Monday, June 1, 2009

When the Phone Rings Again

Life is a peculiar thing, I've found. There are little forks along life's path all the time, and sometimes great divergences, splits in the course of life. I had never really noticed the little ones, as they are sort of like back county roads. All the views are interesting, and they all get you where you are going eventually. The big ones, well, they spin you and turn you and change you abruptly. And everything comes at you so fast, so damn fast. Some times you see the sharper turns coming, some times you don't.

My youngest child, like his older sister, was (and remains...) a pretty good sleeper. Once he went to bed, he was down for the count. Most nights, my wife and I got to sleep through the night, six hours or so. Sure, once in awhile one of our kids got the stomach bug or had a spell of night terrors, but most nights were wonderfully mundane.

One late Saturday night --so late it was Sunday already-- our 3 year old Will woke early. Five o'clock or within minutes of it. He padded his way up to our room and stood next to me quietly until I sensed his presence. I wasn't startled, 'cause kids do that kinda stuff. Sort of Ninja in a onezie... Most nights, I would gather him back up and tuck him in his bed, keeping the habit of separate beds intact. But he'd been pretty good of late, and he was damn cute and snuggly, so I let him crawl into bed with me. He nuzzled up and was asleep in seconds. I took a deep breath and exhaled contentedly. We might sleep like this 'til 8:00. A nice, lazy start to a Sunday.

I had barely left consciousness when I was jarred awake again by the phone ringing. My first thought? Naw, this couldn't happen again. This time it had to be a wrong number. My adrenaline kicked in and I knew my day was going to start, for better or worse. I reached for the phone, gulped, and answered with a cautious 'hello'. I prayed I wouldn't know the voice on the other end. It was my sister. Hello, surreality.

"Hey, um, oh my god. Dan's dead." I'm pretty sure that's what she said, but I know she said more too, because I remember she said she had gone to a Green Day show and the local police were waiting for her when she got home. That the Florida State police had called her local police office in suburban San Francisco, because they couldn't find my brother's parents. I can remember her telling me that my brother had been shot by a neighbor. I remember yelling "Fuck!" as I tried to make my body go down the stairs, away from my angelic sleeping boy and my sweet wife and my gentle daughter.

And in that thirty second span, I knew my life --and that of our family-- had turned and twisted and veered off course. Life had turned suddenly -- a second time in less than 8 months -- onto a superhighway of loss, sadness, discovery, and grief. But unlike the sudden loss of my mom, this new highway also took me past hate, anger, denial, and hurt. I have been on some back roads lately, and I'm remembering how much I used to love casual drives through life's lesser travelled roads. But I can still hear the roar of the highway. It scares me. But I'm still driving. Just don't call, okay?