2000 Anne Horton Writing Award
It is a cold winter night three days after the new year. The apartment smells like the Christmas tree that still stands in front of the picture window. There are even some shavings of wrapping paper on the floor yet. The girls are in bed already, even though it is Christmas vacation. They are just as tired as I am from all the holiday commotion. I begin my nightly ritual of putting on my pajamas and dragging my black blanket downstairs so I can lie in front of the TV. I am just starting to get comfortable when the phone rings.
It is my best friend Josh. I havenÃƒÂ•t heard from him for a couple of days, which is unusual. "Hey, Ang," he says. I am just too excited when I hear his voice and start rambling on about me and how great everything is. I am talking uncontrollably when he cuts me off mid-sentence, "Mikey died this morning." I subconsciously ignore his comment and keep talking only to have him interrupt again. He repeats himself, "Mikey died this morning." Now he has my attention and I am silent, incapacitated by an eerie feeling to the point that I can't speak, move, or do anything. I am trying to make sense of this sickening reality, but it just didn't seem feasible that this bright blue-eyed boy would be suddenly gone. After all, Mikey was only three years old.
Josh starts to relive this morning to me. Mikey had wandered into Josh and Jen's room before daylight. He asked if it was time to get up. Josh told him it was still a little early and made Mikey a bed on the couch. He tucked him in, gave him a kiss, and told him he would see him soon. A couple of hours passed by when Josh decided to bring him into bed with them. When he walked into the living room, Mikey was still on the couch in the tent-like bed Josh had made him. But he wasn't just sleeping. Mikey was blue, not breathing, lifeless. Josh remembered Mikey feeling warm, though. He grabbed Mikey and ran with him to his room and began CPR while Jen dialed for help. He described how he tried hopelessly to breathe for this child, but Josh said, "Mikey just wouldn't take it." In a few short minutes, which seemed like an eternity to Josh, the EMT's arrived. Josh stepped back so they could save Mikey. They were trying too, but Josh knew by the look on their faces that there was no hope. Jen was crying for the paramedics to please do something more. They took Mikey to the hospital where he died at ten o'clock.
I am still lying there on the floor, listening in disbelief. Complete sadness overwhelms me, so much that I feel sick and empty, but mostly my heart is aching. My best friends just lost a part of themselves. I am wondering how something so awful could be happening to me at such a perfect time of the year, at such a perfect time of my life. Then I think that I am not the one who matters in this situation. My child didn't just die! Though I feel sorry for my friends, I am secretly thankful that it wasn't one of my children. I go upstairs and just watch my girls sleep, thanking God some more for not taking my child.
Tomorrow will be an emotionally long and hard day. I am to be at Jen's parents' home early in the morning. I try to sleep, but all I can do is cry, all night long. The fear of one of my girls not waking up makes me afraid also. I get up to check on the children over and over again, sitting on the edge of their beds, just watching them sleep while I sob. I can cry all night, but just not tomorrow. I will have to be strong for Josh. He needs me.
The night is just as short as it is long. I decide not to tell the girls where I am going until later because I simply cannot find the words. I leave before they wake up, but not before one last look to make sure they are safe.
The morning is extremely cold but I can't feel it. I am driving a few blocks out of the way on purpose, trying to find the right words to say. When I do arrive at the home, I suddenly feel strong. I take a deep breath as I approach the door where Josh is waiting. I know I can do this. I want to break down when I see the pain in their faces, but I do not. I let them mourn while I try to control my own grief. This is what's best for now.
Josh wants to put all of Mikey's things "away" for now, so I do as he asks. As I am picking up a little baseball jacket, I put my hand in the pocket. There is candy in there. "Mikey put that in there a couple days ago," Josh says, "he must have forgot about it." I turn my back from him, so he canÃƒÂ•t see my tears. Each time I pick up a piece of clothing, Josh tells how cute Mikey looked in it. If I pick up a toy, he mimics the noise that Mikey made when he played with it. Together we reminisce about their young son, talking as if he is just away for a couple days. All the while, I continue packing up his things, knowing that he is indeed gone forever. The afternoon has passed when I finally feel the urge to go home. I will see Josh and Jen at the funeral tomorrow.
The girls see me pull up in the driveway and with smiles and laughter come running out to greet me. As they wrap themselves around me, I can't ever remember needing these precious girls as much as I do now. While I am holding them, I wonder how to tell my daughters that someone died? Worse yet, how do I tell my children that one of their little friends died in his sleep? They already sense that something is saddening me so I start explaining the last two days. I tell them that though dying is very sad, it is just a part of life that is sometimes hard to understand. I do not expect them to understand Mikey's death; I can't even understand it myself.