THATCHER, Ariz. -- Tim Parmeter pulled into the driveway and clicked and clicked and clicked his garage door opener, probably pushed the thing four or five times, best he can remember. But the door never opened. So he shook his head.
He just thought his estranged wife had changed the code like she had changed the locks, because that's the kind of stuff people do when they're going through a divorce. And it was a messy divorce.
|It's hard for Parmeter to concentrate on winning after his terrible loss. (Provided to CBSSports.com)|
"I was kinda surprised she didn't call that Friday night," Tim said. "But in some ways I was just relieved to not be arguing on the phone."
But now it was Saturday morning and Tim was in the driveway and his clicker still wouldn't work and he was starting to worry. He dialed the home phone. Nobody answered. He dialed Paula's cell phone. Nobody answered. So he finally called Bryana Flynn, the family babysitter, and asked for help entering the home.
She told him the spare key was in the back. He grabbed it from inside a toy chest.
He unlocked the door. He walked inside.
"And I was still on the phone with Bryana as I was going through the house, and it was a mess," Tim said. "I checked Paula's office. Checked the bedrooms. Nothing. Ryan's stuff was scattered all over the house and I was asking Bryana 'Where did they go?'"
That's when Tim opened the door that leads to the garage.
He immediately saw Paula in the backseat of the car, slumped over to the side.
She was dead.
"He was just yelling into the phone," Bryana recalled. "He was yelling, 'Oh my God! Where's my f---ing baby?'"
When Tim got closer to the car he looked inside.
Ryan was lying in the back floorboard.
He was wrapped in a blue blanket.
"I remember yelling into the phone," Tim said. "I just remember yelling, just screaming, 'She killed herself and she killed my baby!'"
The college basketball schedule is loaded Wednesday night and highlighted by a pair of Top 25 matchups.
North Carolina is playing, as are Duke and Pittsburgh and Xavier and Vanderbilt. And then there's a Pac-10 showdown between Arizona and Arizona State in Tempe that will dominate local headlines as Kevin O'Neill tries to get a road win that could push the Wildcats back into the national rankings.
With less hype, Tim Parmeter will be coaching too.
He'll be 153 miles away from Arizona-Arizona State, 153 miles away at Eastern Arizona, a junior college in the shadows of Mount Graham here in the Gila River Valley. His opponent will be Arizona Western, a league rival coached by a close friend.
And if Tim makes it through the game without breaking down it'll be the upset of all upsets, given how at halftime he'll formally announce a scholarship in the name of his son, Ryan Wrigley Parmeter, who died from carbon monoxide poisoning Dec. 29, 2006, in what police ruled was a murder-suicide initiated by Tim's estranged wife and Ryan's mother, Paula.
"The game is going to be emotional," Tim said as he sat in his office two weekends ago, exactly one year to the day after he found Paula's and Ryan's bodies in the backseat of the family's black Volvo.
"I'm just happy I'll be coaching against a friend," Tim added with a half-hearted smile. "Maybe he'll be messed up, too."
A coach's son from Indiana, Tim followed his father into the profession after playing at Truman State. He worked at Central College in Iowa, then at Iowa State for Tim Floyd before landing at Scottsdale Community College, where he fielded a competitive team -- despite not having the luxury of scholarships or dorms -- and even found time to take in Trivia Night at a local establishment every once in a while.
That's where he met his wife, an Arizona State graduate.
"She was with a big group and I was with a big group and we met over Cubs trivia," Tim said. "The question was about Hack Wilson's record for RBI in a season and we both shouted the answer from opposite sides of the room. And then it was like, 'How'd you know that?'"
Turns out, Paula was from Chicago, a Cubs fan just like Tim. That led to a conversation about WGN, which led to a conversation about Bozo the Clown which led to a first date and a second date and a wedding date in 2000. Two years later, Tim got the head coaching job at Eastern Arizona, where he had a real campus and real dorms and a career heading upward.
Meantime, Paula got pregnant. The baby was born Aug. 31, 2004. They named him Ryan Wrigley Parmeter.
Wrigley was for Wrigley Field. Ryan was ...
"Just a name we both liked," Tim said.
The rest was supposed to be the picture-perfect life with family vacations and holidays spent together. Alas, too few unions go that route these days. In September 2006, Tim filed for divorce, which sent Paula into a state of despair. She sought professional help and was placed on medication.
"I considered Paula a friend, as well as my boss, and she was a nice person," Bryana said. "But she just couldn't handle going through the divorce."
Tim moved from the family's home shortly before Christmas 2006 and stayed in Arizona while Paula and Ryan visited her family for the holiday. Tim picked them up at Tucson International Airport late on Dec. 27 and drove them home. He put Ryan to bed and was planning to leave when he said Paula asked him to stay the night so they could enjoy a present-opening session the following morning.
"I wasn't going to stay, but then she looked at me and said, 'I'm so over you. Don't worry about it,'" Tim recalled. "So I just stayed and then we woke up the next day, had Christmas and had lunch. And then I was going to get out of there because I knew once she laid Ryan down for a nap she'd want to talk."
So Tim got out of there. But Paula called as soon as Ryan fell asleep.
"She was sitting in my closet, which was empty, crying and asking why I took all my clothes," Tim said. "I told her it was because I moved out, that we had talked about this. So that went on for a while and she finally said, 'I can't go on any more. I can't do it. I can't do it. I can't do it. Please take care of Ryan.' And then she just hung up."
Worried, Tim called back. Then Paula hung up. Then Tim called back. Then Paula hung up. And this went on for hours on into the night until Tim said Paula finally calmed down. But when Tim woke up the next morning he was still bothered by the tone and decided to call Paula's counselor to "just tell him all the stuff that had happened since she had been home from Chicago," Tim said. "I was like, 'Somebody is going to die. I don't know who. But somebody is going to die.'"
The counselor immediately called Paula, who immediately called Tim and "that conversation digressed into the nastiest, most vile conversation I've ever had with anybody," Tim recalled. "I was just listening, not really saying anything. And she said, 'I bet you want to go, don't you?' I said 'Yeah.' She said, 'Are you sick of this?' I said 'Yeah.' She said, 'Then why don't you just hang up?' And I said, 'Because you'll just call back. So I'll just wait and let you get it all out.' And then she goes, 'Well, I'm done. I'm not calling you back.' And I said 'OK.' And she said, 'I'm not calling you back. You'll really never hear from me again.' And that was at about 1 p.m. on Dec. 29th."
That was Tim's final conversation with Paula.
What he later learned from police is after she hung up, she wrote six suicide letters addressed to six different people and mailed them all to her brother. Afterward, she placed Ryan in the backseat of the car with six stuffed animals, some toys, a few books, a sippy cup filled with milk and some chocolate candy. She crammed towels in every crack of the garage door and unplugged it, which is why Tim's opener wouldn't work. Then she rolled the windows down in the car and opened the sunroof before starting the engine and beginning the process that would kill herself and her son.
"He was just sitting in the backseat with Mom, reading books and playing," Tim said. "He was just having a good time. What did he know?"
Paula also left a digital camera in the car. When Tim uploaded the pictures there was a final image of Ryan.
"There he is in the car," Tim said as he pulled the picture up on his computer. "See how his lips look swollen? The police said that's from the carbon monoxide."
By the time Ryan was buried the police had all six suicide letters. One was addressed to Tim. It was given to him after the memorial service. He sat at a table with two officers. Before reading it he asked a question.
"I asked them, 'Is this going to piss me off?' And one of them just said he had never seen anything like it. He said it was pure evil."
The letter was three pages hand-written.
It reads, in part: Don't ever try to convince yourself otherwise -- this event is absolutely, completely your fault. You created it. You could have prevented it. You encouraged it. You found our pain funny. ... If I have the opportunity to haunt you, I will. ... I pray you will see our faces in your mind's eye and wonder what Ryan could have been and what we could have had if you had only chosen love.
"There is no remorse," Tim said. "It's the opposite of remorseful."
The note is signed Paula.
Beside her name is some scribbling. It's clear she also had Ryan sign the letter.
To the side she wrote, "That's Ryan saying bye-bye, Dada."
"That's the part that really gets me," Tim said, his voice cracking as he placed the letter back into his bag. "That part still gets me to this day."
Coaches spend much of every season talking about taking it one game at a time in an attempt to win it all. That's why this story is different, because it's about a man taking it one second at a time, about a man having trouble focusing on winning anything because he's still trying to come to terms with everything he's lost.
It's a slow process.
A year to the day after finding the bodies, Tim Parmeter parked in the same garage and sat in the same house, a place where not much has changed.
|Wrigley Field isn't just a stadium, it was also young Ryan's namesake. (Provided to CBSSports.com)|
In the den, Elmo still sits next to the TV.
In Tim's room, Cookie Monster still sits on the bed.
In the kitchen, the high-chair still sits next to the table.
And the obvious question is why, why remain in this house where an unthinkable act tore a life to pieces?
"People ask that all the time," Tim said. "They say, 'I can't believe you're still here. How could you still live here?' But this is where my son lived. So I have a harder time imagining not being here, a harder time imagining moving out of here because though I have one bad memory here, my mind mostly floods with good memories."
Which is not to suggest his mind doesn't slip. It does. Bad times come without warning and can be triggered by anything.
Sometimes it's things as obvious as pictures, which decorate the walls of his home and office. Other times it's less obvious things -- like cows (Ryan loved cows) or Subway (Ryan would get bread from there to feed the ducks at a nearby pond) or the No. 1 (Ryan, for reasons Tim still doesn't understand, refused to say the No. 1 when counting) or that Rodney Atkins song Watching You (it's about a father and son) or even something as simple as a Pop-Tart.
"I got a Pop-Tart the other day," Tim said. "I took one bite and cried because it reminded me of Ryan."
Breakfast, in general, reminds Tim of Ryan.
"A perfect example is when my family and I all went and stayed with Tim after it happened, and we got up one morning to fix breakfast," said Arizona Western coach Kelly Green. "So I went to the store and got a bunch of stuff and fixed breakfast, and then when Tim got up I told him to join us. But he couldn't do it. He just went outside and sat. So I went out there and talked to him and asked what was wrong, and he said he just couldn't do it because that's one thing Ryan and him used to do together. He used to get up and fix Ryan breakfast and then they'd just sit there together. So now breakfast is difficult."
"It's crazy what he's been through," added Kris Dunn, a college teammate of Tim's. "But what I'm proud of most is that Tim has never really melted."
He has had moments, though. It took a month before he could even go back in his garage, and moving the black Volvo for the first time (Tim ultimately sold it) nearly caused a panic attack. One time he was watching film of an old game and saw Paula and Ryan in the crowd. That was rough because he wasn't prepared to see them.
But in low times he pulls Paula's suicide letter out from that bag and reads it because, in some warped way, it makes him stronger and helps move him along.
"That letter makes me realize that giving up in whatever sense that I would give up would be letting her win," Tim said. "If I killed myself or quit coaching, then I think I would be letting her win because that's what she wanted. She obviously wanted to hurt me. And she did. But I'm gonna try to keep going. I'm just gonna try to keep doing the best I can."
One of the things Tim remembers about the day he discovered the bodies is that it was 11:12 a.m. when he walked into the garage. So on Dec. 30, 2007 -- one year to the day -- he scheduled practice for 11 a.m., and it was easy to figure out the motivation.
"Practice gave him something to do, something to help get through that time," said Eastern Arizona assistant Anthony Owens. "It was important for him to be here at that time."
So Tim was there at that time -- standing in black pants, a gray shirt and white shoes while his players sat in a circle at midcourt, stretching, grabbing their toes and counting: 1 ... 2 ... 3 ... 4 ... 5 ... 6 ... 7 ... 8 ... 9 ... 10 ... clap ... clap ... clap.
When 11:12 came, Tim was leaning against a brick wall, no expression, no words. He just stared at the clock above and watched the seconds slowly tick away, each as hard as the one that preceded it.
For information about donating to the Ryan Wrigley Parmeter Scholarship Fund, call 1-800-445-2472 or visit the Eastern Arizona College website.