“In my mind, I don’t believe he’s there. I believe, and I want to believe, that he’s in heaven, and I just want to believe that he’s looking down on me, and he’s smiling and he’s the one that’s helping God to help me move forward,” she told me in a nearly hourlong interview Wednesday morning in a New York City restaurant.
In that hour, Fulton talked openly about her pain, her loss, her hopes for the trial, her new role as a public figure and her overarching faith.
She is preparing for Monday, when George Zimmerman will go on trial for killing her son. Zimmerman claims that he shot and killed the unarmed teenager in self-defense. The prosecution — and Trayvon’s family — contend that Zimmerman profiled the boy, pursued him and murdered him.
Wednesday, Fulton explained to me how she has come to deal with the grief of losing her son.
She says she carries Trayvon’s high school ID with her everywhere she goes.
She said that she sometimes goes into his room, which she has left undisturbed aside from adding to it things that people give her in tribute to her son — paintings and posters and sneakers given to her by Miami Heat basketball players.
I ask her why she is collecting memorabilia in what sounds to me like a shrine. She explained: “Because those are the things that help me remember him. Those are the things that help me, to show me that there are other people that are standing with us and supporting us. It just helps me out.” It’s her way of mourning, of coming to terms with a loss greater than any person should have to shoulder.
She says she misses her son’s affection — “I miss him hugging me” — and she wants the world to remember him “as just an average teenager, just somebody that was struggling through life but nevertheless had a life.”
Given her description of Trayvon, I asked if she has been surprised by information recently released by Zimmerman’s defense team that was allegedly recovered from Trayvon’s phone and that appeared to show a boy who used marijuana, was involved in fights and had a handgun.
She said she wasn’t and that she’s dubious about the veracity of those claims: “I don’t know if it’s real or not.” I get the feeling that she doesn’t want anything to alter the image she has of the son she loved and lost.
I also asked about her grieving process since the day Zimmerman shot Trayvon through the chest and ended his life. She responded:
“When this first happened, I would say, was my deepest hour. And it was through my faith in God that I was able to keep moving forward because there is something within us as humans that says ‘you will never be happy again, you will never smile again, your life will be filled with rainy days,’ and through the grace of God I know that that is not true. I will smile again and there will be sunny days again.”
This is my second in-person interview with Fulton, and the difference in her demeanor is striking. The first time I sat down to interview her was last year, five weeks to the day after her son was killed. I met her at a restaurant near her house. She came with her mother. As I wrote then:
“She grows distant when she talks about her loss, occasionally, seemingly involuntarily, wrapping her hands gently around her mother’s arm and resting her head on her mother’s shoulder like a young girl in need of comfort. The sorrow seems to come in waves.”
Those waves of sorrow have been replaced by a reservoir of resolve. She now speaks of her loss with a practiced eloquence, that of a person aware that history is recording her words. And at this interview she came with her attorney and a public relations representative.
She now seems a woman on a mission.
The Zimmerman trial is likely to be one of the most-followed of the year and could prove to be the most divisive in decades. But division appears to be the opposite of Fulton’s focus. She now seems to see herself as a kind of spokeswoman for the grief-stricken and an evangelist for justice seekers.
She says of her new public profile: “I wouldn’t have applied for this position, but I gracefully accept. I am going to do the best job I can and try to help other families.”
And she reiterates that no matter the outcome of the trial, she wants everyone to “remain peaceful.”
I asked if there are any circumstances under which she could forgive Zimmerman. She answers quickly: “Yes.”
“The spiritual side of me knows that eventually I will have to forgive him so that I don’t block my blessings. I know that. Am I ready to do that now? I am not. That’s something I pray for, I pray for my forgiveness. Because just like I want God to forgive me, I want to forgive others. But, I’m just not at that point right now where I can say that I want to forgive him.”
This is the kind of woman Fulton is — a tower of grace and a well of good will, a woman who misses her son desperately and is trying to make the best of an awful situation, the kind who perseveres through faith and is in search of forgiveness and peace.