Today, Kristene Chapa got her first tattoo: “Let go Let god” in the shape of a heart, with a banner beneath inscribed “June 23, 2012.” It’s on her right scapula—the side that can feel pain.
On June 23rd, eighteen-year-old Chapa survived a gunshot to the head after she and her nineteen-year-old girlfriend, Mollie Olgin, were shot execution-style at Violet Andrews Park in Portland, Texas. The murderer remains at large.
Kristene has not only survived, she is thriving. She recently wrote, “I am walking with someone beside me” on Facebook the other day. She also said her left hand and arm “started moving” and she’s working so that she’ll “soon be able to use it with (her) right.”
Before I say more, I must acknowledge that while I don’t personally know Kristene, she gave me permission to write about her and her recovery after seeing my 4-part series—half about what happened to her—that ran at Equality Texas Blog. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be writing about this astonishing young woman’s Facebook posts.
Kristene’s tattoo was a surprise to everyone except her mother and sister, but her Facebook circle of over two thousand has been anxiously awaiting news of the mysterious tat since she first posted, “I’m gonna throw a curv ball at the doctors and ask if I can get tatted.” Her enthusiastic friends pumped her for details but she only said, “I’m getting it about my accident.” There was, however, a hint last week when she wrote, “I have this necklace that says ‘let go! let god.’ It reminds me of our accident.”
On September 12th, Kristene reappeared on Facebook for the first time since being shot but didn’t begin posting regular updates until she woke up on September 24th: “Good morning everyone another day to get stronger! Of course thanks to god ♥” Typing with one hand, Kristene eliminates most punctuation, which gives her lines a real-time momentum. Optimism, honesty, and humor are her signature. The same day, she wrote: “pray for me I have (an) eye exam tomorrow most people don’t know but I have a blindside in my left eye but it is supposed to come back within 6 months.”
The next morning, September 25th, she reported the exam went well and that “it’s the prayers.” She’s “getting contacts and glasses” and wishes she “could post pics of how healthy” she looks. She added, “I’d really like y’all to see how happy and well I look ♥” At the end of the day she wrote, “About 3 months ago I woke up in the hospital with my head shaved for my surgeries i had just a little bit of my long hair left…” Kristene then tells us she chose to cut off her last remaining hair for a donation. Of course, she ends the post with an upbeat note: “I got a fohawk (:my hairs growing long again I’m so excited.”
She began the 26th: “I woke up today with no voice A bad headache and tummy hurting just gotta push through it all and still give a 100% and I will ♥” Who talks this way? She’s not sugar-coating the facts nor is she giving in to them.
Later, she writes about the rehabilitation center where she’s living: “My mom and I were wondering why everyone keeps asking when I’m leaving and we figured out I’ve pretty much accomplished everything they taught me…” She goes on to describe all the things she can do, including “dress myself with one hand” and feed herself “and open a bag of chips with one hand…”
“I call it talent,” she says, “…try putting on shoes and socks with one hand! It wasn’t easy at first..” and then adds, “ I never gave up.” Kristene also writes about her mother, saying: “…she has been by my side since day one and never gives up hope…”
The only controversy arose when it became clear that Kristene has a new girlfriend. She describes, in detail, her decision to choose love again. Of Mollie, who died instantly after being shot, Kristene says “I was heartbroken…I love her and she’s in my heart.” Then, Kristene goes on to explain she needs someone “to understand what I’m going through and talk to all night and be the reason I’m tired and be there after I’m done with my therapies and text me and be silly with and to come see me and spend time with me, push me in my chair for now, meet my family be the first text I wake up to and text her as soon as I get up and I have that!”
Perhaps this is her strongest message to those who don’t understand why she’s choosing to start a new relationship: “…they have no idea what I’m going through nor even understand what I went through.”
Yes, it’s hard to fathom how a teenager who was shot at close range, who woke up in a hospital unable to move the left side of her body, who was later told her girlfriend was dead, and who has been working hard in rehabilitation ever since to regain her independence can indeed thrive.
Perhaps the secret to Kristene’s truly miraculous recovery is in her intense desire to live—and to love. And if she didn’t have the desire to love again, she might not have the will to learn to feed and dress herself much less walk again.
But this is a young woman who recently threw herself into a pool, shocking her therapists and sending them scrambling!
Of her tattoo, she commented, “It’s my second chance…” How many of us get a second chance after nearly dying?
Kristene’s not wasting a single day of her second life.