‘When they saw that Patroclus was slain …
They would shake their heads and toss their manes,
stamp the ground with their feet, and mourn
Patroclus who they realized was lifeless — undone —
worthless flesh now — his spirit lost —
defenseless — without breath —
returned from life to the the great Nothing.’

This is a tough story to tell, but it’s a story that needs to be told, not only because it shaped me as a human being, but it changed the trajectory of my life. From trauma birthed passion and a lifetime vocation. 

I was 21 years old when I saw a young man murdered in cold blood — only a window separated me and the chaotic scene unfolding just yards away. 

I was living at Aspen Heights near the University of Texas at San Antonio campus. It wasn’t unusual for cops to round the corners of the complex on Friday and Saturday nights every weekend. Apparently, this was the spot to party. (Side note: that really wasn’t my scene — too many drunk and stupid people, acting like, well, college kids). 

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I usually spent my nights on the porch, much like I do these days. To say I love being outside is an understatement (even as I write this, I’m sitting on my patio in the cool silence of the night). Add a porch swing to the equation and you can’t pull me away. 

I was gently swaying on a gorgeous night in the anonymity of darkness with no porch light. It was quiet, peaceful. 

Then a townhouse several doors down erupted into chaos. A woman burst through the door screaming, “He’s got a gun!” Partygoers clamored and poured through the single entrance and onto the streets of the complex. Officers showed up, stopped in front of the house a hundred or so yards away from me before circling the area. 


I continued to sway in the darkness. Why? I don’t really have an answer. 

‘But at 21, we’re all bystanders. That is, until we aren’t.’

Soon, I heard rustling in the grass “alley” between the townhouses behind me. I stopped the swing and casually turned my head. If I don’t move, they’ll walk right by me, I thought. It wasn’t unusual for college kids to cut through the complex this way. 

I don’t think they even noticed me. Looking back, I’m sure they were more concerned with the patrolling vehicles than a young statue of a woman alone in the dark on her front porch. 

As they emerged from the alley, I think I counted four, five, maybe six in the group. I can honestly say that I didn’t even get a good at them either. 

Why didn’t I put two and two together? I was a smart young woman. I definitely wasn’t naive. Why didn’t I flag down a cop? Hell, why didn’t I just call it a night? 

But at 21, we’re all bystanders. That is, until we aren’t. 

An hour passed and I decided to go inside to make grilled cheese. My roommates weren’t home and I was alone in the kitchen, cleaning a dirty skillet. The blinds in front of the sink were open. I don’t know why. They never were. 

But at 2 a.m. on that Saturday night — when I should have been asleep, when the curtains should have been drawn, when I should have stepped out from my porch to waive to a cop, when all the alarm bells in my head should have been ringing into a maddening cacophony — I just watched it all unfold. 

‘Lord, please just let his heart beat.’

The group — the very same individuals who were mere feet away from me just an hour earlier — were attempting to crash a frat party at an adjacent townhouse. When they were refused entry, gunshots rang out among the crowd. 

Smoke was filling my kitchen as I ran upstairs to my roommate’s window — one, to get a better view, and two, to get to higher ground (guess I had some sense in me after all). 

I watched the paramedics arrive. Two individuals were shot. Only one survived. 

Victim Randall Perkins, 20.

Months later, I wrote about crime in off-campus student housing for the UTSA student newspaper, The Paisano. It was the first time I’d dig deep and get my hands dirty in an issue. It was the first time I discovered what would become a lifetime passion — a vocation I feel I was put on this earth to do.

I uncovered so much — not only about the frequency and nature of the offenses, but also about the complexes that deny students in trauma some relief and management that refused to break their leases or even let them sublet the space after violent incidents. I was and still am so proud of the hard work that went into my first investigative article

Years later, I stumbled upon the news that the main suspect charged in the death of this young man was released due to lack of evidence.

There must have been at least 20 people just a few feet away from the chaos. And I was cowering, trembling behind the shades. I didn’t probe any further than the lede. I didn’t want to know why those charges were dropped. For so many years, I still didn’t want to know.

Last Friday, I decided to find out. As I searched for any news regarding this case, the first headline appeared. In November of 2019, the main suspect in the case, Leandre Vonzell Hill, was sentenced to 40 years in prison for the slaying of Randall Perkins.

In 2019, a San Antonio jury found Leandre Vonzell Hill guilty of murder.

It took seven years for the family to see any semblance of justice. For years, I sat with the guilt of not doing more — not paying enough attention, not speaking up. Even though I found my passion through this traumatic incident and I would go on to help so many people shed light on issues of importance, this still stuck with me.

Our system is flawed. But something could come from this night, right? I thought then, maybe I could make a difference, somehow. Maybe I could shine a light rather than naively sway in the darkness.

I’ve been writing poetry since I was about 13 or so. Writing in general is how I process things. Words just start overflowing.

As the sun started to rise, I called my then-boyfriend, who I knew was asleep. I was crying, rambling to myself. As I heard the familiar trill on the line, I remembered a beautiful poem I’d once memorized, “The Horses of Achilles,” by Constantine P. Cavafy.

The call went to voicemail.

So, I pulled out a scrap of paper, picked up a pen and started writing:

A single pane of glass separated me from my maker tonight.

I know I should have called sooner but it’s late and I knew you’d be asleep.
It’s a little past 2 and I was in the kitchen making grilled cheese. 
I was upset because you ate all the bread and I was left with the two end pieces
that are really only saved to crumble and throw at the ducks in the pond.

This has become commonplace for insomniacs like us —
we mercifully bear these yawning horrors to spare
your sweet, dreaming slumber from the exploding blunderbuss.

This can’t be different from those movie scenes, but I can barely hear the first gunshot 
(much less the second) above the sizzle and snarl of the butter in the pan.
Between two cars, I watch the paramedic 
pound the barrier between flesh and what lies beneath,
what simply refuses to answer that forceful beckoning of breath.

Lord, please just let his heart beat.

Now I hope that helicopters are lifting this kid on the gurney and
up into the unforgiving night that sits heavy above us all.
I barely even notice the scoop and swirl and tuck and twirl 
of the fleeting smoke that fills the kitchen
and still I’m clutching these cold slices of cheese in my hand.
Suddenly, I’ve misplaced my appetite for shitty cooking.

I can only think of the “Horses of Achilles” by Cavafy 
as I let the cheese drizzle and smear across my chin and my cheeks.
I think of their tears for young Patroclus despite their immortality.

I’m not really sure why I’m telling you all of this.
I guess I just realized that I have never really known Fear.
Never felt It pound at the barrier between flesh and fate,
despite that beckoning of breath.
I watch the never-ending calamity of death and 
cower behind youth’s half-drawn shades.

Oh God, it’s been 20 minutes. 
Let his heart beat just once or twice!
Because what else is youth for 
if not to have and to hold, right?

I’ll feel foolish when you find that 
nothing about this message makes any real sense.
Thankfully, it’s about that time for the sun to rise.
But, there is a cruel fog settling between 
what has passed and the dawn.
It leaves a thin layer of moisture on the glistening 
DO NOT ENTER tape that tangles between the trees, 
on the grass and on the roofs of the houses that 
sit heavy above us all.

But above all,
I wanted to tell you that the birds are chirping already.
So I’ll just talk to you later in the morning, maybe?

I guess my point is,
I guess what I really called to say is,
I’m glad you’re still breathing.
And I’m glad I am, too.

But when the inevitable arrives and we must really know Fear,
I hope we pound against the beckoning of breath and beat,
until the paramedic rules our time of death.
I hope the immortal horses shed their tears 
for fleeting youth and for burnt bread.

I hope they mourn the return from 
Life to the great Nothing night that 
awakens to the chirping birds 
of another sunrise.

I hope it didn’t wake you.

— “The Voicemail” by Natalie Frels-Busby

Note: Excerpts of this editorial were previously published in an edition of The Brenham Banner-Press.

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