Saturday, June 30 2001
Steven Stryker woke early that Saturday morning. He got out of bed and started for the bathroom He opened the door and felt a bit light headed as the headache struck him. “Ten years old and I am already an old man?” he asked himself as he looked in the mirror. Steven thought of himself as a normal little white boy that lives in New York and lived for the upcoming summer free of school but full of fun. He was of average height, brown hair, green eyes and smooth skin. He had good vision and could hit a baseball but was an above average student, which meant he got B's with only the odd A or C. His father made those C's a sticking point. Or rather a beating point. That C was only in the first quarter last year, as he did not want to be pulled from his sports that his father promised would be the case if another C or worse came his way. The beating that would come with the low grades he did not need his father to mention.
He brushed his teeth combed his short hair and went to the dinner table where breakfast was waiting. Across the table to his left sat James Stryker his father. He looked like he did most Saturday mornings, unshaven and a bit tired. There were tons of floors in the building where he serves in the maintenance crew. “Hard work for all them office drones he was fond of saying whenever Steven thought to ask how his day was. The elder Stryker was much like himself save that he was grown and Steven was not. He was 6 foot tall thin and not at all heavy. Average Steven supposed people would describe him if they had a want to. James Stryker also had brown hair and green eyes, the apple not falling far from the tree as they say.
“Looking forward to the big game?” James asked his son as he served himself some eggs from the pan on the table between them.
“Oh yea, that school is over now is even better” Steven said smiling at his father as he took some hash browns for himself. The world spun before Steven for a moment like it had tilted. He must be more hungry than he thought, light headed and a headache and all because of being starved.
“I'm starved mom, thanks for this” he said taking a man's sized portion from the egg pan.
“I live to serve” Christine Stryker said with a smile as she took a much smaller potion for herself. She had to watch her weight if she wanted to keep the attention of her husband. She would never say it to him but she worried about losing his love if she would ever be so stupid as to let her body go. Christine had body image issues in that she believed that she was one meal away from being fat but that was not the case, as she weighed 137 pounds and was 5 foot 10 making her a good match to her husbands height. She was 32 just 2 years younger than James and felt that she could keep up with him and her son. She had long blond hair that she took the time to keep in good condition and blue eyes. She doted on Steven that was certain being there for him when James could not be there. She has part-time work at a local restaurant to help with the cost of luxuries that the Stryker home could no otherwise afford. It beat being bored she figured in any event. She glanced back at her son, there was something up there she knew, but could not tell what that something was. Maybe just worry about the game. He was the second baseman but did not have the skill to pitch as well as others; maybe next year he would be able to, he had been practicing. Maybe she would pay for some classes over the summer to get the skills to pitch. He could throw good enough to get the outs they needed so it was possible. She smiled as the thought as they finished their breakfast.
Steven finished the meal and ran to get outside to warm up some before the game. He was surprised to see his father freshly shaven join him a few minutes later to throw the ball around in their front yard. Steven practiced for about 30 minutes when the headache was back. He felt light headed at the same time and that was a little unusual because the headache usually had no other feelings with it. He felt like he was reaching above his head and losing his balance without actually doing something like that. Then the headache got worse but he smiled and kept practicing. He felt a sharp pain in his chest after a while in addition. He did not get that either but did not stop practicing, not with his father taking the time to practice too, James Stryker did not take the time to practice often, and Steven was not going to squander the chance no matter how he felt. As they were running low on time before he had to get a shower and change he thought it was like he was suddenly very sad and then in a second all the pains were gone. He smiled as he started into the house glad that the painful episode was over.
It was the third inning and Steven had a man on his base. He slapped his fist into the baseball mitt and watched the actions of their pitcher. Suddenly the ball was coming his way as the pitcher tried to take the man out. The runner was fast enough to get back to the base before Steven could get him out. He tossed the ball back and smiled at the benches. Sitting side by side were his father and mother, James and Christine Stryker. They were just Mom and Dad to Steven. Then suddenly the headache slammed into him and the sun of that Sunday afternoon seemed to dim before him. He shook his head like he was trying to get rid of the cobwebs.
Christine leaned over to her husband. “Do you think he is OK?” she asked
“Of course he is, he is a Stryker” James replied.
Christine shook her head, it was not the failed attempt to get an Out that she was talking about but James would never understand that. For Steven Stryker things were going from bad to worse. He missed a throw in the fourth inning. In the fifth the chest pain was back, as well as the sadness. All these things at the same time were a challenge for his 10 year old brain to handle. He did not bother to look down at his chest to see if there was say a spear through it he knew these phantom pains were just that, phantoms. He thought that day had turned to night, but things did not get any darker than that, He managed to keep working on things and by the sixth all the phantoms no longer affected his game. He managed to make a great throw then that was part of a double play. That was good. In the seventh he hit a homer with one on base as well, so they were now ahead going into the ninth.
It was a good time as he kept ignoring the pains that plagued him. He found it even easier to concentrate when the chest pain and sadness stopped. The headache got worse but the light returned to what most would call normal daylight. Still the game got worse when a hit was dropped in left field and a throw back from center came too slow to get an out. Soon they were standing there with the bases loaded and two outs. If they could just hold on, they would not even need to go to the bottom of the ninth. Steven did his best to keep ignoring the throbbing in his head he did not like the situation they were in. He would keep it up he knew he could keep it up.
“Taniqua NO” Steven heard yelled across the field. He looked over at the stands for who had yelled that odd name so loud that he could hear it there on the field while he was manning his base. Because of that the ground ball that came at him he never saw as it zipped past him. He then saw his father pointing and the man that took a lead off his base making for third. “Damn” Steven said aloud and ignored the old lady yelling the odd name. The ball was thrown back but not in time. Now they were down by one. They managed to get the final out on the next runner but now it was their game to lose. They had three outs to get two runs to win the game. As Steven ran to get in line for his chance at bat, he wondered if they could pull it out.
“You want another piece?” Christine asked offering the pizza to her son. They were at the local pizza place where the team met after most games. The celebration was subdued. Many of the boys thought their mistakes were what lost the game for the rest, but as the coach said, “No one person here lost the game. We did our best and that is all that matters. We had a great game, and while we did not win that does not matter as much as doing your best.” Steven was thinking that maybe he did not do is best, because of the headaches and phantom pains.
He felt his mother’s warm hand on his arm then. “What?” “I asked if you felt OK” Christine said
He looked at her for a second and thought of saying something. Decided against it he did not want to complain over nothing.
“Yeah just wanted to win the last game” Steven shrugged. “You know”
“It will be fine, there is always next year” Christine assured him, but he felt cold when she took her hand away for some reason.
Sunday July 1. 2001
The diminutive little girl started climbing up the cabinets to get to the top shelf. “It's up here” she said reaching for the top shelf way above her head.
“Taniqua be careful up there”
“No problem” the little black girl said. She had close beaded dreadlocks and a smile as big as the room. Then she came up with the viper. It struck at her and knocked her off the cabinet.
Blood started to spread from across her white blouse as an elderly black woman appeared.
“Taniqua NO” she screamed and flew across the dark kitchen. Night could be seen out the nearby windows as she died in the arms of her grandmother.
“NO!” Screamed Steven as he woke with a start.
The terrible fear of seeing that girl die in his dream was compounded by the headache that was back as well as the sadness the same as he felt the day before at the big game. Christine appeared in the doorway and rushed over to him “What's wrong sweetie?” she asked gripping him by the shoulders. Steven felt like she had just thrown a heavy blanket about his shoulders, but that was nothing new she always made him fell better. Too bad she could not make that headache go away.
“Just a bad dream. It sure seemed real”
“Do you remember it?” she asked concern lining her face.
James appeared at that moment “Everything OK?” he asked
“Yeah Dad I’m fine, bad dream you know”
“Uh huh” he said nodding and yawning.
“I got it dear,” Christine said. James nodded and departed for bed.
“Go on tell me about it” she urged, “Want some milk?”
“Sure, might as well I am already up” Steven said and then got up to head for the kitchen. The microwave showed the time as 3am as they entered and she got the milk out and two glasses. He told her the whole story leaving out the headache as it was not related to the story.
“Kind of a unique name she has” Christine commented as she took a bite of one of her homemade chocolate chip cookies.
“For black girls? I'm not so sure I think one of the 3rd grade girls at school has the same name” Steve said
Christine shrugged. “Do you feel better?”
“Feels good to talk about it” Steve assured her. “The black viper was really scary part but the flash when it bit her made it seem like it was biting me”
“Like when you are surprised when you watch a TV show it seems like it’s you?”
“Kinda” he offered, “I was scared to death for a minute and sad for the old lady too”
“Some of the scariest dreams are like that” Christine said “But now you know it was nothing more than a dream” Christine nodded at her son but there was still concern in her heart for what was really going on with her son. They went to bed a few minutes later, but it was a long time before mother or son were able to sleep.
After breakfast the three Stryker's watched TV together there was a game they could all enjoy.
“My games are more interesting” Steven said
“Yesterday's game sure was a real nail biter” James agreed. “In a thousand years who would know?”
“I will” Steven said shrugged and left the room. The headache was back. He could hear the crying of the old lady vibrating in his head in tune with the throbbing of what might possibly be the worst headache he ever felt. Hours later Christine found her son in his room. He seemed even more despondent then the night before. Then there was that nightmare. She had no idea what was up with him but she really wanted to help somehow.
“Are you OK dear” she asked.
“Stop asking me that Mom, I'm fine.”
“Moping won't let you go back in time and win the game.” She said
“Makes me feel better” he said and turned away from her. She thought of saying something more but she doubted anything would fix it. She went back to living room
“Is he alive?” James asked as Christine came back out
“Yeah. Moody my name is Steve” she said then joined him on the couch
“He will snap back he always does.”
“I know, I just want to fix it”
“At that age no one could fix me either” James said and took up her hand
“He is not you” she said and squeezed his hand
“Yeah but that is not necessarily a bad thing.” James smiled at her
Dinner was a quiet affair but at least Steve came out at the call for dinner. Christine had prepared lasagna for them to share with fresh garlic bread. It was one of Steve's favorite meals but still he barely ate and went back to his room without a word. What his parents read as moping was just a reaction to an ever increasing headache.
By nine that night the combination of old lady crying and throbbing was too much. “Maaaa” he asked
“I don't feel so good, have a headache” he said. He did not bother to add “and that old lady is crying in my head”
“Let me get you some aspirin dear. Anything else?”
“I'm a little tired” he added again not wanting to say more
“I suppose there is a reason for that, I will get you a drink too and meet you in your room” Steven departed and Christine looked at the door he just exited from.
“Could it be that he....” she said then trailed off. What she was thinking was so unlikely that she dismissed it immediately.
She brought him the aspirin and a Mountain Dew to go with it
“I should have headaches more often” he joked as he opened one of his father's prized sodas. He took the pills and washed them down with the soda.
“Thanks Ma” he said and smiled at her. The headache and crying was still there but he did not bother to complain about that. He settled into his bed and tried to get comfortable.
“Be sure you finish that before you do go to sleep” Christine cautioned him.
“Don't worry about it, Mom. I will be careful”
“I'm not worried, you will clean up any mess you make is why or I'm telling Dad”
Steven groaned but nodded at her. Christine came close and put her hand on his forehead. “You don't feel warm” she said
“That's because your hand just came out of the oven”
“Right, that's where I keep them” Christine confirmed. Steve laughed as he watched her leave the room.
Monday, July 2, 2001
The diminutive little girl started climbing up the cabinets again to get to the top shelf.
“It's up here” she was saying and reaching for the top shelf way above her head.
“Taniqua be careful up there” a little boy was saying
“No problem” the little black girl said. She had close beaded dreadlocks and a smile as big as the room. She looked back at the boy. He was as small as Taniqua and wearing pajamas he was looking up at the girl
Then she came up with gun. “Look what I found” she said her task suddenly forgotten. She climbed off the cabinet cradling the gun to her chest. She jumped the final two feet to the floor and the gun suddenly spit fire. A deafening crack was heard and Taniqua was on the floor gasping for breath
. Blood started to spread from across her white blouse as an elderly black woman appeared. “Taniqua NO” she screamed and flew across the kitchen. Taniqua lifted a hand up to her grandmother and reached for her face. The old woman was crying softly calling for her granddaughter to come back
Christine awoke with a start when she heard her son cry out in her sleep. She rushed to him and he had one hand to his head and another to his chest. “Are you OK?” she asked again coming quickly over to his bed.
“Dream's back” James said trying to ignore the pounding “Is your head still bothering you”
“Comes and goes” he said thinking it was more come then go
“I see” Christine said. “Was it the same dream exactly?”
“Not exactly, can I have another aspirin please my head is gonna fall off” She chuckled
“I don't think it’s really coming off, but I will get you a couple more, come into the kitchen more milk for you I think. Soon they were drinking more milk and discussing the dream again.
“Now it’s a gun not a viper?” she asked
“Yeah, but somehow it made it seem even more scary. That poor little girl” Steven said.
“Death is almost always scary” Christine said. “Especially violent death, somehow that it is senseless it is even scarier. Now one deserves what happened to her.”
“I'm glad it’s just a dream” Steve said
Later that morning James was getting ready to go to work.
“At least you two can rest all day if you want”
“Some of us cannot sleep though children screaming” Christine said meaning Steve.
Of course Steve was thinking of Taniqua instead. The look in her eyes, the crying of the old lady haunted him. The headache was a constant reminder. He stopped asking for pills, he did not look forward to going to the doctor, which was sure to happen if he kept asking for pain pills. During that day while James was at work they watched videos and tried to forget about what had happened the night before. As the day wore on, the memory of the crying lady faded first and then the headache faded after that. By the time that his father came home, it was a dim memory.
James tossed the paper on the table as he sat down.
“Doesn't the news depress you” Christine asked as she picked up the paper It was the New York Daily News.
“Sometimes but how else am I supposed to remain informed?”
“Ask people?” she suggested as she picked it up and set it aside. It fell open to a page as she set it there and she read the following head line
Bronx. 9-yr.-old dies in grandma's arms after shooting self
Christine looked at the headline and paled; she read the rest and was aghast at what she read.
A 9-year-old Bronx girl looking for peanut butter in her grandmother's kitchen early yesterday instead found a gun and accidentally killed herself, police said.
Taniqua Hall's grandmother, who collapsed from shock and suffered a possible heart attack shortly after the girl died in her arms, told cops she had no idea where the weapon came from.
Police - who found the .22-caliber gun in a garbage can in Cora McCormick's Mott Haven apartment were investigating. No charges were filed.
We believe it was an accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound," said Bronx Chief of Detectives Joseph Reznick. "This is one of those horror stories where you have that combination of kids and a gun."
The death of Taniqua - an honor student who dreamed of being a doctor - came hours after McCormick had thrown a family barbecue for more than a dozen grandchildren from her five adult children.
Police said Taniqua, who lived with her grandmother in the Patterson Houses, got up about 3 a.m. yesterday, along with a 12-year-old boy who was staying over, to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
As Taniqua's two younger brothers, her grandmother and an adult friend slept, she and the boy found jelly in the refrigerator.
Taniqua then climbed onto a kitchen counter and was feeling around the top of the cabinet when she discovered the gun, the boy told cops. While handling the weapon, the girl shot herself in the chest, police said.
Awakened by the shot, McCormick, 58, rushed into the kitchen to find Taniqua sprawled on the floor. Because Taniqua was prone to seizures, McCormick assumed she had just collapsed.
But then McCormick saw blood, relatives said.
"My niece died in my mother's arms, bleeding," said John McCormick, 33, the girl's uncle.
Cora McCormick collapsed and was admitted to Lincoln Hospital with a possible heart attack, police said.
Taniqua's anguished relatives remembered her as a happy and studious child, known for her jump-rope skills and love of reggae music as well as her high grades at Public School 18, where she was to begin fourth grade in September.
"She was excellent, an honor roll student," said her aunt, Correction Officer April McCormick, who choked out words between tears. "She was beautiful and intelligent - very intelligent. Loving and sensitive."
Taniqua spent her last day frolicking with her cousins and feasting on chicken, ribs and hamburgers at Cora McCormick's annual end-of-school barbecue, held in a small park outside her Morris Ave. building.
Child Welfare officials said they had no previous complaints against Cora McCormick, who became the legal guardian of Taniqua and her brothers after they were taken from their mother in 1999 because of allegations of neglect.
Neighbors and relatives said Taniqua thrived under the care of her grandmother, who was about to adopt the girl and her brothers, ages 4 and 5.
In a recent school essay, Taniqua wrote of her plans: "I could go to high school . . . then to college to be a doctor."
"Taniqua had no problem having fun," John McCormick said. "She was a child you just wanted to love."
Christine folded that article away and put it into her cookbook in the kitchen. It was too close way too close to reality for her. She came back to see her son serving himself some of the tuna casserole that she had made for today's dinner and had to wonder
“How's your headache now” she asked
“All gone now, thanks Mom” he said and meant it.
Christine nodded and took her seat. She glanced over at her son and tried to believe that somehow this was all a coincidence. But somehow she knew it could not be.