Legacy of Love and Pain
Tate spends hours every day at her daughter's side, speaking words of unwavering encouragement. She promises herself that she'll never let her daughter see her cry.
In late April her daughter's deep, dark eyes are gazing at the television set above her bed. It's tuned to General Hospital.
Her arms are immobilized. Her head is in a sling to prevent it from tilting as scar tissue forms. A feeding tube provides almost 3,000 calories a day to give her body the nutrition it needs to repair itself.
She wanders in and out of narcotic dreams; painkillers flow freely. At times her head quivers.
"Mother is proud of you," the pillow soft voice reassures. Tate tells her she'll ask LoMonaco whether Angel, who has been pining to see her mother, can visit.
Smoke has left Hudson's voice gravelly, barely audible. Pneumonia has filled her lungs with thick, sticky mucus.
"H-h-ho ... home," Angela says. It's not much, but it sounds like church music to Tate.
"What, baby? You want to go home? It won't be long, baby."
It pains Tate to leave her daughter's side, but there are phone calls to make, forms to fill out to get government medical coverage and to work with Children's Protective Services to figure out who will care for Hudson's children until she recovers.
"Love and kisses," Tate says.
Hudson's eyes roll back, and her eyelids flutter. It's her way of saying "love and kisses" back.
On the first Saturday in May, Tate brings Angel for the first time.
Angel fidgets in a waiting-room chair.
She's petite, a living picture of Hudson as a teen-ager. Same deep eyes and pronounced nose. Same trust and timidity.
Angel worries about what her mother will look like. She's been reliving April 9 in her mind. She remembers the feeling that something was wrong. It was so strong that when the bus dropped her off at school, she ran home. She found a sea of flashing lights.
The day after the assault, she wrote this journal entry:
I can't even think right. It's like my mind is floating around everywhere. I keep having flashbacks. It's like I can see everything that was going on that day.
"I'm at school right now writing this down because I can't think right now. It's 9:23 a.m. Nobody knows what's been going on in my head. ... I also think (my dad) is very sick in the head to want to watch her burn. He had a long time to plan about burning. About nine years ago he always wanted to burn her. ... He is very evil. I hope they give him life.
When Hudson gave birth to her youngest, Angel -- always the protector -- spent the night in the hospital room.
"I wanted my mom to have someone to talk to," Angel recalls. "I wanted to be there with her and take care of the baby."
The second night, the hospital staff made her leave. She cried because she didn't want to leave her mother's bedside.
Angel's eyes dart anxiously. She swings her legs. Sitting next to her, Tate tells her what to expect, and to be strong. Angel says she's seen burn victims before.
The girl with the tough exterior but the heart of a mother says she can handle this.
"You're going to make your mother smile today," Tate says. "You ready, Miss Angel?"
Miss Angel is ready.
Grandmother and granddaughter push a cold metal button to get into the burn unit.
Strangers in blue scrubs are on the phone and studying charts. A man in jeans and a T-shirt is wearing a cream-colored mask to cover his burns. Angel takes notice.
The visitors thoroughly wash their hands and disappear into sterile gowns, masks with plastic shields and gloves.
Angel gives a quick wave, as if to test the waters. Side by side, they walk in.
Hudson is nestled beneath a blue blanket. Bandages and netting mask her scarred face. Only a patch of her hair -- still colored from a recent blond dye job -- can be seen. Her eyes are sad and scared.
Angel takes her mom's left thumb and strokes it, mindful not to rub too hard.
She stares at the swirls of bandages, studying how the flames must have changed the face she knew. Her eyes roam the chilly room, made warmer by a dozen get-well cards, a golden angel and a collage of family pictures on the walls.
"How ... are the kids?" Hudson asks in a gravelly whisper.
Tate says they're doing fine; the youngest is growing too fast. "She's teething and trying to talk."
Hudson becomes upset and shifts her attention to the television, which is showing Tina Turner's autobiographical movie What's Love Got to Do With It.
"I'm going to take pictures this weekend to bring in," Tate says, sensing her daughter's sadness at missing her youngest daughter's milestones.
Angel tells her mother the family is talking about buying her a new nightgown and slippers for when she's discharged.
They talk about the day they can go to church together and cook a family feast.
"Baked chicken. Corn bread. Cabbage. Candied yams. Peach cobbler," Tate rattles off.
"Broccoli and cheese," Hudson adds.
Yes, broccoli and cheese, Angel says. It's her favorite, too.
Right now, Hudson can't drink or eat. Opening and closing her jaw are impossible because of severe scarring.
"He's in jail, Mama," Angel says. "Don't worry about him. Don't worry about him. He'll be in there for life. Don't worry about that or you'll get sick."
The three generations of women join hands to pray. Faith has gotten them this far.
Tate leads the prayer: "Lord, thank you for the miracle you have left here as a testament. Lord, we're not sure why this has happened, but we know you have a plan. We thank you in the name of Jesus. Amen."
On their way out, Angel turns to her mother: "I love you. I'm saving my money to buy you a Mother's Day present."
Mother's Day is just a week away.
Angel wants this one to be extra special. She remembers the one in 1998, when her mother spent the day recovering from a beating.