ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — It was hard sometimes to find Vivianna Satterfield, a spirited, sociable, stubborn girl who had on occasion strayed from the path her mother preferred for her.
“Oh, Vivi, she was a handful,” her mother, Victoria Blea, said with a sigh. “She loved people. She loved her friends. She didn’t have no fear.”
It was hard to find Vivi one December night in 2009. The 15-year-old self-avowed skater chick told her mom she was picking up some clothes at a 16-year-old friend’s house, but then she did not return.
Blea trudged over to the friend’s house that night, not far from hers in a modest Northeast Heights neighborhood of mobile homes and dirt lots. She didn’t find Vivi there.
But she found her the next day, dumped on the sidewalk at Ute and Corona NE, near the friend’s house. Vivi’s bare feet were already turning purple, and the foam oozing from her mouth was drying.
“I knew I had lost her,” Blea said.
Vivi died after taking a powerful prescription painkiller called oxymorphone at the apartment of a man she and her friend had met that night named Dominique Howard, 21. The pills had belonged to his mother, who had died of cancer two weeks before.
How Vivi got her hands on the pills is in some dispute, but what happened afterward is not. After finding her dead the next morning at his apartment, Howard, Vivi’s friend and the friend’s 14-year-old brother drove the body back to the friend’s house. When they saw Blea at the door, Howard panicked. He dumped Vivi’s body and the two teens and fled to Palmetto, Fla.
He remained on the run for about five months before Blea found him, tracking him down through a MySpace post.
“I felt like a little investigator,” she said.
Howard was sentenced in Albuquerque last month to 10 years in prison after pleading no contest to involuntary manslaughter and other charges.
Blea buried her daughter at the Vista Verde Memorial Park in Rio Rancho on a green hillside overlooking the Sandias. Funeral costs depleted all that she had, leaving nothing for a headstone.
At first, Blea could find her daughter’s grave by the earthen scars where sod had been lifted and replaced. But as months turned to years, those scars had disappeared under a new growth of grass.
Once again, it was hard to find Vivi.
Until this week.
Through years of bake sales, carwashes and the kindness of a few businesses and agencies, Blea was finally able to buy a marker for Vivi’s grave.
And not just any marker, but an ornate bronze-on-granite block engraved with the movie star squiggle of her signature and imprinted with three images of her taken from old photos.
In those images, you can see that stubborn spirit, how young she was, how nearly every chance she got she flashed a peace sign.
“She was all about peace,” Blea said. “After she passed, I dressed her in everything with peace signs on them, even her underwear.”
The marker cost $5,000. Besides the fundraisers held by relatives and friends, making the marker a reality were Daniels Family Funeral Services; Mothers Against Drunk Driving New Mexico, which had been asked by the District Attorney’s Office to help the family even though Vivi’s death was not DWI-related; and Hogares, a therapeutic intervention provider Vivi had been a client of.
On Tuesday, several of us gathered on that green hillside to dedicate the new grave marker. Blea sobbed as the protective covering was removed to reveal its shiny surface and the images of her daughter.
“It’s beautiful,” she said, stroking the image of Vivi’s hair. “At least when I come up here, I’ll see something, you know?”
It will be easier now to find Vivi. Forever.
There are times, many times, when Blea still wonders why her daughter would take a pill she knew nothing about from a man she knew nothing about.
She speaks to parents, to MADD groups and others about the dangers of prescription pills.
“Lock them up,” she warns. “You don’t know when kids may try to get into them.”
New Mexico leads the nation in drug overdose deaths per capita, a majority of those attributed to prescription drugs, according to the state Epidemiology and Response Division. Just this week, the Journal reported the findings of a national study that ranked New Mexico as the most dangerous state in the nation in terms of injury fatalities, a number fueled in large part by drug overdose deaths.
Vivi is part of those chilling statistics.
After the marker’s unveiling, Blea released purple and lilac balloons into the air, some of them bearing handwritten notes from family members.
The wind carried the balloons straight into the branches of a nearby tree.
“Vivi wants them right there,” Blea said with a laugh. “She’s still being stubborn.”
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal