My students have been writing snapshot narratives this week about a moment that changed them. Most of the examples we read were upbeat and lighthearted, but when I read some of the kids' life experiences in their brainstorming, I decided to tackle an event I've been meaning to write about--the second most difficult day of my life. Family may want to grab some Kleenex...
My husband and I pulled into the driveway at the same time that day--a rare but welcomed occurrence. Between swim lessons, the usual daily chores, and an afternoon spent at Olsen's Greenhouse with my mother-in-law, I felt I'd made the most of my stay-at-home-mom workday. It had been a good one. Marv's slow, deliberate movements indicated the job site had not been so kind to his back, and before he could slide out of the truck and saunter into the house with his empty lunch cooler, the boys were already inside, begging to play Midtown Madness on the computer.
I readily agreed to their computer request because I was eager to tell Marv about the experience I'd had at the pool earlier that morning. How a peaceful calm seemed to have settled upon me as I watched Kyle wave to me from the pool during his swimming lesson. How Lane had been cuddled in my lap as we lay in a lawn chair, enjoying the warm quiet. How for a moment, the nausea had subsided and morning sickness had finally left me alone. How the August sun had shown through the clouds, throwing down streams of light from heaven that seemed to whisper, “Savor this, Chris. You and your kids are loved.” The feeling was so pronounced that I sat up and looked around, hoping to see who was watching me in that surreal moment with my children.
My thoughts of the morning were interrupted and immediately forgotten when I heard Marv say, “Angela called once, and it looks like your parents called twice.”
His words stopped me in mid-stride. “Uh-oh,” came my dumb reply, trying to hide the fear in my voice.
“Calls from Yakima in the middle of the day are never a good thing,” I said.
To that, my husband gave his usual shrug, I'm sure in an effort to downplay the fact that within the past year, the very phone he held in his hand had delivered news of childhood diabetes, two mastectomies, a fatal car accident, and most recently, a toddler drowning. All calls from Yakima. All in the middle of the day. All about my family.
“Only one way to find out,” Marv said, handing me the phone.
I dialed my parents' number but hung up when I noticed that Marv was leaving the room. “What are you doing?” he laughed, again trying to ignore my paranoia.
“I'll wait 'til you're back,” I explained, turning toward the kitchen. “I'm not making this call alone.” Shaking his head, Marv closed the door behind him. I knew he would only be a minute, and I was willing to wait. But before I could lay the receiver back on its base, the phone began ringing in my hand. Caller I.D. indicated it was my parents.
“Chris, this is Julie.” What? What was my sister doing at Mom's and Dad's in the middle of the day? “Dad...” Oh no, I thought. Heart attack? Accident? Hospital stay? I could tell she was holding back tears, but then her voice broke, and the rest of her sentence came flooding out with force, “...passed away...Mom found him.”
The blow of her words drained me and took me to the floor.
I was hollow. Numb.
In the moments that followed, my devastated sobs mixed with my sister's as we tried to bridge the seven-hundred mile gap that lay between us. Pressing the phone to my ear, I could hear Julie break into a second wave of grief as she listened to my initial reaction—one she had experienced just an hour before.
A tender touch to my arm distracted me from my meltdown as Marv tried lifting me to my feet. Pulling away and crumpling back onto my knees, I waved him off and forcefully motioned for him to get the boys out of the house. They had seen enough.
I don't know how much time elapsed while Julie and I huddled around our phones and cried together, but it seemed like an eternity—especially since every minute that passed meant I was living one more without my dad. I missed him already.
Somehow, after regaining my composure and pummeling my sister with questions about every detail she had seen or heard in the last half hour, we ended our conversation. I knew there would be more phone calls, but still, it was hard to hang up.
My lifeline had been cut.
I spent most of the afternoon crawling on my knees or lying in the fetal position at the foot of our bed--standing erect a physical impossibility. To a degree my grief felt measured and somewhat calculated because my thoughts kept returning to the unborn child I was carrying. Giving in to the urge to go running down the street screaming was not an option twelve weeks into a pregnancy. I had to get through this calmly, quietly. I couldn't lose this baby. Not like this. Not now.
We had all lost enough.