Stranger Things – The Upside Down World of Murder – Adrian Gonzales

We were stopped in the left turn lane of an intersection that was five lanes deep. Adrian was super mad and started to get out of the passenger seat – which means he would have stepped out into traffic. I shouted stop! And locked all the doors. For some reason that worked. That moment scared the crap out of me. He could have been killed and he didn’t care. 

The car was overly-full of kids. I never owned a van but I probably should have because I was the mom who drove the kids around, dragged them to events or adventures. This time I had signed all the kids up for a day at UC Santa Cruz. It was a kids’ conference or something but it meant these middle school kids had a chance to hang out on campus and see what college might be like. The big promise was I’d buy them lunch at the dining commons. I knew that would blow their minds.

The Squad: Adrian, Chels, Eva, Cas and Katie at UC Santa Cruz, May 2015

Choose whatever floats your boat.

It did. Never have I seen kids so happy to pick and choose any food they want in any order they want to eat it.

Adrian Gonzales
Crappy shot but you get the idea – ice cream first – with plenty of sprinkles. It was nice seeing him so happy.

It was on our way home from this outing that Adrian got so mad. The rest of us in the car could never remember what set him off. Based on what I’ve learned since that day, I have a feeling it was the fact we were taking him home. The fun day filled with promise of what the future could hold for these amazing kids, was coming to an end. It was time to go home and as I would learn later, home was even worse than we realized.

That was May 2013.

My daughter Katie (in the rainbow striped dress) and her squad had a busy spring. Eighth grade was ending for the girls and they were ready to hit high school. Adrian was an artist and had connected with the girls around art. He was behind them by one year and in a weird way, Katie and her buddy Em were ready for the change. Adrian was intense and often chatted online with f them at night. Mostly he talked about suicide. It was so bad, I tried to get him help. I had found a counselor and was even willing to pay for it. But if you aren’t someone’s legal guardian, it turns out help is nearly impossible to get.

From what I understood, Adrian lived with his mom who was typically not home. She was with “boyfriends” who lived anywhere from Santa Cruz to San Francisco and points in between. When we dropped him off, we made him wave from the third floor window because we wanted to make sure he got in safely. He thought we were nuts – he was so used to being home alone, he couldn’t figure out this “safe” thing. He was just 13.  When he wasn’t home alone, it seemed his life was worse. He could hear his mother having sex with different men. I learned later the walls in his apartment didn’t go all the way up to the ceiling; they were more like partitions creating the illusion of privacy but providing next to none.

Adrian Gonzales
They lived at The Tannery – an artist colony in Santa Cruz, He lived in the upper left, back apartment. None of us ever went into his apartment; he didn’t want anyone in there.

The threats of suicide became more frequent as the end of school got closer. He knew he was going to lose the girls as friends because they were moving on. I finally had to coach the girls that they needed to tell him they could no longer talk about his suicidal thoughts unless he got help. He was being manipulative and it was starting to wear on them and he wasn’t taking any steps to change his reality.

One message he sent to Katie turned out to be eerily prescient two years later: “I’m afraid something bad is going to happen in high school.”

On the occasion of Katie’s 16th birthday.

A few days before Katie’s 16th birthday, a news story broke. A young girl, Maddy,  was missing at The Tannery. I immediately thought about Adrian. As I had expected, we had lost touch when the girls started high school. A yeaer later Adrian had eventually ended up at Katie’s high school and they had said “hi”, but that was about all. As I listened to the news, I had a dark thought about Adrian but pushed it out of my head. Maddy was missing but she could have just wandered off. Or maybe one of the homeless folks who frequented the San Lorenzo river area had engaged her in conversation and she was just down river somewhere; safe but out of bounds.

And then, two days later I was listening to KGO and the bad news came on. Her body had been found in a recycle bin in the garage at The Tannery. And a boy was in custody. Before they spoke, I knew who it was. A future murderer had been in my house. Had been close friends with my daughter!

Adrian Gonzales
Just an ordinary day after school at Jen’s house.

Having grown up scared of a murderer I couldn’t see and didn’t know, finding out someone who we trusted and cared about had done something so awful freaked me out. I was blown away and how much Maddy looked like Katie and her friends – especially the freckles. Katie and her friends were struggling too. How could the boy they knew do something so horrendous.

July 30 was Katie’s 16th birthday and we had planned to get her driver’s license that day. We did manage that, but her day started with attending Adrian’s arraignment on her own. I had warned her about the media and she was interviewed, but the kid did pretty great. We didn’t miss the irony that in our teens, we had both dealt with a serious crime.

What is just in this case?

Katie and I provided information to both the prosecution and the defense. Katie had hours of Facebook chats to share and we told both sides about his horrible mother and his depression. We agreed we never thought he’d hurt someone else, but he also talked about dark thoughts he had he couldn’t share with anyone. I have to say, he’s probably right. How could he share these kinds of thoughts with anyone and get real help. Especially as a minor.

Last summer, Adrian was heading back to court and his lawyers asked to talk with me. They told me how many times CPS and others were involved in his life and how every stinking time, the resolution ended with calling his mother. No one ever got she was the problem. Routinely, she blamed him for being bad in some way and convinced these child advocates that really she was the victim and Adrian was just a troubled child. Over and over she blamed him. The kid we knew wasn’t bad. He was an artist and a poet and seriously sad.

They wanted me to possibly testify on his behalf but for the first time, I honestly didn’t know if that was something I could do. The crime was horrendous and I had no idea of he could ever be rehabilitated. For someone who lives with a justice monitor lives in my brain like a smoke detector, I had no idea what justice would mean in this case. I didn’t want him executed, but life in prison seemed reasonable. I like to think people aren’t permanently damaged, but how do we know? And I still felt pretty guilty about not fighting harder to get him help. Instead I joined a long list of adults who failed this kid. And eight year old Maddy paid the price.

I did not testify.

So I’m still knocked a little sideways when I see Adrian in the news. The day after I was laid off this week (let’s remember this was just two days after seeing the Golden State Killer for the first time), Adrian appeared on the front page of our local newspaper. I’m disappointed that he’s pleading not guilty,but I suppose they are working to negotiate some kind of sentence that might one day let him get out.

It’s so strange to be on two different sides of murder.

To understand the “before story” and know when someone is suffering, and yet be unable to do a damn thing to change the course of history. You can’t prove a negative. There’s no way to know if I had been able to do something, if Maddy would still be here today. But that’s the logic being used by politicians today: we need to help the mentally ill. Guess what? It’s really, really hard.

We’ve done everything possible to make it impossible.

Someone Get Me a Xanax, It’s Finals Time

Look closely at that photo: On Friday she was barfing her guts out with the 24 hour flu; the bucket’s still there but now it appears papers are what’s been barfed out. What a way to study! 

I think the greatest testament to the first year of high school is the fact that I haven’t blogged about it since November 1st.

This year went by at times painfully slow and on whole, remarkably fast. Today is the first day of finals (first semester finals were a joke but that’s for another blog), so today is the first “real” final for biology. And I am a wreck.

I know it’s not about me. 

I don’t have to take the darn test. But the Herculean effort I have put in to helping this kid learn how to learn all year long is coming down to two days: today and tomorrow. And this morning’s breakfast is still a rock in my stomach until 12:20 when I see Katie to hand her her yearbook (that she forgot this morning) and look at her face to see if she survived – oh, and maybe got a passing grade (because seriously, I do NOT want to do this over again).

Oh there’s so much to share about freshman year and now that it’s coming to a close, I think I will have time to reflect, record and release (you knew I had to find another “r” word because school is all about the three “r’s” isn’t it?).

So for now, this blog will serve as my faux Xanax as I wait for word and get ready for tomorrow’s second mad dash to her math final (thankfully English isn’t having one – first time that horrible teacher has done something good!).

And then I will start a list of blog topics: How I Survived Her Freshman Year. 

UPDATE: I got an excited text from her that she got 100% on her lab book – her choice to focus on that last night was a good one – and she thought the final wasn’t that bad. She’s off the lunch with friends before sweating the math final tomorrow. Whew. One down, one to go!

Wow – Just Changed the Blog Title to “It’s High School”

First day and last day of middle school. Damn.

Hard to believe the time has come.

Middle school graduation was last week – I can’t believe how much this kid changed in one year. Who knew eighth grade would mark such significant developments. For a kid who really had one friend in middle school, she ended with a posse! In fact, her great milestone, a zillion signatures in her yearbook – compared to last year which only had signatures on one page.

Katie considers this to be her greatest 8th grade achievement. I can’t say she’s wrong. She did great academically but thankfully that’s never been that hard for her. But making new friends, that’s proven to be much more of a challenge. She likes kids who are savvy and interesting and willing to try new things. She’s not interested in stoners or followers or people who have no imagination.
She’s off and running and I find that I am the one left facing a bit of “development.”

When I brought Katie home from the hospital, swear to God, the very first week, I cried like a fool telling everyone that she was going to leave me and go to college. I’ll be damned, I was right! But the leaving is starting now. All this time I wanted her to have friends but I didn’t realize that meant I would be back on my own again.

Oh sure, I see her sometimes, but even as I write this she’s in her room, on the phone or texting. She has been out all day on a bike ride (and an early dinner – what 13 year old says that? “Hey mom, we are heading out for an ‘early dinner’ on the wharf!”). I have been home working and then cooked (well, burned) myself dinner and dove into a Stephen King book (Under the Dome – why did I think I could read 1074 pages before the series starts this week?).

Anyway, this early empty nest thing isn’t going so well for me. I am truly having a hard time. I know I’m in the final countdown. Four years of high school is going to fly by. I’m clear. It’s time I get back to having a life, doing things with my friends, maybe watch a movie. The feeling is so uncomfortable and lonely. I miss that wonderful pre-teen who used to hang out with me.

But I’m proud of her too. This is what’s she’s supposed to be doing right? Growing up. Being independent. Taking responsibility for her own life.

So we begin. The last four years. This is high school.