Life Without Father

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"I know he was a Big Brother," says Darcy. "He used to take this little boy roller-skating all the time. I think he liked helping him, maybe where he didn't get help when he was little. And he did something for Ridge Homes, because there's a plaque."

James often let kids and homeless people into the movies for free. "These two guys showed up at his funeral," remembers Darcy. "They looked like they lived in their car and we thought, oh, who are these people? Then they came up and talked to us. One of them had his birthday on the same day as Dad and Dad took him to Denny's."

The two women are still puzzled about what actually happened on the night of their father's death. They know he would have opened the door if anyone had knocked, asking for help. They also know that he'd advised employees to give up the money without argument if a robbery ever occurred: James had been held up once before. "I would say, Dad, doesn't that scare you?" Daytona remembers. "And he would say, Daytona, there's nothing you can do about it."

"He didn't judge anyone," Darcy says. "I remember when he worked at East Colfax at the movie theater. There were gangs and everything there. And I used to say, aren't you scared? And he said, no, they're nice to him."

The murder destroyed Darcy and Daytona's sense that the universe was fundamentally benevolent. Darcy often finds herself afraid to leave her house. "I'll just think, well, I'll stay home because something bad could happen," she says. "Or if anything's off, like your husband's late, or the phone rings at night, I think something bad has happened."

"For some reason," says Daytona, "I don't know, I cry all the time."

Darcy nods. "Yeah. She cries all the time."

"I can get hysterical over things like...well, my daughter was just at Children's Hospital and when they put her under anesthesia, I knew that the worst was going to happen because that would be my luck..." (Heather had a strep throat that did not respond to antibiotics; she is now fully recovered.)

"Whenever I leave my girls, like for a weekend, I write them letters because we know something like that could happen any time," Daytona continues. "I would love to have letters from Dad..."

Darcy reminds her sister that their father left each of them a small clay figure, and Daytona goes to find hers. She places it on the table. It's a child of indeterminate sex, seated, with its arms folded round its knees. The caption says, "Love the child within."

Darcy and Daytona struggle with profound and complex feelings toward their father's killer.

"You know, I don't really have hate," says Darcy. "He wouldn't want us to hate them. Just...I'm wary of a lot of people. But it's not hate. I don't think I've said I hate Joshua and Charlie Pa..."

"I think I've said I hate what they've done to Dad," says Daytona.

"Looking at them makes me want to cringe."

"Just throw up."

"Sometimes I feel I could forgive them more if they would ever bother to tell us they're sorry," says Darcy.

They talk a little about Beckius's letters to them, and wonder if they were sincere. "It could be his lawyer telling him to write the letter for lighter sentencing," says Darcy. "So I would think if he was truly sorry, he would have wrote again. And the other one just had no remorse at all."

Both women find the prospect of a new trial -- should Beckius win one -- extremely daunting. "We've dealt with it and the pain doesn't go away, we've been able to just manage it," says Daytona. "To me it would feel like we're going to have to go back in time...

"It's nice to know they're in there, doing their time," she concludes.

In a sense, James had a third daughter. Toni Lucci first met him when she was sixteen and applying for a job at a theater he managed. She had been riding her bicycle round and round the building, afraid to go in. "I am who I am because of him," she says now. "I had a tough time growing up. I didn't have a dad. He totally took me under his wing."

Eventually Lucci became a manager herself, and James would tease her: "If I didn't take you off the streets," he'd tell her, "you'd still be riding your bicycle around the theater."

Lucci remembers being snowbound with James in a movie house for ten hours during the blizzard of 1982. "We told jokes," she says. "We put on country music. He was teaching me dance steps.

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Juliet Wittman is an investigative reporter and critic with a passion for theater, literature, social justice and food. She has reviewed theater for Westword for over a decade; for many years, she also reviewed memoirs for the Washington Post. She has won several journalism awards and published essays and short stories in literary magazines. Her novel, Stocker's Kitchen, can be obtained at select local bookstores and on Amazon.
Contact: Juliet Wittman