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One day, Dow recalls, her mother returned to the village on a motorcycle — and informed the little girl that she was coming with her and her new husband.
"I didn't want to leave," she says. "I wanted my grandpa to come with me, but he told my mom to take me, and that this is where my life would begin with her."
In California, Dow says it took several years to acclimate to English and the social challenges of school. The transition was difficult at home, too. She had an entirely new family, including new siblings.
"I was a year behind everybody in school, and it was really hard for me because of not understanding, you know, that I was a foreigner in the U.S.," she says.
Her family would eventually settle in Virginia, and there Dow would later marry her first husband, another military man, and move with him to his hometown of Bonne Terre, Missouri, with their two sons.
After a divorce, Dow started working at the Cicis pizza buffet in Farmington, and it was at her new job in 2002 that she caught the eye of Justin Boyer.
"One thing that stood out was that she was always happy," Justin says now. "No matter what, she always had a smile on her face."
- DANNY WICENTOWSKI
- Komdown “Dow” Boyer poses for a portrait moments before the start of her citizenship ceremony — bringing seven years of tension to an end.
Dow worked her way up to manager at Cicis, while Justin took a job at an auto mechanic's shop a couple blocks away in Farmington. The small family grew to include a daughter — but in September 2010, Justin would nearly lose his leg when a truck he was working beneath slipped from a lift and crushed his lower body under thousands of pounds of metal. Justin was transported to St. Louis via helicopter, and there he was put in a medical coma as doctors worked to save his limbs, at one point, he says, slicing open his calve "like a hotdog in a microwave" to relieve the pressure. Multiple surgeries later, Justin was allowed to return home to begin his long recovery.
"When I come out of the coma," he recalls, "they came in my room and asked me, 'How is all this going to be paid for?'"
In Justin and Dow's telling, the answer destroyed their finances. The family moved from a five-bedroom house into a trailer. Justin says his employer effectively abandoned him, denying workman's compensation claims and even transferring the business and assets to relatives to avoid legal responsibility. Even with Justin's insurance, the surgeries and ongoing care meant the family now owed nearly $100,000 in medical bills. Justin was in no condition to work and wouldn't be for nearly a decade.
Overnight, Dow became the sole provider for a disabled husband, two teen boys and a toddler. Her paychecks grew lighter as garnishments for the medical bills took effect. It took a lawyer and two years for Justin to start receiving disability payments.
By then, Justin was just starting to walk again.
On a day in January 2012, Dow came home from work utterly distraught. Justin was still in recovery, and he had watched as his wife had taken the helm of the family's finances and his medical care. She worked long shifts. When his wheelchair wouldn't fit in their trailer's tiny bathroom, she bought a kiddie pool so she could hand wash his limbs. Her resourcefulness held the family together.
But Justin could see something was terribly wrong.
"Out of all the years we were together, I'd never seen her cry other than two times, when we had two miscarriages," Justin recalls. "She didn't show her emotions to people."
That day, though, Dow had come home in tears.