July 13, 1975
When I walked in, it smothered me. An aura. A wet woolen blanket of despair. Like a house where they have been burning railroad ties in the woodstove all winter. An onerous creosote stench that the breezy, open windows of spring will never remove. I wasn’t expecting anything out of the ordinary. Just another day. Another day of youthful exuberance and innocence in a long string of such unemcumbered days. I was 17, and it was all about me. That was about to change.
I have a friend. My best friend. One I don’t see much anymore, but still my bedrock. We can literally go years, and immediately upon re-connecting, pick up exactly where we were. That special connection never ceases to amaze me. No awkwardness, no pregnant pauses in conversation, just instantaneous revival of perfect comfort. Like how your high school letterman’s jacket would feel if you never gained weight, forever 185 well proportioned pounds. The feel of leather on your arms, the pride in that big W with the shiny stuff pinned to it. Familiar and safe. Comfort you can trust.
The same with his family. They were my family too. I love his Mother as my own. And my Mother was his as well. His older brothers looked out for me, and his older sisters teased me. And his little sister, the most beautiful little 4 year old you ever laid eyes on, was the apple of all our eyes. Kimmy was a late in life surprise. A blessing, a glue that united all of us. When everyone is doting on the same little angel, there’s not much time to worry about stupid little trivial conflicts between other family members. Her beautiful glow, warmed the entire family. I loved her.
I have a little sister, but then I had two. Blood was not a familial qualifier. I have this memory of Kimmy on my shoulders, me playing big brother, the almost out of control steed. I can hear her squeals and giggles still.
And then I am back walking into that smothering kitchen. I knew something was wrong instantly. Being my second home, you knock with one hand while turning the door knob with the other. I went right in. All the women were around the kitchen table. Quiet, something not right. The coffeepot was there, hot, perking, the only normal thing in the room. This had been a kitchen of light and joy, smelling of homecooking and safety. Until then. Somebody, I don’t remember who, mumbled that Tommy was in the basement. I went down. I knew the way. I practically lived there most of the time. Tommy was face down on his bed, motionless, unresponsive when I said, “Hey, man.” It took at least an hour to get the story out.
At first he muttered, “Kimmy.” Then he sobbed uncontrollably, while I began to feel nauseous. My lingering premonitions from the kitchen were played out in a word or two every five minutes or so. Even though I didn’t know what the hell was up, I knew that it was bad. I sat, and waited, and listened. I’m not lying about it taking an hour. “Kimmy,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,was playing,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,and Dad,,,,,,,he backed up,,,,,,,,,and,,,,,,,,,,she was there,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,on her big wheel,,,,,,,,,,and she’s dead." There is no way to prepare for those words, “…she’s dead.” I have never in my 52 years been kicked that hard. I’m crying on my keyboard at this moment. Devastation is an understatement.
I had arrived only an hour after the ambulance had taken her. It was to be my future Mother-in-Law’s last time on the volunteer ambulance. A run in the ambulance she couldn't get over. It was too much. Kimmy wasn’t just loved by her family. Her death tore a huge gaping wound in the whole community. Kimmy’s Dad was utterly destroyed. He was a prominent, well-respected businessman and community leader in our small North Eastern Nevada town. I know for a fact he seriously contemplated suicide. Who wouldn’t. The fact that he bore that pain without surrendering to his demons, speaks volumes about his character. He drank more, but I don’t begrudge him that. Self medicating to survive. It was an accident. But an accident that forever changed his family. And he nutted up and lived on to provide for that family. He didn’t heap a second helping of tragedy on those he loved. Kimmy’s death also cemented my brotherhood with Tommy, for life.
I didn’t leave him for weeks. I had just graduated from high school and was leaving for college in a few months. Tommy was a year behind me and I worried about not being there. I felt like I had to buck him up, not let him drop back down into the abyss of hell we were desperately trying to climb out of. It was hard to act normal and just go on living. We tried. At times it worked, at times we failed. Others, less emotionally invested, moved on more easily. I remember long somber silences, excruciating pain, communicated with merely eye contact. A simple meeting of the eyes spoke louder than words. Words that fell short of expressing how bad we missed her. How bad we hurt. How pissed we were. There was anger, I can’t lie. “How in the FUCK could God let this happen. How in the Fuck could…………….”, on and on. I was much older, with many years of waters from the fountain of wisdom under the bridge when I actually understood that anger. Anger releases emotion. We were all desperate for the emotional holocaust to subside. Anger was just a pressure relief valve. For some, that surplus emotional energy was aimed at Tommy’s Dad. I’m not going to pass judgement on any who lived it, and survived it, because even the misplaced anger came from a place of love for Kimmy. But I can say that Tommy and I never quit loving his Dad.
I did go away to college, and like Tommy, eventually married a good gal who would put up with me and we raised a family. I have a wife and 2 boys, and Tommy has a wife and 2 boys. But no matter how we explain it, or recount the sheer misery of it, none of those who we love that didn't live those days with us, will ever be able to understand how we survived that horrible time together. The sheer emotional intensity of those times fused our souls. I don’t know how else to better describe it. Fused souls don’t come undone. And my idea of a soul, is that each human soul is individual, unique, and eternal. Which gives me hope, that someday, someway, somehow, once again Kimmy will ride the shoulders of her almost out of control steed and squeal and giggle in my ears.