Legacy of Love and Pain
The story of Angela Hudson, who barely survived after her estranged husband set her on fire, and of the effects of the attack on her family. Originally published in the Houston Chronicle (Houston, TX), in 2002.
Every 15 seconds, a woman in America is beaten by her husband or boyfriend. Each year, a million-plus are left black and blue by men who claim to love them. They are the lucky ones.
Every day, four of them die. Others live a lifetime with mental and physical scars.
On April 9, 2001, in Houston, a brutal attack forced three generations of women to face their family's legacy of violence.
Doris Tate, a grandmother, is trying to make amends for a decision that haunts her family.
Angela Hudson, Tate's daughter, is recovering physically and emotionally from the shocking assault by her estranged husband, a man accused of tying her up, dousing her with gasoline and setting her on fire.
And Angel Tate, Hudson's teen-age daughter, a witness of years of abuse against her mother, is blossoming into a young woman and helping to hold her family together.
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."
"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."
April 9 began on the humid side, but there was enough of a breeze to make the 70-degree temperature feel like the air-conditioning unit just kicked on. At Clayton Homes, a public housing project near downtown, Hudson awakened her five children. By 7:20, she'd sent the middle three off to Anson Jones Elementary, about two blocks away.
Just after 8, Angel, the oldest, caught the school bus, which was running late. As it pulled away, the 14-year-old saw her father, who didn't live with the family, walking briskly toward the apartment, and he was carrying a navy blue duffle bag.
Something was wrong. She felt it.
At the apartment, Hudson telephoned her sister Monica Lynn Tate to tell her about an argument she'd had with her estranged husband at the apartment the night before, but her sister didn't answer. Hudson didn't leave a message.
She was expecting him that morning. He wanted a paternity test on her youngest child, and he'd called to say he was going to borrow his mother's car so they could have the test done.
When he showed up at her back door, Hudson didn't see the car. Something told her not to let him in, but she did.
He was quiet. His face was swollen and bandaged from a scuffle with the neighbors the night before.
"Hey," he said.
He set the duffle bag on the kitchen table and sat down across from her. The infant girl lay awake in a carrier on the sofa in the living room.
Hudson's heart was beating rapidly.
The phone rang. It was her mother. He told her not to answer it. Hudson didn't.
He opened the duffle bag, took out a knife and laid it on the table. A half-full plastic jug sat in the bag.
"What's wrong?" she asked.
The phone rang again. This time it was her sister, who had seen Hudson's number on her Caller ID.
He pulled out clothesline.
"I want you to put your feet and hands together," he said.
She leaped from the table, and he jumped up. Hudson ran for the front door, hollering for help. She fumbled to unlock the deadbolt and ran about 3 feet, but he tripped her with his arm. She screamed as he grabbed her left leg and dragged her back inside. Outside, six or seven people watched.
He made her sit at the kitchen table. He picked up the knife and threatened to stab her if she didn't let him tie her up. He bound her wrists and then her ankles with clothesline wire.
Hudson pleaded. She asked him why was he doing this.
He reached for the plastic jug and threw gasoline, hitting her in the chest.
He lit a match and tossed it at her.
She was ablaze.
Hudson jumped up and frantically hopped to the front door, but it was locked. Instinct took her toward the stairs. She made it up four steps, setting the curtains on fire, and back down. From about 3 feet away, her attacker again splashed her with gasoline, soaking her head.
Another match fed the inferno.
She hobbled to the kitchen, toward the back door. As fire seared her skin, she heard voices. She collapsed in a sitting position, still in flames.
Before her stood her attacker, staring blankly at what he had done, not whispering a word.
Outside, David King was on his way to get a cassette tape from his car when he heard the unforgettable screams.
The 24-year-old knocked at the front door. A man came to the window and cursed him. King saw flames through a window and thought the kitchen was on fire. He began kicking at the door.
Arturo Chapa, a Southwestern Bell technician, was working near the back door. He, too, heard the screams. The door opened, and a man said in a low, gruff voice, "It's none of your business" and shut the door.
On King's seventh kick, the front door broke open. He ran to the kitchen and was stunned by what he saw: Hudson on fire, with flames shooting 2 feet in the air. "The man was standing over her with a knife, watching her die," King recalls.
The assailant pushed King aside and ran out of the apartment.
Chapa rushed in through the back door, meeting King in the kitchen. They tried to extinguish the fire by covering Hudson with clothes from a laundry basket. They tried cupping water from the kitchen faucet with their hands, but it evaporated as soon as it hit the flames. The fire raged on.
Chapa noticed a half-gallon saucepan filled with dishwater in the sink. He doused Hudson's head. Then her back. Her chest. Both arms. And her waist.
It was finally over.
At 8:40 a.m., police and firefighters arrived at the grisly scene. Hudson asked her horrified neighbors: "How's my baby?"
Smoke puffed from her mouth.
John LoMonaco is a young doctor with thick dark hair peppered with early gray. He always has a bright smile for his patient, no matter how many shifts he has strung together.
LoMonaco, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon, is doing paperwork and updating patients' charts when Hudson is rushed in.
On her charred upper body, the burns start as a line across her waist, a pattern he hasn't seen before. He makes emergency incisions in the skin of her arms and chest. Her burned flesh is swelling, threatening her breathing and blood flow to one arm. The escharotomy works, and breathing and blood flow improves, but she isn't out of danger.
The next few days are critical.
As a victim of domestic violence, Hudson is given a protective alias: Alice Hill.
LoMonaco later hears his patient's gruesome story. "That explained the bizarre pattern," he says.
He has seen worse burns -- more than 90 percent of the body -- but those were caused by chemical-plant explosions.
This one is deliberate. Malicious.
"I was taken aback by the brutality," LoMonaco says. "It'll stand out in my mind forever."
Gasoline burns at 900-1,700 degrees Fahrenheit, experts say. Second-degree burns begin to form at about 130 degrees. The fuel doesn't vaporize readily but stays in contact with skin and clothes, which fed the flames like a wick and compounded Hudson's injuries.
Fortunately the skin, the body's largest organ, is also the most resilient.
The first few weeks are a critical time in Hudson's care as agonizing skin grafting is performed.
"It's like torture," LoMonaco says. "It's repeated and on schedule. Patients have nothing to look forward to."
In a skin graft, a thin layer of skin, from .008 to .01 of an inch -- about as thick as heavy notebook paper -- is scraped off a healthy part of the patient's body and transferred to the burn area after the dead tissue is removed. Doctors hope the grafts "take" and generate new skin.
Hudson will undergo several skin grafts in the next three to four months. As she heals from one, another will be right around the corner. Then another. And another.
She has large amounts of burned tissue on her back and chest. Temperature fluctuations caused by pneumonia narrow the surgeon's window of opportunity. Each extra day that burned tissue is left in place means an increased chance of infection, a burn patient's deadliest adversary.
On April 14, Hudson undergoes her first surgery: Burned tissue from her arms and wrists -- functionally the most important areas to preserve and rehabilitate -- is being replaced with skin grafts from her thighs.
A day before her second scheduled surgery -- almost three weeks after the assault -- Hudson's mind is absorbing the trauma.
"Kee ... per. ... Kee ... per," Hudson says during one of her mother's visits. She raises her arm as if she is trying to show Tate something outside her room.
"He's not up here, baby. He's not up here," Tate reassures her.
Turning to the door, Tate sees a man resembling her daughter's husband. She stares.
Same build. Similar features.
It's the janitor making his rounds.
Generations of Love
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.
A Test of Faith
A month after the attack, the long hours at the hospital are taking a toll. Each visit, Tate wears a little less makeup, and the bags under her eyes are a little puffier. She's looking thinner.
As a Christian, she struggles with thoughts of revenge and loathing for the man who set her daughter on fire. It's the greatest anger she has known.
"Part of me wants to wring his neck," she says. "I want him to know what my daughter and those children feel.
"My faith is being tested to the max. I thought I was a really strong person, but I'm being put to the test."
This is her biggest trial since she contemplated suicide in the early 1970s as she suffered in her abusive marriage. Back then she grabbed her pistol, went into the bathroom, looked in the mirror and thought how easy it would be.
The first night after she saw her daughter in the hospital, Tate thought about suicide again. She was weary. But she reminded herself through prayer that God wouldn't let her down.
She takes solace in knowing that Hudson's surgeries are going well. She focuses her attention on getting her grandchildren out of CPS custody.
The four youngest -- three girls and a boy -- were taken into custody on the day of the attack because no relatives could house them. Their names and faces can't be published while they are in CPS custody.
Tate was camped out at the hospital, not knowing whether her daughter would make it through the night. Angel was able to go home with a family member.
Three relatives are requesting custody of the four youngest: Keeper Hudson's mother, his sister and Tate's sister, Marie Green. Tate is praying they'll go to her sister.
Tate is on disability leave from her job as a clerk at Continental Airlines because of a herniated disc. So the former health-care worker has time to support her daughter and work on getting the grandchildren out of foster care.
After her day-long hospital visits, she retires to her North Houston home to fill out 40 pages of Social Security forms for her daughter. There are also Medicaid and Crime Victims Compensation forms. Tate returns friends' and well-wishers' phone calls, further draining her.
Exhausted, she prays for guidance. She cries herself to sleep, only to wake up several times a night in a panic.
She's turned to an old friend to help her through this time.
The red wooden tambourine may be old and beat up. The bottom fell out long ago. But it's like a family member.
Tate's three girls used to play with it and take it to church when they were young. It infused life into many hymns.
She hasn't had time to attend services at Christ Temple Apostolic Church, so she brings the services home. When the moment is right, she sings to the Lord in her living room, to the beat of the old tambourine.
"When you have a personal experience with (God), you never forget that," she says. "You get joy out of praising God, and you don't feel embarrassed. All the burdens go away.
"Others go out and party. Well, I party with Jesus, and this is my dance floor."
The Tate Legacy
Sometimes, life seems scripted.
A May 2000 report titled "Intimate Partner Violence" from the U.S. Department of Justice reads like a profile of Hudson's life.
In this country, you are more likely to suffer intimate partner violence if you are: a woman, black, young, divorced or separated, earning a lower income, living in rental housing and living in an urban area.
In 1998, about 1 million violent crimes were committed against people by their current or former spouses, boyfriends or girlfriends -- a slight increase for both men and women from the year before, according to the report. In more than 80 percent of cases, the victims were women.
What this report didn't mention is the existence of a pattern of abuse in many victims' families. According to a report by the American Psychological Association's Presidential Task Force on Violence and the Family, a child's exposure to the father abusing the mother is the strongest risk factor of transmitting violent behavior from one generation to the next.
Hudson remembers watching her father shout, scream, punch and hit her mother, while her mother tried to defend herself. It terrified the daughter, but her mother always stayed. It left an impression on her young mind, although she didn't realize it until she was locked into her own abusive relationship.
As an adult, Hudson didn't have the best life has to offer. She relied on government assistance for housing, food and medical coverage. With a high school education, five children and an abusive husband, it was the best life she could muster.
What she did have, though, were her children. They were her life.
And Although she left her husband countless times and even sought refuge at a shelter for battered women, he'd always track her down and bring her home. Sometimes he'd bring her a rose. The gesture made her feel hopeful, at least for a moment.
It never lasted.
With her mother's help, Hudson finally separated from her husband six years ago and moved into Clayton Homes. Still he would stop by now and then, using the children to sneak back into her life.
The night before the attack, Keeper Hudson dropped the children off at Hudson's apartment after a weekend visit with him. He stayed for a while.
Witnesses say he got into a fight with a neighbor, and his anger turned Hudson's way."I'm going to make sure you burn in hell!" they say he yelled.
Tate had seen this dark day coming.
In a vivid dream just days before the attack, she stood before a towering whirlwind of fire. She was afraid but felt a comforting arm intertwine with hers and pull her toward the red tunnel.
After a few steps, she stopped and closed her eyes. She awoke shaking and drenched in sweat. She fell to her knees and prayed.
The next morning, she telephoned her daughters to warn them to be careful. Hudson said she was busy and promised to call back. She never did.
Two days later, Tate received a phone call from a Memorial Hermann Hospital nurse saying that her daughter was in the emergency room.
At the hospital, a doctor compared Hudson's burns to the effects of a "whirlwind of fire."
The dream might be called a premonition -- or intuition based on experience.
Tate married at 18, despite her mother's warnings. She had the three children, all girls, she yearned for.
Three months after vowing to love, honor and cherish her, her husband began to beat her.
The first time, he knocked her down two flights of stairs because he was angry that she wanted to go shopping to get out of the apartment.
The fights came with such regularity that Tate began hiding hammers, bricks and hatchets to protect herself. After he slugged her in the jaw, she bought a .25-caliber pistol from a pawnshop.
As to why she endured such abuse, the only answer that made any sense was that she had grown up without a father. He died when she was 3.
When she was 4, she remembers her mother opening a hope chest to show her a picture of her father, the man she never knew. It was buried under carefully folded linens, and at the bottom of the chest was a small, round badge with a picture and identification number. It was his work ID.
Tate took it in her hands and stared at it, trying to memorize his features.
"I knew the loneliness that captivated me when I was a kid, and I didn't want that to happen to them," Tate says of her children.
So she stayed, for 16 years.
"That," Tate says with emphasis, "was the worst mistake I could've ever made."
"Keeper reminded me so much of (my ex-husband)," Tate continues. "That's why I fought so hard to get him away from her."
But her daughter dreamed of getting married, just as Tate had. "She thought if she found that love, she'd be happy."
Tate persuaded her daughter, then in her early 20s, to enroll in cosmetology school. Keeper Hudson harassed and slapped her at school, in front of other students and the instructor, Tate says. Hudson dropped out.
Tate shakes her head and stares out the hospital window.
"You can teach your child all the right things," she says. "You can put all the right people before them, give them the nicest clothes, give them all the love they need or want. But I found out that wasn't enough.
"You wonder, `How do you break the cycle?'"
A Celebration of Mothers
Mother's Day gives Tate a special reason to return to church -- her spiritual foundation -- after more than a month's absence.
Tate and Angel are wearing blue suits and plastic red roses with white ribbons on their lapels.
"It's a happy day, a happy day," Tate proclaims as she enters Christ Temple Apostolic Church, where she has worshipped for three decades.
Music is heavy on the saxophone. Voices are silken in harmony.
Tate kneels to pray before standing to join the hymn, Lord I Lift Your Name on High.
Her left arm is extended, and her eyes are closed. She is energizing her soul, absorbing strength and comfort flowing from those around her like rays of the sun.
Tears swell in Tate's eyes during the sermon. delivered by the pastor's wife. She reaches for her Bible, her favorite passages marked with slips of paper and highlighted in yellow.
She weeps to cleanse her burdened heart.
"You remain focused," the preacher instructs her sisters. "And God will see you through it."
Tate nods as if she's speaking only to her.
When the collection plate makes its way to Tate, she gives what she can. She bows and whispers her thanks to God.
The Rev. David Allen Sr. asks Tate and her family to come to the front. He discusses their struggle and reads a special prayer. Tate is overwhelmed.
"We don't understand it now," Tate tells the congregation."But we're going to understand it. We may have tears. We may be weeping. But we wanted to show you that we'll be rejoicing one day."
The pastor announces that the day's collections will benefit the Tate family, which is struggling financially.
Invigorated, Tate is ready to see her daughter. She and Angel have bought a bouquet of plastic roses for Hudson. They can't take real flowers into the burn unit.
King, the young man who helped rescue Hudson by extinguishing the fire, calls to wish Tate a happy Mother's Day.
Things are looking better, and on Monday Hudson is to have another skin graft.
An hour before that surgery, a man from the Harris County Attorney's Office approaches Tate at the hospital. Hudson is to be notified that she and her husband could lose their parental rights because the assault endangered the baby, who was in the room at the time of the attack.
Tate says he can't do this. Not now. LoMonaco overhears the conversation. He tells the man that Hudson has already been sedated.
"That's what's keeping her alive, her children," LoMonaco pleads.
The man leaves without serving the papers, never to return.
By early June, Hudson can speak more clearly. Her children are in the temporary custody of their great-aunt, Green. Hudson's most recent surgeries have gone remarkably well. Soon she may be headed to physical therapy, on her way to walking again.
But nothing comes easy to this family.
On June 8, Tropical Storm Allison unleashes a record-breaking deluge, flooding neighborhoods and the Texas Medical Center, including Hermann Hospital.
Tate calls to check on her daughter, as she does every night, but no one answers. She tries the waiting room -- no answer.
Television reports that phone lines are down in the Medical Center.
Shortly after midnight, the phone rings. It's LoMonaco, calling to say Hudson is being flown by helicopter to LBJ Hospital.
Tate is relieved -- until she sees the water rising from a nearby bayou into her back yard.
The water seeps into her garage, her kitchen, the hallway and the living room.
"Then I just started praying," she recalls. " `Lord, please just don't let it overflow my house. I'm too tired to fight the flood, and I'm alone.' "
The water stops rising about 3 a.m., sparing her home of 35 years from major damage.
Another 30 minutes of rain and the entire house might have been flooded.
"I'm still blessed," Tate says.
Over the next several weeks, Hudson's stay at LBJ -- which has neither a burn unit nor a staff well-versed in dealing with burn patients -- is not without complications.
From the beginning, Tate feels her daughter is not getting the same level of care she received at Hermann. At times Tate has to change her linens and dressings and request pain medication.
The scarring on Hudson's bottom lip is getting worse, causing her to drool. The IV line in her right ankle causes her foot to swell. She has pneumonia, which doctors believe is caused by an infection in an IV line. Burned tissue on her back is causing her extreme pain.
One morning, custodian Melissa Smith, 32, comes into Hudson's room to sweep, mop and disinfect, as she does every day. Sometimes they chitchat. Today their talk takes a more serious turn.
Hudson says this might never have happened if she had just heeded her mother's warnings about Keeper Hudson.
As Smith cleans, she reveals to Hudson that her husband once sliced her right hand with a butcher knife. She needed 20 stitches.
The two young women connect. They understand pain and betrayal.
Hudson says she doesn't see how she can trust men; she'll never consider marriage again.
"Do you think there is any good man left?" she asks.
"There are good men," the custodian says.
A few weeks later, after being bedridden for more than two months, which has caused her leg muscles to atrophy, Hudson begins to walk again with the help of physical therapists.
At Green's house, Hudson's youngest daughter, who is nearing her first birthday in July, takes her first steps.
It's almost 3 o'clock on a September afternoon, meaning the children will be home from school soon, and they'll want a snack.
Green is stirring canned chili and a pack of hot dogs in a frying pan. Her only child left the nest almost two decades ago, and she never expected to be raising five kids at the age of 65. But family sticks together.
"Me and the kids, we had to get adjusted to each other," she says. Steam from the thawing wieners fogs up her spectacles. "But we're adjusted."
Green thought she would get more done when the older kids went to school, but she spends most of her time keeping an eye on the youngest, a walking, baby-talking ball of energy. She'll put in a load of laundry early in the morning, and it won't come out of the dryer until the kids come home. That's when Angel takes over.
Angel, a freshman at Forest Brook High School, doesn't participate in extracurricular activities. Her only priority is helping the family. "She's just a teen-ager, but she acts just like a little old lady," Green says.
The baby hears the rattle of the steel bar door and crawls fast-forward to greet her big sister. Angel displays an exaggerated smile for the girl with the pacifier in her mouth.
"Did you miss me?" Angel asks the baby, picking her up and planting two big kisses on her lips.
The other children, ages 7-12, file in, their white polo shirts and khaki pants in perfect harmony. It's progress-report day, and everyone received mastery or satisfactory marks.
After the younger children have gobbled the hot dogs, Angel makes them pull out their homework.
"I show them how to do it and check it if they done it," Angel says.
If the answers are wrong, she instructs them until they get it. "I'm tough on them sometimes," she admits.
Especially on the 7-year-old brother, who likes to horse around and refuses to count when it comes to math. She'll bop him on the head with school papers to get his attention.
Angel is a smart, brave girl molded by the violence and responsibilities that surround her. She remembers the times she sneaked out of the apartment, ran to a neighbor's house and called the police when her father got violent.
"I never did like him too much," she says bluntly.
When she should have been giggling with friends or staying after school for activities, she'd instead head home to care for her brother and sisters, change the baby's diapers and look out for her mother.
"I grew up too fast," Angel says.
She's planning on careers in the Army and as an undercover cop. She would have joined the ROTC, but home duties come first. Maybe next semester. If she's lucky, she might attend a high school football game with her cousin.
In her daily phone call to her mother, who was transferred back to Hermann in August, Angel learns she may soon come home.
"I'm going to miss that day from school," she says.
On Sept. 30, Tate removes her padlock from a metal locker in the waiting room.
It is time to take her daughter home.
Tate hums while she helps her daughter pack. She adjusts and teases a wig she bought for Hudson. "We'll get you fixed up, girl," she promises.
Tate pencils on eyebrows like a makeup artist and puts a pair of discount-store sunglasses on her daughter for the ride home. Hudson has lost about 20 pounds; her olive pants and green blouse hang loosely on her body.
She will need a new wardrobe. Tate will, too; since April, she's lost about 25 pounds.
Tate gently tugs at the wig until it sits perfectly. A wheelchair is waiting to deliver Hudson back to the outside world.
"Come by and see us," a nurse says. "We'll miss you. Take care of those babies."
"Bye, Angie," a chorus of voices says.
"We'll never forget you all," Tate says, and Hudson waves.
A cool fall Sunday welcomes Hudson with endless refreshing breezes like an extended standing ovation.
They head to Green's house so Hudson can spend the rest of the day with her children before heading to the home where she grew up, where Tate will care for her.
The older children rush the car when it pulls into the driveway. They bearhug their mother as if they've been separated for life. Mom is home, and someday things will be back the way they were.
The toddler is sleeping in the arms of her great-aunt. "Wake up, my baby," Hudson whispers from the other side of the couch.
When she does, the toddler stares at the coarse face of thick scars and pink blotches. She cries.
"That's Mommy," Green says.
The child responds by giving Green a tight hug, sucking on her pacifier and sneaking inquisitive looks at the mother who's been absent from her life for almost six months.
"She's so big," Hudson says, knowing she's missed so much. "Hey, young mama."
Hudson tells Green that she has to start physical therapy in the morning at Hermann Sports Medicine & Rehabilitation Center. She'll go three hours a day, five days a week.
Minutes later, the toddler climbs off Green's lap and staggers toward Hudson, dragging two bunnies -- a pink one with a bow and a light-blue hare wearing a straw hat.
Hudson takes her daughter's hand and helps her to climb into her lap. They stare at each other.
Facing the Fire
It's mid-November, and a slight chill hangs in the air. Hudson wears a sweater. Because of her burns, she will always struggle with her body temperature. She will be prone to feeling cold. No longer able to produce sweat, she will overheat easily in the spring and summer. Her skin will never produce oil, so she'll have to moisturize with unscented lotion several times a day.
Hudson spends every weekday in October in physical and occupational therapy, working to be a full-time mom again. LoMonaco says that's a possibility after more surgeries to restore function lost to scarring, such as motion in her elbows.
For now, Tate is her daughter's caregiver. She bathes, dresses and cooks for Hudson, who can't lift heavy objects or raise her arms above 90 degrees. She shaves the badly burned crown of Hudson's head daily so the hair won't become ingrown.
Seven months after the attack, Tate and Hudson return to Apartment 195. The air is stale and musty.
The blue duffle bag still sits on the kitchen table, along with eight wooden matches. The milk jug once half-filled with gasoline is gone, confiscated by police.
Hudson's tracks can be seen on the grimy floor, where she slipped in gasoline while trying to escape. Two burnt matches -- the ones that set her ablaze -- lie on the floor near the front door. She was that close to getting away.
Soot marches up the stairwell below a picture of Malcolm X, mapping Hudson's panicked flight upstairs with her ankles tied. The gold curtains in the living room are singed.
Hudson shows no emotion as she tours the downstairs of the three-bedroom apartment and details her struggle.
"I don't think I could ever stay here now," she says finally. "I just stand and look around. ... (The fire) just plays in my head, over and over."
For now, Hudson stays at her mother's. She doesn't go outside much. Twice she went to the mall, but people stopped and gawked. Cosmetic surgery, which will include attaching prosthetic ears, is still many months down the road.
But the holidays and happier times are just weeks away. Angela's 38th birthday is Dec. 23, and Angel will turn 15 on Jan. 30.
She's thinking about dating.
CPS and the Houston Housing Authority save Christmas for the Hudson family, delivering clothes, toys, winter coats and shoes for the children.
Angel's birthday is strictly a family affair, with a homemade marble cake decorated with colorful stars. As Green lights the candles, the children giggle. Hudson keeps her distance from the flames, standing near the doorway.
Hudson and Tate sit down with Angel for a woman-to-woman talk. When Angel asks about dating, Tate says, "No."
Fifteen is too young, Tate and Hudson agree.
A chaperoned date, maybe.
"You're not missing anything," Tate tells her.
Angel laughs. "Really?"
They view this as a critical time to guide Angel so she won't find herself in an abusive situation, which happens more often than people think. One-third of all high school and college students will have an abusive relationship by the time they graduate.
"If she starts to date, I'm really worried about that," Hudson says.
During a pep talk, Tate tells Angel: "We can correct things if we take heed in what we've seen or experienced. Learn to love yourself. Learn to respect yourself. Use us as an example. Prosper from our mistakes. I tell you this because I love you. I don't want you to go to that valley of suffering."
The road ahead is still lengthy and surely marked with bumps. But the Tates expect that. It's all they've known -- the hard life.
Hudson is waiting for crime victims compensation and Social Security disability benefits to kick in. She'll use $189 of it to pay a filing fee so that a victims advocacy group can help her file divorce papers -- to break the legal bond that connects her to Keeper Hudson. Since October, he has written 10 letters from jail to the three generations, saying they will be a family again.
Tate can attest that divorce papers don't resolve problems or negate the past. They can, however, provide the start of a new beginning.
Angel is looking ahead to the summer. She's browsing the classifieds for a job to help with money around the house and save up for a car.
No matter how Keeper Hudson's trial ends, Tate's crusade won't. She plans to become an advocate for battered women.
Hudson is working on the little things: washing dishes, folding clothes, eating and dressing herself, as much as her mobility allows. The most important thing comes before she goes to sleep.
"Every night," she says, "I pray real hard to be a mother again."
2003 Dart Award Acceptance Speech
On April 9, 2001 a shocking offense occurred in an overlooked public housing project in Houston: a mother of five was purposely set ablaze by her estranged husband - the man who once vowed to love, honor and cherish her had tried to kill her. The attack was initially reported by the media but quickly faded in favor of other news stories. Meanwhile, Angela Hudson was fighting for her life after suffering second- and third-degree burns from her waist to the top of her head.
When I read the newspaper brief about this attack, I was instantly drawn to the story. Partly because of the brutality of the assault. Mostly because it hit a nerve. Like many others, I grew up a witness to domestic violence, although less violent in comparison to Hudson's situation. Yet, the memories to this day are vivid. I can still hear the squeal of police sirens. I can still see my older sister (time and time again) black and blue after her husband beat her. I can still smell the fear.
I knew firsthand that the effects go beyond the offender and victim. They extend generations.
When I approached Hudson's mother, Doris Tate, in the burn unit waiting room, I recognized her face. It was one of loneliness and heartache. I had seen that face before.
She shared pictures of her oldest daughter with me and how she spiraled from a loving, outgoing woman to a defeated and controlled wife. Understandably, Tate was reluctant at first to cooperate on a story. Her daughter was on life support clinging to life. This was the worst moment of their lives and a reporter and photographer — strangers — were asking to document it all.
Andrew Innerarity, the photographer on this project, and I pledged to be respectful of the family's wishes including Angela's decision to participate in the story once she was able to make that determination on her own. It was a huge gamble journalistically speaking, but we were there to report a remarkable story not worsen a family's pain or hinder the recovery process. This, after all, was a family who never dealt with the media. They, like all other victims of crime, deserved that extra care.
After that, they allowed us tremendous access — from heart-wrenching visits in the sterile burn unit to family birthday parties. As we spent our days, nights, weekends and holidays with the family, they shared their history with us — an unfortunate legacy of domestic abuse that is far too prevalent in our society. Each of these women (including Hudson's teen-age daughter Angel) had a story to tell — from the past, present to the future. Three voices. Three perspectives.
The reader response was tremendous. In two days following the story, more than 100 women contacted shelters wanting help to escape their abusive situations. And those are just the ones we know about. That's all the family wanted out of this endeavor — to help others so that they wouldn't have to suffer as this family had.
Today the family continues to receive calls from well-wishers. To them it's a good sign; their message of hope is still circulating. I'm happy to report that the family is slowly moving forward. Angela Hudson is back with her children although they once again live in the apartment where the attack took place. She says it's a sacrifice she's willing to make to be a mother again.
Only recently did I tell the Tates and Hudsons of my experiences with domestic violence. As journalists we are taught to be fair and impartial and to keep our feelings on the sidelines. I believe in those tenets, but that shouldn't preclude us from drawing upon our life experiences to report stories others can't quite see or comprehend. You see, it's our unique experiences that give us the insight and the ability to tell a story with more heart, more feeling. It's that perspective that makes the story more than a collection of words.
Tonight's ceremony comes during a time when terrorism and the war in Iraq dominate headlines. (Right now, Andrew Innerarity is imbedded with Fort Hood troops who are on their way to the Persian Gulf.) The Dart Award reminds journalists not only of the importance of covering the news events but also documenting the life-changing effects and trauma that will no doubt be left behind.
On behalf of the Houston Chronicle and all my colleagues (from editors to designers) who worked so hard on this project, I'd like to thank the Dart Center for recognizing newspaper coverage that documents the effects of violence — whether it is a catastrophic event or a brief but savage moment of domestic violence. It's an honor to be this year's recipient of the prestigious Dart Award. We are thrilled yet humbled by the recognition.
I'd especially like to thank Angela Hudson, Doris Tate and Angel Tate for sharing their heart-tugging journey with us. Their bravery and resiliency is nothing short of inspiring.
Legacy of Love and Pain
Features Assignment Editor
Features Photo Editor
2003 Dart Award Final Judges
David Clohessy is the national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), the nation’s largest and most active support group for men and women victimized by clergy. His professional background includes five years as communications director for a suburban St. Louis school district, a year as deputy press secretary for the mayor of St. Louis, and nearly a decade working as a community organizer. With SNAP, Clohessy has set up local support groups in more than 15 cities, and was one of four victims to address the entire body of America’s bishops last summer at their historic meeting in Dallas. This summer he will be named “Outstanding Alumni” by Drury University in Springfield, Missouri.
Kathryn Eastburn is contributing editor of The Colorado Springs Independent, where she served as editor until 2001. Eastburn’s feature writing focuses on mental health, child, family and environmental issues. She also writes an award-winning weekly column, “Domestic Bliss.” In 2000 and 2001, Eastburn garnered first place awards in feature writing from the national Education Writers Association for her stories on teenage suicide and bullying, and on innovative teaching at an under-performing elementary school. She received a PASS Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency in 2000. In 2001 she was awarded two fellowships, one from the University of Maryland School of Journalism Center on Child and Family Policy Issues, and the other from the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma. Eastburn holds a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Hawaii.
Jane Hansen is a reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She has twice been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize: in 1990 for her series on the failures of Georgia’s child welfare system, and in 1988 for a series on the resegregation of the nation’s schools. In her 20 years at the newspaper, Hansen’s awards include a National Headline Award for the nation’s top local interest column, a Society of Professional Journalists Green Eyeshade Award, a Selden Ring Award for investigative reporting and the national Clarion Award for best newspaper feature. In 2002, she won the national James M. Cox Award for “Selling Atlanta’s Children,” a series about child prostitution. The series also earned Hansen the AP’s first place award for public service. The National Foundation of Women Legislators has honored her with a Media Award of Excellence at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Before becoming a reporter, Hansen worked on the White House staff under President Jimmy Carter. She received her masters in journalism from Columbia University.
Paula Schnurr is president elect of the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS). She is also deputy to the executive director of the Department of Veterans Affairs National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and research professor of psychiatry at Dartmouth Medical School. She edits the PTSD Research Quarterly and is the deputy editor of the Journal of Traumatic Stress. Since joining the National Center for PTSD in 1989, Schnurr has conducted a series of studies on risk factors for PTSD and on the relationship between PTSD and physical health. She and Dr. Friedman are currently conducting a study to evaluate prolonged exposure as a treatment for PTSD in female veterans and active duty personnel. Schnurr received her Ph.D. in experimental psychology at Dartmouth College in 1984 and then completed a post-doctoral fellowship in the Department of Psychiatry at Dartmouth Medical School.
Clarence Williams is a staff photographer for The Los Angeles Times. In 1998 he received a Pulitzer Prize for “Orphans of Addiction,” a series documenting the plight of children whose parents are addicted to drugs. Other awards include Times Mirror Journalist of the Year, the Robert F. Kennedy Award for domestic journalism and Journalist of the Year from the National Association of Black Journalists. Williams has lectured and taught at a variety of workshops and colleges. He is a native of Philadelphia and a graduate of Temple University.