NANTICOKE — With the stroke of a finger Jennifer Mieczkowski slides across the screen of her cellphone color photographs of her face stitched together with thick black sutures.
She kept them as reminders of the box cutter attack early New Year’s Day 2012 inside a Nanticoke bar and how far away she’s come from the slashing and the plastic surgery to hide the wounds.
“It doesn’t go away. I know it looks good, but I can still see it,” Mieczkowski said Saturday.
There’s still ground to make up, trust to be regained and life to be lived for Mieczkowski, 33, the mother of a 9-year-old daughter, Gabbie. The guilty plea last week to simple assault by the woman whom Mieczkowski identified as the attacker has helped, but charging her with the slashing would have helped get back so much of what’s been taken away.
Mieczkowski said that on the urging of the Luzerne County District Attorney’s office she kept quiet in order not to jeopardize the case. She decided to open up after Melanie Figueroa entered her plea July 21.
“I’m happy it’s over,” Mieczkowski said.
Still she faulted the district attorney and police for a lackluster investigation. She said they questioned her recollection of events that morning inside the former Prospect Street Cafe, going so far as to say it was affected by the trauma and the blood in her eyes that night.
She’s started to prepare a victim’s impact statement for the court and planned on attending Figueroa’s sentencing on Sept. 9.
“I don’t want her to have house arrest,” Mieczkowski said, adding Figueroa should serve time in prison, even if she has a young son.
“Her son’s life hasn’t changed,” Mieczkowski said. “My daughter has gone through more than any normal child her age has gone through.”
As for Mieczkowski, her life had been upended. She tried to go back to work at her hair salon after the attack, but shut it down in April 2012.
A new customer came in and while doing her hair, Mieczkowski said, she looked in the mirror and saw the woman’s eyes shifting from scar to scar.
“How do you go to work and make somebody feel beautiful when you don’t?” she asked.
For two years she wouldn’t shop, she said, for fear of people recognizing her as “that girl” from the slashing. Just a month ago she went to the Wyoming Valley Mall with her mother, Dawn.
Family has been a unwavering source of support. “My mom didn’t leave my side,” Mieczkowski said of being with her after plastic surgeon Dr. George Speace restored her face. Her younger sister, Ashlee, has provided help and encouragement. “She’s just been such a big part of me getting over it,” Mieczkowski said.
Mieczkowski suffered a loss earlier this month when her father, Walter, died from cancer at the age of 53. He used to own People’s Food Market in Nanticoke.
She’s not worked since she closed her salon. She’ s been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder. She’s without health insurance and has medical bills to pay. She hopes that the lawsuit she filed against the bar will pay for the bills. The case is still pending in Luzerne County Court.
Her goal is to reopen her salon and put as much distance as possible between herself and the attack. It’s a slow process.
“I’m definitely coming back to who I was,” she said.
But there are moments when she catches herself playing “what if,” she said, asking what if she didn’t go into the bar with a friend to buy a 12-pack of beer for take out. She also asked what if she wasn’t charged with resisting arrest in February for an early morning incident at J. P. Mascaro & Sons in Hanover Township. The criminal case has nothing to do with the bar attack and in no way portrays her as someone who looks for trouble, she said.
Instead Mieczkowski’s tattoos speak for her. “Beautifully Broken” in cursive script bows from right to left under her neck. A macabre portrait of Marilyn Monroe covers her right arm from shoulder to just above her elbow. Part of the movie star’s skull is exposed under her sculpted hair. Wounds sutured together mar her face and a spider web tattoo graces her neck.
The blonde Mieczkowski explained that the tattoo shows inner and outer beauty. “We put my scars on her,” she said of the actress she’s enamored with.