Not all of the triggers are bad.
Not all of them put Jennifer Hopper back in that South Park house, where, 10 years ago, a man broke in, repeatedly raped and cut Hopper and her partner, Teresa Butz, before stabbing Butz in the chest, killing her.
Hopper can still walk into Loretta’s, the restaurant where she and Butz spent time in the hours before their ordeal, take the booth they considered theirs, and be soothed.
“We fell in love in South Park,” said Hopper, 46, who now lives in Edmonds. “We planned our life out at Loretta’s. I want to go back there and have that be more the good than the bad.
“What triggers me more is what hasn’t changed in our society,” she continued. “When I hear about another shooting, another senseless loss of life.”
What has always helped, Hopper said, is music. Which is why she is marking the 10th anniversary of Butz’s death — and her own survival — with “The Songs That Got Us Through,” a performance by Hopper and a clutch of talented friends to be held at 8 p.m. Friday at Seattle’s Neptune Theatre. The show will benefit The Angel Band Project, a nonprofit that provides music therapy to victims of sexual and domestic violence.
The Angel Band Project — named for a gospel song performed most famously by The Stanley Brothers — was started in St. Louis by two of Butz’s lifelong friends.
It is a fitting tribute to Butz, who grew up in a large, raucous St. Louis family that includes her brother, actor Norbert Leo Butz. He was in Seattle, performing in the Broadway-bound musical “Catch Me if You Can” at the 5th Avenue Theatre when his sister was murdered. He later won a Tony Award for his performance.
Money raised at the Friday concert will allow The Angel Band Project to expand its work in the Seattle area, where Hopper has already connected with the prison-based If Project and a program for victims of domestic violence in Snohomish County.
Music therapy allows victims a way to express themselves through singing or writing or just strumming on a guitar, Hopper said. They find their voices. They get things out.
“Words are hard for some people,” she said. “Imagine just being able to bang on a damn drum. Where words fail, music begins. It helps reprogram the trauma brain.”
Hopper has held hard to music since that hot night in July 2009, when Isaiah Kalebu slipped into her and Butz’s home through the open bathroom window and, armed with a foot-long knife, sexually assaulted and cut them for hours. It ended when Butz threw a nightstand through the bedroom window and jumped through it, only to die in the street from a knife wound in her chest.
In 2011, Kalebu was found guilty of aggravated murder and sentenced to life in prison. Hopper said little about the “incident” but was clear that she had forgiven her attacker.
In the time after, she worked with Lucy Berliner, the director of the Harborview Center for Sexual Assault and Traumatic Stress.
“I was reprogramming things like how to walk to my car,” she said. “It was the first thing I worked on.”
And right away, there was music. Hopper remembered Brandi Carlile reaching out to her not long after the attacks. The two women met at the El Camino restaurant in Fremont, where Carlile gave Hopper a guitar signed by James Taylor, one of her favorite musicians, and then leaned against the back of her car to sing “Happy.” (I don’t hang around that place no more, I’m tired of wearing circles in the floor. And I don’t carry myself very well. But I’ve gotten so much braver. Can you tell?)
Hopper will be joined onstage by Laurie Carlsson, a Seattle singer; Dana Pleasant, who moved from Seattle to Los Angeles, and was going to be the photographer at Hopper and Butz’s commitment ceremony; and two members of the Total Experience Gospel Choir. The concert is being directed by New York-based musician Michael J. Moritz, a friend of Norbert Leo Butz.
“Jen is one of the strongest humans I have ever known,” Pleasant said. “She is living life to its fullest for both her and Teresa, which is an inspiring thing to see. And reminds us all to be grateful for this precious life we are living.”
To that end, Hopper is intent of choosing songs that are “fun and joyful.”
“Of course, we will take a moment to remember Teresa, through music and words. Of course.”
The song list will include Patty Griffin’s ode to togetherness, “Heavenly Day,” which Hopper taught herself to sing to Butz, whom she met in 2007 while working in a downtown Seattle office building. She was planning to sing it at their commitment ceremony but sang it at Butz’s memorial instead.
Hopper’s life has been split into two segments: “Before Teresa, and after.” What got her to this point, this day, was being able to forgive, and let go. And make peace with the fact that bad things happen.
“Perhaps what time gives you is to not have one bad thing erase all the good,” Hopper said, then paused to think.
There’s a song from the musical “The Color Purple,” she said, that she has been singing a lot. It’s called “I’m Here.” (I got my eyes though they don’t see as far now/They see more ’bout how things really are now).
“Man, you really start to get how the world is,” Hopper said. “And while it saddens me, the darkest part of the world, I will never stop looking for the joy and the good.”