Friday, June 29, 2007

June 29th - Twenty years ago.

Of all sad things of tongue and pen, the saddest are these, "it might have been".

And yet, another Anniversary.

Twenty years ago today, I lost my little brother. He was bright and beautiful - an identical twin to my other amazing brother. We grew up very close. We all shared the same friends - about twenty of us grew up in the same small neighborhood and there was no one spared from the story of that day.

I know many people have experienced the loss of a family member. But I tell and re-tell this story to put a face to such a senseless tragedy. My hope is that you'll spread it around in a "i know a boy who.." kind of way.

This is my memory of June 29, 1987.

Twenty years ago I was sixteen. I think back and I was such a grown up - even then. That morning I was getting ready to go swimming at a local Crazy Wave place. I'm not sure if you know but in 1987, even if you're about to swim all day, you still put on a full face of make up and curl your hair. He came in the bathroom and looked at me through the mirror and asked if he could come with me. I wanted to bring him/them. But there are two of them, twins, & that meant two tickets and I only had enough money for one. He turned away - sad that I said no. I'll never forget it. Ever.

My next memory of that day was coming home. My mom had picked me up and I made her drive around the long way so I could see if my boyfriend was outside. Waste. We came up the hill and saw what seemed like hundreds of Emergency Vehicles. Fire trucks, Ambulances, Cop cars and even a hovering helicopter. I said to my mom, "I wonder if *old neighbor man* died." She nodded. But as we got closer we could see that all the people were surrounding OUR house. All of our neighborhood was just standing and staring at OUR front door. I was terrified.

My mom threw the car into Park so hard and fast that we flew forward. She jumped out. I saw her running and I became so afraid for her. The panic in her made me fear for her safety - not even thinking my little brothers were in THAT house. I mean, the house is what everyone is staring at! There must be something awful in there. I prayed that she wouldn't go in and I got to her just in time. But I didn't save her from what she would see. We ran up as they were wheeling my brother out on a stretcher. He looked sick. Very sick. And worse, the people around him looked petrified/hollow - like they had been through a hell they'd never seen before.

My mom, with her maternal instinct, knew something was really bad. She stayed with him and left in an ambulance. I was whisked away - into the house to come to my own conclusion and to find my other brother. ...'I saw his face and he had no color. He must have had an asthma attack. I mean, he always does. We can't do any activity for very long before he has blue lips and is wheezing like crazy. That must be it!'... So I went on my way, cleaning up the mess they made in the house. Wrappers - everywhere. Weird ones - not for band aids but for long tube things that looked scary and important. But still, I was certain it was an asthma attack.

I heard a noise and ran to the window. I saw my dad pull up on the lawn. ...'he's on our lawn. He's in a big hurry!'... I went to run outside but by the time I got to the front door, my other brother had jumped in his truck and they were driving away.

I was left alone.

I went back inside and took messages from the many people that kept calling. I got tired of cleaning and taking messages so I went outside to see our friends. They were all still standing out there, staring at our house. I grabbed the basketball and asked who wanted to play Horse. I remember very clearly how they all just stared. This was my first experience with people tip toeing around me. Still, I didn't get it. We started playing Horse and no one said a single word.

But it wasn't long until the neighbors came out to get me. They said my grandmother had called them, trying to find me. They said I was supposed to go with them until my parents picked me up. I asked, "does she know Paul is sick? did she say how he was?" Their answer will be in my memory forever. "Yes honey, he didn't make it."

What? "didn't make it" - what does that mean? Didn't Make WHAT? The football team? Lunch on time? How could this be? I hadn't even begun to think it was serious - let alone, possibly fatal. And that was it. The first day of a new life for us.

I have struggled a lot with all the "what if's" from that day. What if I had taken him with me? What if I would've stayed home? What if my mom didn't have to pick me up before going home? What if I wouldn't have made her drive by my boyfriends house when every second counted? What if I would've jumped in the ambulance or made it in time to leave with my dad and had those last few minutes with him? What if - a million times.

But I realized, after many years, that none of those things would bring him back and none of it's my fault. My brother's were playing the pass out game. All the kids were doing it back then - where you hold your breath upside down and you get that sort of "rush" that makes for a great story at school on Monday. Only my one brother decided to do while he was alone, thinking he'd pull a scary trick on my other brother. Scary all right. Unforgettable.

My family has spent many hours over the last two decades educating other families and school children about the danger of this game. We traveled around to schools, churches and news programs. Every year, I try to do just one more thing to tell one more person what a tragedy this has brought to our lives. My own Party of Five is now a party of four. My twin brother is now twin-less. & my parents will never be whole again.

This year, this is my "one more thing" and "one more person". My brother was only 14 when he died. But he lived a big life and that's the part we still remember and tell and re-tell to the nieces and nephews/wives and partners he didn't get to meet. We miss him so much that even they miss him.

Happy sleeping brother.
Twenty years later and I still say, "see you soon".