Letters to Chris. August 7th. Day 128

Hey Buddy,

Bet you can’t guess where I am. Well, you probably can. Back at Starbucks. And guess what? DAD’S IN TOWN! Since he has meetings here, we just drove together from Jefferson City yesterday. Perfect timing, eh? It had been years since we had gone on a multi-state drive! He works all day today but is staying an extra day and a half to hang out. I’m so excited.

I flew back to Missouri last Tuesday morning. And when I say morning, I mean MORNING. We had to leave for the airport at 3:45 am because someone thought it was a good idea to book her flight at 5:20. I seriously thought I was going to miss my plane because security was so backed up. Which wouldn’t have been a huge deal, except that Dad was driving to KC to pick me up, and definitely wouldn’t have been very happy if I’d called him saying I was still in Denver. Luckily I got to my plane right when they were boarding. Talk about stressful.

I won’t be booking flights that early again.

But holy crap it was awesome to be home. AGAIN. And Tan Tara A. Our last visit there. Twenty-plus years of coming here with family came to an end. It was fun, albeit bittersweet, aside from one major glaring detail. You weren’t there. I can’t remember being there without you. At least, not for the last however many years. I watched some home videos before we left. I actually found a TON more. I was so excited. I’ll get more into them later, but I will tell you that I watched a few from Tan Tar A. You were, of course, swimming in the outdoor pool. I was camcording while sunbathing on a lounge chair watching you, Nikea, Bethany and Sheldon splash around (yes, this was years ago before I worried about aging skin. Sigh). You jumped out of the water, ran up to where I was laying, grabbed your sandals and slipped them over your hands, and jumped back in the water. I kept asking what you were doing, but you wouldn’t answer. Apparently, you just wanted something to splash Sheldon a little better. Such a goober. Mom and I went for a walk our last morning there and we walked around the pool. I could see exactly where you jumped in, exactly where I was laying…That was weird.

You know, it was hard being there. But I did okay. Wind Rose was hard. That was really f*cking difficult, actually. We sat at the table we used a few years back, when you brought your other friend along (I can’t remember his name). Nikea actually sat in the exact seat you were in. That table was right by the one we sat at last time we were all there together.

190Chris (left) and his friend (I wish I could remember his name). He absolutely loved Wind Rose and Tan Tar A. You can see how happy he is.

There was one point, before giving the waitress our orders, where I felt I needed to run away. I sat fighting the tears, and luckily won. Sometimes they have minds of their own and I’m at their mercy. Mom confided after that she didn’t want to be there. I could tell she was so sad. She wasn’t very talkative and didn’t laugh as much as she has previous years. I told her I was so glad she was there, regardless. I couldn’t have done it without her, Nikea or Dad.

Me and Chris-299
And another pic at Wind Rose from another night that trip. Always such a goofball.

The following morning I went for a run. I went down to the dock by Wind Rose where I took one of my favorite photos of you. The one where you are laying on your belly to get a close look at the carp. I said your name and you looked up at me through your shaggy hair. You look so young, so carefree and innocent in this picture. Standing there, placing my hand where yours was…that was surreal. Twelve years had passed since I took that picture but it felt like it could have been yesterday. Time is funny like that. It honestly felt like you just couldn’t make it this year, that you’re in Minnesota working. I want it to always feel like that. Like you’re still here, just working. Busy. I don’t want to accept your death. I want it to always feel like I had just taken a picture I’m looking at the day before.

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It was probably even harder for Mom. She started crying as we ate at Black Bear. So we went outside in the warmth (the restaurant was freezing) with our teas and talked about you. About how you should be there. How much we miss you. It’s just this sadness that follows us everywhere. No matter what we are doing. It’s something neither of us can compartmentalize. I can’t put it in another little drawer while I’m doing something else. It leaks into everything. That void you left. Even Tan Tar A, one of our favorite places in the world. It’s not a bad thing…you deserve to be cried over every day.

You know Dad’s meeting where they present the golf prizes? They had that on a boat this year. You would have loved it. It was actually super fun. They had BBQ, and lucky for me had quite an extensive gluten-free menu. Yay. I had half a martini and got tipsy. Yay again. When Dad gave away the prizes, I walked upstairs to watch. I’ve always felt that was him in his element, in the front of a big group. It’s always been a source of pride for all of us. I’m really going to miss it. Mom and I sat outside the boat and enjoyed the sound of the waves and the cool breeze. We talked about you, and how they may move down there to the Lake. They aren’t sure yet. Just in the preliminary stages of talking. But how crazy would that be? I guess, at the end of the day, I just want Mom and Dad to be happy. If that means moving to a smaller house on a lake, Nikea and I will support it. We’ve been lucky to have had our Jefferson City home our entire lives. It will just be hard letting go of a home with so many memories. The one where you grew up.

Which brings me back to our home videos. I had been cleaning and organizing the storage room downstairs and found our old camcorder with dozens upon dozens of 8mm tapes. We were able to connect the camcorder to the TV and stream these videos. There are so many. There’s one from 1994 of you as a toddler. It was Christmas Eve, and you and Bethany were covering your faces with stickers. God, you were such a beautiful baby. It made me ache, but I’m so grateful for that video. So grateful. We also have ones of you playing basketball, where you’d hang back because you weren’t quite sure how you felt about the game. Several videos of school awards as well as your fifth-grade graduation, which I remember like it was yesterday. A funny one where you were singing with your fifth grade class but didn’t really know the words (but you knew the actions)! One where Mom and I woke you up with Toby and Esther (remember Esther, Toby’s puppy that we found a home for after her previous owner kept neglecting her?). You were so tired that morning and watched sleepily in your red bunk bed as the dogs wrestled on your floor. You were so cute when you were sleepy and your eyes were all puffy.

I guess I should also tell you that I went to my first suicide survivor meeting. It’s hard to describe how I felt. Extremely vulnerable. A bit out of place but also relieved to be around others who know exactly how I feel. Most of us (there were about 12 people) were first-timers. So at the beginning we went around and introduced ourselves, saying who we were there for, how they died, the day they died, their age and how they died. Saying that out loud was the hardest thing I’ve done. Katrina had told me about her first meeting and how she couldn’t say anything. I completely understand why now. I got it out, but I’m honestly not sure how.

“My name is Jennifer. I’m here for my brother, Chris. He died April 8. He was 25. Gunshot to the head.”

How can anyone say those words out loud? It forces you to confront what happened, to acknowledge that your brother is no longer alive. But it was good. I can’t say I felt good when I left, but maybe a glimmer of hope. These people had gone through exactly what I was going through, and they were all still here. I can’t say I’ve ever been grateful for what happened. How can I? But after hearing about how some of the other loved ones had ended their lives, I was grateful that your way was quick. What a weird thing to be thankful for. But perhaps the only worse thing than losing a brother to a painless suicide is losing a brother to a painful suicide.

That’s something, I guess.

The floor was opened up to ask questions to the attendees who had lost loved ones years back. So I asked about the guilt. How do I deal with this relentless guilt that plagues me day and night? A woman who had lost her brother a few years back answered, and her response has stayed with me:

“If you look at the definition of guilt, it’s all about intention. None of us ever intended to bring harm to our loved one. The thing that I want you to know,  that has helped me the most is this: you will never know all the things you did to help keep your brother here longer.”

I don’t know if that’s true…if I did anything that had kept you here longer. I don’t know. Because right now I’m still focused on all the ways I let you down. Not calling, not texting that often, being so focused on my own stuff. I know it’s normal. But I guess if you were that upset with me, you wouldn’t have reached out to me like you’ve been. And that’s honestly what gets me through. How many lose loved ones and never hear from them again? Yet you have let us all know you are okay. Mom told me more about when you visited her bedroom. She heard someone walk in front of the fan she has on their dresser. That is what first got her attention. And Ginger’s. And then she felt you. Then the other night when I was standing by your ashes, so upset about letting you down and not reaching out to you, I heard you. “No, Jenn. I should have called you. I should have reached out.” I can’t describe how I know it’s you…I’m sure so many people think I’m crazy, but I tell them that so many things have happened that I cannot explain. Honestly I don’t care. I know what my family and I have experienced. You’re still here. And that is what gets me from one day to the next. We actually talked about signs in our group. One woman had lost her grandson (heartbreaking…her son had taken his life as well as his son’s), who always loved those little Valentines Day hearts with the sayings. She kept them in her house for when he would visit. About a week and a half after he died, she found one on her floor. She was confused because the last time he had visited he hadn’t eaten any. But there was one sitting right there on her kitchen floor. She stooped over, picked it up and began to cry. Because its message was “See you soon.” She knew that was her little grandson.

I thought that was so beautiful. So, of course, I had to share how you had rapped both Mom and me on the face, as well as making my entire room smell like your shampoo that one night.

God, I’m lucky. Thank you.

Love you, Buddy.

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