Living Terror : Stabbing Victim Survives on Sheer Willpower, Small Victories
It’s the small victories that make it easier for Lauri McKenna to smile these days.
The victories aren’t always intended. They often come through the simple act of forgetting, such as when Feb. 2 rolled by unnoticed.
“I was so proud of myself,” she said triumphantly. “I couldn’t believe it.”
Feb. 3 almost went by as well. But late in the day she heard the date on the radio, and the memories came flooding back, just as they had in 1986 and 1987 when she holed up at home, unwilling to face the world.
It has been slightly more than three years since McKenna, then a 17-year-old Burlingame High School senior, and her close friend, Jeanine Grinsell, 16, let David Raley, an apparently harmless security guard, lead them on a tour of Carolands mansion in Hillsborough.
Nearly 20 hours later McKenna--bleeding from dozens of stab wounds and aching from a bash over the head with a claw hammer--was pulling herself to the top of a muddy ravine to flag down help for herself and Grinsell.
Three days later she was out of the hospital. Grinsell was less fortunate; she died in surgery hours after her rescue.
McKenna, now 20, seems the picture of health. She smiles easily. She can even joke about the ordeal.
“When Am I Going to Die?”
“Here I was, this teen-ager who thought one stab wound and I was dead,” she said, rolling her eyes. “I kept waiting for the lights to go out, and he kept stabbing me over and over. I thought, ‘All right, when am I going to die?’ ”
Underlying the humor and the ready smile is fear--fear that Raley might someday get out of prison and come back to get her, fear that she hasn’t seen the last of her medical problems.
Last fall, just as life was finally looking up, she had to drop out of Santa Barbara City College to have her gallbladder removed. It took two operations to correct the condition related to the stabbings.
Still, she remains optimistic.
“I don’t dwell on things,” she said. “I haven’t exactly had a fairy-tale life, but I’m a happy person.”
When she got home from the hospital, she said, everything seemed hopeless. She wouldn’t leave the house. She couldn’t get herself moving.
“I never thought I was ever going to be happy again,” McKenna said.
Then she tried escaping.
“I just wanted to get out of the house and be with friends and forget the whole thing,” she said.
But she soon discovered she was merely bottling things up inside. The first dizzy spell hit her in Hawaii, where she had gone in the summer of 1985 to be with friends after high school graduation.
The spells kept coming. They rocked her.
“The doctors kept telling me they were anxiety attacks, but I thought I was going to die,” McKenna recalled. “That’s what made me really scared of living.”
By summer’s end she was back with her parents, but being home reminded her too much of what had happened. That September she moved to Santa Barbara to go to school.
The anxiety attacks came on a regular basis throughout the year, and she began seeing a psychiatrist.
Trials Brought Her Back
Gradually, those small victories came.
“Two weeks would go by, and I’d suddenly realize I was happy,” McKenna said. “I’d think, ‘Wow, I’m really proud of myself.’ ”
But the trials of David Raley always brought her back. It wasn’t too bad the first three times she testified against him, recounting every detail, because she could escape back to Santa Barbara, she said.
This last time, testifying in his penalty phase, she came away troubled.
“Now I’m at home and I’m threatened by him,” she said. “I see him sitting in court and I know he’s angry.”
That’s why she wants Raley’s death sentence confirmed.
‘Just the Way I Feel’
“It’s not like I want him to die,” she said. “I just never want him to get out. I know he would come after me. He terrorized me, and he would terrorize my family.
“I may be wrong, but it’s just the way I feel.”
Out of the whole ordeal, the death of her friend will probably have the most lasting effect. Grinsell’s birthday--Jan. 9--will always be the toughest day of the year for her, McKenna believes.
“I will always be sad on that day,” she said. “I remember her last birthday. She had just gotten her car and she was so happy.”
McKenna still finds it hard to believe that she survived and Grinsell didn’t.
Grinsell was the fighter, she said.
“I know she had a real brawl up against” Raley at the mansion, McKenna said with a hint of admiration. “Jeanine was mad. I remember asking her when he put us in his trunk, ‘Are you OK?’ She snapped back, ‘Yes, I’m fine.’ ”
When McKenna was getting ready to leave the hospital, her mother told her the news she didn’t want to hear.
McKenna revealed that survivor’s guilt is one of the ghosts that still haunts her, and that it makes her angry.
“I see Jeanine’s brother sometimes, and I can’t even look at him,” she said. “I know there are people out there who probably wish Jeanine had lived instead of me. I get angry--not that I lived, but that I have to live with this.”
Her aspirations are to become a fashion designer but, more important, to settle down someday to a simple life with a husband who can understand what she has been through and lend support, she said.
“Right now, for me to be somebody’s girlfriend would be a headache,” she said. “It’s not that I’m a basket case, but they just don’t know how to deal with it. People don’t want to deal with yucky things.”
Then she added: “What happened to me is a part of me. It’s not something I can change. There’s nothing I want to hide.”