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There have definitely been moments lately, where I`ve paused and thought to myself “Where is my place in this mess?” These thoughts have flooded my head daily, especially after the articles in the Las Vegas Review Journal came out. I’ve spent my time, half maintaining a “normal” schedule, and the other half lost in thought over what is going to happen next, sometimes holding my breath without meaning to.
After the articles came out, I avoided the loose lipped comment section of Facebook for self-preservation. Some of my friends looked at the comments after the newspaper repeatedly posted the story with catchy, sensationalized headlines, hoping to appeal to folks with pitchforks in hand. My friends let me know to avoid the comment section if I could and I did. I did however happen to see a comment on the actual newspaper’s website, where one reader asked “What SANE woman would marry a murderer?” or something to that effect. I reflected on my own state of mind, my life, what brought me here, my marriage, where I was when all of this happened with Jeremy, my moral radar, and my own personal truth.
I`m not sure that insane psychopaths really take the time out to their days to reflect on life and morality, so I don`t know that I am insane at all, but maybe just a person who believes in the power of the human spirit, second chances, and a person who believes that not everything as is it seems? Question mark intended because I pose the question to myself and anyone really.
I received no “hate mail” after the articles came out. Jeremy has received one piece of direct hate mail (which you can read about on his blog) and oddly enough, his mother received a nasty message on Facebook. I`m not sure what the purpose of lashing out at one’s mother is, but I guess this person felt it necessary to feel like he or she did their duty by lashing out at someone related to Jeremy. We all want someone, anyone to blame and point the finger at. It’s easy to blame someone and think to ourselves “I’ve spoken my ‘peace’ and did my part”. Oftentimes our “peace” speaking and lashing out is misdirected, but outrage, pain and a need to do something have a way of making people blind to the misdirection of their actions.
I have actually received way more positive encouragement after the articles than I expected. Jeremy and I both wrote blog posts about our thoughts on the articles and I noticed a flood of activity on our blogs and have received messages from friends and strangers alike. Anytime I open a Facebook message from someone I don`t know, I hesitate for a moment and brace myself for what it is going to say but…it has turned out being like waiting for a bomb to go off and nothing happening. While I had received some awful blog comments in the past, the aftermath of the newspaper articles and follow-up blog posts on our end about it, has been surprisingly favorable.
My friends have been incredibly encouraging, taking the time to read mine and Jeremy’s blog posts and provide feedback or open a platform to discuss the posts from an open minded and understanding place. I’ve even had a couple of them ask if they could visit with Jeremy in the future. So, thank you friends. On the unexpected front, I have had people I do not know reading my blog and some of those people have reached out to me personally on Facebook with their own stories of tragedy and ties to the prison system, their own understanding, and their own thoughts on life and redemption. I am grateful for these people who think before they speak, who make space for a story other than what is portrayed in the media, and who are genuinely people who recognize pain and loss but who also have an open heart.
Like I mentioned at the beginning, I’ve found myself questioning my place in this situation, questioning my place as Jeremy’s wife and sometimes worldly representative to those who do not know him. Sometimes I even think to myself, “What right do I have to be here, to talk about Jeremy and prison and the case?” I entered stage right later in Jeremy’s story, when he was already in prison. I used to think it was by chance, but more and more I`m starting to believe that it was just meant to be part of my journey and that we are two people who came together to build something worthwhile after a terrible event. Even though we have known each other for almost 17 years, I still question my sense of belonging and my right to belong in this story.
So, where is my place? Do I belong here? I read this quote by one of my favorite authors, Brene Brown, today and the timing was almost eerie as I write this blog post.
“No one belongs here more than you” – Brene Brown
There are events in life which will never be easy to talk about, go through, relive, and ultimately there will be events in life, in everyone’s life, that you will never truly be able to “get over”. I believe our pains and our stories are on us, like birthmarks, some more visible to other people, some more zoomed in on for the world to see, to judge, to hate, to fear, and maybe to embrace.
People who don’t know me personally could assume that I am a horrible person just for being married to Jeremy. They could paint me, in their minds, as a sick person, a crazy person, an unbalanced person. How fucking dare I be married to Jeremy? People who don’t know Jeremy personally could state with absolute conviction, based on what they’ve read in the newspapers, that he is a terrible human being, the most terrible ever, until the next terrible human being comes along. In fact, to some people, he isn’t even human. How fucking dare he live? The outrage is indeed real. They could say that he is vile, unfeeling, remorseless, and all around a person that deserves to die in prison. They could say that and they have said that.
I write this blog to challenge the public opinion of a boy, then 18 years old, who in 1997 was caught up in a very real, very heartbreaking situation. Throughout the weekend, I drove around town with the windows down, my car flooded with hot desert air, listening to music loudly and I found involuntary emotional distress pooling in my eyes and rolling down my cheeks. Not just because the story is a sad one, not just because I love my husband fiercely and want to protect his character, but because I know that this event resulted in the loss of life of another human being. Not just the loss of life to prison, but the literal loss of life. It’s intense and my heart races now, even as I write this. I know that this is not my cross to bear, but being married to Jeremy means that I seek to lessen the weight that my life partner carries, even if just a little bit.
I came to know Jeremy initially through letters over 15 years ago, having no previous knowledge of what he was convicted of. I was a person reaching out to another person, who just happened to be living at a prison. My friendship and eventual relationship with Jeremy didn`t move fast. In fact, our communication was patchy, at best, during the beginning. When I finally read the articles about him online, through various news outlets, I was taken aback. This is not the person I had come to call my friend. I know, I know, people will say that EVERYONE says that about their inmate. For me, the person I was communicating with and the media coverage about him just did not add up. I’ve always found him to be very thoughtful, with a true passion for helping people, even in instances where I personally would not have. His even keeled temper and knack for being there for others was what made me want to know more, to get to know this person who was demonized by the media and the masses who wanted to point a finger and “hang ’em high”, no questions asked.
Like I said at the beginning of this post, some pains are just that, pains, that even if aren’t directly yours, crush the very fabric of your being, while simultaneously liberating, when they are shared. It’s a tough weight to carry, this human business, made more difficult by the ebb and flow of tragedy, growth, hatred, and forgiveness. My heart, as Jeremy’s wife, is in a constant sick flutter over the love we have built, but also knowing that the most amazing bond with another person that has happened in my life, came after the destruction of multiple lives in the crossfire of an awful event.
With all that being said, although I didn`t want to talk about this, I feel it bears mentioning because it is part of the journey. It’s the mucky part, the deep end, the rope burn. It’s part of life, the painful part. It’s the part you cannot look away from and it does not look away from you.
An article came out in a local newspaper this past weekend about the 20 year anniversary of the tragedy that landed my husband behind bars, without the possibility of parole, at the age of 18. Although it is a city specific paper, it is a media outlet that some people read and one of the journalists at the paper was assigned to do a piece on the case for the 20 year anniversary. I`m not used to any degree of infamy, so I get tense when I receive an email or a call from someone that mentions the Jeremy Strohmeyer from 20 years ago. My initial reaction is to hide, but after I’ve hidden, I start to realize that my hiding does nothing for anyone.
I’ve been contacted by the media before, once for a small documentary project about the prison in the town of Ely, NV, where Jeremy has been housed on and off during his incarceration. The other was for a show that airs on CNN, with award winning journalist Lisa Ling. Although I have been contacted twice before, I find the spotlight to be nerve-wracking and uncomfortable and even just talking to someone who may seek to focus on the negative, makes me uneasy. Speaking with the producer of the CNN show got me a little more familiar with how to navigate the waters of curious outsiders and although I ultimately turned down the offer to be included on the show, I have nothing but respect for the real life situations that they address and more importantly, how they address them.
My opinion on the piece by the Las Vegas Review Journal is a bit different from that of my opinion of the CNN show. I get it, though. There can be nothing in this world without its opposition. There can be nothing good in this world without all the bad. There can be no left without the right. There can be no well, thoughtful telling of a horrible tragedy without the flip side of a story that is told in a sensationalized and biased fashion, where the main person in the story is a detective whose salvation in life is that someone will die in prison(as quoted at the end of the article).
To be fair, they did give my husband a small platform in the article, in which he was able to express himself in a manner that I have come to know over the last 15 + years. They allowed the antagonist in this story a small section to speak his peace, all while including his current, jovial inmate photo in the paper, which readers can react to with curiosity or disgust. They also included a snippet of one of my blog entries that I wrote last year, which again, people can react to in different ways. The detective’s interview (along with photos and video of him) made up the bulk of the article, though. The story was front page of the Sunday printed paper and on the home page of the Las Vegas Review Journal’s website. There were multiple posts on their Facebook page featuring the article and sideline article (about Dave Cash and the Good Samaritan Law), with attention grabbing sentences to get people to click and light their torches(bonfire time, y’all!)
The best I can do is to be cautiously helpful where I can be and to speak the truth about how I view the man I am married to today. The regurgitation of articles past has no effect on how I live my life and where I place my love in this world. I believe in the honoring of a memory and in allowing wounds to heal, though a healed wound doesn’t mean that it is free from pain. Every person has different scars. Every person hurts differently. Every person has a story. What is important is how we tell the world that story and how it is perceived.
“If we can make it through another day
With you believing in my innocence
And we can make it through another year
‘Cause we both need it to forget this fear” – White Lie by The Lumineers
Listening to music through headphones changes the music. It changes how you feel about the music, the lyrics. It changes the story, the intensity. Mild fascination with words sung become a life line, a soundtrack to your deepest emotional crevices. The songs become your heartbeat. The music becomes you and you become the music. At least, that’s what happens to me. It must be said that I am absolutely a person who depends on music for survival.
I’ve recently become smitten with the Lumineers and although I heard their first popular song, “Ho Hey”, some time ago, I didn’t pay the band much attention. I actually heard “Ho Hey” initially on a road trip out to visit Jeremy, when visiting was an entire trip away. I remember thinking to myself how appropriate the line “I’ve been trying to do it right. I’ve been living a lonely life” was on my solo journey out into the desert to hold hands with a man I have never brushed skin with outside in the sunshine. Those lyrics stuck with me. The loneliness of that line stuck with me and I found myself singing it over and over again on that car ride.
I recently got hooked on The Lumineers and have even persuaded Jeremy to download some of their songs on his MP3 player. Yes, sometimes prisoners get MP3 players, though definitely not for free. I apply parts of each song I hear to my life with Jeremy. I read an article about the band recently, where the lead singer referred to his brother(another band member), Jeremy, as “Jer” and it made me raise an eyebrow and laugh and sort of cry at the same time because we call my Jeremy, “Jer”. It’s funny how common things become magic when you allow them to.
I believe in unseen life connections. I often have trouble having faith in those connections because the patterns are woven in such a delicate manner that they are tough to see on especially dark nights. I get so frustrated with the kingdom of love that we have built because it is so unbelievably beautiful and vulnerable and it feels, fragile even though it’s strong. On the surface we are two kids in love who happened to stumble upon each other, maybe by a happy accident, maybe by divine intervention. What do I know? I know that I love someone who lives in a prison in Nevada who came to know, and eventually marry, through a single letter I sent so long ago. I know that what we have is the truest life experience I have ever known. I know that I need to start fucking believing in this path I chose to walk on again. I am going to listen to life with my headphones on from here on out. The situation isn’t ideal, obviously, but I often feel like I’m taking “the music” for granted. I feel like I stopped looking at this adventure with Jer in an exciting light. I replaced “adventure” with “fear” and “hurt” and “the end”.
I’m going to dig deep, open my ears and my heart. I’m going into this next area of the path with the feeling that this is the beginning. This IS where the magic happens. It’s like when you’re listening to an especially long intro to a song. You’re waiting for the intro to “break”. You’re waiting, waiting, waiting, and when the lyrics begin and beat changes, you realize there can be no song without the intro.
“It’s better to feel pain, than nothing at all
The opposite of love’s indifference”- Stubborn Love by The Lumineers
I really hate having attention drawn to me. I REALLY do. I’ve always been that way. I`m uncomfortable being the center of attention and you never need to worry about me stealing the spotlight because it has never been my desire in life. I prefer privacy, quiet, low key. I even get ridiculously embarrassed if I laugh too loud sometimes in public. So, it’s a bit comical that I should end up with someone who is infamous, with someone I have to talk about my life with in order to change perspective from what the media portrayed at one time. I have to talk about what real life is like with this person, being with this person, loving this person, and ultimately painting a brighter picture of who this person is.
In school, I was the kid who hated giving presentations, hated talking in front of a large group (and still do), and hated divulging facts about myself. I`m a listener in most instances and I’d rather not talk at length about my life. It makes me uncomfortable, vulnerable, and open to criticism. The truth is that people are going to criticize you no matter what. You could be doing the best job you possibly can in life, helping people, obeying all the laws like a good citizen, and you will still be criticized. That is just the way humans are. Instead of hiding in the shadows and letting people talk about how mysteriously absent I am in talking about my husband, I choose to talk about my life and all of the ups and downs, how a person sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole can be an amazing person if you just look beyond the headlines of his case, how everything is not as it seems, because it isn’t.
Starting this blog was a leap. It is incredibly difficult for me to talk about certain aspects of my life with Jeremy, but I do it for the sake of planting seeds that will grow into something more worthy of watering than some sensationalized news story from almost 20 years ago. There is part of me that believes that it is my duty as Jeremy’s wife to do this public presentation because if I let people look up my name behind my back and never bother to talk about what a wonderful relationship I have with a really genuinely good natured person, they will only walk in the direction of “she is married to an evil murderer” and never know the actual story behind it all.
People will always, talk, though, and there will always be an unwanted spotlight on me. At the prison, I have officers and other visitors alike, surprised that I`ve spent the last 14 years visiting Jeremy at prisons and they try to wrap their heads around why Jeremy’s back number is 5 digits and everyone else has a 7 digit number, or why his visiting file dates back to 1998. I feel like sometimes people look at me funny when they hear my last name called out, but it could just be my paranoia because no one has ever said anything to me. There have also been times when I have gotten private messages on Facebook or at work, from people who are curious about my involvement with Jeremy and at this point I just say “Yes he is in prison and yes we are married and no I`m not crazy”. When journalists approach me, I act with caution, but I still believe in truth and telling the untold story. So while I absolutely cringe talking about my personal life on this blog some days, it is something that comes with the territory.
If we do not speak our truth, no one gets to hear it.
I’m not going to lie. I never imagined that being the wife of an inmate was going to be this hard. I used to watch shows about prison romances and I thought to myself “This is great! I get tons of time to myself and I get to be married to someone amazing who won’t steal the covers”. You see, before Jeremy I never wanted to marry. I didn’t. I told my mom I didn’t want to get married. I didn’t think it was in my cards to be with anyone for many reasons. Mostly because I thought I was too difficult, or too damaged, or too much. I needed someone who was everything I needed them to be without question and I knew I wasn’t going to find that, so I didn’t want anything.
Last night I was paging through this book I got on Palmistry(read: Palmistry. Not fortune telling, but an art that CAN tell about a person. Did I lose you? Am I nuts? I prefer open minded to life’s mysteries) and it explains that your non dominant hand(for me, my left) is the hand you look to see what was there at birth for you and your dominant hand is the hand of “now” and the path you’re on(there is a whole explanation of why, but you can read the book if you want to know). Anyway, my birth hand does not have a heart line. I compared my hands and just looked at them for a long time. No heart line. My “now” hand has a strong heart line and I believe wholeheartedly that it is because of Jeremy. We found each other by chance. By the chance of me being some strange teenage girl who wanted to write people in prison. By the chance that someone I talked to online told me Jeremy was a nice person and that I should write him. By the chance that I wrote that letter and I mailed it 17 years ago. By chance. Or by design?
Back to the present, though. The last few years have been difficult for me. I have felt more depressed, more lonely, and more lost than I ever have. Being in Nevada and away from my shore of home(I don’t know what home even is anymore. I guess it’s Jeremy but I still miss…somewhere)has taken a lot out of me. Sometimes it destroys my spirit to ashes and I am left with some form of myself that I don’t recognize. This all sounds dramatic, I know, but I’m a person who feels a lot, all the time, and I know my story and my relationship and the trials we go through are powerful beyond measure and I think it’s important to share that. Anyway. What rises from the ashes? The Phoenix. It sort of feels like that, all the time, and it is emotionally painful, and then I’m rising. Funny how that works. Life pushes us to the very brink and then backs off so we can repair. Or does it not back off and we just get so much stronger?
I keep thinking of this quote I read somewhere, “The greater the affliction, the greater the reward”. Now, that really sounds strange, doesn’t it? But…this quote. It gets me through sometimes because I have to believe in my cause and if I’m suffering, I have to believe that it is for a reason because I’m still here, still doing, still waking up and working my way to the end of the tunnel where the light is.
Which brings me to present life. I’m looking for a new place to live that has a bit more space and I went to see one yesterday and for some reason I just blurted out “I like this place. It feels safe and I want to feel safe because it’s just kitty and I. My husband is incarcerated”. I told the realtor that. This realtor I had only met once before, briefly, for about 5 minutes. I usually try to get a better read on people before I drop that bomb, but I dropped it right there in the kitchen of that rental.
There is always a moment, where I’m sure someone is going to verbally crucify me with their words or give me a look that makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. My mouth got super dry waiting for her to say something. I was so nervous. Her response? “I get it. It happens”. She proceeded to tell me a story about how someone she knows is in prison and that things happen sometimes and humans make mistakes and she is not judging me.
After the showing, on the walk out to the parking lot, she commended me for sticking by my husband and let me know how “cool, strong, and sweet” she thought I was. She offered a friendly ear if I ever wanted to talk and she said she had to hug me and she did.
While my life feels like an uphill climb somedays and I am absolutely battered emotionally by the missing parts of “us” right now, there always seems to be a little nudge, a little sign, a little voice that tells me “the greater the affliction, the greater the reward. Keep going, you’re almost there”.
Did you ever see that movie? Tombstone. It’s one of my favorite movies and Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday is my undoing in life. Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday as some fantastic gun slinging, fearless gambler. I often think about the masks we wear, the names we give others, and the names others give us. Are you someone’s huckleberry and are they yours? Is that all a lie? Did you tell yourself you were something you’re not or does the world not see you for who you really are?
If you’ve ever had a connection with prison culture, you know that nicknames and “handles” run wild and everyone has a name that tells a story….whether that story is the truth or a lie or doesn’t make any sense. I used to laugh when my husband would refer to someone by their handle, but now I just ask “What’s his real name?” and it’s usually an unexpectedly normal name, unassuming in the way the letters weave together.
Do you know how many Pee-wees I’ve heard of since I met Jeremy? Dozens. Ghost (a guy that sounded like Mickey Mouse). Shorty (multiple; sometimes not because of their height). City (Soft spoken and had a cool way about him).*Insert city where the person is from here*. Jeremy used to know this guy named Boston a long time ago. You guessed it. He was from Boston. Sometimes it’s their middle names they prefer, or their last names. When I hear an actual first name straight away, I ask “but what’s his nickname?”. Sometimes the nickname is all I know and I become confused when someone is referred to by their actual name. “Oh, that’s Ghost. You know him.” Yeah…I do know him. Or does anyone really? I never did find out why that was his nickname. Usually a story follows the reveal of someone’s handle, but not Ghost. Maybe Jeremy didn`t know either. Who knows.
Smiley is the guy I’ve never seen smile. “That’s Restless” my husband says. “Wrestle? What? What does that mean” I ask. “No, restless. You know, like you’re restless..”. Interesting. Shaky. No idea why. He doesn’t shake. It makes me think of Shakey’s Pizza. Did you ever go to Shakey’s Pizza? Yeah. Anyway, Shaky. Shakey? Shakee? I don`t know.
“What’s your nickname here?” I ask my husband. He hasn’t really had a solid one over the years and he is definitely no Pee-wee or Shaky or Smiley or any other misplaced prison nickname. “Doc”. I want to laugh and I think I actually did. He knows I love Tombstone and he knows I am his huckleberry and he is mine.
Every nickname has a story.