Legacy of Love and Pain

Every morning, Doris Tate walks the long, lonely stretch down a sterile, blank hospital hallway, her movements numbed and slowed by grief.

Tate's steps will guide her to the bedside of her daughter, who needs her more now than she ever has in 37 years.

She passes through large double doors. Her knees feel weak, almost incapable of holding up her slim frame. She chokes up: Love and pain and sorrow and anger swell together like ocean waves in a storm.

Tate, 56, puts on a fresh cloth gown, then a plastic gown to top that one, a hospital cap, latex gloves and a surgical mask -- all necessary to protect her daughter from bacteria that could compromise her recovery. Or, more gravely, threaten her life.

Her mind, Tate says, wants to escape this nightmare. But as she peeks through a window into her daughter's room at Memorial Hermann Hospital's burn center, there is no denying that what's in front of her is real.

Angela Hudson's head is swollen, and a machine pumps life into her lungs. Netting holds bandages wrapped around her face and neck, leaving only her eyes and badly scarred lips visible.

Once she favored Tate so much that strangers assumed they were sisters.

"When I see her face, my heart melts, Tate says. "It takes every ounce of energy to keep from breaking down and screaming and getting out all the anger.

"There is no pain medication a doctor can give for an aching heart like mine."

Doctors talk optimistically of Hudson's condition, but Tate can sense their gloom like a parent who knows when her child is lying.

Half of Hudson's body -- from her waist to her face -- suffered mainly third-degree burns. Her ears were melted to their auditory canals. Only a patch or two of her head and most of her fingers escaped the flames.

Keeper Ray Hudson, 47, has been indicted for aggravated assault, a second-degree felony. Because he has a prior felony conviction, he could face up to life in prison. He is being held without bail in county jail; a trial has been set for April 29. At the time of the assault, he was on parole for a previous attack against his wife. In 1997, he pleaded guilty to assault and was sentenced to five years in prison, but he was paroled in February 1999.

"This man ... has turned our whole world upside down," Tate says of her son-in-law.

Her thoughts take her back more than two decades, to when she divorced her husband of 16 years. By the time she ended that union, her eldest daughter had witnessed more than a childhood of domestic violence.

At her daughter's bedside, Tate coos: "An-ge-la, An-ge-la. Mother's here."

Hudson's body jerks slightly. To a doctor, it's a reflex. To a mother, it's hope.

"I love you," she says. "If you can hear me, and I know that you can. If you can, I want you to let me know. I want you to move your hand. I want you to do this with all of your might. If you can move your hand, show me. Mother is here."

No movement.

"That's OK," Tate says. "I know you hear me, but try to move your finger. I know you can do it. Just a finger."

The left index finger twitches.

"See, I knew you could hear me. I know you're trying to respond to Mother."

Tate takes her daughter's hand as gently as when she was a newborn.

A single tear drops from Hudson's left eye.

She takes a few minutes to pray. That's all the hospital staff would allow.

In the waiting room after her visit, Tate flips through a pile of snapshots of Hudson she gathered after the assault.

She starts with baby pictures -- happy, cute, full of chubby cheeks. In elementary school, innocence and dreams of becoming a nurse prevailed. At high school graduation, Angela Hudson is wearing a big smile.

From there, Hudson began a downward spiral from an upbeat, trusting woman to a defeated, controlled wife. In the most recent photo, her smile looks forced. Tate remembers coaxing her daughter for a grin, just a crack of a smile.

"My daughter felt trapped and helpless," Tate says. "We couldn't help. We gave her love, but he had such control over her.

"All she ever wanted was to be loved."