Mr. Moron” and it’s much too kind a term. His behavior should be very familiar to everyone whose lives have ever been ruined by having contact with a narcissistic psychopath.

There is a lot more to the story. But the important part is: the truth did come out in my situation.

I remember shards and pieces. I remember sitting on the front steps in Woodland Hills about a week after Lali died, talking to a CSI.

She told me flat out “We didn’t find a mark on him. We know how he died.”

And she explained to me how it had happened.

The responsibility Alan truly had — and he had been accused of drinking at the time and had not been — was not accepting that Lali had Down Syndrome.

There were some miracles with Lali. About four days before he died, he was sitting in his high chair eating dinner with us and he looked up at me with his shining blue eyes, held up his arms, and said, “Mama.”

As clear as day. “Ma-ma.”

A Down Syndrome baby speaking his first words at six months old.

So yes, that was kind of a miracle and yes, I did get to see and hear that and I am so very grateful.

So here’s the thing. Down Syndrome babies can’t swallow very well and shouldn’t ever be put down with any kind of food or bottle. They must always be allowed to finish drinking or eating completely before lying down.

I didn’t know that — although I wouldn’t have put Lali in that location and when I was with him, I was breast-feeding him not using a bottle.

But that’s what the CSI woman told me that day sitting on the step. She let me hold the little doll they used to represent a child, to show where Lali had been found.

That was what had happened.

“My daughter found him first,” I said. “She gave him to me.”

In terms of his eyes, they were blue.

I could never understand why the Lord took him. But I know I prayed and still pray, “Lord, please let Lali’s life have meaning.

It did for the little boy who got his heart and for the little girl who got his corneas. And for the other organs and skin they were able to use.

He was Lali. A pure spirit of love.

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