Thrown away

First Stephen chucked away our love, then something far more precious...

Published by: Brad Hunter & Amy Thompson
Published on: 17th March 2011

All good things must come to an end. I just never thought my relationship with Stephen Nelson would be one of them.
For almost four years, we’d been happy. I’d met him through his sister Brooke when I was 21. He was 10 years older than me, and a laugh a minute, he was always smiling. He even helped his mum with the cooking.
Within months, we’d fallen totally in love and moved in together.
Two years later, I’d fallen pregnant with our son Turner.
We’d spent days at the park, watched him splashing about in the swimming pool, or just looked in awe
at him sleeping.
But when he was four months old, cracks had begun to show.
At first, Steve would come home from a hard day at work and pour himself a glass of wine. Then the odd glass became a bottle…
‘This has to stop,’ I’d told him. ‘How can you look after Turner
in this state?’
‘You’re right,’ he’d said, holding his hands up. ‘I’ll only drink at weekends from now on.’
And he’d stuck to his promise – for a while.
But our weekends soon become strained. I could tell that Steve was just counting down the minutes until he could have a drink.
Now, here I was, standing beside my packed bags and buckling eight-month-old Turner carefully into his pushchair.
‘Please don’t go,’ Steve begged, grabbing my hand. He’d been such a joker when we’d first met, never took anything too seriously.
It was one of the things I’d loved about him, but now I wished he’d take this seriously and realise he had a drink problem.
‘You can come and see Turner whenever you want,’ I told him. ‘You’re his daddy and he loves you. But we’re going.’
It was heartbreaking to walk away, but I knew it was for the best.
Me and Turner moved in with my parents. I never stopped Steve seeing his son, and he picked him up almost every weekend.
As Turner grew older, he became a happy little boy. By the time he was two, he was so bright.
‘Mummy!’ he said, beaming when Steve dropped him back one Sunday. ‘Cards!’ In his tiny hands was a pack of playing cards.
‘You’ve been teaching him?’ I smiled at Steve, remembering all of the nights we’d spent playing cards when it was just the two of us.
‘I taught him snap,’ he shrugged. ‘I’ll show him how to play poker when he’s older.’
‘He’ll probably fleece you,’ I chuckled. ‘He picks everything up so quickly.’
Steve held my gaze for a moment. Then…
‘Why don’t we get back together?’ he asked, suddenly. ‘Give me a chance to show you I’ve changed.’
I shook my head sadly.
I’d started dating someone else about a year after we’d split.
I’d told Steve about the relationship before I’d even introduced my new fella to Turner.
‘We’ve been over this,’ I said. ‘I’ll always care for you, but I’m with Milton now.’
He nodded curtly and walked away stiffly.
Things carried on as normal. Turner soon turned three and amazed me every day. His favourite toy was an electronic book I’d bought him which taught him the alphabet and how to spell.
One day, as I watched telly with Mum while Turner played with his book on the rug, we heard the little electronic voice asking him to spell a word.
‘Elephant,’ it said. Crumbs, that’s a bit ambitious for a three-year-old!
Turner tapped the keys. ‘Correct!’ said the voice. ‘Well done!’
I stared at Mum in shock. ‘Did you just hear what I heard?’ she asked, stunned.
‘Maybe it asks him to do the same one every time and he’s just remembered which buttons to press,’ I said. But my curiosity got the better of me. Sitting on the floor beside him, I smiled.
‘Turner, let’s see if you can spell another word for Mummy,’ I said, pressing the buttons on the book.
‘Bicycle,’ it asked him.
I watched in amazement as he tapped in the right letters. ‘My son’s a genius,’ I laughed.
‘He’ll be a doctor or something one day,’ she nodded.
Turner wasn’t just smart though, he was fun to be around. He adored playing cards with Steve or kicking a football around. I was glad I’d never stood in the way of that bond. Despite the problems we’d had, Steve was still a brilliant father. He doted on our little boy.
So when me and Milton got a place together, I knew it was a huge step for all of us.
Although me and Steve had been separated for more than two years, I couldn’t bring myself to tell him straight away.
I’d heard he’d been seeing someone else, but it’d only been a year since he’d last asked me to get back with him. I decided to wait for the right moment.
Dropping Turner off at Steve’s place one weekend, just after we’d moved, I knocked on the door.
‘I need to ask you a favour,’ I said, as Turner rushed into his daddy’s arms.
‘What is it?’ Steve asked, lifting him up.
‘There’s a big football game on TV tomorrow, and we’re watching it with my parents,’ I replied. ‘Can you bring Turner back a little early so he can watch the game with us?’
Steve’s face fell. ‘No,’ he shook his head. ‘I’ve got stuff planned. I want to spend quality time with my son.’
I couldn’t argue with that. ‘Okay,’ I said. ‘That’s fine, I just thought I’d ask.’
Back home, I pottered around as usual, unpacking a few boxes while the place was quiet.
The next day, the whole family gathered around my mum and dad’s to watch the footie. At half time, I got a call from Steve.
‘Where are you?’ he demanded crossly.
‘At Mum’s,’ I said.
‘I thought you wanted to pick Turner up early?’ he snapped.
What the…? ‘You said you wanted to spend time with him!’ I started. ‘Steve, if you’re just trying to mess up my weekend, forget it. I’ll pick Turner up after the game, as we agreed, okay?’
‘Fine,’ he said.
‘Can I talk to him quickly?’ I asked, knowing Turner would be asleep by the time I got there.
‘Suppose,’ Steve huffed, handing him the phone.
‘Hi, Mummy,’ Turner’s happy voice filled my ears.
‘Are you having a nice time with Daddy?’ I smiled.
‘Uh huh,’ he replied. ‘We’ve been playing with my trains.’
‘That’s great,’ I beamed. ‘Well, you can tell me all about it in the morning, okay? Love you.’
‘Love you, too, Mummy,’ he giggled. ‘Bye!’
I hung up feeling a little better, but Steve’s behaviour had unsettled me.
‘Everything all right?’ asked Milton, 34.
‘Yeah,’ I sighed. ‘I just don’t know what Steve’s problem is sometimes.’
If I thought I’d heard the last from him though, I was wrong.
An hour later, he called back.
‘I know about you and your boyfriend,’ he slurred. ‘I know you’re living together.’
My heart missed a beat.
Was he drunk?!
‘Steve, listen to me, no one’s going to replace you. Turner knows you’re his dad,’ I began.
He cut me off. ‘We’re not coming home tonight.’
‘What?’ I said. ‘You can’t just keep him.’
‘You don’t get it,’ he said angrily. ‘We’re not coming home. Me and Turner are going to die tonight.’
His words hit me like a bucket of ice water. I froze.
‘You… what?’ my voice was barely a whisper. There was no reply, just the dialling tone after Steve had hung up on me.
Desperately, I called him back on the number he’d just used. My blood ran even colder as I realised it was a pay phone. That meant he wasn’t at home. I couldn’t just get in my car, go around there and get my son back.
Where the hell were they?
Steve wasn’t serious about deliberately harming our little boy, that much I was sure of. But if he was driving around drunk, anything could happen.
I called the police. ‘We’ll send someone round to his place to investigate,’ an officer told me. ‘If he calls back, let us know.’
Half an hour dragged by while me and my parents went crazy with worry.
‘What if Steve’s had an accident?’ I panicked. ‘What if Turner’s hurt? I don’t even know where they are!’
‘They’ll be okay. He’s angry, he’s just trying to scare you,’ Milton reassured me.
When my phone rang again, I jumped. ‘Hello?’ I answered.
‘I did it, I freakin’ did it,’ Steve shouted.
‘You did what?’
‘I killed our son,’ he said. ‘I drove to Francis Scott Key Bridge. I took Turner out of his car seat, and I threw him off the bridge.’
My stomach lurched, but I shook my head. He’s lying, I thought. This is just a sick joke to make me suffer. He’d never hurt our boy.
Then Steve twisted the knife…
‘It’s all your fault,’ he spat. ‘You’re going to have to live with this.’
The anger in his voice, the bitterness as he spat out the words made my heart hammer. Sick with terror, I hung up and called the police again. They managed to trace his call to a pay phone at a petrol station near the bridge, and they immediately sent officers over.
When they arrived, Steve was gone. They eventually found him back at his house.
‘We’ve taken him to hospital,’ said an officer. ‘He tried to kill himself by drinking a bottle of cleaning fluid.’
‘What about my son?’ I panicked. ‘Where’s Turner?’
‘We’re searching for him,’ he replied gently. ‘But there’s no
sign of him yet.’
I felt sick. How could this be happening? That night, I couldn’t sleep, wondering where my little boy was.
The next day dragged by in an agony of uncertainty, too, and the next… For seven days, Steve was in a coma and police divers searched the deep
River Patapsco.
‘Maybe he didn’t throw him in,’ I said to Milton. ‘Maybe he gave him to a friend? Or he’s hidden him somewhere?’
He wrapped his arms around me. ‘Wherever he is, we’ll find him,’ he whispered.
When Steve woke up, he maintained his story about killing our son and was arrested. Yet months passed and still Turner’s body hadn’t been found.
Every night I’d hold my boy’s favourite jumper to my face, trying to breathe in his smell. But it faded so quickly – along with my hope.
I was torn between wanting the police to find him so I’d have closure, and not wanting them to find him so I could keep my last glimmer of hope.
After five agonising months, I got the call I’d been dreading…
‘We’ve found your son’s body in the river,’ a detective told me. ‘I’m so sorry.’
My world fell apart.
Turner had been my baby, the best thing to ever happen to me and Steve.
He’d had such a bright future, yet his own daddy had tossed him from a bridge like a rag doll.
Was Steve’s jealousy stronger than the love for his child?
In November last year, at Baltimore Circuit Court, Steve, now 41, pleaded guilty to murdering our son and was sentenced to 50 years in prison.
He never gave a reason and, although his lawyer read a statement from him apologising, I never saw him show any remorse.
It’s been two years since Turner died. He was only three. Me and Milton now have a one-year-old daughter Madison, who’s just like her big brother.
I tell her about him every day, and I wish so much that he was here to teach her all the things he knew, to play and laugh with her.
They say all good things must come to an end, but my son’s life should never have been one of them.
Natisha Johnson, 31, Baltimore, Maryland, USA