07 January 2015

Life Goes On


I still remember the day, a little more than three years ago now. We were stuck in that little cabin because the progress on building the house had hit half a dozen snags. I was just getting over the flu, and it was cold outside, so my husband was feeding the horses while I waited to start supper. My mobile phone rang, and someone from somewhere in Georgia asked for my husband. I was ugly. I hate spam phone calls and am suspicious of anyone who contacts me electronically who I don't know. But it felt – bad. Adrenaline suddenly coursed through my veins, and I felt as if I were buzzing all over -- vibrating. The caller asked when my husband would be available. I told them to call back in about 30 minutes, and they hung up. I started to pace.

Who would be calling him on my phone? Who would be calling from Georgia? It had to be bad news, but what kind of bad news would come from Georgia – especially a place I'd never heard of – Gainesville? His oldest daughter had recently been in Florida. There's a Gainesville there. But this woman said Georgia. I never once thought it had anything to do with my oldest son, John. Besides, he was in a suburb of Atlanta. And he was safe. You spend your whole life making sure your children are safe. You do whatever it takes to keep them safe and give them everything they need to be smart, attractive, successful, and safe. To feel loved. You set curfews and argue about curfews, you get them vaccinations, braces, eye glasses, contacts, expensive athletic shoes. You search for the best doctor. You buy them band instruments and send them on field trips. You buy them blue jeans and get them driving lessons. You stay up all night when they break curfew, and you die a little when they have to get stitches or are sick.

Besides both my sons were grown-ups now. They knew how to keep themselves safe. That didn't keep me from worrying, but I was confident in John's ability to be safe, to take precautions, and to still have a full life. He was a skydiver, for pete's sake. And I'd bought him his reserve 'chute. Besides, it was too cold to jump in December.

I worried myself nearly sick until my husband returned from his chores and I explained what was going on. He dutifully returned the call and spoke to someone on the other line for what seemed like an interminable time. Then he hung up and said, "You need to sit down." Now I could feel my heart about to explode, my whole body vibrating with fear and adrenalin. "I don't want to sit down!" I insisted. "What's going on?" This once, he wouldn't tolerate my stubborn attitude. He made me sit down. He said, "There's been an accident." He wasn't talking about his daughter now, was he? He was far too calm. And why was I sitting down?

"What do you mean, 'there's been an accident'?" I demanded.

"Well, I'm not sure," he stammered. "They may have got it wrong. But the woman was calling from Gainesville, Georgia, and I think John's been hurt in a traffic accident."

I stood up. John doesn't live in Gainesville! What was he doing in Gainesville? What's wrong with him? I fired questions at him as if it were his fault. Something was squeezing my heart and it was difficult to breathe. If felt like someone was choking me.

"It could be a mistake," he offered. "But he's hurt really badly. But it could be a mistake." I see now that he was trying not to tell me the one thing I didn't want to hear. The one thing I couldn't hear.
I was pacing now, breathing so fast but feeling as if I were suffocating. I thought I would vomit or faint; maybe it would be a blessing if I did faint. I wanted to run away but there was nowhere to go. I don't know how long this went on, with his suggesting that perhaps we should plan to drive to Georgia. There were phone calls – John's father's wife, John's boss. His company wanted to fly us to Georgia and put us up in a hotel. We needed to leave right away, but it was already dark. We were going to drive there in a week or so anyway for Christmas. Let's just go ahead and drive; we'll drive all night. I needed to call John's brother. I needed to talk to John. Where's John? What's happened to John?

And I kept thinking of my husband saying, "Maybe there's been a mistake." So there was hope. Maybe there was. Who did John know in Gainesville? Maybe it wasn't him at all. We didn't leave until the next morning, and we drove straight through. We nearly wrecked the car twice. People called to give us the name of a good attorney. People called from Australia. We got in so late – about three in the morning -- that we couldn't go anywhere. My husband said we needed to sleep. I couldn't sleep. There was this constant vise-grip on my heart, this constant feeling a nausea, wanting to faint, but wanting to stay conscious. Wanting to go find John and seeing that it was all a mistake.
There was still hope.

Then we drove to the hospital and John's father and brother went one way and we went the other – looking for answers until someone asked us if we wanted the clothes John had been wearing. I just couldn't think any more. Why wasn't John wearing his clothes? What funeral home did we want him sent to?

"Funeral home." And hope was gone.

And I'm thinking all this, three years and 22 days later, while I'm taking a pumice stone to my dry heels in the shower. And I think if I don't stop, my feet will be as torn and bruised as my heart. So I put down the pumice stone and burst into tears, the water from the shower head washing away the teardrops, but not my sobbing, which has upset the dog who has been waiting patiently for me on the other side of the bathroom door. So I turn off the water and try to stop crying while I towel off. I open the door and try to soothe the dog, who really just wants to take a nap. I think I'd better have some lunch, and the washing machine signals that it's time to put the laundry in the dryer.

So life goes on. The new house was finally built, and we moved in. We got a dog. We go to work. I do laundry and try to maintain good health and beauty practices. Like exfoliating my heels, taking showers, brushing my teeth, getting haircuts. Life goes on for everyone but John, who had his taken away by some careless woman driving a minivan, who may have been affected by prescription medication she had been taking but was no longer taking on the day she killed my son. So she gets community service and probation. She gets to see her children whenever she wants. She lives with the guilt, but she still has hope.

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