By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Everyone knew that Erica's capable nature would require that she preserve herself now that she was carrying a baby.
Rosemary's and Ophie's miracles transpired in fits and starts, but partly, one could say, they were both saved by the power of love.
Rosemary hit bottom right around the time she got her income-tax refund, which amounted to about $2,000. "I went and I bought all my little brothers shoes," she said. "Then I gave Pita, my sister, $200, and I gave my mom a bunch of money to pay her bills. The rest was just for me. I didn't buy no shoes. I didn't buy no pretty clothes. I just went and bought all the drugs I can. All the beer and hard stuff. Plus, I went and bought me a new lighter. And then I went back to the apartment and just got high. I was still going to work, but I was getting high every night."
By this time, Ophie and Rosemary had become friends again. Curly, Ophie's boyfriend, had gotten himself locked up on a parole violation, and Ophie was camping out in an apartment right across from where Rosemary was living with her boyfriend, Snoopy.
"One day, I saw Ophie going out, and she had Puppet's picture in her back pocket," said Rosemary. "When I saw the picture, I knew she was thinking about killing herself that night. So I went off on her. I said, 'Don't do this to yourself! Don't do this to me! Listen, if Puppet wanted us there with him, he would send for us. And he hasn't.' I put her in her pajamas, got her in bed, got her some water. And then I just stayed with her all night. When she was finally asleep, I kept getting high, getting high, getting high. Just taking as much stuff as I could, almost doing to myself what I told her she couldn't do."
During the night, Ophie roused herself enough to put a CD on the boom box. "This is dedicated to you from me," she told Rosemary. The song was "Don't Speak" by the group No Doubt.
You and meI can see us dying . . . are we?
When singer Gwen Stefani's voice floated out of the speakers, Rosemary began to cry. "She was taking all those drugs," Ophie said later, "and I felt like I was losing her. So I played that song to say to her that I wanted my friend back. And that I wanted myself back."
The next morning, Rosemary had a breakdown. She went to work, but soon realized it was a mistake. "I hadn't slept for two days," she said. "I was shaking and crying, and I thought everyone was looking at me." So she left and drove around aimlessly. Finally, late in the afternoon, she went to a phone booth and called Father Greg. "I need help," she sobbed. "I told him, 'When all that was going on with my father, I learned to be a pro at hiding things. All my life, I've held all the feelings inside. I can't do it no more. Please find me some kind of rehab. I can't do this no more.'"
- 12 -
Erica went into labor on October 31, 1996, Halloween night. When she first arrived at White Memorial Hospital, the intern sent her home, which turned out to be the wrong directive. She came back again at 5 in the morning, and the doctor on duty looked concerned as he ordered a nurse to hook her up to a fetal heart monitor. During her pregnancy, Erica had been taking a training course to be a medical assistant, and she knew how to use the monitor. "I could hear the low heartbeat," she said. "So I looked at the nurse and said, 'Something's wrong.'"
The nurse called for the doctor, who admitted the intern had made a mistake in sending her home. "The baby's heartbeat's a little low," he said.
"What do you mean, 'a little low'?" she asked, panicked and furious.
She couldn't believe what was happening. "When Cesar passed away, I didn't care about anything. I just wanted to be with him," Erica said later. "But then when I found out I was pregnant, I took perfect care of myself from then on, because this baby was a part of both of us."
Erica held the doctor's gaze. "After all I've been through," she told him, "I'm not about to lose my son now."
The doctor shocked the baby's heartbeat back to normal. "They just put the thing inside of me and they just - WHAP! - shocked him." She delivered a healthy boy at 3 p.m. on November 2. There was no mistaking that he was Puppet's child, with his shovel-shaped head and large, elfin ears. Erica named him Cesar Angel. "Cesar's angel," she said, still dreamy from the labor of bringing the new life into being.
- 13 -
Before Puppet's death, Erica had been managing a phone room, literally a big room full of salespeople making phone solicitations. After the baby was born, she decided that, although the sales job paid well, she had no heart for it. She wanted to do community work instead. "A lot of terrible things have happened to me here in the projects," she said. "But this community, and the people I've met here, have also saved me. And I want to give back."