YUMA, Ariz. — During her two-week winter break as a school bus driver, Linda Clatone will host family and friends at her home in Wellton.
Clatone, the sole survivor of the June 2 shooting rampage in Yuma and Wellton that left five people dead before the gunman took his own life, relishes the simple things in life.
She loves to ride her quad in the desert. She tends to her plants, trying to make sure they don't freeze with the recent cold weather. She enjoys spending time with her dogs, Lucy and Gracie.
Her life is pretty much back to normal, but there's a gap. She misses her best friend, Theresa Sigurdson, ex-wife of gunman Carey Hall Dyess.
"The only thing I notice is my friend is no longer with me. It's really sad. She was a beautiful person," Clatone, 53, said.
They used to ride their quads together and go "yard-sale-ing." Although Clatone still rides her quad because "it's freeing," she hasn't been able to go to yard sales "since it happened."
She has been in touch with Sigurdson's daughter. "I try to keep that open. I know she's suffering real bad, it's manifesting through her health."
As for Clatone, she's doing remarkably well, both physically and emotionally, six months after the terrifying events.
"I'm doing OK. I hope nobody has to go through what I went through. I was pretty lucky."
When Clatone opened the door to her Wellton home that early morning, Dyess, 73, opened fire through the screen door, showering bullets into her face, neck and chest.
"I was stunned. He shot me in the face. It completely boggled my mind. But there was no pain, I was numb. I remember hearing the sound (of the gunshots) and a ringing in my ears. I remember a lot of blood."
She believes her instinctive reaction is what saved her life. "My gun was within reach (by the door) and I could have shot him, but I wasn't thinking. All I could think was 'run!'"
She ran inside and fell down within reach of her work cell phone, the only phone in the house. "If I had stayed there (by the door), I wouldn't have had my phone."
The first person she called was Sigurdson. "I called my friend, I called Teresa."
But she wasn't able to warn her. First, Clatone was already going into shock, and second, she didn't know who had shot her.
"He had on a mask and gloves and a fatigue jacket. He was in a vehicle I didn't know."
Then Clatone called her neighbors and close friends, George and Kitty Desch, who responded immediately.
"I got the help I needed," Clatone said.
Miraculously, none of the bullets nicked her heart or arteries in her neck, although they came close. But she has 14 scars that give evidence of being shot.
In the months after the shooting, the left side of her face drooped. She had a paralyzed vocal cord that left her with a raspy voice. She had numbness in her left arm and right hand where she sustained a defensive wound while trying to ward off a bullet.
Now, the only remnants of the shooting are the bullet scars across her body, a lingering cough when she talks too much and a little bit of pain in her neck.
A bullet nicked her tongue, and when she talks, she feels something, perhaps scar tissue, pulling inside neck. This causes her to cough. The pain in her neck is a "little scratchy feeling, right where the seat belt goes, it rubs me."
The bullet wounds changed the shape of her mouth, so she needed to adjust her dentures. And by that, she means she adjusted the dentures with a saw. She wasn't about to throw out her new $3,000 dentures, she said.
Thanks to speech therapy, she's recovered her normal voice and she can go back to playing her guitar and singing folk music, country and western and soft rock.
"After the shooting, I couldn't sing. I was afraid I would never be able to again. Now it's back to normal."
Her hand movement is also back to normal, as she demonstrated by opening and closing her hand.
She's still in counseling, "although I don't think I need it anymore. I'm not going to collapse from what happened."
She doesn't suffer from survivor's guilt nor does she have nightmares. She's just happy to be alive.
"I feel bad for the families and the people that got killed, but I don't feel guilty about anything."
She's also happy to be back at work. In the fall she returned to driving Antelope High School students on the Texas Hill run from Mohawk Mountain to Tacna and Citrus City. Clatone, who considers herself a cowgirl (she used to round up wild burros for the Bureau of Land Management), has been driving the same route for 13 years.
This time around she's closer to her students and they're a lot more friendly. Before the shooting, she was just the bus driver, now they are her friends.
"I enjoy talking to them," she said.
More people recognize her at the grocery store or when she's running errands around town. Another "neat thing" is that relatives and people she hadn't heard from in years are back in touch. "I've gotten to know them all over again."
She's also received a lot of cards and messages from people all over the country. "People who have never seen me told me they were praying for me. I appreciated it because I needed it."
She's also found a cause to support. "People need to recognize the signs of an abusive relationship and get out before it gets to that point."
What's unusual about her friend Sigurdson's situation is that five years had passed since her divorce. Clatone has talked with Dyess' son, who told her his father often became "violently angry."
Her insurance has taken care of most of her $250,000 medical bill, but she still applied for hardship consideration at the hospital, hoping her portion of the bill will be waived or discounted. She might also receive some help through Yuma County's Victim Compensation Fund.
"I won't get anything out of (Dyess' estate) because they said he didn't have anything, but I'm still going to get a lawyer to check into it."
What are her wishes for the new year? Clatone lost her mom, one of her dogs and best friend within a short space of time. She had just come back from her mother's funeral and hadn't even unpacked when the shooting occurred.
So her wishes are to have a little bit of Sigurdson's ashes, which her daughter has been keeping for a January memorial, and a new puppy, a female blue Queensland heeler, like the one she lost.
Otherwise, "so far so good. I have a lot of friends and a good support system."
Information from: The Sun, http://www.yumasun.com