Slater had been charged with theft one other time. He also had been charged on two occasions with assaulting his wife.
“I told him that’s not acceptable,” Zakia says, realizing the contradictions of the relationship. Not long before the home invasion, she told him, “This is your chance to do better.”
She believes that he was so close to doing better. In her bedroom are photos of Paul Slater with his son’s basketball team and a crayon drawing that says, “I love you mom and dad.”
On the day of Paul Slater’s sentencing, Zakia doesn’t go to the courthouse.
She goes to work. She needs a job.
She also decides that her family needs a system if it is to function. Paul Slater worked sporadically, but he took care of the cooking, laundry and driving kids to karate. Zakia gathers everyone in the living room. The youngest is 8, and the oldest, a freshman at a nearby college, 18. “Here’s how it’s gonna be,” their mother says: Each school night will follow a schedule, from homework to chores to dinner to prayers to showers before bed. Grocery shopping will be done once a week — “No more $350 trips,” she announces — and purchases will be based on the menu for the coming week. Everyone who can is drafted into helping with dinner. Zakia makes chicken curry. Her 16-year-old son makes spaghetti. Her 11-year-old daughter makes fish sticks.
About 9 one school night, she’s working on lesson plans when she hears foolishness upstairs. “Be firm with them,” she calls up to the 16-year-old, a bookish junior at a math and science magnet high school who would rather be on his computer than corralling younger siblings. “Shower and bed, that’s it.”
Next to her is a worn copy of “A Lineage of Grace” by Francine Rivers. It’s about five women chosen by God to overcome extraordinary challenges. “I read this a lot lately,” she says, with a weary smile.
On Zakia’s laptop, she still has the letter she wrote to the Hermans from her husband’s hospital room. He was on a ventilator, shot in the liver and lungs, with a shattered jaw and broken teeth.
Dear Family, the letter begins.
My six children and I would like to sincerely apologize for my husband’s intrusion in your home. We regret that you and your children had to endure this tragedy and be put in a situation you never would have imagined being in. We understand you felt you and your children’s life was threatened and took appropriate action, but we believe his intentions were not to harm you in any way.
She never sent the letter.
As time has passed, the same unease that affects the rest of Walton County has settled in her.
Deciding that a knife under a mattress wasn’t enough, she went to a pawnshop and bought a gun.