Leaving Brian behind was an involuntary betrayal, an unavoidable breach of sacred trust. We are forced to break every promise we made as parents (how can I just desert him leave him to these people to this place) and walk out. The fight has gone out of me; I am drained, running on empty. This is just insane! My ordinary day…mutated into something so unspeakable (don’t think don’t think stop thinking no more thinking) that I cannot bear it, cannot consider how we came to be in this position.
The friends who bore witness to our tragedy offer comfort, knowing there is no solace to be found, no safe place to go. Rhyne asks, “Do you mind if I come to the house with you?” John, not wanting to be a further imposition, insists, “No, man, thanks, you’ve done enough; I’m fine, we’ll be fine.” Rhyne knows exactly how to respond, and I will never forget his words. “I don’t want to come over for you, John; I need to come over for me. It would make me feel better.” That reasoning, man-logic at its finest, makes it permissible somehow, and I am grateful (thank you bless you I can’t face this alone). I need for others to be with us when we arrive home (is it anymore how can it be), for the world as we knew it no longer exists. We are merely shadows of our former selves…ill-equipped for this future that has arrived, unbidden, unwelcome, incomprehensible…
Auto-pilot takes over, the blessed numbness of shock finally quieting the argument in my head…it’s real, no it’s not, yes it is, no this cannot be right, what am I missing, I’m forgetting something important, don’t go there, oh no Brian, Brian what happened, this is wrong, this is not happening… Grace immediately rejects our altered family, refusing to even consider riding with us. She runs back to Sara Anne (she brought her to us), and begs to go with her, as if reversing her steps could somehow undo this awful thing. John insists on driving home himself; he has slipped on a protective armor of anger…his ranting litany, “I cannot even believe it”, followed by “I’m so pissed”, with an occasional “Are you kidding me”…an endless looping commentary on his irrational state. Beth also slips away with others, completely withdrawing from us, a wall of silent rage radiating from her with such intensity that it flashes and sparks, warning of the tempest to come.
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As we reach our driveway (already? how did we…what time is it), diminished and broken, a wisp of awareness flickers. This will be the first in a long series of firsts; we are going to enter this house for this first time knowing that Brian will never do so again. If home is where your heart is, what has this place become? The thought drifts away… Out of the car (must I do this), in we go (I can’t stand it), forced to confront (reality, nope, think I’ll pass) the fact that he won’t be here later (please, this, I cannot do)… welcomed into the warm embrace of many waiting arms (thank you, thank you Lord).
I have always known that our community was very special, but the outpouring of love shown to this family could only be heaven sent. They came: old neighbors, new neighbors, our friends, Brian’s friends, Beth’s friends, Grace’s friends, parents of friends, teachers, family members, my beloved S-contingent, tennis friends, golf buddies, swim team, our Pine Lake family in mass, even a few caring souls that we did not know. And they kept coming. Bearing gifts of food and drink (cannot eat feel sick), paper products (thank goodness, toilet paper), and much more…folding clothes (Brian’s clothes, TG just walk away), attending to the cat box (where is Silly anyway), handling mundane details of our life (please I want my old life back), each person gently consoling us the only way they knew. Several step up and take charge, organizing these tokens and gestures (I cannot keep up someone please keep it straight on overload too much can’t think Miss Type A has left the building the country the planet she has checked out).
The constant refrain: “I’m so sorry…I don’t know what to say”. My universal response: “Well, me either”. This is uncharted territory…and there is no perfect thing to say or do. They sit with us (chair, bed, floor), listening to our rambling (did I just say that again), crying fresh tears (cannot stop its like holding back Niagara Falls), remembering Brian (he was so full of life, always smiling…), encouraging us to laugh (not likely but maybe someday), eat something (can’t do it no way), rest a while (can’t stop moving sitting still equals thinking equals agony)…each and every person is shining their own light into our valley of shadows and sorrow.
Time marches on, afternoon giving way to evening yielding to night, and suddenly we are left to consider the emptiness, and to battle back the dark places. Tomorrow has its own challenges to be faced down. As I lay with my weeping husband, unable to distinguish his sorrow from my own, it occurs to me that I have never seen John cry before…and that tomorrow is his birthday…
“Facing the Morning After”
One of the stars illuminating my sky has gone supernova, burning out without warning; his intensity, his exuberance, his energy, all gone. The impulse to jump into the fathomless black hole left in his wake is overwhelming, instinctual, hard to resist.
This night is endless…longing for the escape of sleep while fearing it (what if I dream maybe this is a dream nope this is all too real). I find myself startling awake, momentarily confused, listening for something, someone…quietly padding through the house, searching to be sure, swollen eyes seeking that which is not to be found…
Dawn breaks, unnoticed by most of the household; I slip carefully from our room, so as not to wake John, and greet the first morning of our new life. The house is quiet (for the moment), and I step outside, trying to gain my bearings in this strange place, which looks so very familiar and yet is unknown to me now. I wander outside, amazed that the sun is still floating in the sky, the squirrels are still running around, and the birds still sing their melodies; don’t they know that everything has changed? It is NOT business as usual, nothing is as it was (nor will it ever be again), it is all completely different. Even the newspaper is casually tossed onto the edge of the concrete, just like this is an average day. I am overcome with the urge to run screaming from it (ignore it throw it across the road get it away from me from us), for seeing the truth, the acknowledgement of our tragedy in black and white, will certainly cause my delicate self composure to crumble (walk away turn around don’t do this I have to see it you must please Lord let it be kind).
Three sentences…and I am a sobbing heap of nothingness once again, momentarily blinded to my surroundings. I have come undone…a neighbor passes…he pretends not to see me; I pretend not to see him, for what has passed cannot be changed…should I feel embarrassed? The only thing I feel right here, right now, is pain, there is room for nothing else (I’m sorry I don’t know I don’t care I’m helpless to do anything, anything at all).
I finally manage to close my version of Pandora’s Box (momentarily), for the first task of the day is on the horizon. I must roll Grace out of bed (hmmm…which room is she in again) and get her moving; she has an early check-up appointment with our pediatrician. I called the day before to request anxiety medication (should we need it), and was given a startling piece of information. It is not uncommon for teens to attempt suicide following the death of a sibling. As an added bonus, at any given moment, any one of Brian’s friends is vulnerable too. Unbelievable…the bad news keeps on coming (wow how do I absorb this any of these kids giving up how to help what to look for please this is too much to deal with). In summary, we have lost one child and losing another is very real, very possible… Welcome to hell on earth, a trip down the wrong rabbit hole to a place where up is down, in is out, right is worse comes to worst…
Honestly, today was supposed to be a celebration of John’s life (a party balloons bows trick candles on his cake where did I put the card I have no gift of any kind does he even care will he ever again); instead we are making preparations (trying to anyway) for Brian’s funeral (our son the heartbreak this day is tainted will forever be marked one of the worst days of our lives). This just isn’t fair! I hate this, feeling this way, the helplessness, the lack of control, the way the world just carries on, indifferent to our suffering. I know that life isn’t fair; I have said that very thing to our children too many times to count. I can hardly think the words ‘happy birthday’ much less say them, knowing that there is no such thing as happiness in this house anymore. Really, what is happy about this day (not a damn thing, not one)?!
Lack of sleep, shock, whatever…it’s like I’ve downed a double shot of anxiety and paranoia (what if something else someone else don’t forget your seatbelt put down the phone pay attention no control at all but what if it can happen all my fault)...concerned for the safety of what is left of my family… Grace, Beth and all of the teens want to make a pilgrimage to Pineville. I don’t want to let any of them out of my sight (irrational sure I don’t care silly but if I can see them they are safe right?), although I really have no choice in the matter. Young people have different ways to assuage their grief and to cope, starting with the painting of Butler’s rock in Brian’s memory last night. Erecting a cross to mark the place where his car came to rest, to tell the world where their brother, friend and beloved B (a/k/a GARLOCK, “We good B”) was lost, is just another way. They want to confront the place and take it back, take him back. They are far braver than I; the idea of them going there is almost enough to push me off the edge (that place not safe don’t go there the monster is out of the closet and it will take you all away and then what will I do I cannot stand it STOP you cannot think this way STOP IT RIGHT NOW). I beat back the panic once more, faith conquering fear (at least for now). Off they go to do what they must…out of my sight, always on my mind, covered by a prayer…as John and I prepare to face what comes next…