That day last year, Dianne Bordeaux was sitting in her parents' home in Huntington Beach explaining why she had agreed to talk publicly about the pool accident that nearly claimed her daughter's life and was consuming her own.
Her daughter, Jennifer Dawson, then 3, lay stiffly across her lap. The child could not talk, walk, or even control her slightest movements. Her dark eyes were open wide, but her gaze seemed empty.
"I guess the reason I wanted to talk is because I feel like a lot of people were shocked by this," Bordeaux went on to say about the pool accident. "People think these things only happen to the poor people, neglectful people who let their kids run around the apartment complex or something.
"Well, we're a regular middle-class family. I look at myself and say ' I'm not that kind of parent.' I want people to know that."
And besides, she said at the time, her family would pull through. What the medical specialists called "listening to reason" was what Bordeaux called giving up. One neurologist at Children's Hospital in Los Angeles implored her and her husband to let Jennifer die. A psychologist told them that their marriage, then only 5 months old, would surely collapse under the strain of caring for such a child.
Although Jennifer's father wanted to let his child die, Bordeaux and her new husband, contractor Bill Bordeaux, never wavered. They said no.
Dianne Bordeaux, 28, a model and aspiring actress, is dead now.
On Sept. 5, Huntington Beach police pulled a sobbing Bill Bordeaux, 32, away from his wife as she lay unconscious and bleeding in the street near their home. Police arrested him for assault with a deadly weapon--the family van, which Dianne had clung to the back of and fallen from as Bill tried to drive away during a fight.
She died later at UC Irvine Medical Center. Hitting her head on the pavement was listed as the cause of her death.
But Dianne's agony started long before that day--it started in February, 1991, when Jennifer rode her tricycle into the pool of their Valencia home. It was only three days after the family had moved in; they had planned to install a pool cover but had not yet done so. "She would say, 'Why wasn't I watching her? I should have been there,' " says Dianne's mother, Linda Wimberly. "She didn't think she was a good mother. I would say, 'Of course, you are. It was just an accident.'
"But the drowning, the incident, she couldn't stop thinking of Jennifer in that pool, at the bottom, calling to her. She was wearing heavy sweats, and high-top shoes, and that helped pull her down. Dianne would think about it constantly. She couldn't sleep."
The first time he met Dianne, at Hollywood's Hard Rock Cafe, Bill Bordeaux told a friend he had found the woman he would marry. She was separated from her first husband at the time and Bill, a father of two, had been divorced four years.
For their first date, Dianne begged her younger sister, Janine, to accompany them. Bill and a friend came to pick up the two women, then drove them to Van Nuys without telling them their plans. There they boarded a helicopter to make a grand entrance at the Santa Monica restaurant, DC-3.
The couple fell in love, Bill says, on New Year's Eve, 1990. Dianne and her sister had rented a limousine to repay their dates with an extravagance of their own. The four partied all night.
"She wouldn't let me touch her, but then at midnight, we hugged and didn't let go of each other for about an hour and a half," Bill Bordeaux says.
Dianne and Bill married later that year. But even back then, "volatile" is how Dianne's mother describes her daughter's relationship with Bill.
Eventually, Bill's contracting business declined, and money became tight. Dianne despised avoiding bill collectors. Bill would tell her to be patient, that soon his clients would pay what they owed.
Then the couple's daughter, Kori, was born. And Jennifer, a beautiful child crowned Baby Miss Orange County in 1989, fell into the back-yard pool two months later.
Dianne, who had found fulfillment as a mother, began a tortured journey that nobody could share.
"It was very hard on Dianne," says her husband. "We were getting in fights every other day . . . . Dianne was a very, very hurt person, and I kind of hide my emotions a lot and I didn't hurt enough for her.
"To get me to hurt, she would say horrible things to me, like, 'This is your fault' . . . That would get me upset.' "
Bill Bordeaux said that sometimes such baiting worked. He would cry and call her "evil" or worse, and once he destroyed the vegetable garden that she loved. Another time, he wrecked her stereo system.
But Bordeaux says that usually he would try to leave, to allow emotions to cool down. Then, he said, Dianne--afraid and furious at the same time--would try to keep him from walking out the door.