Letters to Chris. July 20th. Day 102

Hey Buddy,

I’m back home in Colorado, after spending an amazing three weeks at home in Jeff. I’m sorry I didn’t write earlier…Just sometimes it takes so much for me to sit down and type out my thoughts. I know it’s good for me and helps me process. But it takes too much out of me.  I’ll often feel fine when I start to write, but by the end I can’t even breathe. So I’ve been procrastinating. I figured it was good to have a couple days to settle back in at home. I’d been planning to write this evening, but Clay just texted me about one of my favorite singers who took his life this morning. I’m sure you’re familiar with the lead singer of Linkin Park, Chester Bennington. Apparently, he was good friends with Chris Cornell. Chester had six kids. And an incredible voice. I just can’t wrap my mind around it. Another one?? Another one. F*cking suicide…it rarely stops at just one. So often following a suicide, a loved one will take his life, too. It creates this domino effect. It really f*cks with my head.

When does it end?

So I needed to sit down and write. Get my thoughts out…tell you what I’m thinking. It’s hard to put it on paper (or computer. You know what I mean). Emotions are complex, and so many times it’s hard for me to even know what I’m feeling. I’m just like this giant ball of emotions right now. I have been the past three and a half months. There were so many coming back to Jeff City, and again so many flying back to Colorado. Coming back wasn’t as hard as it was the first time, after I spent two weeks with our parents the week after you died. I was actually ready to get back into my routine, see Clay, spend time with my puppies. What I didn’t expect was how hard it was to see your stuff in my living room when I walked in. Mom had sent a bunch of things with Clay when he drove back; some things I had picked out, others she thought I’d like. I have your dress blues, your hats, some more clothing, your coffee pot, your toaster and mixer that Katrina bought you….your firefighter blanket. Your dress blues were hanging up on our lamp in the living room, and the second I saw them I started to cry. It was all wrong. No. Your stuff shouldn’t be here. I shouldn’t have it. It shouldn’t be in my apartment. All your belongings should be in your apartment. Clay said he wasn’t surprised by my reaction. I surely was. I don’t have the racking sobs as much anymore, so my cries don’t last as long, and I was able to pick myself up faster this time. I just needed a few minutes. But I couldn’t just have it all sitting out in the open. It was too much. So yesterday I spent all day cleaning and putting things away. They needed to have their own place. It took six hours, and our apartment is small but luckily I was able to find a home for everything. Then last night I did research about how to preserve your uniform. That upset me again. Because, again, I shouldn’t be researching that. But I think I found someone who can help me. I want to hang it, but it looks like it needs to be under tinted glass to protect it from light. I need it to be safe.

It’s crazy to think I’ve spent over a month at home this year so far, which is the most time I’ve spent there since college (remember how I’d come home during summer and winter breaks? I miss those days…everything was so simple). Even though it was tough at times, I can’t tell you how awesome it was to spend so much time at home. My favorite time of day has always been evening, sitting on the patio, listening to the cicadas and watching the hummingbirds, then as it darkens watching the lightning bugs. I forget how much I miss that. Mom, Dad and I would sit out there, chatting, listening to the sounds of summer and enjoying the weather (when it was cool enough to enjoy, anyway). That is home to me. The cicadas. The gorgeous sunsets over the lake. The hummingbirds. Dad eating his tortillas with his Jack and diet coke. Watching Mom’s shows (she’s watching Doogie Howser right now, which I had always thought was a western for some reason), taking the dogs on walks around the neighborhood, family dinners. Nothing calms me more. Days were good. Nights were always the hardest. I would spend time with your ashes in my old bedroom. I told you that I normally don’t look at them like they are you, but sometimes it just hits me and I can’t breathe. Just like your stuff shouldn’t be in my apartment, your lanky, six foot frame shouldn’t be in a little box. But I’m glad you’re there. I love the fact that you’re home. But one night was especially rough. We were watching home videos all night with Katrina (she had come to visit), and it was impossible to wrap my mind around the fact that the little boy in the videos was now ashes. That sweet, albeit pain-in-the-ass little boy, who loved playing dress up in the most random of get-ups, sodas (and called root beer his “beer”), legos, Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, whose favorite books were The Berenstein Bears and loved to have his dad read to him all night, who adored all things firefighting, woodworking and cowboys, who would drive his sisters and mom crazy with his crazy restless energy. It made no sense. So I held you in my lap and cried. Then I heard Katrina crying in her room. So I put you back on your old dresser and went to hug her. That’s basically how every night went. Us consoling each other, talking about how much we miss you, how some days we aren’t sure how to keep going. I know you were in that room with us each night as we held each other.

You know what’s weird? We feel like we’ve known Katrina for years. Maybe it’s because we’ve talked so much, but I think there’s more to it. When you go through something like this together, it bonds you in a way nothing else can. When I picked her up from the KC airport, it felt like I was picking up an old friend. I showed her around my old stomping grounds in KC. We went to my old favorite coffee shop that was by my old apartment (you weren’t ever able to come visit there, but you would have loved it), then walked around the farmer’s market in the Rivermarket. We drank coffee, ate macaroons (I took her to Bloom Bakery…yummm), visited the spices shop and the Italian market..it was so fun! We talked the entire way back to Jeff, and when we got home she told Mom and Dad she had talked my ear off, which Dad quipped was super impressive (shut up, Dad!). I can see why you’d always tell her she reminded you of me…we are so similar, especially when it comes to how much we talk! That Sunday we visited Nikea at the Lake, where we hiked Ha Ha Tonka and even did the stairs of doom (the stairs leading to this pretty lagoon number in the 300s), did a little shopping and then went to lunch. Another day we visited the Capital with Dad (I hadn’t been since Nikea and I were little) then walked around downtown Jeff. It was fun spending so much time with her. It was emotional, but healing on both sides I think.

One night we watched hours of home videos. I couldn’t find the one from summer where you were balancing on the huge floatie (one of my favorites), but there were so many awesome memories in the tapes I did find. Bull Shoals, when you were riding the inner tube behind the pontoon but was sooo not enjoying it. You looked in pain the entire time! The video of you playing your guitar on front porch. I’ve remembered it wrong…it wasn’t a blade of grass between your teeth; it was your old bubble pipe! You and Nikea playing with super soakers, running all around the yard trying to get a good shot at each other. You crashing Nikea’s 13th birthday party with all her friends, dancing to pop music then terrorizing her as she unwrapped presents (prompting her to call you a “little brat”). You dressing up in the most interesting outfits, like the one with an Indiana Jones hat and your dad’s boots that were easily 10 sizes too big. At Tan Tar A, building forts in your room, sitting on Dad’s lap as you wrestled around, feeding the fish, playing in the pool, listening to Dad as he read you a book before bed. God you were so precious. You were literally beautiful your entire life. I was again reminded of this as I scanned all your photos (remember that tub of thousands of photos? That was my project while visiting. And I actually finished). You were a beautiful baby, a beautiful toddler, a beautiful kid, a somewhat awkward but still beautiful teenager, and a beautiful adult. And always the skinniest, albeit strong, thing. You were always able to eat so much and not gain any weight. The simple fact that we were able to laugh at these videos is such a major victory. I don’t think I could have even watched them a couple months ago, much less without losing it.

So I’m sure you’ve noticed we are all doing “better.” I put it in quotations, because “better” is still not good. Your loss is still there. I know it always will be. Mom’s health has suffered from it. But what else can you expect from someone who has lost a son? It’s just so damn all-encompassing right now. It’s still there, no matter what we do. Mom reminds me that it hasn’t even been four months. I know that. I still struggle with letting you down. It eats away at me. I’ll feel good for hours, where I really believe I’ll be okay and that maybe life will actually go on, forever changed, but go on nonetheless. Then all of a sudden I’ll feel like I’ve been punched in the gut and unable to breathe through the pain. Part of me really believes I could have saved you, if you had let me. I told you this, during a particularly difficult night (I talk to you so much I’m sure someone who overheard me would think I’m losing my mind), and the next day when we went to see Laurel, Mom’s counselor, she told me point blank I couldn’t have saved you, that I didn’t have that power. Maybe she just knew that’s what I was thinking, but I hadn’t said anything to her about it. So I think that was you reminding me. “Sis, you couldn’t save me. No one could have saved me. I wanted to go.” Perhaps. But this is something that I’m probably always going to deal with. I think often about what I would say to you, if I woke up and all this was a horrible dream. I would call you and tell you about how I had this f*cking terrible dream that seemed to go on forever, that you died and it was horrible and then beg you to never, ever EVER hurt yourself because it would destroy me. Then I’d schedule a flight to come see you, and spend every day thanking God that it was just a dream.

But that’s never going to happen. And it’s just too painful to spend too much time thinking about, because no amount of prayer or dreaming can bring you back. So I spend more time thinking about what I’d say to you if you were sitting here right now:

Chris, I love you. And I’m so so sorry for everything. I’m sorry I didn’t call you that often, or text, or comment on your posts. I’m sorry for letting you down. I’m sorry I wasn’t there when you needed me. I’m sorry I didn’t come home when you came home. That will haunt me the rest of my life. I’m sorry I was so absorbed in my own stuff I didn’t ask you about yours. I’m sorry that you hurt, that you felt there was no way out. Don’t you understand what I would have given to keep you? To make you happy? That’s all I ever wanted, was for you and our birth mom to be happy. I always saw that sadness in you. And it always broke me. I would have given anything, everything, to save you. To make you see how worthy, how wonderful, you were. I need you to know how much I’ve always loved you. Always. Your entire life. My entire life. Starting from the second Mom told me she was pregnant. And not just because you are my brother. But because you had such a good heart. A good, beautiful heart. And you were so worthy of love. And I’m so proud of you, for everything. You were everything to me. And even though you weren’t here for nearly as long as I needed you, I’m so grateful you are my brother. I’m so grateful I knew you, loved you, laughed with you, cried with you. Please, please forgive me for all the mistakes I made as your sister. You deserved the best big sisters out there, and we love you. We miss you. 

Love you, Bud,

Jenn

 

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