Piecing together a shattered world
• Woman forgives mother for killing her father and turning her life upside down • The businesswoman now uses the tragedy of her painful past to help others
A day before receiving the devastating and life-changing news that her mother had stabbed her father to death, seven-year-old Odette Reid sat imagining and drawing pictures of her parents killing each other, as she aimlessly captured her thoughts on paper while anxiously waiting on her mother to return from visiting her dad.
Today, the 26-year-old still wonders if her drawings were a premonition.
Carlene Smellie, who had mental health issues, had stabbed Courtney Reid, 37, in his chest in September 2004 at the Pearnel Charles Arcade in downtown Kingston, where he was on duty as a security guard.
The woman, who was 24 and pregnant with her third child at the time, had an argument with Reid after she requested money and was told to wait a fortnight when he would be paid.
However, it is reported that Smellie, who felt disrespected and embarrassed, hurriedly left to purchase a wig and a new suit of clothing to disguise herself, before returning to stab Reid while he was relaxing on his lunch break.
Smellie pleaded guilty to manslaughter in December 2006 and was subsequently sentenced to 10 years in prison.
In a tearful and emotional interview with The Sunday Gleaner last week, their daughter vividly recalled how the tragic and shocking murder had shattered her world and the trauma and hurt that followed.
“Mi remember the day when she say she a leave. She just left a pot of porridge and she go wey and like three days pass and we nuh see har,” said Odette, who is now owner of AD&R Cleaning Solutions and mother of a one-year-old daughter.
“She leave we round a the room with the pot of porridge and we aunty would come home a evening time and give we food,” Odette said, explaining that at the time, she, her brother and mother were living at a family home in Golden Spring, St Andrew, with their aunt.
To pass the time and keep her bored brother entertained, as they were home alone in the days, Odette said they started colouring and drawing.
On that fateful September afternoon, Odette said she started wondering if something terrible had happened.
“Mi a colour wid him and a wonder if dem start fight, through me know dem ever a fight and den me a say a wonder if mommy kill daddy or daddy kill mommy,” she shared as she started sniffling.
“Mi a colour and draw pictures say the two a dem a fight and one a dem do something to the other because a that come in a me mind.”
Odette remembered that her father had accidentally injured her mother while trying to get a hold of a machete, which her mother had ordered her to retrieve during one of their regular fights. She also recalled them fighting in Cross Roads in St Andrew and almost being run over by a truck while tussling and rolling in the road.
“Through me witness dem something deh happen, that day me a wonder if dem a fight,” she said, noting that the arguments were usually over cheating accusations made by her mother.
‘I CRIED EVERYDAY’
On the third day after their mother’s departure, Odette said she noticed that her aunt and other relatives came home and started looking at them nervously.
“One of my uncles, him start to cry,” she remembered, as her voice became barely audible during The Sunday Gleaner interview. “When him start cry, mi hear mi aunty a say ‘don’t tell dem, them too young’, but uncle say ‘dem ago know anyway’.”
Odette said she just blurted out, “Mummy kill daddy, don’t? And mi aunt say ‘how you know’ and mi say ‘me just know’,” before bursting into tears.
“It kinda hard to describe, but after me realise what had happened mi know mi did feel lost,” she shared.
“It’s like me likkle brain jus mash up, all mi would a do every day is just cry, cry and my aunty couldn’t tek it,” she said, pausing to compose herself.
Odette said that at the time of her father’s tragic end, he was preparing to migrate to Canada to marry his fiancée.
Sharing how she felt about her mother, Odette said, “I feel like I did hate her, but sometimes when my aunty go visit her in prison and she write some letter and a try explain say she love we, mi use to feel like mi miss har and feel like mi still love her, but mi also feel like mi hate her. Is like mi love her, mi hate her, mi miss her and mi nuh want see her.”
ANOTHER DEVASTATING BLOW
While trying to deal with her hurt and pain, Odette said she was dealt another devastating blow when she was prevented from attending her father’s funeral by his side of the family.
Odette said that one of her relatives had convinced her aunt with whom she was living that it would be too painful for her and her brother to attend the funeral.
“I was anticipating seeing my father for the last, as I had accepted that he was dead, but to me they didn’t want us there because they were angry at me and my mom and my brother,” she said.
According to Odette, this affected her greatly and as a result, she became suicidal.
“Nuff time mi try end mi own life, like mi would cut myself on my wrist. Sometimes mi use to put the knife a mi own neck but mi couldn’t do it because mi start to think about mi brother and is like mi never have the heart and the strength,” she said.
Attending her father’s funeral, she believed, would have given her the closure she needed and may have helped her to cope better with the pain.
“Maybe that is the reason why now I still don’t have closure, still hurt and it is hard for me to move on. It affected me badly until this day because one of the time mi even think that a lie dem a tell and mi father just run wey and him deh somewhere in the world,” she said.
Odette said she has since forgiven her father’s side of the family for preventing her from going to his funeral, after speaking with some of her relatives.
The young woman described her father as a very loving and hard-working man who would care for her and her brother when her mother would often disappear for days. She said he tried his best to make sure they were provided for.
According to Odette, her mother, who first got pregnant at 16, started having mental health issues after her second pregnancy and had to get periodic treatment at Bellevue Hospital.
She recalled an incident in which her mother had reportedly escaped from Bellevue and took her and her brother to the waterfront in downtown Kingston and attempted to throw them into the sea. She said vendors nearby intervened and called the police.
Following that encounter, she said she did not see her mother for a long time until she showed up one day looking okay and took them from their father’s home to live with her and a new partner. Shortly after, that relationship ended and they moved into the family home and were not attending school.
After her father’s death, she said her aunt enrolled them at Stony Hill Primary Junior High but all she did daily was cry. She spent her grade three period crying.
Because they had not been attending school consistently and with the loss of her parents, Odette said she was lagging in school and was not learning.
On top of not knowing how to effectively deal with the pain and not being able to focus in school, Odette said she also had to deal with being teased.
She recalled being picked on frequently by a boy from the community who used to taunt her by saying, “You think a mi mek you mother a sing ‘behind these prison walls’.”
“When him bring it up and sing dem song deh mi use to cry,” she said.
Odette performed poorly in the Grade Six Achievement Test, as she was depressed for most of her primary years.
However, during junior high she started improving and after moving to live with another aunt, she transferred to Pembroke Hall High in St Andrew. She embraced this as a welcome opportunity to start afresh, with her past behind.
Odette said for the first time she felt normal and really good about her life. Improvement in her studies continued and she was placed seventh in her class in the first year at the school. Odette was happy that her aunt no longer had to feel ashamed to collect her report.
However, life once again got rough when her aunt moved to Seaview Gardens, where hearing gunshots became a norm and she witnessed a teenage boy being murdered at her gate. This, she said, triggered feelings of hurt and pain that she had suppressed.
Shortly after, her aunt moved back into the family home.
Things got worse when her mother was released from prison, as she was threatening to burn down the house with her inside.
Odette, who was in grade 10 then and was preparing for the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examination, fell back into depression. Odette said she was really scared and stressed out even in grade 11.
A HELPING HAND
During that period, while travelling home, she met Rochelle Harris Burrell, a teacher’s college student, who, after learning of her struggles, offered to assist with her studies. It turned out that Harris Burrell lived close by.
Odette subsequently sat seven CSEC subjects and passed all, except for mathematics. She scored distinction in English literature and Visual Arts, grade two in English language and Biology, and grade three in Physical Education and Social Studies.
Odette, who had taken English literature in grade 11, outdid herself in that subject and was awarded by the school for scoring the highest grade at the institution.
Harris Burrell again came to Odette’s aid by paying for her graduation ball and helping to cover the cost of her graduation. She also did her makeup and hair.
“My aunty couldn’t manage and mi never know what to do but God just send this lady,” Odette said, expressing deep gratitude to Harris Burrell and all the others who assisted her along her tumultuous journey.
Sometime after graduation, Odette said her mother burnt down her partner’s house in a nearby community and tried to end her life by overdosing on medication. This, she said, caused her to sink back into despair and she felt like she wanted to bury herself.
“Mi did feel shame and mi feel sad. It’s like mi never yet feel like mi can have a normal life,” she said.
“She just bring me back to the same state when I was younger where mi just bawl, stress out and fret and get mawger and look like duppy a ride mi.”
“Mi did really sad, mi did feel angry and want God get rid of her. Mi did tired and frustrated, it’s like me did waa run wey and waa give up,” she sadly recollected.
A BRIGHT SPARK
Odette later met the father of her child and moved out of the community to live with him. The young lady, who wanted to become a nurse or a counsellor, then enrolled in HEART and was certified in printing and computer graphics.
She later landed a job as a brand ambassador with a pharmaceutical company and, with the help of other good Samaritans, completed a practical nursing course at Distinction College.
Odette then started working with the elderly but had to quit when she became pregnant in 2021.
“I started out selling chemicals during my pregnancy. I did my own flyers and business cards and everything,” she proudly shared.
She felt the urge to do something else and came up with the idea to offer residential and commercial cleaning services, which she started last June.
Initially, she started out working with only one part-time help, who was a relative, but she now has seven part-time workers and has customers in St Catherine, and Kingston and St Andrew.
She plans to acquire a vehicle in order to extend her service to other parishes and ultimately expand AD&R Cleaning Solutions.
Although her career is different from what she had envisioned, the businesswoman said she was always determined that she would not be defined by her circumstances.
“I had always convinced myself that people have worse situation and still rise and I can do it too,” she noted.
Her CSEC passes amid her hardship and pain had also demonstrated to her that she could achieve bigger and better things.
She said she has always had a desire to help others and is happy that she is now in a position to give of herself.
“In my job, I sometimes go to people’s houses where their parents die and they are in depression and can’t clean or do anything for themselves. While I am cleaning their house from top to bottom, I am talking to them and making a difference. I know I am fulfilling my purpose,” she said.
The young woman said she is still working through her pain and has since forgiven her mother for killing her beloved father.
“I want to be free from my past, I don’t want my past to hold me back and I realise in order to move on I had to talk to my mother, try to understand what’s going on in her head and try to put myself in her situation,” Odette shared.
“During my pregnancy, I started feeling how she may have felt as a teen with two kids and don’t have her family around. So I just forgive her because not everybody has the same strength as you and can manage.
“Some people head easy to mash up. Imagine her head as a young girl. Her parents basically put her out, she never have anybody, she nuh know nuh life, so who is me to judge her.”