No one was tougher than my husband, Rickey. For years he had been a construction crew leader for the Virginia Department of Transportation. The work was hard and dirty, but tired or not, Rickey was ready and willing to do whatever needed to be done around our home or to give one of our neighbors a hand. That's just the way Rickey had always been, tons of energy and more than willing to help.
Three years ago, Rickey's energy flagged. He could barely get out of bed. Equally frightening symptoms emerged until finally doctors diagnosed my husband with ALS-Lou Gehrig's disease. We were devastated.
Rickey grew weaker as his ability to command his muscles wasted away. He lost his voice. He became confined to a wheelchair. The sicker he got, the more helpless I felt. It had been so long since I'd done anything without Rickey's help. As Rickey's strength left him, mine seemed to drain as well. The future seemed terrifying. How would I be able to manage?
I found out one April about a year ago. Our 11-year-old daughter, Tiffany, was at school. After lunch, Rickey dozed off in his wheelchair. Our dog, Gizmo, played along beside me as I trudged up our gravel drive on Pump Hollow Road to check the mailbox. I reached in and pulled out a handful of bills. At the same moment, I heard the wail of a police siren.
Wonder what's going on? I started going back toward the house when a car came screeching around the bend. It sped down Pump Hollow Road, turned into our driveway and skidded to a stop. Through the cloud of dust I saw a couple jump out and run toward me. The man had long, messy hair, and wore faded jeans and a ripped T-shirt. The woman was a few years younger, maybe 20, with a pretty face and curly brown hair.
The next thing that I noticed made me freeze in my tracks and drop all the mail. Both the man and the woman running at me were carrying pistols.
The man pointed his gun at me. "Get in the house!" he yelled. A police cruiser tore down our road, siren blaring. The man forced me into the house as the police roared into our driveway.
He slammed the door shut behind us and ran around the kitchen and into the living room pulling down the shades. The girl nervously trained her gun on me. "Don't try anything," she warned. Startled by all the commotion, Rickey woke and quickly focused on them.
The man stared at Rickey sitting there in his wheelchair. "What's the matter with him?" he asked.
"He's got Lou Gehrig's disease. He can't move anything except his fingers and his head a little."
"Dennis," the girl shouted from the front, "come quick!" She was peering out the window. So that was his name--Dennis. He looked over his shoulder and cursed at what he saw.
"There's cops everywhere!" he said. I looked too. More squad cars had pulled up and police swarmed into our yard.
"What are we gonna do Dennis?" the girl asked. Her voice was shaking, and so were my hands. Gizmo raced around barking frantically.
"Shut that dog up, lady!" Dennis yelled. "He's getting on my nerves."
I scooped up Gizmo and held him close. The two fugitives proceeded to cover the windows and pushed furniture in front of the doors. I glanced at Rickey. He must be terrified.
But as our eyes met, Rickey smiled. He looked at me calmly and steadily, and then up at the picture of Jesus we keep on the wall. Okay, I got the message. I took a deep breath. Lord, I prayed silently, help us stay calm. Get us through this. Give us your strength.
"You got any drugs in this house?" Dennis demanded, waving his gun.
"Rickey has some medicine in the bathroom. It's in the top of the cabinet."
"Get it." When I came back with a bottle of Rickey's muscle relaxants, Dennis snatched it from me and popped a few pills in his mouth, then tossed the bottle to the girl who did the same. The phone rang and Dennis grabbed it.
"Angel and I have guns," he shouted into the phone. "Don't try coming in here. We have two hostages."
Angel, I thought, what a beautiful name for such a troubled person. At the same time I was swept by a fearful wave of recognition. This was the pair that I had seen on the news last night. They'd assaulted two police in Tennessee and stolen their guns. Along the way they kidnapped a woman and her baby whom they later let go. The police were hunting for them in two states. They'd been described as extremely dangerous. And now Rickey and I were at the mercy of these two desperados.
If only Rickey were healthy again, I thought, looking over at him, he'd handle this. He'd know what to do. He began drawing on his pant leg with his index finger. After he lost his voice, we developed our own personal system for communicating. Rickey would draw a letter, spelling out whatever he wanted, and it turned into a kind of shorthand that I was able to interpret. We had learned to have whole conversations in that way. Now Rickey wrote out this message: Get them power bands.