May 24, 1987, was a day I would come to hate. It was the last day that we made love, though I would not know it at the time. Such a promising romance, love; we were the 80’s, we were fun. After that moment I felt as if I would be happy forever, such a young thing I was. Not a care in the world, life was not precious but wild and filled with adventures and cravings to take it all on. I drove to my store and danced through the building, telling everyone I was in love and feeling on top of it all. They had never seen me like this before and so the day began in love, in awe, in such magnificent freedom that everything I had ever wanted would be about to happen.
The phone rang a few hours later and a clerk motioned me over to her stall. She had a long line of weary customers and I knew to make it short. I rushed over, not even taking the time to get into her booth, and so I leaned over, cradled the receiver under my neck and beckoned to the caller with impatience. It was my good friend, my ex-lover, who I had left for the other. Our partnership had grown stale as we did not have a lot in common, I had hurt him but he continued to be there for me, no matter what. And so he told me about a boy who was killed in an accident. A tragic car crash on a very fine, very beautiful night. It had happened the evening before, on the way to a Memorial Day concert. My mother had contacted him because I had not given her my new number yet. As the phone call began to sink in, my body collapsed at the thought of my baby brother’s fatality; taken from me, from us and I fell onto a display of VHS video tapes. The customers leered at the sight of the manager of this company on top of a pile of what now seemed to be a chair, what became a circle of comfort at that moment in time. I stared out into the room, around me and what had been my dance floor only hours before. I looked at all the people on a typical day, routinely doing what they had planned to do as if nothing had happened. But for me it had. Having realized I was in a state, on the other end of the line, he asked if I should be picked up and taken home. “Yes,” I recall responding and then suddenly having a strange feeling that I was going home and would have a short day at the office. How odd to feel happy to leave a place that I loved.
I got home to his house and then called my lover to tell him what had happened and where I was. He asked if I wanted him to go with me, back to Ohio, to the funeral, to that place where I would bury the child I had helped to raise. Expectations clung to my throat and anger rose through my face, as I stared out into the abyss of this house that was not mine. Why isn’t he telling me that he will drop everything and be there for me? Why is he asking me for my permission? I’ve just lost a child, I need him to be there for me. I need him to hold me and tell me everything will be okay. Where is the man who’s bed I left this morning, who told me that he loved me? “No,” I said with the words sputtering from my lips as dryly as if crackers were filled in my mouth, “that’s okay, I have someone getting tickets for me and I am getting a ride to the airport.” The voice on the other end sounded relieved, as far as I could tell. Suddenly I couldn’t tell anything anymore, I just knew I had to be strong, I had to get through this. I am the eldest, I have to go back and be there for the others. So I gave up at that moment and determined to put my anger on the back burner. My anger at myself, which I would not realize till years later. My anger for not asking for what I wanted, in a moment that would decide my fate with his forever. That moment when I had lost my child, my little brother, the one whom I had loved and as a result ended a beginning of the rest of my life.
My ex-boyfriend took me to the plane, I cried so hard and he held on to me as the other was meant to do. I was confused and wondering about how I must look, always conscious from the way I was raised to be worried about appearances, even when it is okay. Such a woman thing, always needing to be concerned for others. So shallow, so ridiculous but a part of who I am. I don’t think I stopped crying until I got to Ohio. I am really not sure as I don’t even remember the flight. I remember landing and coming upon a familiar woman waiting for me at the gate. A friend of the family had been dispatched to pick me up. We drove straight to the funeral home and I began to see just how amazingly popular my young brother had been. School busses were outside the home and when I walked in the door, I saw young teenagers gathered around, holding onto each other as they wept. I did not recognize anyone until I went into the main room. And there I saw my family. They had collapsed into a world of their own and out of habit, since I no longer lived here, had learned how to cope without the eldest. I knew immediately that I had to be more courageous than I had ever been before, no matter how much I wanted to weep, no matter that I felt ready to collapse at this now obvious moment. I did not just yet, I went up and met with each and held them in my arms. Than I walked up to the casket and saw it was closed. My heart sunk. I knew it was worse than I had expected. There were pictures on top of the casket to show everyone whom he once was. This sixteen-year-old boy. My God, what happened to you?
After everyone had left, the casket was opened so that my family and I could view this child once more. My mother kindly warned me that he would not look as he once did. She explained that the make-up had been put on in such a way as to make him look presentable. And so I saw my baby brother for the last time as an oddly made up mannequin that resembled him. I knew he was no longer there but I had to see for myself that this was not a lie. I had to know that it was really true that I would never see that boy once more. There was his body, the leftovers of what had once been this young man. I recalled the argument we had had the week before. I felt ashamed that this had been my last words with him. I recalled his tears on my shoulder, only a year prior, my last time to see him in person, on a Christmas visit home. He had told me of his troubles, of the pain that he had endured, listening to the arguments of two people who did not belong together. Of people he had to live with day after day. I begged him to come to California and stay with me. I offered him my home and asked him to join me the following summer. He had just needed to cry. He had just needed to show his pain. When someone leaves you, it is really amazing how every breath they took, every moment in time that you had with them is replayed in your mind.
That night I went home with my family, to the farm, where we would all prepare for the next day, the final day. My other brother took me for a ride to show me the place, where our youngest had met with his fate. It was a deserted area used for farming; the crops were not quite out of the ground. A tree stump, which had been the culprit, was still there, undamaged. Debris lay on the ground but most of it had been taken away. I looked and searched for something. Maybe there was a message, a clue, why I don’t know, there would have been no time to write, but my head searched for answers as my brother told me about the events of that night, only a few days past now. The driver of the car he was in, and their friend sat on the passenger side. My little brother was in the back, unbuckled, and lying down on the seat. The tree stump had sent him flying, on the cruelest flight he could ever have imagined. It is so ironic that the last movie he had seen was “The Boy Who Could Fly,” perhaps with some foreshadowing he had known on some level that the time had come. This brother then drove me to the gas station, the place they had taken the car. If anyone could imagine what it is like to see a car, from a fatal accident, knowing from the accordion shape it was in, seeing how it could have been impossible to be ejected without thinking of what this would have meant. I can only hope that the soul departed before the impact. It is said that he tried to speak some last words from the ground before he shut his eyes. I imagine this is a fantasy that the friends – who were in front – and lived, concocted to warm the hearts of troubled minds.
That night I tried to sleep but could not. Somewhere in the background, in my brother’s room came the song “With or Without You,” by U2. Our other brother had spent the night in his room. He had put the record on and when it ended put the needle back to the front and played it again. For some reason though, the only words I heard were the lyrics from this one. I felt it significant because I felt chained and in despair. I felt a sense of loss as if he had been my own. Could I live with or without him? Could I now go on with my life as if it had never happened? What would I do now? How would I go on?
The next day happened as it was meant to do. The bells rang from the church when our car pulled up to the front entrance. My mother screamed loudly as she knew it was beckoning her to bury her son, her final child. We entered slowly, taking the steps as if they were never trod on before. You might have thought we had never been to this building and had not known every square inch of the property. There in the front was the casket once more. There at the pulpit was the minister delivering his eulogy; bi-lingual, (Hungarian) as many of those in attendance did not speak English. I sat there as if I were a character in a short story by Poe. I listened to the message of the man at the altar, I heard the wailing all around me, the sniffling, the sadness, the energy of that room. Toward the end I could take it no more and I got up to move forward. My body went to the coffin and looked down at the sight, as if I had never seen such a thing before. And then I bent over and grabbed it with all my might and held it not wanting to let go. If I could have I would have gone with him. At that moment, I did not want to leave him. But suddenly my father was beside me, grabbing my arms. I spit out the words “the baby, not the baby.”
The graveyard appeared next and we were there. I still had lost a sense of reality, lost my grounding. I did not know where I was, only that there was that box again, only now it lay in an oblong space, that had been dug out quite neatly for it to slowly settle in. The force of nature whisked me up once more and I lay myself over the coffin. What could I do? This was my last chance to make sure he would not go. Once more I was picked up, not by my father but his best friend. He took me away from this place, down to our car. I kept turning around but he pushed me forward. At that time, I would not know but it was the last moment I would spend with this man as well. Two years later he would pass. Ten years later, so would my father. And I would go on, holding on to this moment in time. I would continue forward, suffering, year after year, as the memory of this day would re-appear.
Back in California, my boyfriend, my lover, whom I had needed so desperately to stand next to me, to be with me, at this tragic time, guided me home from the airport. He had no idea until then, he had not seen me before now, so he would not know, could not imagine how I had become, in just a week’s time, another woman. He took me to eat, I sat there staring into space. I was not there, nor was he. I heard his words but I could not comprehend. I knew he wanted me. That he needed to hold me and tell me that he would be there for me once again. We went home, or he took me to my home, I can’t even recall, not even now twenty-six years later. I know that the man he once was, I had quite forgotten. I did not remember that last night we were together. I did not remember that once when I had gone out of town, he had driven down there to bring me red roses and stay with me for the night. I did not remember how sweet he had been, such a gentleman, always looking out for me. How we had loved each other with such wild enthusiasm, embracing each other so tightly as if the night would never end. I did not remember him then as I remember him now. I only knew that I could not love ever again.
I did not realize the tragedy of making a decision and then forgetting I had made it and then continuing down life’s path. The Gods never forget though, they never let you break a promise, until you finally realize it is time to go forward. Coming home, going full circle, consequences from another tragedy told me it was time to finally stay east. When I returned a couple of years ago, I saw the past once more. I saw a place that once was, and now was no more. I saw changes I didn’t like and did not want to see. I saw people who had evolved and embraced me once more. The hawks sent me a message, as they continued to follow me everywhere I went. I knew it was symbolic of enlightenment, of change. The man from the past contacted me and we talked. I explained what had happened and we lifted the barriers I had set up so many years ago. I unveiled the mask and took it off and told the Gods that I was finished with this task. I unleashed my pain, my struggles, and my burdens and walked forward in a new way.
This story was originally written on 5/21/2013 after I had cleaned up this fated love affair. It seemed to create healing for both of us when we spoke. I am posting this on the anniversary of my brother’s death as I work with people who have lost a loved one and go through similar experiences. Shock of losing a child can turn your life upside down.