In 2013, Shelby asked me to write our story. Although finished in 2017, I was unsure what to do with it until now. Instead of seeking to publish it through traditional means, I have decided to post it here and a chapter will be added along the way. Maybe if I’d been bolder about our story then, we wouldn’t be here now. However, the past can never be changed, only how we choose to proceed. Please share as you feel led. It has not been professionally edited, so please forgive any grammatical mistakes.
Reminder: our story encompasses a brief period of time, and reflects what was being felt at that time by us. It is not a reflection of anyone or anything other than what we – the four of us – were experiencing at that time.
This is the prologue; to read the story in its entirety, click on menu and select The Long and Winding Road.
THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD
By Yvonne C. Harper
Dedicated to Shelby D. Harper
The Long and Winding Road: Keep Walking
It happens in everyone’s life: A moment that sends you crashing to your knees. Not falling… not kneeling… not bowing, but a crash that comes with knowing that you have been thrust onto a path not of your choosing.
For me, that moment came in June 2008.
My daughter was in Florida; my son was at school; my husband was on some ocean sailing on a steel boat the size of several football fields. I returned to our fewer than 900 square feet home in the afternoon. I had worked that morning and so far, it had been a good day. I had about an hour before Garren would get out of school. I sat down at my small desk to email Paul when I noticed the blinking message light on the phone. I pushed the play button. A simple one sentence, “Call me when you get this message.” I looked at the time knowing it was early morning in Florida. I wasn’t too worried as I dialed the number to Shelby’s best friend’s mom. Those few seconds it took to connect the call, and then for Mary to answer were the last few seconds of peace our family would know for a while. The words that drifted over the miles through the lines of communication shattered whatever normalcy existed in a Navy family. Six words was all it took:
“Shelby was raped when she was 11,” were the words that sent me crashing to me knees.
Paul and I made the decision to send her home for the summer as a reprieve. She was 14, three years after we had moved to Japan in July 2005. Japan: A beautiful country we had lived before and eager to return to given Paul was to be deployed for most of the year. When deciding where to go next, Japan was an easy choice: it was safe… or so we thought.
We arrived in the middle of summer. Upon stepping out of the airport, we were immediately enveloped in a humid, sticky heat that stems from an area brimming with people, cars, trains and industry. The children were tired, as was I having made the journey from Florida to Japan via Alabama and Washington without Paul, as he had left Florida in March. A familiar face greeted us from our days on Guam. Our friend retrieved us, our many bags and loaded us in his van – and unbeknownst to me at the time, the journey into the abyss began.
Had I known the journey that awaited us, I would have turned around and boarded the plane back to Florida, but life isn’t like that… life is taking one step at a time moving forward – so that’s what we did – moved forward to start a new chapter in our lives.
However, at that time I was merely eager to get the two-hour drive to the base done so we could check into the Navy Lodge, find a bite to eat and drift into sleep that I knew would be interrupted at 2 a.m. because my body was still on Florida time. But I was comforted by the knowledge that although we arrived without being able to greet Paul, we would see him soon enough in September.
The days that followed were filled with activities that accompany military life be it across the state, across the country or around the world. Carrying records to medical, dental, schools; sitting in indoctrination; taking a drivers license test that would mean I was the “professional” driver in a country filled with “amateurs.” Buying a vehicle, registering, titling and insuring the vehicle; moving from the lodge to military housing one third the size of the home we’d left; receiving our belongings and unpacking boxes, deciding where it all should go.
I didn’t need much help because I’d been doing this since I was 18 and knew the process. I am also quite independent and stubborn, reluctant to ask for help and be perceived as “that kind of wife.” The kind that couldn’t do anything for herself… that was most assuredly not me so headlong I plunged into the life of living overseas again with no friends, no contacts, no job – just me and my two children, an 11-year-old beautiful and tender-hearted girl, and a 5-year-old energetic, good-hearted boy.
The move was hardest on my daughter. Moves were always hard for her – she dreaded leaving behind what was familiar as well as hand of friendship. When she found that friend, she latched on and remained loyal. This explains why she waited three years to tell her secret… waited until she was in familiar territory, in the sanctuary of her friend’s room.
But in that hot month of July, I never would’ve have imagined what path awaited us as we began our journey in the Land of the Rising Sun.