At night, she lies in bed and tries as best she can to picture her daughter. In her Pasco County home, surrounded by forest, Linda Swingle imagines her daughter not as the young girl who wished to become a ballerina, nor as the 42-year-old mother she later became.
What haunts Swingle are images of her daughter's satin black ringlets of hair spilling onto the bed above her nude body, her blood gone one day cold.
That is how a neighbor, and later police, found Tracy Lee Pulido in her St. Petersburg apartment on Aug. 18. And that is the unbidden picture that pushes off sleep.
Swingle is scared by the little she does know about her daughter's murder, and terrified of what she does not. Retired from waiting tables at a diner, idle days make keeping her mind off the loss worse, and her family worries she is not coping well. She has lost nearly 10 pounds — from where, it's hard to say, because she is as thin as the cigarettes she anxiously drags.
"A mother should go before her kids," the 67-year-old said.
Police have not made an arrest and have released little information. They say they're actively investigating.
Pulido worked much of her life waiting tables; her last job was at IHOP. Swingle thought her daughter's apartment at 600 40th St. N was a little unsavory, not the place a mother wants her daughter to live alone with her 6-year-old son.
George, or Georgie as his mother called him, has come to understand that his mom is gone. His father flew in from New Jersey, where he lives, and told the boy his mother fell asleep that Sunday and the angels carried her to heaven.
Georgie had spent Friday night at a sleepover and was supposed to return late Saturday with Pulido, family said.
Pulido had tanned Saturday afternoon at her apartment complex's pool, and accidentally locked herself in the gated pool area because she forgot her key. She was often forgetful like that, and sometimes she even locked herself out of her own home, which is why a friend and neighbor, Tyrone Covington, kept her spare key.
"And in case of an emergency," Covington said.
Pulido's older sister, Terry Swingle, called Covington about 2 p.m. Sunday because she had not heard from her, and neither had the person caring for Georgie.
"She was so protective," Terry said, she would never leave Georgie for that long.
Covington knocked once, twice, called her name and knocked again. He turned the key and saw a bottle of detergent with the cap in place tipped over in the center of the living room. The back screen door that led to the porch was wide open.
He looked into Georgie's room. Nothing. Pulido's bedroom door was open. Covington worked as a security guard and before that as an orderly at a hospital, so when he saw her nude body, a soft blue hue, her limp legs hanging from the bed, he did not enter.
Linda Swingle spoke with a detective and learned that they found a rag or scarf shoved in Pulido's mouth, and the detective said something about — she hates the word, chokes just saying it — rape.
That is the image that torments Swingle.
"I'm usually a strong person," Swingle said. "But I can't . . ."
Some days are better than others, and there's no telling which kind waits for her when she wakes. In the afternoon, she naps to quiet her racing mind, but the nightmares can be just as bad.
In better moments she thinks of how Pulido and her son visited her once a month. Sometimes the mother and daughter would dance at night in the living room, making sure not to step on Swingle's blind cat, Sophie, and Pulido would laugh at her mother for not keeping rhythm. And of course the roses. Pulido sent a bundle twice each year.
More than 80 people attended Pulido's funeral, Swingle said, and she planted roses from the service in her front yard, where they are now withering. The funeral home cut locks of Pulido's hair and laminated them for preservation. Swingle keeps them in an envelope. The family photos of her daughter, once showed off by a proud mother, are shrines — frozen moments of a daughter no longer here.
Weston Phippen can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8321.