What Made Me Who I Am Today

*Trigger Warning*

BUCKLE UP

I was born in New York. For the first few years of my life, we lived in a neighborhood across the street from Lake Erie, just south of Buffalo. My parents were very close with the neighbors across the street from us, and my brother and sister became very close with their kids. I remember walking over there with my family a lot. I always thought their house was super cool because they had kind of like a storage space half way up the stairs and I would always play in it. I also remember swimming in our pool, and going out on the boat with my dad a lot. There was a small store down the road from our house that had really good donuts too. We ended up moving a little further away into the country to a very small town, where my family bought an older house on about 50 acres. I grew up there, and most of my childhood memories are from that house.

I remember the house was so old, already over 100 years old at the time, my parents had to gut the entire house. During the construction, my brother, sister, and I all ended up having to sleep in random rooms while our rooms were being fixed up. It was kind of fun, I will admit.

There was a huge hill on the one side of the house that ran along with the road. We started having annual sledding parties. The entire family would come over and sled all day. After the garage was built, which was close to the hill, my parents would put a kerosene heater inside and set up tables with with snacks and hot chocolate so you could take a break and warm up a bit.

I believe we had my fourth birthday party shortly after we had moved into that house. The fall after I turned six, my sister passed away unexpectedly. I still remember the night that it all happened like it was yesterday. And yes, I know, that sounds crazy, because that was over twenty years ago. But I promise you, I could paint a vivid picture still.

My sister had asthma. She had a really bad asthma attack one night after I was already in bed. I woke to the sound of my dad yelling. I remember him saying “Breathe! Breathe! Breathe!” I mean YELLING. I remember walking into my parents bedroom which was almost across from mine, and I saw my sister sitting on the edge of their bed, my dad standing next to the bed on the phone with 911, and my mom standing there with them. My sister looked for lack of better words, horrible. I mean, just awful. She was kind of rocking back and forth on the edge of their bed, gasping for air. Her face was pale. What felt like a few seconds after I realized what was going on, I remember her falling back, flat onto my parents bed. And that was it. My parents picked her up and laid her onto the floor. My dad tried doing CPR, she started throwing up, he got back on the phone with 911, my sister laying there lifeless, my mom crying. And then, all of the sudden, an EMT came running into the bedroom. I remember he came through the doorway so fast that I almost had to jump out of the way to the other side of the bed. Another came in behind him. They bagged her for a couple of minutes, nothing was working, they took her in the ambulance, and I never saw her again.

I remember my parents called my grandmother to come stay with my brother and I that night. I believe my mom rode in the ambulance with my sister and my dad drove himself. I sat on one couch, and my brother sat on another across from me. My grandmother in a rocking chair next to me. We sat in silence. My brother was watching the Weather Channel. He always watched the Weather Channel. I do remember my grandmother saying “It is okay, she will be alright” as I sat there with my stuffed animals crying.

The next day, my brother and I went to stay with my grandparents while my parents were still at the hospital. They did take a break to come to see us for a bit. I asked my mom if I could go back with them so that I could see my sister. My mom kept telling me no. At the time I was confused. Why wouldn’t my mom let me see my sister? A couple of days later, we were heading home. A bunch of family members started showing up with balloons, all kinds of stuff. I remember thinking to myself “Oh my god, my sister is coming home! We are having a party for her!” Even my uncle came in from out of state. I feel like my parents were the last ones to walk through the door. I remember it was dark out. My mom took me away from everyone in the kitchen and brought me into the living room. She sat down on the couch, looked me in the eyes and told me that my sister died.

I was so young. So many emotions came over me. I was broken because though I was young, I knew what death was. I knew I would never see my sister again. I was also upset because I convinced myself that she was coming home that night. I was so excited when my parents finally got there. But she wasn’t with them. I remember a couple of tears rolled down my face, my mom gave me a hug, and we walked back into the kitchen. The rest of the night was a blur.

My parents put a candle stick light in my sister’s bedroom window. It stayed on all day and night. I remember several nights not being able to sleep. I would get up and walk next door to her bedroom and stand there in the candle light and stare at the picture of her on her dresser. I had several dreams about her. Too many to count. And that went on for years. The following week after she passed, I sat in my sister’s bedroom with my mom as she went through all of her things. I had to decide if I wanted any of it, or if we were going to give it away. My mom let me move into my sisters bedroom at one point. For some reason that made me feel a little better. Not sure if it was comforting, or if time just started to heal the pain.

My dad and my brother had a hard time. My brother stayed in his bedroom a lot. I don’t remember seeing him much for a long time after her passing. With my dad, it was almost like he refused to believe that my sister was gone. That Christmas was quiet. My mom always video taped the kids opening theirs gifts, since my grandparents on my dad’s side had moved out of state, and always sent us gifts. It was weird. I came across the videos of us opening gifts each year, and once I got to the year that my sister died, it was heartbreaking. You could see the difference. See the change in everyone.

My school put me in counseling, since I was very young. I was never really willing to talk at that age, especially about personal things. And I mean, come on, how is a six year old supposed to express their feelings about death. They can’t. The years went on and my school continued to put me in counseling. I finally told my mom that I couldn’t do it anymore. So she took me out of it.

As the years went on, things got a little easier. My parents ended up building a barn and we got two horses. The horse that my mom and I rode was so sweet. He was a little older, so he was a little slower and very gentle. We then got chickens, and a stray cat had kittens in our barn. We had animals everywhere. I remember having many things to keep me occupied. The animals, bikes, the boat, snowmobiles, a 4 wheeler, skis/sleds/snowboards, you name it, we had it. Now that I sit here and write this, I realize how much all of these things were a distraction from our loss.

My brother is nine years older than me, and I still remember him leaving for college. Though we are several years apart, I felt like he was always there for me. He always looked out for me, and he was always so goofy, and always made me laugh. The morning that he left, my mom was taking me to my grandmother’s house before she went to work. I remember sitting in her car by myself for a second and I just sat there and cried. I was the only child left at home. I felt very lost.

The years continued and my parents slowly started selling all of our “distractions.” At this point, I was finally in middle school. I feel like that part of my life was great. It was almost like a fresh start. New people, a new building, new classes. I was in the band, yes, I played flute. And I even started playing volleyball and fell in love with it. I had a lot of fun in middle school. I was unfortunately only able to go there for my sixth and seventh grade year. While I was in sixth grade, my aunt and uncle moved to Tennessee. Right before my seventh grade year, my family came to visit them, and immediately fell in love with it. My parents started looking at houses and in the late winter they finally found one. We took a trip to Tennessee in March of that year to look at our soon to be new house. It was pretty cool because I remember my mom let me choose which room I wanted to be mine, and I got to pick one of the bedrooms with a bathroom in it.

As the months went on, I slowly started telling people that I was moving to Tennessee. I remember staying the night with my best friend a few months before moving and I kept telling her how much I didn’t want to leave. I kept questioning what my life was going to be like. What was I supposed to do without being able to see my best friend every weekend? I was also “dating” someone at this time. You know, dating in seventh grade was just like, talking to each other between classes and sitting together at lunch. I remember being so upset that I didn’t know how to tell him that I was just up and leaving soon. I think one of my friends actually ended up telling him for me, and that was pretty much it for our “relationship.”

The last day of school was rough. I cried pretty much the whole day. Toward the end of the day, me and a few friends had a chorus class together. We cried the whole time while trying to sing. Our chorus teacher finally stopped playing the piano and looked at us and said “What the heck is wrong with you guys today? Did someone die or something?” Haha, she was kind of hateful.

I remember my parents rented a moving truck, we loaded everything up, and we were gone. My brother was still in college at this point. Our house in New York was still on the market, so my brother often stayed there when he came home from college until it sold. He finally moved to Tennessee once he graduated.

The first year or so after we moved was extremely hard. We moved right after I finished my seventh grade year, so I spent that entire summer at home, by myself. I didn’t know anyone. Finally the school year rolled around, and I found out that I would be going to an elementary school for eighth grade. It was literally THE WORST. When I say it was bad, it was BAD. I went from having several periods a day in a multiple level school with lockers, to a single level school with no lockers, that still lined up for class. No foreign language, no home economics, no technology class. I couldn’t play volleyball, no chorus, no band. Nothing. felt like I was a small child again. It was an extremely hard adjustment.

Luckily I made a couple friends pretty quickly, which really helped, because I was just at a point where I didn’t even know who I was anymore. Toward the end of my eighth grade year, I met a guy through one of my friends. He lived at the same apartment complex as her grandmother, where we often spent a lot of time. He was three years older than us. Me being the idiot that I am, I got wrapped up in his “charm” and we started dating. He lived with his step dad who wasn’t really strict on him, so he pretty much came and went as he pleased. I however, was still very young, and was not allowed to do the things that he was.

He often went to parties and hung out with people his age more often than he spent time with me, which meant that he was cheating on me every chance he had. And again, I was an idiot, and even though I knew these things, I stayed with him. We argued a lot and our so called relationship was not good. But I still stayed. I dated him for about a year and a half. So I did spend an entire year with him while we were both in the same high school. It got to the point to where going to school and seeing him with a hickey on his neck was normal. I often had girls walk up to us in the hallway and ask me who I was in front of him, because they didn’t realize that he had a girlfriend. AND I STILL STAYED WITH HIM. I was SO STUPID. The mental toll that it took on me was immense.

I will never forget the day that I finally said fuck it, I have had enough. He called me one night while out with his friends. He was being extremely horrible. I hung up the phone because I was tired of listening to it, and I finally text him and told him that I was done. I refused to be treated like a piece of garbage anymore. I was only in ninth grade. What ninth grader should put up with that? Better yet, what person period should put up with that. I was so young. Our relationship was never going to be anything serious and I question why I wasted a year and a half on him.

The following years were much better for me. I was able to meet new people and make some new friends. I was able to focus on volleyball. I started playing volleyball as soon as I went into ninth grade. I actually started going to their practices the summer after eighth grade, so I ended up starting on varsity my freshman year.

Right before my junior prom, I met a guy through one of my other guy friends. He was also three years older than us, so he was already out of high school at this time. He was always that guy that you saw in the hallway when you were younger and you were like “Oh yeah, he is super cute, but he is too cool for me.” I was over the moon because he actually like me. We started dating and he ended up going to my junior prom with me. Things were great. I would go and see him after school and on the weekends, he would often come to my house, and he actually wanted to participate in family functions, unlike the last guy. Fast forward to my senior year- we were still together. This is where things started to go down hill.

I started spending so much time with him that I gave up on things that mattered. I stopped spending time with my friends and family (which he wouldn’t let me anyway), I stopped playing volleyball, and honestly gave up on school. The athletic director actually came up to me in the hallway one day and asked if I had just given up on sports. The day that I turned eighteen, he convinced me to come stay the night with him. I told him that my parents were asleep and I didn’t want to wake them up to tell them that I was leaving the house, and I felt like it would be rude to just up and leave without them knowing. I know I was eighteen, but I still lived in their house and that is just common courtesy. He argued with me for what felt like half the night until I finally gave in and knocked on my parents door, told my mom I was going to his house, and I headed over there. I was so mad at him that we started arguing the moment that I walked through his door. The argument escalated to the point of him pushing me down. I was so scared that I immediately started crying hysterically. He lived with his dad, so his dad heard me and came running into the bedroom. He made sure that I was okay, and pretty much told him that he needs to get his shit together and can’t be doing stuff like that.

That ended the fight and I started getting ready for bed. I had to wake up early for school the next morning. I called him as I was leaving the school that next afternoon and he told me to come back to his house. I had brought enough clothes over there to be able to stay again. I told my mom that I was going back to his house again. This continued for a week or so. My mom finally called me and asked me if I was coming home. I simply told her no, because he was standing with me, and I was worried what he would do if I said anything else. Toward the end of the school year, my grades had dropped drastically. One of my teachers actually called my mom and told her that I was going to fail if I didn’t start doing better, quick. My mom got in touch with our student counselor and he had both of us come in to talk with him.

Now, I will be honest. That was a wake up call. But I was stuck in this state where my boyfriend had broken me down so much, that I really didn’t care as much as I should have. Long story short, I cheated my way to better grades, and luckily ended up graduating.

Things got bad at his house after I graduated and we started spending a lot of time at my house. His dad and brother had gotten into drugs pretty bad and that was something that I did not want to be a part of. Over the summer, my mom tried convincing him to get his GED, since he never did graduate. He then decided that he wanted to go into the army.

As the summer went on, he never ended up doing any of the things that he said he was going to do. At this point he was twenty one years old with no job, no car, no education. Nothing. Toward the end of the summer, my mom pretty much told us that we had to get out of the house. If I was going to stay with him, we had to get our own place.

While I was at work, he got a hold of a family member to find out what apartments they used to live in, so that he could contact them and see if they had an opening. They owned a very old house right outside of town that was broken up into four separate apartments, all of which were vacant. We went and looked at the house, which honestly was not even livable, but we decided to rent it since we didn’t have any other options at that point.

My parents helped us move in right before fall. I started college shortly after. I was working full time all while taking eighteen credit hours. I took on too much. I worked second shift at a local BurgerKing every day just to turn around and wake up for my first class at eight. Now, that doesn’t sound too horrible, but I stayed exhausted because, well, he still did not have a car or a job. He also liked to stay up all hours of the night and would keep me awake with him. I started missing a few classes her and there. I quickly realized that I wasn’t going to pass any of my classes. I gave up. I quit going to college because of him.

He convinced me to marry him at our courthouse without anyone knowing. I continued to work full time, while he cheated on me with the neighbor that lived right next to our apartment. Once winter came, the apartment got very cold. The house was very old, did not have any heat, and not well insulated. The pipes ended up freezing and busted in the middle of the night one night. The water company came to shut it off and our landlord wanted us to pay for any damage that was done. This was not going to happen. So we lived there for a couple of days with no heat and no water. We finally decided that we were just going to pack up and move out. I found an apartment out in the country and we moved in as soon as we could.

This apartment costed a lot more than the first, so I was not able to pay for everything on my own. My boyfriend luckily went and got a job and our local Wal Mart. Things were fine, until he stopped wanting to go to work. We had to move out of that apartment shortly after he lost his job since I was not able to keep up with the bills. We pretty much lived on the streets. We slept on a different person’s couch every night.

My parents were going on vacation for a few days and let us stay at their house while they were gone. They had just finished remodeling their entire master bathroom. I will never forget waking up one day to hearing his phone ringing. I thought it was odd, because people usually just called my phone, since I was still on my parents family plan, and I was paying to put minutes on his phone. He was still asleep so I dug the phone out of his pants pocket on the floor and walked into my parents bathroom, away from him, and looked to see who it was. It was a random number. The number ended up texting him immediately after. The text message read “Hey, how are you doing?” I text back and asked who it was. It was a girl. Don’t remember the name. But I asked her if she had the right number. Her reply was “Yes, I am trying to talk to you, _____.” I won’t mention his name.

While I was trying to text back to see exactly who she was, he woke up and realized what was happening. I tried to shut and lock the door, so that I could find out exactly who she was without him taking the phone away. I knew he was cheating on the me whole time. I just needed proof. Now, I cannot even begin to express how terrified I was at this point. I was texting as fast as I could while he pounded on the door. Before I could send the text, he ended up breaking the door down. Completely split the door frame in half. I tried to hide the phone from him. He grabbed it from me and threw it on the ground and stomped on it, breaking it into several pieces. That was all the proof I needed right there. He knew he was caught. Not only was I irate that he just broke the phone that I bought for him and had been paying for, I just found out that he really was cheating this whole time. I began asking him who the hell that was as I tried to get around him, since he was blocking the doorway. He got mad, punched a hole in the newly remodeled wall, and came after me. I wrestled with him for a few minutes, trying to get away. I finally broke free and ran into the bedroom across the hall.

As I tried to turn around and shut that door, he was already right behind me. As I tried to jump away from him, he ended up grabbing me by my hair, and threw me to the ground. And I didn’t just hit the ground. This bedroom unfortunately had all of our furniture in it, since we had no where else to put it. I fell on top of several tables, chairs, etc. I gave up. I couldn’t physically fight anymore. I told him that I would forget about all of it, and I started getting ready for work.

That night I washed my hair and it literally burned because of how hard he had pulled my hair. The next day, I had to try to fix all of the damage to the house. I did the best that I could, by it was very obvious that the door frame was split, and very obvious that I patched a huge hole in the wall. When my parents got back, we were back on the streets again. My ribs and legs were bruised for weeks. It was summer and I could not wear shorts or a bathing suit.

My mom had text me and asked me what happened to the bathroom, and I know that I made up some ridiculous story. I don’t remember exactly what I told her, but she knew. She knew that he was abusing me.

My mom let us come back home under one condition, aside from wanting me to be safe. She told him that he would have to get a job. She also said that she would let him have their extra vehicle since no one drove it, as long as he paid for the insurance and gas. This never happened. One day I got onto him for being so useless and not doing what he had agreed on. This of course sparked an argument. I could see the rage in his eyes. I knew that I had to get away from him, so I began running down the hallway of my parents house. My cell phone was in the front pocket of my hoodie, and ended up falling out as I was running. He chased after me and cornered me in their kitchen. There was only one way in and one way out. And he was blocking it. He pushed me up against their refrigerator and choked me. As I struggled, he finally let me go. I ran toward the sliding glass door on the back of the house. As I made my way to it, I passed the house phone, so I grabbed it. I took off running into the yard as I dialed my mom’s cell number.

When my mom answered, all I said was “Mom, I can’t do this anymore.” She started crying and asked if I was okay. I told her that I was fine, but I had to get away from him. She got off of the phone and called my dad to let him know what was going on. My dad worked in town, so he decided that he was going to come home to help me. My mom called me back and told me that he was on his way, and if my piece of shit husband was still at the house, it was going to be very bad.

I told my mom that I was going to take him to his grandmother’s house in town. I calmly walked back into my parents house and told him that my parents knew that happened. He begged me to call them back and tell them that it wasn’t true. I simply told him that I was going to take him to his grandmother’s house so that my dad didn’t kill him whenever he got home, and that I would convince my parents that everything was okay while he was gone.

I dropped him off at his grandmother’s house and acted like everything was okay. I gave him a kiss and assured him that I would be back for him after I got off work. I knew that he wouldn’t let me leave if he even had the slightest idea that I was never coming back.

By the time I got back to my parent’s house, my dad and aunt were both sitting in the living room waiting on me. My dad looked at me and asked if I was okay. I told him that everything was going to be fine now. My husband didn’t have much of anything. I was able to pack up all of his things in one box. When I left to go to work, my mom and dad headed to his grandmother’s house to drop his box off. He was apparently not there. He had already found a ride from a friend, so that he could come sit at my work. My parents gave the box to his grandmother and simply told her that I was done.

He ended up showing up at my work. I still worked at BurgerKing at this time. He walked over to me and asked me for my car keys like nothing happened. I told him that I was not giving him my keys, and that I had work to do and walked away. He started raising his voice with me in front of everyone, so my manager told him that he had to leave. He knew someone that lived in the apartments behind my work, so he ended up walking over there and staying there for the rest of my shift. I remember I had to work until closing that night. My manager locked all of the doors and I sat with him until he was done with his paperwork. He made sure that my husband was no where to be found, and walked me out. He then followed me home, and made sure that I got into my house safely.

That night, one of his friends called me and stated that I needed to be careful, because my husband had called him and told him that he was trying to find a ride to my house. He was going to wait in the woods until my parents left for work in the morning, and then he was going to break into the house to get me. I was terrified. His friend and girlfriend decided that they were going to come pick me up and take me back to their house without him knowing.

I stayed the night there. I remember I couldn’t sleep at all. I didn’t have to work the next day, so they let me stay with them until my parents got out of work. I ended up riding to work with friends for several days so that he wouldn’t see my car anywhere. He text me from someone’s phone and asked me when I was coming back for him. I responded to him that I couldn’t be with him anymore, and that I was filing for a divorce. He flat out told me that he was not divorcing me.

He called me every single day from random people’s phones. He left me several voicemails crying, stating that he was going to kill himself if I didn’t talk to him. There was one day that I came home from work and there were flowers sitting on my car with a note from him. It was the scariest thing that I think I have ever had to deal with. I was terrified for my safety. My mom went with me to a lawyers office to file for a divorce, and we also went to file for an order of protection.

The day that my divorce was final was the happiest I had been in a long, long time. I ran out of the courtroom after the judge signed my papers in excitement. I was lucky enough to have met someone right around this time, who is now my husband, so things really started looking up for me. I started going back to school and I built back my relationship with my family.

I married my husband in the fall of 2016, when we had just learned that we were having a baby boy. This was a turning point in my life. I had finished school and had a good job, I was now married to someone who truly cared about me, and I was going to be a mother. Things that I never thought would happen after the way that I had been living my life for several years prior.

A few months after giving birth to my second son, my dad passed away unexpectedly. We were completely blindsided. I always knew that my dad would go before my mom, but not that soon. My dad was employed by Ilmor and worked as a traveling customer service representative. Once a week he actually worked at MasterCraft, usually test driving boats. Three weeks before he passed, him and another employee were test driving a boat, which resulted in an accident. I guess when they hit a wake, my dad got thrown pretty hard. As the days went on, he began to have neck pain and head aches. That following weekend, which was Memorial Day weekend, it had gotten so debilitating that he decided to have my mom take him to the ER.

His blood pressure was through the roof. He was told that is was due to the pain from whiplash that he sustained in the accident, which in turn was causing the head aches. He was given blood pressure medication, and something for the pain, and was released that day. My family was supposed to have a Memorial Day party that same afternoon. My mom decided that she was still going to have it. My dad ended up resting the rest of the day. I only saw him once. He came outside and said hi to everyone, and immediately had to go lay back down.

My brother didn’t handle the situation well. Ever since my sister died, I think he feels like our lives don’t matter. We live to die. He made several odd comments about my dad’s situation that night. The pressure from handling the party by herself, and my brother acting out, got to be too much for my mom, and she ended up breaking down that night. I assured her that everything was going to be fine. Dad was going to recover and my brother was just being, well, my brother.

The next few days were tough. My dad felt so horrible, he laid in the recliner in their bedroom, and that was all he did. He didn’t want my mom to go to work because he was worried that something was going to happen to him. I stopped by one evening with the boys to check in on everything. My oldest son knew something was wrong with my dad and didn’t even want to enter the bedroom. It is crazy how kids can sense things like that. He was only two at the time.

As the days went on, he slowly recovered. I stopped by again, and he was actually sitting on the couch in the living room and not in the recliner in the bedroom. He told me how he felt so much better, and how horrible he felt for several days prior. I told him I knew that he must have felt pretty bad. My dad was a very strong man, and going to the ER is not something that he would do for no reason. I was happy to see him up and moving around again.

The Friday before Father’s Day, my aunt had me working on a gift for my uncle. My husband was busy that night, I don’t remember exactly where he was. My mom and dad watched the boys for me so that I could work on the gift. I finished it late that night and they brought the boys back home. My husband still wasn’t home yet. My dad sat in the chair across from me. I had YouTube playing on the surround sound in the living room while I was working on the project, so I left the music playing when they got to my house. My dad and I talked about the band that was playing. It was actually Ten Years. I was telling him how they are from Knoxville.

I was drinking a bottle of Yuengling and I asked him if he wanted one. I really wanted him to drink a beer with me. He said that he was going to go home and drink an “adult beverage” when he got there. Every time I think back to that moment, I wants to slap myself in the face. Something in me told me to say “No dad, I really want you to sit here and drink a beer with me.” And I didn’t. I never have feelings like that. Ever. Why didn’t I listen to myself? Because shortly after, they left. And that was the last time I saw my dad alive.

The next morning I was getting ready to go to work. I was working at a finance company. I was supposed to be the manager working that Saturday. I was supposed to be there that morning to open. As I was putting my makeup on, I apparently missed a call from my mom. My phone was in another room. My husband was asleep up until that point. While I was still getting ready, I heard him say “What? Who? Your dad?” He sounded serious. I walked into the bedroom and at that moment I could hear my mom’s voice yell through the phone “No, Dave!” (My dad).

He jumped out of bed. I don’t even remember what he said at that point. All I remember was asking him what the hell was going on. I started crying because I knew it wasn’t good. My mom sounded hysterical and I wasn’t even on the phone with her. He told me that my dad wasn’t breathing. I panicked. I got on the phone with my mom while my husband called my boss. I asked my mom what happened. She told me that I didn’t want to know. I assured her that she needed to tell me.

She went over what happened that morning. My dad had pretty much lost consciousness. He passed out in their bedroom. My mom tried CPR for what felt like a lifetime she said. When an EMT had finally arrived, my dad had went a pretty long time without oxygen. The EMT called for help and several more EMTs arrived.

They took my dad into the ambulance and worked on him for a while. While I was on the phone with my mom, my dad’s friend who he knew from the fire hall showed up. He got on the phone and I asked him how it was looking. His only response was “Like you think.” I could hear my mom asking everyone in the background if my dad was okay and crying hysterically. I could hear her saying “No! No! No! I need him!”

I woke my boys up and we hopped in the car. The ambulance left with my dad and his friend stayed with my mom. We headed across town to pick her up. I feel like we rode in almost complete silence on the way to the hospital. It was almost like the three of us knew he was gone.

My husband dropped my mom and I off at the entrance of the hospital. My aunt came in right behind us and so did my grandparents. They called my mom back a few minutes after we got there. I felt lost. My husband still hadn’t come in yet. The rest of my family stood around anxiously. Then they called me back. I remember when they said “Baker?” I yelled out “YES!” And I ran through the doors. Me, again being the idiot that I am thought that I was going back to see my dad.

But no. They put me in a small room in the hallway where my mom was already sitting. Just like with my sister, I got so excited for the wrong reason. I asked my mom what the hell we were doing in there. Her response was “I know what this means, Cait. I have done this before.”

I feel like we sat in that room for an eternity. A nurse finally came in to talk to us. She pretty much told us that they had done everything that they possibly could. My mom cried and said that she needed him. The nurse told us that she was going to check on him again and see how he was doing at that point, knowing that he was already gone, but she wanted to ease the pain a little.

A few minutes later, she came back in, and I will never forget the words that came out of her mouth. She sat down and said “He passed.” I remember I yelled “FUCK” and started crying with my mom. She told us to give them a few minutes to unhook him from everything, and then we would be able to go back and see him.

Another nurse came to get us. She was very sweet. She walked slowly with us, being extremely patient. The whole time we walking down that hallway, I just kept saying “I don’t wanna, I don’t wanna.” They had my dad behind a curtain right inside of the door where the EMTs had brought him in from the ambulance. The curtain was open just enough for me to be able to see him laying there. My mom kept walking and started crying. But I froze. I started crying and I said “I can’t do this.” My mom told me that I didn’t have to come in if I didn’t want to. But I made myself. I knew that I would regret it if I didn’t. I slowly walked in and I lost it.

I sat down beside my dad and held his hand. He was already cold and gray. I cried so hard I could barely breathe. My head felt like it was going to explode. There were so many things running through my head. I was in shock. I was upset. I was confused. Was this really happening?

My mom being the level headed one said that she was going to get the rest of the family. By this time my aunt and uncle had showed up too. Another friend of my dad’s came to the hospital and him and his son watched the boys so that my husband could come back also. The family started pouring in. Everyone started crying. One after another. I still sat there holding my dad’s hand.

I never let my dad go. The family started to leave and head back to my parents house. I still sat there. My mom finally had to tell me that it was time to go. I didn’t want to leave my dad. I will never see him again. I can’t just walk away. I wanted to sit there with him forever.

The family stayed at my parent’s house for the following week. Again, family came in from out of state. After that week, a lot of the summer was a blur. I think once the shock wore off, and reality began to set in, it started to break me down. As time went on, and the winter came, I had an extremely hard time.

I struggled with my mental health from there on. All of the holidays without him, all of the changes. It was hard. And then the day finally came. It was a year later. It sucked, don’t get me wrong, but it was almost like a weight lifted off of me. I didn’t have to dread all of the “firsts” without him anymore. They were finally in the past.

I didn’t sit here today to go over all of the shitty things that I have experienced in my life. I didn’t do it for any kind of pity. I did it to show what I have went through. And to show you that I am still here. I am older and I am stronger.

Losing loved ones, especially my dad, has really taught me a lot about life. You can’t take the time that you have on this earth for granted. I always believed that everything happens for a reason. But, it really doesn’t. Things happen because that is just part of life.

And though I was stupid and put myself in horrible situations, and let myself get hurt by people in my past, I have grown from it. Everything that I have experienced in my life has made me who I am today. All of the changes in my life have given me experience.

My therapist once said to me:

You have been through a lot at such a young age already. But now you have experience. You know how to cope with things. So when this happens again, you will know how to handle it. Imagine a person twice your age who has never experienced anything that you have. How do you think that they are going to handle it when all of these bad things start a domino affect?

I would not be the same person that I am today if I hadn’t been through all of the changes in my life. The more things that we experience, the more we learn. The more we grow. Everything that happens in life is a lesson. We learn from it and prepare for the next.

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