There is irony for me in leaving Sussex County for 14 years and now being home again. I have grown to realize that the only way to move on was to go backwards, or so it seemed at first. I had to come home and face my demons. I never dreamt that I would end up being or actually wanting to be back in Sussex County. I had big plans to stay far away and I had not once thought about coming home in 14 years. I must admit it all was just happenstance yet I began to see it for its real value. I had to come home to learn about things about myself, things I had been running from for years, people, everyone who knew all the intricacies or thought they did about Amy Kratz. People meant well but being away and finding me was the best thing I ever did ironically I had to find that little girl, the child left walking to school on a tragic day. She was the one that I had actually lost; she was the one that I needed to reconcile the differences of my life.
I felt a weight that hung around me when I lived here and I was returning to hold on to another one, a weight of sadness so heavy it would take all that I had learned, to come to grips with it; and again I wasn’t alone in my grief and sadness. I never really imagined that coming home would be so incredibly difficult and eventually empowering all at the same time. Trust me when I say it took many years to grasp the concept of it being empowering, it really was another difficult journey.
I was guided home for the first time five years ago because our mother had died in a horrific car accident. It happened while I was actually 45 minutes away in Salisbury, Maryland on the first part of my vacation to see friends and family. I was coming to Milton on Thursday
May 7, 1998 when on May 6 I got a call telling me she had died. I never saw her on my vacation where the family would be celebrating her 65th birthday and Mother’s Day all at the same time. I had been living in Minneapolis for 10 months and I loved it. I had planned to stay awhile, I was thinking about buying a home and settling down with my significant other of two years, and building a career for myself, possibly even going for a Masters Degree.
After her death, I went back to Minneapolis and I felt a strange pull an aching need to be home; I desperately wanted to be immersed in her life by the people who loved and knew mom. I needed to be close to my family and her friends; I wanted to hear stories about her. To keep her alive somehow, to make the pain more bearable if that was possible. I found great comfort in the warmth of who she was to everyone in town and my family. I found a place that I originally thought would bring me some kind of peace and realized while I was here that I couldn’t bare the sadness of it all. I realized that somehow at first I was seemingly living in her shadow, which was comforting and not, all the same time. I also felt the absolute burden of being the keeper of the memories of this home and her belongings. I had the house, the warmth that was once here now was now shattered, and something felt very scary about all of that responsibility that it seemed to have a hold on me like a lead weight around my neck. I yelled and screamed at her at times and sometimes I would wander this house for hours, just looking at what she had built and collected, in awe of how hard she worked to have this cozy home in which she loved and shared with all.
Ironic as it may seem the same people I needed to be so close to, were some of my reasons for leaving the second time, a year after living in Milton I moved to Silver Spring, MD, hoping once again to get away from the weight of my messed up existence. I found it very difficult to be here when my family and I needed each other the most, at this point in our lives we were not able to be there for each other. We were all much too devastated to rally around each other we were all adrift in our own grief. I found it comforting and difficult to live in my mom’s house when she was no longer around. It was still mom’s house for a long time after her death, I could not get used to fact it was mine even though the deed stated it was.
This home had all of her in it. Every nuance of what she represented to each of us in her lifetime, who she became was wrapped around every piece of furniture and every picture hanging in the very carefully chosen spot she put it in. My family found it difficult to come and visit me at Mom’s house because it created such pain. She wasn’t here anymore but the memories of all the happiness we enjoyed in the house still lingered, they were like a fog wafting through every room. There were times when I thought it was becoming a place of happiness, but not enough to keep me here. I didn’t have a license so I was stuck here often times alone; I began to find my life a very lonely mixed up place.
I had somehow lost myself along with my mom, in an instant, whomever it was that I had built; the person I was supposed to be, was now deflated, and I was truly lost. I felt more lost than I had ever felt in my life. I went running again, but now from something different. I had to leave once more to figure out how to get back to the strong me, I knew was within, wrapped in all the sorrow, grief and broken ties with my brother and new relationships I had begun to build. I was having adult relationships with my family unlike before because while I was gone we rarely saw one another enough to understand each other. I left as a self-serving adolescent and returned an adult with goals and idea, someone different and so were they.
These were relationships I had when I left at age 20 that had not quite been seared since we did not have a chance to form them after me being injured and it really is quite different knowing someone as an adult then when you’re young; that sounds so obvious but was such a revelation to me. My family and I in retrospect had not spent much time together just getting to know each other on the holidays that I came to visit or the family dinners when I happened to be here for a day or two for that 14 years.
I also could not find any employment, stuck in Milton with no transportation and no viable work to save my soul. I had realized that after my mother’s death I couldn’t work with anyone who was depressed or in crisis, which is what I had been doing for 14 years. Working in the mental health field one really needs to be able to give 150% and I felt I had nothing to give. I needed something, but I had no idea what that was. My first job in Milton was in the Spring after my mom’s death at King’s Ice Cream Store, they are a family in town that have known me and my family for twenty years, they have amazing thriving homemade ice cream stores and I became the manager. It was a fun job with great benefits, free ice cream every day. This job was just a summer thing that really wouldn’t pay the bills but I was grateful for the King’s, their kindness, the ice cream and the good reference they gave me.
I found great joy in working with people who walked in the door happy, unlike working in the mental health field where people are sad and tortured when you first meet them. Everyone loves to walk in an ice cream store and it gave me a chance to feel a part of a community that I only knew about through mom. I not only had the opportunity to let people get to know me as Amy Kratz, not just Joan’s daughter. Funny how the tables were now turned in some ways no one knew me, but mom had made sure that people knew who I was in her eyes, she had told everyone she met about me and it was moving to hear how she spoke of me to others. She told her friends in town about what happened to me as a child. I was glad to know she was working it out within herself, as I know it tortured her, even though she rarely showed that to me. I used to joke with her and say, “I’m the apple core of your eye.”
I went off to Silver Spring, Maryland about a year after moving here and found a job managing group homes for individuals with developmental disabilities, who were also Jewish. I found myself starting over and instead of working with individuals with mental health issues, I was back to helping people with developmental disabilities as I did in Snow Hill, MD, my first job in the human service field. Here I could do the work I found so fulfilling and not have to be on the front lines of someone telling me about their fears, insecurities, loss of loved ones, sexual abuse, or suicide attempts. I found myself working 60 hour weeks trying desperately not deal with my own grief, yet in a way I was. I have my way of running and not really getting away from what it truly is that I need to work on. So I worked instead of drinking as I had done earlier in life; to escape; although I did a bit of the latter in the first six months after my mom’s death.
While living in Maryland another ironic thing happened. I had two experiences that threw me back to my childhood in a way I never thought I would experience. I lived in an apartment complex near the corner of Georgia Ave. and Connecticut Ave. in Aspen Hill, MD, I used to walk in the dark from the bus to my house. I had to walk only about a city block past a section of woods that was a tiny park and then my apartment was right there. It was fall I walked up the street and saw two young men in hooded sweatshirts on the other side of the street. They decided to take a tactical move and approached me one crossed the street and got in front of me the other behind me.
They asked me for a cigarette I kept walking and told them I didn’t have any. They left me alone. I successfully told myself that I wasn’t going to let this get to me and continued my routine as usual. The next incident was the deal breaker; it was now winter and I was fully dressed in a hat, a big coat and a briefcase, the same two men stood side by side in front of me blocking my path. They said, “Hey man, give me a cigarette.” I did not speak because I realized they thought I was a man that was an advantage to me. I walked around them as if they weren’t there. As I got behind them one of them said, “Let’s Jump him!” I turned to see if they were running after me and I walked with as much composure as I possibly could to my door. I will never forget how incredibly scared I was. My heart was beating out of my chest and I was shaking all over. I realized I couldn’t live in a place that made me feel this unsafe; I was testing fate and I knew it.
All of a sudden I was a little girl going to school, walking by the woods, I felt vulnerable and incredibly unsafe a flashback of a time I had desperately tried to forget, a time where I was so helpless and small in comparison to the enormity of it. It scared me so badly I could barely breathe and that evening I looked for jobs online in Delaware. I changed my routine and did not go home that late at night and kept myself out of those situations. Then it angered me that I was a slave to my emotional self; powerless to the past. So I waited for a break in the job search. It was all a gamble, I had no idea how I would ever get to any job that was outside of Milton but I went on the notion that has driven me this far, Everything seems to always work out for me, it has been my philosophy and the inner voice that carries me from one challenge to the next.
The kind of fear I experienced was as real as being back in 1973, and it angered the hell out of me that again my childhood affected my decisions. I had worked so hard all my life to stay as far away from fear as possible and somehow I had managed pretty well up to this point. I knew I could not live my life in fear and I came back to the safety of my home. The place I felt more comfort in than any other place I had found in a long time. It was a wise decision to go home and again face my ghosts there.
I was surrounded by memories and I started working on getting through the days of now living with it all. I had not only come home in the real sense of the word but somehow within myself I had gotten back to me, I was at peace in a way that had escaped me years earlier. I started work at The Stockley Center in May 2001, and I had other challenges to overcome but I took them in stride and thought to myself, nothing is going to keep me from my goals.
People have asked me, “Is the man that hurt you out of jail?” I had thought since 1989 when I received a letter stating he was on work release that he would soon be out of jail, it just seemed that when someone is on work release eventually they’re on their way out the door. People have wondered how I can feel safe here. I have never wanted to live in fear and I do not. My surroundings, the surroundings of this area, the security of the small town may be deceiving but I think it feels safer than anywhere I have been before. I believe that this move was the destiny I had faced all of my life and it has rejuvenated something in me that once was not to be found despite my greatest search.
In Aspen Hill I lived in that ominous 1 mile radius that some of the D.C. Snipers victims were first slain. In fact, my apartment was very close to where they sat waiting for the bus driver, the last victim killed in their killing spree in 2002. I literally walked by that very same bus stop four or five times a day and I took that bus and knew the driver. It was exactly at that point in my journey home every night that I met those young men in hooded sweatshirts, odd isn’t how I was guided away from that place. My apartment was only 30 feet or more from those woods they hid in and my old roommate heard the shot that morning and called the FBI.
After getting back to DE, I knew automatically that I had made the right decision and the news of the sniper definitely confirmed it for me a year later. I was more than happy to be in my quiet little rural area where I could walk or bike at any time of night and be in my home feeling a sense of security that I had not felt before I left for Maryland it seemed to be another sign of good fortune.
Amy L. Kratz