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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Off to the County Building, Santa Cruz

The Santa Cruz County building, which houses the County Courthouse, is a large, gray, windowed structure, in shape like a squashed pyramid; I believe it is still the tallest building in the county.  I have had only one visit to this place in the last year, to obtain my son's birth certificate.  In previous years, it has been the setting of some of the worst times in my life: my prolonged divorce, fruitless petitions for child support, horrible dealings with domestic violence, etc.

To the person in question, whom I can practically hear scream out, "VICTIM!" as he reads this--btw, I really hate that you hold that image of me, honestly, and hope you'll change your mind sometime--I could tell stories of my life at that time which are so horrible that you would never, ever believe I could survive them.  This is my story.  This also is Asha's story, though she seemed much more loved and supported than I was, and was not disabled. This is the story of too many women in the world, to greater and lesser degrees.

When I entered the building, I had to pass through a crowd at foreclosure sale on the steps; I have never seen one before, but it saddened me for the people losing their house, and brought up a horrible memory of standing in my front yard with my little kids around me as a nice man delivered a foreclosure notice on my house.  I don't think I have ever cried harder than on that day.  I had no idea where we would go; I was totally disabled from lupus, unable to work, and my family was mostly unable to help me except what my sister could provide to help (she was very generous to the children and me). I managed to save my home and in 3.5 years, it will be paid off.

That is perhaps a story for another time and place...but walking in today was like walking through my own past, one that could have easily put me in the very same place as Asha.  The smell of the building alone--of papers and office supplies, and oldness--brings me back to truly the worst and most frightening time of my life, and I had to really step on that today to start researching Asha's case.

I really had no idea what to do; I walked around the various floors like all the other lost-looking souls who wander around there (some for most of the day).  I looked at the sign for the American Cafe, the basement cafeteria, advertising breakfast at 6 am.   I went up to the floor where small commemorative quilts for murder victims are displaed on the wall: there is nothing for Asha and Anina.  This seems so sad: the more I research her, the more she seems to take shape for me, and the more I realize that this was a mother and a baby gone forever.  I vowed to make her a wall quilt to hang in that hallway, one that would really honor her and her baby.  Why all the silence around this woman?  Sure, she is gone, and people move on, but I am sure the family and friends and especially the husband who loves her, grieve every single day.  She deserves a quilt on that wall.

I am by nature a very shy person, and do not like to ask for things.  I finally went to the safest place I knew, always my refuge: a library.  This was the Santa Cruz Law Library; I walked up to the desk, told the woman at the desk what I was doing and what I needed, and she said that I could access all the court records at the Criminal Division. I did not have much time before I needed to go pick up Thistle, so I decided to go to the sheriff/coroner records department (easily the bleakest place in the building, gray upon gray, and steel and thick glass windows.  The woman at the window was quite cheerful; I could see she had a red print blouse on.  I asked her if I could get the coroner's file on Asha Veil, and she said that only the autopsy report could be obtained.  I took a form from her and sat down at a gray table, on a gray chair, to fill it out.  It may take months to come in, the woman said (though because McClish plans to appeal his murder conviction, most of the files and paperwork are probably still housed at the County building).

That's when it hit me, as I filled out Asha's name and birthdate on the form (there are too many parallels between her life and mine: her first name was Joanna and mine is Joan; she was born on June 15th, and I was born on June 7th; she was, I found out today, half Scottish, and so am I).  She was a real person, she was a person I occasionally talked to and interacted with; the last thing I ever said to her was, "When is your baby due?"

I've learned that the market where she worked retained her killer on the payroll for a very long time after he had been arrested and convicted for first-degree rape.  He sexually harrassed a 15 year old girl at the Scotts Valley Safeway where he worked before the Ben Lomond Market; he had a long history of harrassment towards women.  She was not protected from this man because he was given a job he should not have had, at which he continued to abuse women.  Perhaps the owner, who knew him from when he was a little kid, felt sorry for him, the way another nice store owner in the Valley felt sorry for Thistle's parents and gave them an apartment, and her father a job, with disastrous results.

Researching the "Topix" board tonight, I came across another thread: people were, at one point, talking about a statue for her at the Ben Lomond Park, of a mother and child.  I think that would be something to pursue; a small statue could be commissioned easily in this town where, if you throw your hat, you'll hit ten artists with it...or maybe one of those memorial benches that I see on West Cliff Drive and elsewhere, or even a flowering tree, like a dogwood or a tulip tree.

I know that people donated money in Asha's name after her death to a bank account ($278) and Richard Veil donated it to the Walnut Avenue Women's Center in honor of his wife and baby girl.

But for now, this is what I do: to look at her life, at everything surrounding her death, at how she was made vulnerable to her killer without knowing it, and I will pull all these threads together to write this book.