By Donna Britt
Friday, December 9, 2005
Two months after Yvette Cade's estranged husband allegedly filled a 20-ounce Sprite bottle with gasoline, walked into the bustling cell phone store where she worked and doused her before lighting a match, Cade lies in a bed at the Washington Hospital Center burn unit. Through excruciating pain, endless operations and bitter memories of cavalier comments made by the Prince George's County judge who dismissed the restraining order she hoped would protect her, the Suitland resident quietly endures.
Since October, only medical professionals have been allowed to touch Cade, 31, who was burned over 60 percent of her body. So she has yet to receive comforting kisses from her 12-year-old daughter or a hug from her mother, who three times has traveled from Akron, Ohio, to be with her.
Last week, Cade -- for the first time since the attack -- looked in a mirror. Her reaction to the effect of third-degree burns on a face that had been as smooth as honey couldn't have been calmer.
"I finally saw myself in the mirror," Cade, 31, told her sister, Shereen Jackson. Something about Cade's quiet, drama-free tone told Jackson not to push her to elaborate.
Says Jackson: "If she wanted to say something more, she would have said it."
Jackson has plenty to say: about her sister's courage, her brother-in-law's apparent cruelty, the judge whose actions she feels grievously wounded her sister. But Cade -- whose communication has evolved from eye-blinks to tapping out letters on an alphabet board to the near-whisper that's now her voice -- wastes few words on anger or regret.
Physically, Cade -- who on Wednesday had yet another skin graft operation -- is progressing nicely. She can walk to a bedside commode; her body has resisted the life-threatening infections that often imperil severe burn victims. She discusses bill-paying with Jackson and counsels her daughter to behave while she's living with a cousin's family.
"I've never seen her upset since [the attack] happened," says Jackson, who credits their upbringing for Cade's forbearance. "Our dad's a Christian church guy, our mom's an earthy, granola-bar free thinker.
"That mixture means you keep everything positive."
Back on Sept. 19, Cade was her usual confident self as she sought an extension of a temporary restraining order from Prince George's District Court Judge Richard A. Palumbo against her husband, Roger B. Hargrave, who wouldn't stop hounding her, she said.
Explaining that Hargrave was intimidating her daughter and vandalizing property, Cade told Palumbo that she wanted "an immediate and absolute divorce," according to a recording of the proceeding.
"I'd like to be 6-foot-5," Palumbo, who's listed as 5-foot-4 on his driver's license, responded. "But that's not what we do here. You have to go to divorce court for that." According to the recording, Palumbo said, "Uh, this case is dismissed." Although documents show that the protective order was dissolved, Palumbo has said that he meant to retain the order and that its dismissal was a clerical error.
Three weeks later, police say, Hargrave -- who has a history of arrests and convictions for gun crimes and robbery -- entered the T-Mobile store in Clinton where Cade worked. Splashing his wife with gasoline, he chased her out of the store and struck a match, police say. A towel-wielding T-Mobile customer extinguished the flames. Two days later, Hargrave was arrested on charges of attempted murder and assault.
On Oct. 26, Palumbo -- mired in controversy over his handling of Cade's and other domestic violence cases as well as two questionable traffic incidents -- was temporarily removed from the bench.
To Jackson's way of thinking, Palumbo -- who, critics point out, dismissed a temporary restraining order against another Prince George's man who allegedly attacked his wife in May -- "needs to be off the bench, period." As for Hargrave, he should get "life without the possibility of parole," Jackson says. "Men like him who get a second opportunity injure or kill other women."
Once upon a time, Jackson liked the stylish man whom the fashion-conscious Cade met in 2000 and married a year later. Hargrave didn't seem threatening, she says. And besides, Cade -- a petite child who grew into a 4-foot-11, 100-pound woman -- learned early on "always to stand up for herself."
Like two years ago, when Cade filled a trash bag with empty liquor bottles to show Hargrave how much he was spending on alcohol. When Hargrave stopped drinking, Cade believed she had a shot at changing her husband's possessive desire "to be the center of her life," Jackson says.
This was a man who threw tantrums during family visits and discouraged telephone calls from relatives by "screaming, yelling and cursing . . . to get her off the phone." When Cade told her that Hargrave had hit her leg with a hammer and taunted her with a knife, Jackson advised her to leave him.
In mid-December last year, Cade finally did. Her family had gathered for a post-Christmas "it's finally over" celebration when Hargrave arrived uninvited, banging on the door, Jackson says.
Her secret fear: "That someone was going to end up dead." But when months passed with no major incidents, Jackson says, "my foolish mind got to thinking that was it."
In October, the whole world learned it wasn't. But in the hospital room that for now is Cade's home, Jackson sees her sister's spirit reemerging.
Cade studies dozens of magazine clippings of shoes, handbags and furniture that her mom and sister pinned to a curtain to distract her. She chats with her daughter about her new school. On Thanksgiving, she received family members in shifts and nibbled her mom's mac and cheese.
Through it all, Jackson has seen Cade cry only once -- in early November, when she wanted "to show me that she still could," Jackson says. "Normally, with gasoline burns, the chemicals and fire destroy the tear ducts," she explains. Although it's painful to cry, "Yvette said the doctor said it was good that she's still able to do that."
To demonstrate, Cade lay still. Moments later, one salty tear rolled down her charred cheek.
Jackson shakes her head at the memory.
"I'm sure she had plenty of things to choose from to cry about," she says.