In terms of his eyes, they were blue.
Anthony Sterling Rodgers was born 11 June 2004 and died 11 January 2005.
So always I will remember he was exactly six months old.
He was so beautiful, so precious. We called him Lali, a pure spirit of love. This is as it is on his headstone.
He was born with Down Syndrome but that is not what took his life. His father left him by himself after feeding him. Lali had become very active and his father hadn’t realized.
Only a day before I had come home from my first day at my new job and Lali had said, “Mama.”
Six months old. Down Syndrome. He said “Mama.”
It was raining, so hard in Los Angeles. I struggled home, critical minute after critical minute in traffic.
I spoke to his father 20 minutes before he died. Alan fed him and put him down with his stomach full, by himself. He vomited, aspirated his formula, struggled, and suffocated.
If I had been home 10 minutes earlier my son would likely be alive today.
But instead he is in a grave near my mother and grandparents in Redlands.
And I know what the mothers who lost their sons to police altercations or gun violence feel and will never disrespect them, because my son was a disabled baby who died in an accident at home. He was being cared for by his father. It was my second day of work at a job I felt I had to take, one that would provide health care for him no matter what happened. And for the prior decade, his father had been involved in a custody battle of epic proportions with highly dysfunctional opponents.
The night Lali died, the nurses at Tarzana Medical Center let me hold him for an hour. They did not disturb me.
As I type my hands feel him. Right now, I feel him. I see him.
I have never felt such burning, encompassing love as I felt for my son, lying quiet in the night, watching as he slept.
And he was torn from me, body and soul.
I went home from the hospital and brought my daughter with me. I would take her to her father in the morning. I had already called Mike and told him what had happened. After, I lay alone on the cold couch in that huge, cold living room, the harsh moonlight sweeping across my face. The phone rang.
It was the transplant hotline. They wanted to know if Lali’s heart could be used. His corneas. His kidneys.
Of course, I said.
But there were some questions. Did he use IV drugs? the woman asked.
No, I said.
Did he smoke? No. Did he drink alcohol? No.
“He was a six month old baby with Down Syndrome,” I said.
The questions continued. She had a script. She could not deviate.
I lay there for another three hours until there came a knock at the front door.
A cop flanked by a man and a woman: Children’s Services officers.
After three hours of questioning they took my daughter away (to her father, thank the Lord).
And I was alone.
I went to work the next day.
I came to realize I was being charged with responsibility in Lali’s death because my first name was the same as my partner, his father’s, ex-wife. She and her husband had, over the years of the custody battle and unbeknownst to me, made over 200 pages worth of false child abuse charges against Alan, Lali’s father, in both Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties. These were regarding his now older children from his marriage, nothing to do with Anthony, Lali, our son.
But to the authorities, a woman by my same first name had seemingly said over and over like insanely many times, what a horrible father my partner was. It was all made up and the accuser had left all three of her children with Alan all of the time when they were infants and toddlers. But the authorities didn’t take the time to understand that, and they were going nuts: a Down Syndrome baby had died at home.
For 72 hours, I could not see or speak to my daughter. I moved to a motel; there was no way I would ever go back to the house where my son had died. Alan, his father, had been hospitalized with a heart attack and suicide attempts.
American Express cut off my credit card when I charged more than three nights on it.
I continued to go to work.
I had the money to pay an attorney to go to court with me. Three months later, after several court hearings and numerous visits by child welfare officials and law enforcement, and the coroner’s report documenting how Anthony had died (as I state above), the judge apologized to me in open court, came out from behind the bench and embraced me, saying,
“Take your daughter and go now, we are sorry, you are free to go.”
She’s moving into her own apartment in two weeks. She is whole, happy and healthy. I might even have grandchildren some day.
I know for a fact being in line and sitting in that courthouse for three months, that if I had been a black or brown woman, I would be in jail today and my daughter would have been taken from me.
In terms of his eyes, they were blue.
He was Lali, a pure spirit of love.