One day about mid-Jodi Arias trial, I was fast hoofing it up to the courthouse as usual when my phone rang displaying a Culver City, CA number. I breathlessly answered it (hey, I’m not used to walking fast in heels) and on the line was a producer from the Ricki Lake Show. Now by this time I’d been surrounded by various TV show producers and media for months covering this trial, I’d appeared on the Dr. Drew Show once, I spoke with people like Beth Karas daily, I’d been posting nightly on the trial online so of course I assumed this was in some way related. “Hey Kathy, this is Mike Weaver a producer from the Ricki Lake Show” he said and I quickly replied “I’m late getting to the courthouse, can I call you back when court is done?”. His response surprised me asking “what courthouse? what do you mean?”.
It turned out he had no idea I was attending the Jodi Arias trial and really no real deep knowledge of the case, remarkably. He was simply researching cases for a show called “Murder for Money” and found an article related to our case and cold called me to appear. What odd timing. I’d not been approached for any media interviews or anything for years. And here I am sitting right in the middle of this trial and somewhere, out there, someone is researching Cindy at the same time. You may have figured out by now, that these kinds of “coincidences” catch my attention.
Mike and I talked later that night and he asked me to appear on the show. I agreed that I would. It would be taping in a few weeks and he’d send me all the necessary information. I will write a longer post on that whole truly amazing experience but for now want to share about the preparation.
One of the things they asked me to do was to find pictures of Cindy, Cindy and me, any photos of her killer (ugh) that they could use to make a “video package” to use on the show. Now many people before and after asked me if it was hard for me to do that show. Without a doubt the very hardest part was going through the photos to find ones to send. Of course I have hundreds of family photos tucked away in Cindy’s cedar chest. Then there’s the blue plastic file box that holds all of the trial related stuff, newspaper clippings and the like. I am even in possession of a large stack of papers with a copy of my own testimony from the trial. I’ve never read it again but a friend obtained it when she did a story on our case and gave it all to me later. Things you have no use for but will not get rid of.
In our case, as in comparison to the Alexanders, as far as victims go, we were treated very well. I don’t know how Travis’ siblings steeled themselves day after day to sit in that courtroom deflecting the abject abuse levied at their family and their brother by his killer delivered through her, her defense team and her champions.
Yet I’ve wondered if they had or are having the same experience as me. That in many ways it was much easier to focus on the crime, the justice system than the big hole that’s left once it’s all over. The loss, the grieving is the hardest part. The drama of a trial is a piece of cake compared to that inevitable horror, delivered with it’s own life sentence.
I wondered how it was for them sifting through photos of Travis to prepare for their impact statements. I never pried in to their personal experience but I sat there with them in a knowing solidarity. It was interesting that, as far as timing goes, we were both seeking meaningful photographs of our murdered sibling right around the same time.
As I dug through that chest, tears streaming down my face, I ran across this one which I just had to pull out. This is me on the left and Cindy on the right in case you hadn’t figured it out.
Let me introduce you to my alter ego, Penelope Cheese.
Cindy was famous for orchestrating these pranks on my Grandma every time she came to visit for Christmas. One year we boobytrapped her entire room and closet with balloons. It was always something, always cooked up by Cindy with John and I as her faithful posse.
One year when Cindy and I were probably 12 and 13, she decided she’d invite a new friend for lunch to introduce Buddha to. Cindy then went about creating Penelope through me. She dressed me up in a dark wig, I think a nightgown that could have actually been my Grandma’s, heavy makeup, costume jewelry, an underbite and a Southern accent. She told me my name was Penelope and gave me directions on how to act. She actually had me exit the house through the back door in a flimsy nightgown in the snow and ring the front doorbell to come visit for lunch. Her plan was flawless. Of course I always played along like the little dress up doll she often made of me.
I dutifully donned my prescribed attitude, rang the doorbell and Cindy introduced me to Grandma who seemed surprised and a bit confused but gracious all the same. The four of us- Buddha, John, Cindy and Penelope – all sat down in the kitchen for lunch. I held that underbite to the point of pain as I remained in character as Cindy’s racy, bawdy, sophisticated “new girl in town” friend. My Grandma sincerely seemed appalled at some of the things that came out of my mouth. Let’s just say Penelope was always well versed on the topic of boys.
She asked me many questions and when it got to “what is your last name Penelope” I hid my panic as we’d forgotten this detail, looked down at my grilled cheese sandwich on my plate and smooth as sugar delivered “Cheese” in my southern drawl.
This was the day Penelope Cheese was born. Cindy and I convinced ourselves that we really pulled it off. That Grandma really did believe it. That we really had pulled off the ultimate practical joke. So we never corrected it and went on year after year resurrecting Penelope visits and Buddha’s skills as improvisation rivaled my own. She was always pleased to see Penelope on each visit even if she didn’t really like her that much as a friend for Cindy with her bad influence and all. Penelope appeared at nearly every Christmas, once in Mississippi at Thanksgiving to a new crowd and this time in the photo above when I think Cindy and I were already in college. At least late teens.
In a very rare moment, I convinced her to dress up along with me. She typically was the director of these scenes so to get her to be a player was a real coup. I think we named her “Petunia” as we came down on Christmas Eve to entertain the family that year. You can see that she wasn’t exactly shy in her new role. Cindy in so many ways took the fun out of our family when she was killed. I’ve tried hard to find ways to bring it back to life yet still you can’t duplicate someone’s unique presence. I did bring Penelope to Maine one year but I think it was her last appearance. She’s just not the same without Cindy breathing life in to her.
Memories are tricky business. They remind you of something so precious and at the same time remind you of something so precious.
It’s a brave path and takes some time and some grace to dive back in to them. And like that kid on the end of the diving board, just gripping yourself and letting go in to it is the only way. And sometimes it’s cold and sometimes it’s a big splash and sometimes it stings going in.
And sometimes, if you’re lucky, you can sink down, rise back up to the surface and start swimming again.