People of Magnitude

Shared by Jennifer Chavez-Duran

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We grew up in a nice town, and our neighborhood felt like something out of Mr. Roger's; it was very pleasant and family friendly.  I fondly remember the times I would ride bikes with my friends, play at the park, or go to our small private beach.  Sometimes we would just sit on the dock with our feet in the water, watching the waves roll in, soaking in the beauty and solitude of those moments.  The calm and peaceful atmosphere of the lake was comforting and the beach quickly became my safe haven.

When I was eleven, I started babysitting kids in my neighborhood.  Due to the family-friendly nature, there was a multitude of families looking for a babysitter throughout the years.  When I turned fifteen, I met the Riddle family.  Scott and Kenia were extremely welcoming and I bonded quickly with their two children, Stephanie and Ryan.  I started babysitting for them exclusively, and it was a perfect fit for everyone.

Anyone who knew Kenia would describe her as simply amazing.  She was beautiful, inside and out; she just had a glow about her.  She was the kind of person that drew people in with her vibrancy and zest for life.  Alongside her artistic soul, her passions included gardening, music, the outdoors, and helping others.  Scott was an intelligent, friendly, natural conversationalist with a great sense of humor.  Stephanie was a spunky, fun and sweet eight year old when I met her.  Ryan was six years old, and while we got along just fine, I had more of a connection with Stephanie. We formed a sisterly bond.  Needless to say, I enjoyed spending time with all of them and they quickly became like my second family.

Life with my Second Family

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Their house stood tall, overlooking the private beach that I enjoyed.  Over that year, I spent more and more time with them.  Scott and Kenia started inviting me over just to hang out, eat dinners with them, and go on small outings.  Every so often, Scott would take the kids and me out on the lake for boat rides or to ride their jet skis.  Their backyard, which led right to the beach, included a gorgeous patio and a trampoline for the kids. Some days Kenia and I would sit on the patio with music in the background and chitchat while the kids played on the trampoline.  She spoke of art, love, music, and life.  Stephanie and I favored the hammock where we could relax and listen to the sounds of the rustling leaves in the tall shady trees, and the waves crashing against the edge of the pier.

Having an interest in photography, I would sometimes take photos of the kids on disposable cameras, print them out, and bring copies to Scott and Kenia.  When my 16th birthday rolled around, they presented me with this beautiful compact Canon camera.  Their thoughtfulness overwhelmed me and I cherished that camera, taking it everywhere for many years.  To this day, I still have all the printed photos I took on it.

Christmas was coming around, and Kenia knew I had wanted to see my long-distance boyfriend for a while.  She generously offered to fly my boyfriend in to see me, in lieu of babysitting payment while they went out of town for a few days.  We had fun hanging out with the kids, and took them out to play in the snow and on the lakefront that had frozen over.  I had my boyfriend take a photo of me and the kids all standing in a row, and I had it framed for Kenia for Christmas.  She loved it and kept that photo on their mantel.

Time went on and I was almost 17.  I continued babysitting for them on the weekends, and during the week I had picked up a part time job at a French Bakery after school.  I was struggling with school and also some personal things I had going on.  One day in particular, I was really stressed and snapped at Stephanie.  The words came out of my mouth quicker than I could stop them, "Please stop, you're annoying me."  I will never forget the look of disappointment on Kenia's face.  She lectured me in the nicest way possible, explaining that Stephanie looked up to me like an older sister, and asking me why I said that.  We talked for a bit and tried to clear the air.  I felt so ashamed for disappointing them, when they had done nothing but welcome me into their lives.  I didn't want to disappoint them anymore, and as I got busier with school and my other job, I became distant with them.  Over time I wasn't babysitting for them at all anymore, but every once in a while, I would still stop by for a friendly visit.  They always told me how much they missed having me around.

Unfathomable Pain

The event that followed later that year is forever etched in my memory.  I had a feeling all day that something was wrong, but I wasn't sure what.  My mom picked me up from school to take me to work.  As I got into her van and saw the look on her face, I immediately knew something terrible happened.  I kept asking her what was wrong; she didn't want to tell me right away since I had to go straight to work.  She was so choked up she could barely speak, so I started asking her questions.  My heart now pounding, I warily asked, "Did someone die?"  Her eyes started to swell up with tears and she sadly nodded her head yes.  "Was it someone I knew?"  Fighting back the tears, again, she nodded yes.

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A deafening silence surrounded me after she finally broke the tragic news to me.  Kenia had been out to lunch with friends, and realized she was late picking up her kids from school.  Other drivers saw her speeding through one of the neighborhoods and then she came upon a set of train tracks with flashing lights and lowered gates.  She crossed over into the other lane to bypass autos stopped at the gates and as she was crossing over the tracks a Metra train rammed her SUV.  A split-second decision and she was gone.  The news swirled around in my head and I was in complete and utter shock.  It didn't even feel real until I went to visit Scott and the kids; I remember being at work that night, feeling numb as I tried to process this tragedy.

It felt very surreal when I got to the Riddle's home.  I had been there so many times before, but this time was completely different.  Time seemed to be at a standstill as I slowly made my way up the steps and to the door.  I took a deep breath, and my heart was pounding as I rang the doorbell.  Scott let me inside and the sadness on his face was unbearable.  With tears in his eyes he looked at me and said "We lost her, Jen-Jen."  I nodded in understanding and mouthed the words, "I know."  As the tears started flowing, he nodded and said, "I've been bawling like a fucking baby."  We hugged and cried together and just sat for a while talking and grieving this terrible loss.  When I got to Stephanie's room, I sat on her bed and hugged her.  I wanted to be there for her and comfort her, but as I looked at this innocent little girl, now motherless, I couldn't keep myself together.  I started bawling and laid my head on her lap as she awkwardly tried to comfort me.  She said, "It's ok Jen," and as I tried to regain my composure we had a small chuckle as I told her "I'm supposed to be comforting you, not the other way around!"

Grief Multiplied

Going to the memorial service was a blur, as I was still trying to wrap my adolescent brain around all of this.  Waves of anger, uncertainty, and devastation crashed over me.  So many questions ran through my mind.  Why did this happen?  Why Kenia?  Why didn't she wait for the train to pass?  How were the kids going to get past this?  Then there was the one question I hated to admit: Why didn't I visit more?  Our conversations of art, love, music, and life were forever gone, and I felt bewildered and defeated.  On that chilly night in November, I bundled up and went to the lake.  I sat in the cold for hours, staring off into the distance, pondering these questions for a while.  The next couple years I spent a lot of sleepless nights at the beach, just sitting on the bench at the pier near their house.  My safe haven was always there, offering me comfort and a place to sort through my thoughts.

Almost six years later, in September of 2008, Scott passed away from bone cancer.  I did manage to stop by and see him before he passed, which I am thankful for.  The camera they had given me broke shortly after Scott’s passing, and I broke down in tears.  This gift that I cherished, one of the few things I had left in memory of them, was now gone.

Over the years, Stephanie and I have tried to remain in contact.  Every once in a while we would get together, or at least email back and forth to check in with each other.  Stephanie is now 25 years old, and doing well for herself.  In retrospect, I wish I had been around more for her—though she has proven to be a strong, independent woman despite the hardships she has endured.  Although we hardly email anymore, we are still connected on Facebook.  One thing I want Stephanie to be sure of is that, even though I'm now on the outside of her life, looking in, I'm always here if she ever needs anything.  I want her to know how incredibly proud I am of the woman she has become, as I know her parents would be, too.

This September, it will be nine years since Scott passed away and this November, it will be fifteen years since Kenia's passing.  I will always cherish the times we spent together, and they will forever remain in my heart and thoughts. People of this magnitude leave too much of an impact to be forgotten.

In Loving Memory of:

Kenia A. Riddle, Nov. 1, 1963–Nov. 15, 2002

F. Scott Riddle, Sept. 24, 1962–Sept. 25, 2008

 
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