Intersection of Hope and Despair
Thomas Calabrese – Julie Bronson’s early childhood was filled with love, happiness and good times while living in the rural area of North Kansas City, Missouri. Her father, Jack was a lineman for the Jackson County Power and Light Company and was often called upon to work long hours in dangerous situations when tornadoes or storms ravaged the area. He was an honorable and good hearted man with a strong work ethic who happily embraced the responsibilities that came with being a faithful husband, loving father and conscientious employee. Jack always had a kind word and a warm smile for his friends and a courteous greeting for strangers. Julie’s mother, Caroline was a simple woman and was completely content to be a stay at home mother.
A category two tornado touched down near Independence, Missouri and Jack had just completed three consecutive 18 hour days restoring power to the residents. He was at home getting some much needed rest when one of his co-workers called, “I’m sorry to bother you, but can you cover my shift?”
“It’s kind of short notice,” Jack responded.
Carl Barrinda replied, “I know…my wife had a car accident and she’s in the hospital.”
“Nothing serious I hope,” Jack said.
“It could have been a lot worse, a lady ran a stop sign and broadsided her. She doesn’t have any broken bones, but she’s pretty shaken up. They want to keep her overnight and I’d like to stay with her.”
“Definitely, that’s exactly what you should do,” Jack said, “Give your wife my best and don’t worry about going in, I got it covered.”
Julie immediately knew something was up when she saw her father wearing his work clothes and eating a bowl of oatmeal at the kitchen table. Fatigued was edged upon his face and she voiced her concern, “I thought you had the day off?”
“Last minute change of plans… it’s no big deal.”
“I wish you would learn to say no when they ask you to work overtime,” Julie said, “It’s completely alright to take care of yourself.”
Jack stood up and kissed his daughter on the cheek, “The main thing is that you’re alright,” and left the house.
A chill ran down Julie’s spine and she wondered if she was catching a cold. Something didn’t feel right to her.
Jack was running a power line on Route 54 when dark clouds started to roll in from the east. A man on the ground call up to Jack, “C’mon on down, It looks like a storm is headed our way.”
“I see it,” As Jack made his way down a pole, a bolt of lightning struck the metal transformer and the immense electrical jolt sent Jack flying through the air. He landed headfirst on the street and broke his neck and killed Jack instantly.
Jack’s younger brother, Mike was a career Marine and was in the Central African Republic at the time of his brother’s death and could not attend the funeral. He was assigned to the French Foreign Legion combatting human traffickers and terrorists in the region and couldn’t leave in the middle of a mission. After completing his assignment, he returned to Camp Pendleton and immediately requested leave to visit his sister-in-law, niece and brother’s gravesite.
The death of her husband had a devastating effect on Caroline Bronson and Mike was shocked to see how badly she looked since the last time he was in Kansas City. Caroline looked like she had aged ten years in only two. The heartbroken wife was prescribed anti-depressants by the family physician and the side effects made her like a walking zombie, void of all emotions.
Mike expressed his concerns to his niece who responded, “It is what it is…I’m just going to have to play the hand I’m dealt. I’m hoping Mom come out of it, she has never been that strong.”
“Play the hand you’re dealt, that sounds like something that your dad would say,” Mike responded as he reminisced about his older brother.
“I’m going to be using a lot of his sayings from now on,” Julie wiped a single tear of her check, “They mean a lot more to me since he’s gone.”
“I hope you don’t mind if I call every now and then just to see how you’re doing?” Mike asked.
“You’ve got more important things to worry about me, I’ll be fine.” Julie said.
“Nothing is more important than you. Remember that asking for help is one of the hardest things for most people to do because it is often perceived as weakness, but your father and I knew we could always count on each other. In this case, its not called weakness, it called family,” Mike said, “and you are my family.”
When Mike got back to his unit on Camp Pendleton, he quickly got into a habit of calling his niece every couple days to see how she was doing. Julie was only 11 years of age at the time of her father’s death and she had to grow up in a hurry. Luckily she inherited the best qualities from her father and was up to the task.
Since her father was killed while working on the job, the family received a survivors’ pension and insurance benefits. They used some of it to hire a woman to help around the house while Julie was at school. Things rapidly went downhill as Caroline continued to isolate herself, sometimes not coming out of her room for several days at a time. She began losing weight because she lost her appetite. Julie tried her best to help her mother and help her mother deal with the grief, “Dad would want you to take care of yourself,” but her words fell on deaf ears and a closed heart
Caroline would just break down in tears at the thought of her dead husband and Julie never realized how much her mother relied on her father until he was gone.
The more her mother deteriorated, the stronger Julie had to become. It soon became the family dynamic that the child was caring for the parent.
Real estate values in California have been rising dramatically for years. Mike and his close friend Major Bill Holder entered into a business agreement since Bill qualified to be part the Exceptional Family Program. His youngest son required specialized medical care at Balboa Naval Hospital which meant that while Bill migt be attached to a deployable unit, he would not be transferred to another base and his family would not have to relocate.
Their agreement was simple; they would buy a house in Oceanside and each man would put in $75,000 for the down payment for a total of $150,000. Bill and his family would live in the house and use their BAH (basic allowance for housing for their living expenses). When Bill retired, his plan was to move to Charleston, South Carolina where his wife’s family lived. At that time the house would be sold and each man would take back his down payment and split any profits if the property increased in value, which was almost certain in the Southern California real estate market. The other option was to get the house appraised and refinanced and Mike would give Bill his share and keep the property.
Before his brother’s death, Mike no intention of staying in Oceanside. He looked at it as a way to help his friend and make some money in the process. His plan was to move to Thailand when he retired and live very comfortably on his pension, savings and investments in the Southeast Asia country. Some of the Marines that Mike served with over the years had already gone before him and were happily living in Chiang Mai. This plan didn’t seem so definite since his brother’s death.
Nobody could be sure if it was accidental or deliberate, but when Caroline overdosed on prescription medication, it was another tragic chapter in the young life of Julie Bronson. While in Kansas City for the funeral, Mike called Bill Holder, “My plans have changed, I’m going to take the house so anytime you want to take your money out and buy a place in South Carolina, it’s fine with me. I’ll talk to you in a couple days.”
It’s took a few months to sell the house in Kansas City and the movers packed up everything of value and the rest was donated to charity or given to the neighbors. When Julie arrived in California, she moved into her uncle’s apartment and her belongings were placed in storage. Several months later the Holders moved to South Carolina.
While touring the empty house, Mike turned to his niece, “We’ll give it a paint job and make a few upgrades and then we’ll move in. How does that sound to you?”
“Sounds great,” Julie smiled, “This place is twice the size of my house in Kansas City.”
“Thirty-seven hundred square feet, four bedrooms and three full baths,” Mike led Julie into the master suite. It has two walk-in closets, Jacuzzi tub and steam shower. The room also had a fireplace and a sitting area. This will be your room.”
“No way!” Julie exclaimed.
Mike explained, “This house is going to be yours eventually. You’re my next of kin, who else would I give it to?”
Mike initially felt a sense of responsibility for his niece because of his brother. He never had a chance to really know Julie because she growing up in the Midwest while he was traveling around the world with Marines. The few times that he did see her was when that he went home on leave and their time together was brief. He came to realize that Julie had an attitude of gratitude and her rare combination of strength and kindness was the result of his brother’s influence. Julie routinely said please and thank you and her sky blue eyes sparkled whenever she smiled and she lite up a room when he entered it. Mike could now honestly say that he now cared about the young girl because of the person she was and not merely because she was related to him by blood.
If someone had told him five years ago when he was fighting the Taliban in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan that he’d be this domestic after spending so many years combating his nation’s enemies and becoming a skilled warfighter, Mike would have called them crazy. Now he actually enjoyed organic gardening, household chores and staying in place. His skills were in demand by various individuals, but when lucrative offers came in, Mike declined them, preferring to be at home for his niece. He even learned how to become an excellent cook.
Mike and Julie connection grew stronger with each passing day because of their love and respect for another. Knowing how dangerous the world could be, especially for a young woman, he did his best to help his niece be prepared for anything that could come her way by training her in combat martial arts. He reminded her, “Like your dad used to tell me before I went in the military, a person who is prepared for a fight is more dangerous than one who goes looking for one.”
“He also used to say that it better to know something and not need it than it is to need something and not know it. What inspired you to join the Marines?” Julie asked.
“Your dad enlisted before I did, I was always trying to be like him, but he set the bar too high for me to ever reach,” Mike said, “I had to settle for a distinct second place
“That isn’t what he told me, he always told me that were better than him at everything, Julie said”
Mike said, “What would expect a good big brother to say about his dufus little brother?”
Julie also had an adventurous spirit and was already ready to accompany her uncle on sky diving, scuba diving and rock climbing excursions. While attending El Camino High School, Julie developed a passion for tennis. While she got a much later start at the sport than her teammates who started playing when they were in elementary school, Julie quickly elevated her game to exceed theirs because of her athletic prowess and hard work.
Julie was entered in the Rosarito Beach Open in Mexico and her first match was early Friday morning. It was a three day tournament players for players 19 years and younger. Mike and Julie left Oceanside on Thursday afternoon and checked into the Las Rocas Resort and Spa where they had reserved adjoining suites. Julie easily won her first round match, but had a slightly harder match on Saturday afternoon, but still prevailed.
Julie and Mike maintained a healthy diet so they saw no reason to change while in Rosarito Beach, The desk clerk highly recommended Café Verde, whose specialties were salads. Julie finished getting dressed then called her uncle on her cellphone, “I’m ready to go when you are.”
Mike replied, “Give me ten minutes…I have to make a phone call.”
“I’ll be downstairs, take your time.”
Julie went down to the lobby and was casually looking around when Ismael Lopez noticed the beautiful young girl. Ismael was the youngest son of Alfredo Lopez, head of the Baja Cartel. He was sitting in the hotel bar with his entourage of bodyguard when he saw Julie and commented to the head of his security, “I want that girl.”
Jesus Salazar replied, “She’s looks American…it could be trouble.”
“I don’t care,” Alfredo said impatiently, “This is my country, I’ll do as I please!”
Right about this time, Mike exited the elevator and immediately noticed the men in the bar. There was something about that aroused his suspicions. He walked over to Julie, “Sorry to keep you waiting.”
“You’re here because of me, so waiting for a few minutes is the least I can do to show my appreciation. The desk clerk says it’s only a couple blocks…why don’t we walk?” Julie suggested.
While walking to Café Verde, Mike turned around and saw two black SUV’s following them.
Julie said, “You noticed them too, huh? What do you think they want?”
“Nothing good…remember what I told you to do when you are outmanned and outgunned?” Mike asked.
“I do… if you can’t change the odds then escape and evade,” Julie answered.
Mike and Julie turned down an alley then went through the back door of small grocery store and came out on a different street. Mike looked both ways then suggested, “We probably should go back to the hotel and make other dinner arrangements”
“Good idea,” Julie said.
Suddenly two vehicles appeared at both ends of the streets, effectively blocking Mike and Julie from going in either direction. Inside one of the SUV’s was Ismael. He got on his cellphone and ordered his men, “Get the girl and kill the man. What’s so complicated about that?”
Six men exited their vehicles and moved forward from both directions. Several minutes passed, One of the cartel soldiers was walking, his gun at the ready when an arm reached from a doorway and pulled him in. In less than three seconds, the man was dead. Mike took his weapon and gave it to Julie. “If something happens to me, don’t let them take you alive.”
A minute later, another cartel soldier came from the other direction and Julie stepped into view. This distracted him just long enough to Mike to come up from behind and snap his neck. He kept this weapon for himself. With Julie and him both armed, the situation had was a little more equal. Mike suggested to his niece, “Check your magazine…see how rounds you have?”
Mike and Julie popped out their magazines. Julie said, “Full load.”
“Me too,” Mike said.
When the remaining men came walking down the street. Mike Julie were on the roof above them. When they had clear shots, they opened fire on the cartel soldiers and killed them all.
Ismael was impatiently waiting for his men to bring him the girl so when he saw one man leading her to him, an evil sneer appeared on his face. The cartel soldier had his head down and it was impossible to see his face. When they got close enough, Ismael opened the door to his armored vehicle and realized that he had made a serious mistake. The man wasn’t one of his! Instinctively he reached for his weapon and Mike shot him.
Mike was calm and in control when he turned to his niece, “I figure we’ve got about 30 seconds before the police get her. How do you want to do this?”
Without hesitation, Julie said, “Laws are only as good as the people who enforce them and as I trust the Mexican authorities about as much as I trust our own Department of Justice. If we tell them what happened we could end up in a Mexican jail. What the about the friends and family of these guys…they’re going want revenge. I say our best option is; e’re just a couple scared tourists and we didn’t see nothing and we don’t know nothing.
Sirens could be heard approaching and Mike said, “Make them think you’re weak when you’re strong. I like your style.”
When a dozen police cars arrived a minute later, Mike and Julie walked over to where the police were gathered and Mike said, “We were on our way to dinner at Café Verde when we heard gunshots. What happened?”
The police officer replied, “There was a shooting. Where were you? ”
Julie sighed, “Hiding in the alley, we only came out after we heard the sirens.”
The police officer responded, “You were extremely lucky…be more careful in the future. The cartels are everywhere.”
“We will,” Mike said, “Thank you for your service, officer.”
Julie won her division on Sunday and she returned to Oceanside that evening with her uncle.
As they drove north on Interstate 5, Mike said, “We can’t predict what adversities we’ll face during our lifetimes, but what molds our character is how we deal with the trials and tribulations of failure and heartache. We endure and persevere and in the process we strengthen our resilience and resolve to succeed. And if we do this, then we do come to the intersection of hope and despair, we’ll be wise enough to know which way to turn. If all this true and I sincerely believe it is, then, Julie Bronson, you are destined for greatness. The End