All the things I still remember
Summers never looked the same
Years go by and time just seems to fly
but the memories remain…
Today is Mike’s Day.
They say that grief follows you, a constant familiar whisper that becomes your traveling companion as your life journey unfolds.
I used to be embarrassed for remembering. 19 years is a long time. But that’s the thing about grief. It isn’t just the sad parts, it’s the fullness in your heart that comes when the memories flood back in. Remembering is like watching the ocean swells…knowing that even though the tides are out as far as they can reach, that they will come rushing back in to greet you if you only wait long enough.
You must re-introduce yourself to grief, as you walk through the different stages of your life. At 15, grief was fresh and raw. It made me question God, and battle doubt and fear. Grief sharpened my vision, making friendships more clear and illuminating the amazing kindness in those that I had been close to…but not close like this. Not until that day. Brooke, Sefe, Tori, Brianna. We were children, really. Children fending off news reporters and cameras and railing against a world that had come rushing in too abruptly.
I had to re-examine my thoughts on grief at 18, as I went away to a college where no one knew Mike’s story. On the outside I looked like everyone else, but I felt jaded and angry. The people that I had met because of Mike were gone. Jon, Amy, Michael. I carried bits and pieces of that old life and protected them fiercely….until new beginnings lifted me up and proved to me that I was whole and perfect, in spite of where I began.
At 22 I was overwhelmed by the reality of Mike’s story, as I worked with children who were saddled with labels like “juvenile offender”, “Oppositional Defiance” and “violent perpetrator”. I saw the beauty in their wounds, the longing in their spirits, the perfection in their smiles. I fell in love with them as they healed and grew stronger, and it made me question everything I had believed in. Was this how the boys who killed Mike began? Did they have no one to love them? And while I do not believe in forgiveness, I do believe in taking what you know now, and using it for good.
At 31 I became a mother, and I began to think about Mike with a “Mama’s heart”. No longer a teenaged girl watching the gorgeous chiseled cheekbones of a boy who could command the attention of every.single.girl on the cheerleading squad (not even kidding, when the grief counselors came to our high school, they actually commented on the fact that not one, but two or THREE of us cheerleaders had come in to speak with them and introduced ourselves with “Hi, I’m ___ and Mike and I used to date.) And while stumbling across a picture of him now I still find my breath catching in my throat because he was so damn beautiful, and so phenomenally alive I also am struck by the fact that he was someone’s CHILD. Mike had a mother. And Mike had a foster Dad. And Mike had siblings who he adored. Mike had a mama, like I am Max’s mama, and she didn’t get to say goodbye to him. Mike had a foster Dad who came to pick him up from school that day, but he was already gone. As a MOTHER, that is unimaginable to me. That is bigger and stronger and so much more powerful than any loss that I ever thought I could feel.
There is so much that I’ve said and written about Mike. I realized today that I never posted what I had written last year…..
18 years ago this afternoon, I stood at the crossroads of innocence and real life. I stood with hundreds of others, mostly children, though we considered ourselves to be much more. The solidarity forged during a trauma can last a lifetime. I am awestruck today by the emails and Facebook messages exchanged with old friends who stared into the depths of sadness with me that day. I sit quietly in bed while Max naps and let the ocean breeze wash through my memories of what being 15 felt like on that day. And I read the sweet thoughts of friends like Brooke and Sefe, and they mingle with my new reality of being a grown-up looking back. I have a family of my own, and a little boy who will grow up knowing that strength can lie quietly in your soul, waiting to be called upon in times of darkest sorrow.
What’s amazing is that when I look back, I am haunted by how grown-up we all seemed. Perhaps it’s my new paradigm of being a parent, and how I feel like I’ve crossed the threshold of responsibility. But on THAT day, we had to take care of ourselves. I remember Sefe calling me from the hospital to tell me that Mike was gone. I already knew. But the thought of a CHILD calling another CHILD to tell them that an adored friend, who was also no more than a CHILD had died, takes my breath away. Even today. It reminds me of how much I love them. Even today.
I’ve been searching for what could be different about today. THIS day. Mike’s day. Mike’s life changed mine. The undercurrent of change can be found in all of us who were there that day, and yet, at 33 I find that my understanding of what happened is still cloudy in all of the ways that it was supposed to be. Before cell phones, and Internet. Before texting and Facebook. We climbed to the top of Kate Sessions park and walked along the path that overlooks the bay. We talked about it there, in private. We cried about it alone, and together. So perhaps I worry that posting it here breaks that code of silence that children use to protect eachother. I hope not. Because this is in fact a love letter. To Sefe. To Brooke. To Tori. To my Mom. To Mike’s Mom. To all of them. But especially to Mike. And I know he would be proud of us. He would be proud of us you guys. I know he would.
Yeah we knew we had to leave this town
But we never knew when and we never knew how….