Note: This is not my son, but it could’ve been.
Monday was one of those perfect fall days.
I'd stopped on my way home to catch a candid picture of one of the candidate's I'm covering putting up campaign signs. I was close to home when my husband called. There was an accident ... he started to tell me a baby got hit in front of our house ... it's pretty bad. But at the same time just before I rounded the corner to my house I saw the flash of a police car.
I heard the drum that beats inside to say something’s not right. I came onto my street and saw my house surrounded by police cars, caution tape and chaos. My husband was in the front yard – distraught.
He'd just told me a baby. Not Sam, not Jake. A baby. But time lapsed and all the information didn't click in my mind as I hurried into the madness. Could it be my boys?
I couldn’t get my car any farther down the street.
“You can’t go down there.” One of the world’s hall monitors informed me.
“I have to.” I shouted, trying to remember how to park my car.
what is happening? I ran.
I heard wailing coming from the left. I ran faster.
A toddler. Hit by a car.
Simultaneously I saw for sure that it wasn’t one of my kids because the toy-car wagon in the grilll of a Ford sedan didn’t belong to my boys.
It was Alex’s, next door.
Alex, a little boy who just barely got to the world before getting taken out on a random October afternoon. He just celebrated his 1st birthday September 22.
I never met him. But will keep a candle lit for him in my heart for the rest of my days. Because to me, the moment of relief I felt that my boys were okay, meant that someone else’s baby wasn’t.
I’ve done crisis counseling. I know what that’s called, I know it’s not rational: survivor’s guilt.
None of that helps when I can’t sleep in the middle of the night thinking of the baby, his sister, his brother, his father … his mother a few houses down. His grandmother, his grandfather, his babysitter … all people I only knew in passing … but now I hear them cry in my sleep. And I wake up with my own pillow wet from my own tears.
They each have their own stories … the stories that don’t get into the news because they’re happening at the same time as the news is developing and they’re happening in hearts and heads … not headlines.
There’s the story of his sister. I can’t tell you her story, because I don’t know it. But I can tell you where my life intersected with hers, on the corner of X Street and Y Avenue.
A beautiful young girl, 14, sitting in the street, wearing one black Ked and hitting the pavement over and over and over again. Screaming for her brother to wake up. Screaming at the man who hit him. Screaming for time to come back. Screaming. Her grandmother never let go of her … shaking and bearing witness to the grief around her, holding her own inside.
The next day I came over to the house I saw her, in a dark room sitting by his crib, she was still saying his name, clinging to the crib, Wake up, Alex. Wake up.
Then there is his brother. A handsome 17-year old who said he waited his whole life to have a brother. They were just about to share a room together – he planned to paint the Lighting McQueen lightening bolt in their room. Maybe he still will, he says, but he can’t think about that now.
I met him at the same intersection as his sister, but hours later. The scene was silent now. The only evidence of the afternoon’s tragedy and chaos was the little red toy car still in the car’s grill … the street still taped off, the wailing echoing in the minds of neighbors but save the sound of detectives talking in low voices it was quiet now.
No one came to pick him up from practice. He learned something was wrong, but not what exactly. He ran all the way home. He was nearly there when he saw the tape, like I did. Saw the wagon, like I did.
But there was no relief for him because it was his baby brother. I told him what I knew. I held him, this boy I’d never met, this boy who just learned his brother was in a horrible accident and fighting for his life in a city an hour away. A boy who was alone to process all of that.
So I hovered around his house, in case he came out. He did. We talked a bit, I introduced him to another neighbor, the one who’d given his little brother CPR, somehow information was helping, at least it gave him something to process, perhaps.
If he needed anything I told him to come over. At 8 p.m. he came to the door. My heart lifting, I thought he was coming to tell me good news. Instead, he just wanted to let me know his brother didn’t make it. But he was braver than me and used all of the words: my little brother … died.
And he had to go talk to his little sister, who’d come from a friend’s house. I came home with him, not because there was anything I could do to help but because I could be there, to hold them, to let him grieve without having to be the adult in the room for his sister … and that’s all I did. Held them until he was ready for me to go. I haven’t seen him since but I think about him every day.
I do see the grandfather every day as he comes out to check on the flowers, tidy up the memorial site, bring fresh water, straighten what the wind has bent.
I talk to him a little bit as I come to tie the balloons back up in the battle against gravity, the rain has come to put the candles out, the chalk messages are wiped away, the markings in the street are fading … but the memories, the sounds, the moments of that Monday afternoon no one can take back.
Those stay. Those stay forever. The impact permanent. And that’s just for me. So I literally can’t draw a full breath when I put myself in any one of their shoes. The best I can do is what I told the little boy’s mama: though I never knew him, I will never forget your son.
Alex’s story hit home for most everyone in my home. Matt has his own story, one he’ll most likely keep to himself. But he’s not sleeping well either. He heard the impact. He called 9-1-1 knowing what happened before he saw what happened.
Sam, well, how do you tell a five-year-old this story? We’re working through it. Sometimes he understands, sometimes he doesn’t Same as me. He says he dreams of Baby Alex. And in his dreams, they are playing Legos, and running, lots of running Sam says.
But I did not cover this story. I was a part of this story. Their stories are now a part of me.
I share them with you as a reminder to always, but always, remember this moment matters.
p.s. some of you are asking for more information about the accident itself as well as what possessed me to tell my son about it. This photo is taken in front of my house, does that help answer that?
And the other questions are really good ones too and I’ll come back with the answers I have as soon as I can.
And some have also wondered - yes we have a collection envelope for them and you can message me for more information if you would like to contribute something to this family ... I understand things are tight and there are a lot of things vying for our attention and resources, if you feel moved to share a few dollars, let me know.
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