In silence I wait for a chance to be awakened
A moment for risks dreamt but not taken
A fear of falling so leaps forsaken
A foundationless monster that screams to be shaken
There comes a point in every persons life where the things they knew, the person they were, the dreams they had; change. Sometimes, that moment is a matter of personal choice, other times it’s a matter of being persuaded by things outside of their control, like getting hit by a bus, for example.
This is the story of my bus. This is the story of my death.
Life was pretty darn good, for the most part. I had a beautiful wife who loved me, a wonderful home in a great neighborhood in southwest Phoenix. I was one “parent” to the world’s coolest dog and two pretty evil, yet equally sweet, cats. I was fortunate to be working, and although it was not challenging or life-altering; it was enough to pay the bills and keep my life with my wife comfortable.
Kelcie and I had been married for about 3 and a half years, and although we had a lot of ups and downs, we had come through most things pretty well and were beginning to settle into what seemed to be the routine of marriage. She was really the consummate wife, constantly going above and beyond to make sure that I was taken care of on a day-to-day basis, probably more than she should have. I was never as good of a husband as she was a wife, but I did try to get better when opportunity presented itself, and especially when I knew I had dropped the ball.
Unfortunately for her, my self-awareness in regards to ball dropping was beneath the Mendoza line.
I could sit here and write for days about how many things she did right, and how many things I did wrong. I won’t because it doesn’t matter, and because it’s my story so I get to choose what I write. But, believe me when I admit she was definitely the better half. She was the better half from the moment we said I do to the moment that she said she couldn’t any longer.
Fast-forward through all the good times, the moments of sporadic bliss that were intertwined with the normal blemishes of a young marriage and find me on the night of Friday, March 25th, 2011.
I had rolled into the house about midnight, as I was want to do when I closed the restaurant on a Friday night. I had a pretty standard way of going about things when I got home if Kelcie was in bed before I got home.
On a normal night – when my life was normal – I would follow these steps, almost to the letter: enter house, take off shoes, ruffle Titus’ ears and let him outside. Then I would quietly slip into the bedroom, change clothes, kiss Kelcie’s cheek to say good night, then on to “me” time. Normally I would choose to make some turkey tacos, open a beer and see what I missed in the world of Ohio State sports that day.
That evening had the mood altered a touch, since I was already aware of what had transpired in the land of the poisonous nut that day. The Jim Tressel scandal was in its infancy and his character was besmirched all day, and the Buckeye basketball team lost in heartbreaking fashion to Kentucky, thus ending their season in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA basketball tournament.
So, as I prepped my tacos, I had a brief text message conversation with my brother, Bobby, who was on his way home from watching the game with my brother Joe and a few of our friends. It was their regular routine – watch the Buckeyes, laugh and have a great time with friends and family. It was one of those nights that I missed more than anything in the time that I had been living out west. Our conversation was short and sweet; we lamented not the loss of the game, but the knowledge that a team we’d grown to love watching play, would be gone. Our last messages were exchanged about 12:30am Phoenix time, and Bobby ended our conversation with a dubious last message.
“What a demoralizing loss.”
My proverbial bus came six hours later.
I never kept my phone’s ringer on when I went to bed. I never wanted to risk getting an irritating phone call from a bill collector or a wrong number that may have compromised my ability to get sleep, sweet delicious sleep. I ended up slinking into bed about 2am, and had to be back at work at ten the next morning. That knowledge, combined with Titus’ propensity for seven o’clock stretch and cuddle sessions were all I needed to know when I made the decision that I would do nothing different that night. The phone ringer would stay off.
When Kelcie started frantically shaking me at 7:30, I was groggy and confused. I vaguely heard her mumble “What??” to the person on the other end of the line. That confusion quickly turned to clarity as she handed me her phone which had been ringing multiple times that morning and told me my brother Michael needed to talk to me.
To my recollection, Michael had never called Kelcie or myself in the three and a half years of our marriage, nor had he called us during the time we dated, nor had he ever called me, I think, ever.
“He didn’t wake up. He went to sleep and died.”
Shocked and silent, I hurried off the bed. I ran into the garage with tears building up in my eyes but without any ability to cry or talk; just the ability to start packing. After a moment, the reality hit me and I fell to my knees on our bedroom floor and erupted into uncontrollable tears. My cry was a guttural wail more than a “regular” cry, but it was all I could muster as Kelcie tried to hold me, to offer any comfort she could provide. Titus, unsure of what to do, sat down next to us as we cried, trying to offer his version of a hug. I asked Kelcie to help me pack while I called the airlines to get a flight as quickly as possible.
An hour later, we were on our way to the airport and less than three hours after receiving the call, I was on a plane to Ohio to be with my family. Kelcie dropped me off and scheduled a trip for herself four days later.
I spent almost three weeks in Ohio, helping to provide as much emotional support for my family as I could. For the most part I was able to suppress my devastation so that others could grieve, which in retrospect was probably unhealthy.
Bobby was the second child in my family, and I am the 9th, but he was more than just my big brother. He was my best friend, my role model, and a father figure. He was, as simply as I can put it, everything to me. We had 12 years separating us, but everything that I am and wanted to be was impacted heavily by who he was.
After he passed away (it’s been officially ruled as a congenital heart defect, something no one in my family was aware of), I tried my best to maintain a stable emotional state, and despite the occasional whiskey-fueled, late night breakdown, I continued to deny how greatly his loss was affecting me. Most of the time I was able to use his loss as a way to motivate me to do “things” I never had the inner-strength to do previously.
I quit the restaurant business for good (so I thought), and decided it was time to stop sitting around on my butt and went back to school after a near 14-year hiatus. This blog, which I began two weeks before Bobby died, became a refuge and I decided to start writing for no reason other than how much I enjoyed it. It was always something that I had liked, but never felt qualified to do. His death made me stop caring about what I qualified for, focusing instead on what I loved to do – and I loved nothing more than Buckeye sports. Ohio State was one of the unbreakable bonds that Bobby and I shared, and in tandem with his affinity for words I figured it was a great way to keep building a bond with him after he was gone. There was no one I’d ever met who had more of a way with words and their application to page than Bobby, and so writing became a simple way for me to honor him.
This blog opened up doors for me, and quickly. After a handful of posts I was blessed with an opportunity to begin writing for elevenwarriors.com and saw a glimpse of what could happen if I ever fully applied myself to anything, something that I had stopped myself from doing on any number of other occasions in my life.
Fast forward again, to today, and I am once again unsure how I will respond to challenges facing me. But, I have learned in this past year a few lessons so valuable that I know I am capable of besting anything that confronts me.
I have new opportunities before me, and I have old demons haunting me. I have worries about failing and dreams of success that I’ve never imagined. I have learned that sometimes the best thing to do is cry when I want to cry, and scream when I want to scream. I have learned that through death we can regain life and that sometimes the living are really dead.
I am going have days when I feel like I am not worth fighting for, and days when I feel it’s in the best interest of those who care about me to give up and let me drift away into oblivion. I know I am also going to have days when I feel I am a world-beater capable of everything I can conceive.
If you’re reading this, it’s because in some way you want to know what makes me tick – what I think and how I feel. If you’ve known me for some time, you’re likely used to me burying the serious under a mountain of sarcasm, but not this time. If you’ve just recently met me, and are trying to form your opinion of me and determining my value in your own life, this is me, exposed. This is me telling you I am worth it, but that every so often, I might need a little help in remembering it.
No more covering up insecurity and doubt. It’s time to be me, no apologies necessary. This learning to live again may end up killing me, but I am not going to let that bus hit me without making sure I leave a dent.