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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Finding time for tears
She knew her dad was gone, but in the commotion, it took awhile to process.
By MOLLY MOOREHEAD, Times Staff Writer
Published September 26, 2007
Allison Todd dances with her dad, Tom Yates, at her wedding in 2003.
DADE CITY - Allison Todd indulged in some self-pity after her husband got sick, and she hated herself a little for it.
After years of deteriorating health, Brandon Todd underwent six hours of surgery in June to implant an external heart pump. The ordeal left him grumpy, with a zipperlike scar in his chest and a beeping battery pack around his waist.
He was 38, a former sheriff's deputy. When Allison met him six years ago, he ran 3 miles a day and dove into ponds to search for evidence. Now, he got exhausted walking to the mailbox.
This was not the picture Allison envisioned for his life - or hers.
She was 33 with two kids to think of - Kaitlyn, a happy but moody teenager from an earlier relationship, and 4-year-old Baylee, who has never known her dad healthy.
She felt guilty about this, but sometimes she couldn't help asking herself: Why me?
The external pump was just a Band-Aid for Brandon's wasted heart. He needed a transplant, but nobody could say whether he would get one. So Allison did all she could, which was to take care of her family and wait for the call.
* * *
Just before midnight on a Wednesday, the phone rang. It was Kaitlyn. She was hysterical.
Kaitlyn was in Orlando on a short vacation with Allison's mom and dad. Allison planned to meet them all there on the weekend. Now Kaitlyn was telling her that "Ta Ta" - Allison's father, Tom Yates - had just been taken away in an ambulance.
Time passed in a blur. Allison was getting ready to go to Orlando when her mother called. She sobbed and told Allison, "He didn't make it."
Allison couldn't cry. She couldn't think. Her mind and body felt empty.
On the dark road to Orlando, thoughts of her dad began to float in. His patience and soft heart. His frequent complaining. She remembered him attending tea parties hosted by Allison and her stuffed animals.
She had worried about her dad's health before - not because he was ever sick, but because Brandon's situation made her so dependent on him. The things a healthy husband might normally do - move a heavy piece of furniture, for example - Allison still needed her dad for.
* * *
The family decided against a formal funeral. Instead they would have a casual, pot-luck-style open house on a Sunday afternoon for friends and family to stop by and share memories.
Mom and daughter spent the days leading up to it in their pajamas. "We were just crying and drinking wine at 6:30 in the morning," Allison said.
Even Brandon, the cantankerous heart patient, stepped up - talking to visitors, helping with the kids, fixing drinks.
Allison stayed up past midnight the night before the gathering, sorting through photographs of her dad to display. There weren't many because he was nearly always the one holding the camera.
In the morning, the phone next to Brandon's head rang at 6:33.
"He said, 'So do I go straight to the ICU?' As soon as he said that I was up brushing my teeth," Allison said.
After six years in heart failure and 28 days on the donor waiting list, the other man in her life was getting a new heart.
Her dad's goodbye would have to wait.
* * *
On Sept. 5, Brandon reached one month with his new heart. The milestone also marked - will always mark - the time Allison's dad has been gone.
Many times during the hard, hectic days after Brandon's transplant, Allison felt gripped by the anguish of her dad's absence. Always, she managed to shake it off.
Until the other night.
The house was dark. Brandon and the kids were sleeping. Allison lay in bed, mind meandering, when a thought seized her: He's gone.
She felt grateful that her dad had been part of so many big occasions - her wedding, her daughters' births. But she yearned for his presence at the ones still to come.
She felt relief for the end of Brandon's long wait, though she still must look forward to the day he is free of pain and complaint.
There was no trigger, no particular reason for the timing of this moment. She just endured it alone, crying in the bathroom.
Encounters is dedicated to small but meaningful stories. Sometimes they will play out far from the tumult of the daily news; sometimes they may be part of the news. To comment or suggest an idea for a story, contact editor Mike Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2924.