As a nine-year veteran aesthetician, Erica Rodarte depends on her hands to survive.
But her livelihood has been jeopardized by a gunshot wound she suffered during a domestic violence incident in her Ahwatukee home that has left her frustrated with Phoenix Police – and in fear for her life.
As she tried to wrestle a gun from the hands of her ex-fiance on May 26, he pulled the trigger. The bullet tore through a knuckle on the middle finger of her right hand, blowing apart bone and tendons before piercing the jaw of her attacker and hitting him in his partial denture.
Her assailant nonetheless was able to run from the house and get to a hospital for treatment.
Then he was released with no consequences.
Now, even movements most people take for granted are almost impossible for her to perform.
Rodarte can’t use a can opener. She can’t open a milk carton. She can’t drive because of her pain medication. Even washing her hair is a challenge. “My hand feels like it’s on fire and now it’s curling,” added Rodarte.
She was scheduled to undergo a second surgery earlier this week, and her doctor told her she may need two more as he tries to save her hand with pins and plates. Amid mounting bills, she is desperately trying to hold onto her business, Tranquil Infusion, treating clients even though each session exhausts her.
Worse, she lives in fear that her assailant will return – just as he did shortly after his discharge last week, pleading for her to take him back and saying that he was a changed man.
No charges were filed in the shooting because, she said police told her, there was no evidence of a crime.
Nor can she understand why he wasn’t held for mental health treatment given that he claimed he was trying to commit suicide and that the gun discharged as she tried to pull it away from his mouth.
She said police told her that her assailant claimed he was attempting suicide because she had broken off their engagement and that the gun discharged when she tried stopping him.
As was the case with so much of what he told her in the time she has known him, little of his account of the shooting is true, Rodarte said.
She began suspecting his truthfulness months ago.
She began discovering money missing from her personal and business accounts. At first, she assumed they were clerical errors. Though she was on the phone numerous times with her bank, she said, “I couldn’t understand why he wasn’t helping me.”
She discovered the answer the night before the shooting.
Rodarte got hold of his cell phone and was stunned by what she had discovered: a pattern of drug-dealing and thefts that had gone on for months.
“I was in complete devastation. He had two different personalities – the one he showed me and the other one he hid,” she said.
She had seen signs before that, she said, recalling how he had become increasingly short-tempered and how she caught him in lies about where he had been and where he was going. “He was becoming unpredictable,” she said.
The next day, May 26, Rodarte confronted him, breaking off the engagement and asking him to clear out.
The struggle quickly ensued when he grabbed her.
“He had me cornered in the bedroom, and suddenly he reached into a shelf behind the bed and pulled out a gun. I didn’t know he had a gun in the room. I thought he was going to strangle me,” she related.
She said he held her in a bear hug while holding on to the .22-caliber long-barreled pistol and trying to force her onto the bed.
She grabbed his arm as he seemed to be trying to point it at her body.
“The gun was between us at the waist and I was being held by my arms against my will. I was scared it would shoot me,” she said. “I tried pushing his arm away so the gun wouldn’t be pointing at me. I was terrified.”
She bent her knees, trying to elude his grasp. Then she grabbed the long barrel with both hands, putting her right hand over the muzzle and twisting it in an effort to get it away from him.
“His finger was on the trigger the whole time,” Rodarte said. “With my left hand, I pushed the gun up and away from my head. I was watching the barrel going every different direction, so I grabbed the barrel with my right hand to keep it away from my head and face.”
Then he pulled the trigger.
“The entire time he had his finger on the trigger,” Rodarte said. “That’s why I fought so hard grabbing the barrel, wrestling. I was hoping he wouldn’t pull the trigger as the barrel waved in all different directions.”
He ran out the door while she bled profusely.
Rodarte said the police told her there was nothing they could do. They could not find the gun and noted there had been no witnesses to the shooting.
She said a detective visited her at the hospital and “the only thing he told me is that he’s a dangerous man and I probably shouldn’t upset him.”
He also told her, she said, “It would be different if you had a witness or if you were dead.”
Rodarte added, “I am really bothered that he states it was an accident when I saw him purposely and intentionally pull the trigger. He’s alive because my finger took the impact of the bullet, which so happened to save his life.”
Terrified he’ll return as he did last week, Rodarte has other worries as well.
First, there’s her hand.
She faces at least two more surgeries after this week’s as her doctor tries desperately to save it. He needs to put in a metal plate because the pins he inserted during the first operation have nothing to hold onto. Consequently, they are pushing against her skin that was grafted onto her wound from her palm, creating intense pain.
And even if the surgeries are successful, she said, “I face lots of physical therapy.”
Then, there’s the cost of that care.
“I have huge accumulating medical expenses,” she said. “The surgeon just has not given me that information. Yet, I think they’re working with me to save the finger.”
Add to this the fact that she was already partially disabled with arthritis along her spine as well as a herniated disc, sciatica and scoliosis.
She worries as well about her ability to make a living.
“I’m trying to continue working as I am semi-ambidextrous,” she explained. “The doctor said my finger is shortening, curling and getting smaller – which is not good.”
She goes to the Ahwatukee suite she rents for her business and becomes exhausted after several clients. Yet, she presses on, terrified she will lose the people she has cultivated as regulars over the years.
“I’m working really hard to stay afloat,” Rodarte said. “I really work hard to make a living. I have no marketing money and I and trying to see my clients. I worked so hard to build this business. I live on such a strict budget. I have to see my clients and work with my left hand.”
To help maintain an income, she has launched two specials at drastically reduced prices that use a small electronic instrument that relieves some of the pressure on her hands.
Those specials – a 13-treatment ultrasonic body sculpting cavitation that she’s marked down from nearly $5,000 to $600 and a three-treatment nonsurgical facelift whose $1,400 price tag she’s cut nearly in half – are available by calling 480-759-7546 or facebook.com/TRANQUIL-INFUSION-342955346824.
And finally, there’s another worry that goes well beyond money, mobility and pain.
She fears for her life.
“I worry he’s going to come back,” she said. “I’m afraid.”