Life

The day the earth stood still

This is a repost of something I wrote two years ago on the 25th anniversary of my father’s death and the 10th anniversary of 9/11. I can’t express my thoughts about these two tragedies any better than this, so I’m not going to try. 

Today is the 25th anniversary of my father’s suicide. Normally, I don’t think too much about it, but today is different. With the 9/11 anniversary looming, my thoughts are turning more toward grief and loss and shock, which was what I felt when I woke up one morning my senior year in high school, put hot rollers in my hair (remember those?), and walked into the kitchen where my mother was dialing 911 after she found my father dead in our garage.

Normally, I’m not maudlin about this event. I rarely talk about it, not because I don’t want to but because it just isn’t relevant to my daily life anymore. But today was different. One minute I was jammin’ to “Don’t You Want Me, Baby” on the radio, and the next I was a mess, sobbing uncontrollably over a dog named Voltaire who was rescued by Lone Star Shih Tzu and Lhasa Apso Rescue after he was abandoned by his owners two years ago. The folks at LSSTLR found out Little “V” had cancer and a heart problem, and the good vets at Gulf Coast Veterinary Specialists (who saved Coco’s life from death by chocolate on two occasions) removed the tumor and revived him after he went into heart failure on Saturday. I just looked at his little face and thought about what that dog has been through and how resilient he is, and I just wished I had enough money to pay his entire vet bill. Poor doggie. I just sobbed and sobbed.

Maybe it’s because I remembered the people who saved my mother, sister, and me after my dad died: our minister, everyone at our church, our friends in the neighborhood, among others, but especially Stan Hogle, a church member and family therapist who loved shar peis and had dozens of them (the stuffed kind) in his office. My mother, probably the most resilient person I know in real life, went to see him for two years while she persevered as a widow who had to go back to teaching after a life of being a stay-at-home mother and a wife in a “picture-perfect” marriage.

Maybe it’s because the father of one of my childhood friends killed himself a week and a half ago, also at home in the old neighborhood. My sister and I went all the way through school with the two boys in this family. Susan and their younger son were the narrators of the first grade Christmas play. They wore their Christmas pajamas and sat in rockers on the stage, something we referred to throughout our lives. When my mother went back to teaching after a 20-year absence, my friend’s mother, a pre-school teacher, went to my mom’s classroom and played the guitar and taught my mother’s third graders a few songs. When she heard the news, my mother told my Aunt Susie that she thought they were the “picture-perfect family,” to which my aunt replied, “That’s what everyone said about you all.”

Damn.

The night before the memorial service last Thursday, I couldn’t sleep. I tossed and turned all night, thinking of this family tossing and turning all night just as my family had so long ago. I remember waking up before dawn, getting dressed, and waiting for the limo to pick us up for the burial. Last Thursday, my mother told me she remembered just walking around our backyard in the middle of the night. I didn’t know she had done that.

Stan Hogle told my mom that suicide was someone’s way of saying “fuck you” to the world. (Retelling that is probably the only time my mother ever says “fuck”, but even she knows that’s the only way to tell it.) It’s hard to convey the utter shock of waking up to discover someone has rent the fabric of your family, an eternal before and after. Before the day three weeks after my seventeenth birthday, before the day the earth opened up and swallowed my family whole, before the day everyone found out we weren’t the picture-perfect family they imagined.

But in a way, everyone has experienced something akin to this: on 9/11, the unimaginable happened. Who would have ever thought that terrorists would fly planes into cherished, iconic buildings? That our nation would be simultaneously rent and stitched together in mutual shock and grief? Our collective before and after.

I think of all my father missed in this life: my and my sister’s graduations, my sister’s wedding, the births of his two grandchildren, trips to London and Pairs and Hawaii with his family. Fuck. But, of course, our lives went on, and so did those of thousands who lost loved ones and friends on that implausibly beautiful day. When something like this happens, you can’t imagine you will ever be whole again. But the healing begins, and, stitch by stitch, you are sewn back together. I hope that 10 years later, the families of 9/11 know the healing power of time. I hope they have experienced joy and laughter amidst days of mourning, just as my family and I have.

I heard Little “V” is going to be okay. He’s at home now, resting, curled up on someone’s lap. That dog is remarkably resilient, as am I and my brothers and sisters who have experienced gut-wrenching grief. We’re going to be okay.

Update: Here is a picture of Voltaire two years after I wrote this post. He’s lookin’ good!

Little V!
Little V!

14 thoughts on “The day the earth stood still

  1. i just read this today…k…so, i am the one late to the party! 🙂 I love you…always love you Aunt Kelly! You are more of an inspiration than you will ever know. Be well and thanks for sharing! I thought of you yesterday as i went up to school to pick up Claire. For a split second, i realized it was my day at 3pm and i was going to get to see you. And, then i remembered that you weren’t there. I didn’t even realize i had gotten so used to seeing you a couple of times/week at the door!
    We need to plan Lost Pines…before Sarah goes bk to full time gig!

  2. I have almost no words. I find myself wishing, not for the first time, that I could have helped you then. If I can help today, I would love the chance.

    Beautifully expressed. You’re the only writer other than myself that I read twice.

  3. I don’t know quite how to fully convey my feelings about this post. When I think of what you three girls went through my heart breaks all over again and yet you are so wise and so strong. I am incredibly proud of you. Your wisdom, your humor and your grace fill the page and lighten my spirit. I love, admire and respect you oh firstofmybeautifulandpreciousnieces.

  4. I have been trying for about 20 minutes to gather my thoughts, compose myself and write you another little note about what a gifted writer you are, how sorry I am about everything that happened all those many years ago and how much I love and admire you. I kept starting, erasing, no words seemed sufficient. Instead I am going to tell you about a call I just received from Uncle Gary. Elves and More is going to donate up to 300 bicycles to our little Sherman Elementary school. They may not know it, but for me, those bicycles are a gift from your sweet mother. Knowing this made me feel better. I love you.

    Aunt Glen

    1. Thank you, Aunt Glen. There are few things that can rock the core of an entire family the way my dad’s death did ours. Supporting the children and families of Sherman Elementary is a testament to everything that was true and good about both my parents. I’m so glad to be a part of it!

      XO

  5. Kelly, you are a gifted writer. We are so blessed to have had you as a teacher and now a friend (albeit via Facebook). I certainly never knew about your past, but you write about it so eloquently. Odd how we know the Whites as adults and don’t have the same history that you have with them, yet the ability you have to compare the two two events gives a whole other dimension to a grief no one should have to bear, and yet so many do every day.

    Thank you for sharing your story. You are a brave and wonderful person, and I am so grateful that I have you in my life.

    1. Kitty, thank you so much for reading this post. I remember not only how hard it was for me to write it but also how I felt compelled to put my thoughts and feelings on “paper.” I appreciate your kind and encouraging words.

      Kelly

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