Friday, March 16, 2012

Seven years ago.

Seven years ago Jason and I were settled in our first apartment. It was very small, but in town and cozy. It was on the second story, but it had a balcony. To pay for our life of one-bedroom luxury, he worked at a factory and I babysat my 5 year old cousin. Her mom was on swing shift, so sometimes Kendra would spend the night and I would take her to school and sometimes I'd pick her up from school and get her all tucked into bed. It was a super easy job and paid really well. 

Jason and I had a tradition of waiting until Kendra was asleep and then firing up the computer for some Donkey Kong or The Sims. Sometimes we would stay up all night playing video games and watching movies. Those were the days that I would drop Kendra off at school and then sleep all day. I really did love that job! 

Exactly seven years ago today, I woke up very tired as usual. I did Kendra's hair, packed her bag and took her to school. When I came back home I fell in a heap on my couch and prepared myself for a long nap. I was at that magical part of sleep where you're so close to slumbering, but still aware of the world. Which is why I was able to hear the phone ring. I ignored it. "They'll leave a message." It continued to ring until the answering machine turned on. I laid there with my eyes closed, silently commending Jason and I on another successful, hilarious answering machine message. "Erica, it's mom. If you're there, pick up the phone right now." She said it fast and her voice broke a little. My mother doesn't leave dramatic messages. Usually when she leaves a message she'll joke around or I'll hear her fumble to turn off her phone, and sometimes, cuss about how she, "hates this damn phone!" I sprang to the other end of the couch and picked up, "What's the matter?" I knew something was wrong, there was no need to start off with, "Hello!" She said, "There's been an accident. You need to get here as soon as possible." My heart sank and I couldn't ask fast enough, "What happened?" I didn't expect what she said next, "Nick's school bus hit him." 

I said, "I'll be right over." I was wearing sneakers, a long black skirt and a zip-up hoodie. I didn't care how utterly ridiculous I looked. My nephew was in an accident and my mom sounded like she needed me. I ran out of our apartment with the door slamming behind me. I got into my little Dodge Neon and squealed down the street. My mother's house was just a few blocks away, but it felt like the drive was longer than usual, Like every slow driver was in front of me. I could make the drive to my mother's with my eyes closed. And, since I honestly don't remember much about the drive, except that I was speeding and trying to force cars out of my way I may as well have.
When I pulled into my mother's driveway my dad's car was gone. I assumed he was either on his way to the accident or already there. I ran inside and found my mother in a rare speechless, meets helpless state. She was near frantic, pacing around and talking on the phone. When she stopped talking I asked what exactly happened. She simply said, "Nicholas was going to school and his bus driver hit him." It wasn't a long explanation, but it's all we knew. My dad was sending somebody to drive us to the hospital, so we waited for our escort in silence and when he got there, we piled into a car. His car? my mom's car? I can't remember. My mom was being strangely quiet and it made me nervous. We drove in silence on our way to the hospital. occasionally we would report our "thoughts" on what had happened. 
"I bet it's just a broken arm." I said. "you know how this family makes such a big deal over stuff. He's probably fine." 
"He got hit by a bus, Erica." I don't know if I truly believed that it was something as simple as a broken arm. The energy in the air, the looks on their faces, the tone and urgency in the way everybody spoke should have told me right then; this was much worse than a broken arm. I knew my mom sounded annoyed at the implication that this was something minor. I've always wondered if she knew more about it then what she told me. But, as a true "Half glass full" type, it was my job to mention, at least once that maybe we were worrying over nothing. 
We ran into the hospital. I could tell my mom was annoyed by how far away my dad's friend had parked. We didn't bother checking in or asking where to go. We opened up the double doors to the emergency room, and there he was. Nothing could prepare me for that scene. Nothing could make me forget it, and sometimes when I think about that day, I can still hear everybody. 
Nicholas was laying down.  My dad, my sister my brothers, dozens of doctors and nurses surrounded him. The other patients in the E.R peeked out of their rooms, looked behind the curtain. All of their doctors and nurses were with us now. Our family took over the E.R. 
"One. two.COME ON!" The doctor was on top of Nick's bed, doing C.P.R. All of the nurses held their hands over their mouths. Some guys in white coats stood back and wait, just in case the were needed. My dad paced around shaking his head "no", My sister Justine was talking to Nick. "Grandma's here now" "Pap-pap is here" "Aunt Reekie is here too." I was expecting a broken arm. I walked into a war zone. 
Our little local hospital didn't have the equipment needed to save him. Nick needed to be air-lifted to a much bigger hospital, about 2 hours away. They wanted him to be stable before they transported him. We all waited. Some of us stayed in the E.R, some of us waited in the hall, Some of us paced back and forth between the two. 
We walked out with Nick to the ambulance that would take him to the helicopter. As they were loading him all of my family loaded into the cars, we were headed to the big hospital. 
I heard it only takes about half an hour to get to the big hospital from the helicopter, though I have no idea if it's true or not. We ditched our slow driver and my brother took over the driving duties from the small hospital to the big hospital. He was much faster, in an hour and a half, we were there. 
My other sisters had shown up right as we did, they parked a few spaces down and we walked in together. After making it known who we were there for, a nurse took us all back to a small room.  She said she would like to be informed when all of our family was there. My brother and I went into the room last, and we watched her flip the little markers on the outside of the door to black. 
As the last of us piled in, we let the nurse know that everybody was there. We sat quietly, leg to leg in a small square room. When the doctor came in, he didn't waste any time with greetings. He just started talking.  "When Nick came to us he had experienced severe head trauma. We did everything we could.." He didn't need to finish. My sister started screaming, "NO! NO! NO!" She collapsed on her husband's arm and the rest of us buried our faces in our hands or on the shoulder of whoever was next to us. I looked at the doctor. He didn't leave. He was kneeling, holding back tears and apologizing to Justine. Even for a big hospital, I don't imagine they have to call time of death on many 5 year olds. 
I looked at my brother. He was shaking his head, and assessing the damage in the room. He said something like, "This can't be happening." 
We stayed at the hospital for hours. We took phone calls, we wandered, we sat in silence, we took smoke breaks. Finally they let us go back and see him. 
I went in with my mom. She held him in her arms, and rocked him back and forth. She rubbed his hair, and cried and whispered, "I love you, Nick" I sat down in a chair next to her and  rubbed his foot. I stared at him, I wanted to soak up every memory of him that I could. His eyes, the shape of his nose, the feel of his skin. Even his tiny, untrimmed dirty boy toes. "I can't believe this is the last time I'll see him." I thought. 

The rest of the day is a blur. We loitered around the hospital for some time, we drove home, I went back to my apartment to wait for Jason. I wanted him to be with me that day. We didn't have cell phones and I didn't know how else to get a hold of him. While I waited, my phone rang again. I answered it quickly, "Hello?" It was my friend Nicky. Not knowing how to start the conversation she just said, "Is it true?" I knew the news of Nick's death had made it's way back to our small town. I knew the next time I walked out of the house it wouldn't be the same. I started to cry, "Yeah, it's true." And like a good friend, she said, "I'll be right over" Nicky and Jason showed up about the same time. Jason still didn't know what had happened. I was exhausted from the sadness, crying, the drive, the silence, the anger, but mostly the sadness. I started from the beginning and told them what had happened.

His funeral was Spiderman themed. All of his flowers were spider mums, everything was red and blue and there was no dreary organ music being played. We said goodbye to Nicholas with the sounds of "The Itsy Bitsy Spider" and "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star"

Saying goodbye to Nicholas was the hardest thing my family has ever had to do. Trying to put our lives back together after his funeral wasn't easy. There was a lot of pain, anger, hurt, blaming and just a ton of confusion. For me, the hardest part was the "What-ifs" that my family and I had to endure.
It's not easy, a lot of us still have some really, really bad days. But we're healing and I've found that time really does heal wounds. Nick is never forgotten. Wherever we go Nick is on our mind and in our hearts.

The regrets I have about the kind of aunt I was will forever weigh heavy on me. I'll always think and wish and regret how I wasn't the best aunt I could have been. But Nick and I had some great times and I think that in sharing his story, I've somehow redeemed myself a little.
Accidents can happen in an instant. Slow down and watch what you're doing. The music can wait, the text can wait. Keep your eyes on the road, and slow down.

But the most important lesson that Nick has taught me, if you love somebody-don't wait for tomorrow, tell them now.

It's been a long seven years Nick. Aunt Reekie loves you. 


  1. Love u Eric's. And he loved u loved when u would come do laundry and he could go down and play games with u and jay

  2. Erica this is a very sad story I am so sorry for ur lose! Thank you for writing this to let us know what really happened and how ur family is doing!

  3. Erica this is a very sad story I am so sorry for ur lose! Thank you for writing this to let us know what really happened and how ur family is doing!