After Flannery O’Connor, Raymond Carver, Junot Diaz
It was pouring raining; the miserable kind of rain. The type of rain that makes you want to stay in bed all day, but I was driving on the highway. 80 miles per hour and the sheets of water relentlessly were coating my windshield. No matter how high the setting of my wipers, nothing seemed fast enough. I felt like I was driving blind, but there was barely a second following each stroke, when the wipers could clear everything before I met the next layer of rain. Both of my hands were tightly gripping the wheel, as I sat with perfect posture and eyes perched. I knew I had to be on high alert in order to get us both home safely. Nerves, distrust, and fear collided with each other in the pit of my stomach.
As I continued facing the storm head on, every once in awhile there was a bridge. You know one of those bridges that cross over the highway? As I passed underneath, just for one simple second everything was calm. The rush on the rain persistently streaming down on all sides seemed to cease, and I was left untouched and peaceful. In that moment I had no worries because I felt protected. These simple moments of serenity, right before I would get blasted with the same storm on the other side, are what I lived for. They gave me an inner peace unlike any other.
They say that in your lifetime you will run into a series of people. Some will cause the storm, some will make the storm seem worse, and some will be a windshield wiper, but those who are a bridge, those are the ones you have to hold on to. Those are the ones who, no matter what storm is raging in your life, can give you a kind of peace you have never experienced before. You are that person for me. Well, you were that person for me.
With you, I didn’t just feel happiness, I felt joy and that was what made the difference. Happiness is an emotion based on other people, things, places, thoughts, and events that can be triggered, but joy is something completely different. Joy comes when you find a peace within who, why, and how you are and you helped me find that. You gave me the greatest gift I could receive because to experience joy is a privilege.
Tommy, you were my bridge in the storm; someone I relied on and having you in my life was a blessing, but what they don’t talk about is what happens after a bridge collapses or is destroyed. That is a loss like no other. The day I lost you, was the day I lost myself. Without you, there were no breaks in the storm and as I became more worn down, the storm only seemed to get worse and worse.
It is one thing if they put up a “beware of construction” or “construction ahead” sign before they take down the bridge, but with you there was no warning. Crazy how quickly things can change. One wrong move and you can be left with nothing. When you left, everything crumped. Not just the bridge that you were, but every other one that had ever been built. I couldn’t keep myself up, so I tore them down.
Maybe it was because I couldn’t help, but blame myself. Maybe it was because I no longer believed I was worthy of the privilege of having relationships with the other bridges in my life. Or maybe it was because every time I replayed those final moments I think of what I could have done differently. Maybe if I had been paying closer attention, then I would have seen the white lights of the car in front of us or if I was holding the wheel tighter, then I could have had more control. Tommy, I wish I could have warned you, maybe then you could have prepared yourself, but it all seemed to happen so fast. One minute we were speeding down the highway, the white dotted lines racing past the tires. The next minute the red and white lights reflecting off the broken glass scattered across the pavement.
I will never forget the way you looked; suspended upside down, only being held back by the webbing of the seatbelt. A thin line of red trickling down the side of your face while your eyes remained closed. You were wearing that bright blue shirt, the same one Mom always made you wear whenever we went to that church down the street. We don’t go to church anymore, not even for Easter. We don’t do a lot of things anymore.
That image of you in the car is engraved in my mind. Now, it was innocence I craved; the lack of awareness of this horrific moment; the inability to recall this image that continues to dwell in my nightmares.
You see Tommy, there are levels to sadness. There is the sadness that ruins the moment. There is the sadness that ruins the day. There is the sadness that causes slow dripping tears. There is the kind that is followed by a flooding weep. And then there is silence. A sadness so extreme that there is a sprinkle of all other emotions within. The silence is the incapability to understand. A sadness so strong you can not even process it. Your body simply becomes so overwhelmed with the flood of emotions that it can’t react. I had never seen this level of sadness until the day you left us. The silence consumed me and every room I walked into. I was a ghost, an empty vessel. The sadness didn’t just last the rest of the day. It came that day and has followed us every day since, which turned into months and here I am 5 years later. Yes, the sadness faded, but it was always there. Always hiding in the closets and lurking under that creaky floorboard in the downstairs pantry.
Without you, everything changed. Without you, it no longer seemed worth it. I never thought I would have to do anything without you because there wasn’t supposed to be a ‘without you’. You were a bridge that I never thought I would lose, but then again nothing in life is guaranteed. You taught me that one first hand.
We all come into this world with a certain number of days and how I wish you could have more numbers than you got. But the time we spent together, during our little forever, seemed infinite. You gave me infinite memories that I could never take for granted, but most importantly you gave me a forever within your number of days and for that I am so thankful.