What the news won't tell you

Today my mother spoke to Renee, Gerald's mother.

At Gerald's school, for seniors there is what is called "zero period." To my understanding, this is approximately the first thirty minutes of the school day and is what is generally known as homeroom. Underclassmen must be present and accounted for at the start of zero period, but seniors are allowed to arrive at their leisure, just so long as they aren't tardy to first period, which is the first official class of the day.

Gerald, being a laid-back, easygoing kind-of guy, had a tendency to be late to first period. Like any parent, Renee had been pushing Gerald to be punctual and start getting to school on time.

That horrible morning, Gerald did just that; he left the house on time, pecking Renee on the cheek on his way out the door. He mounted his bike and pedaled away, sure to be at school well before the end of zero period.

Not much later, a friend called to ask if Renee had heard anything about the lockdown at the school. She'd heard that maybe someone had been shot and wondered if Gerald was okay.

Renee called Gerald's cell phone.

No answer.

Renee called again and again.

Nothing.

Renee called the school office to see if Gerald was present in his first period class.

He wasn't.

She took off towards the school and on the way there she came upon the scene, which was already taped off about a block away from where she was. The authorities did not yet, however, have enough forensic evidence to have been able to take away the body. They wouldn't let anyone close enough to get to the area to get a clear view of the crime scene. Renee heard from several bystanders that someone — a student — had been shot and killed.

At some point soon after, Renee learned that it was, in fact, Gerald who had fallen victim to the bullet.

******

The shooter was a soldier who had returned within in the past year from a tour in Iraq. Friday morning, probably as Gerald was dressing for school, the shooter dressed in all black and took special care to wear his bulletproof Kevlar gear, as if he expected that his schoolyard targets would pull AK-47's from their bookbags and return fire. He walked outside his house and began shooting. He non-fatally shot a father who had just seconds before, buckled his young children in to their carseats. Then he turned and shot the next person he saw in the back of the head. My cousin.

******

"If only I hadn't nagged him so much about getting to school on time. He wouldn't have left so early and wouldn't have been there.

If only I'd given him a ride this morning on my way to my doctor's appointment.

If only I'd made him breakfast, he wouldn't have eaten so quickly."

If only….

The guilt is tearing away at Renee.

*******

All day long, I've been upset that I haven't been more upset in the way in which I feel I should be upset. Because I don't know this young adult version of my cousin and had not even seen a picture of him past his tenth year, I feel somewhat distanced from the amount of trauma a family should feel by a tragic, sudden loss like this one. The shock over such a senseless, illogical tragedy happening to my blood is there, and the outrage at the shooter is there. Sadness that the chance to know my cousin has been taken from me permanently was there. My heart hurt, but if I am honest, it didn't bring a depth of loss that wracked waves agony and shudders of grief through my body.

My eyes watered, but not enough to shed a tear.

But now, having heard Friday morning's nightmare from Renee's perspective, I feel a horrible, chest-cinching pain which binds its urgent fingers around my throat and threatens to suffocate me.

My heart couldn't comprehend the loss of my cousin with the depth that I wanted it to, but my heart could identify with the pain of a mother losing her child. I can only imagine what it was like to have had that pang of immediate fear swell in the pit of her stomach and blossom into frenzied panic when Gerald didn't answer his phone.

I can't help but wonder – is that when she knew? Did she know then, when his cell phone rolled over to voice-mail? Did she feel something in her heart suddenly go missing? Did she feel the threads of Gerald's life-force that wove through her heart suddenly snap, or was it a slow, languorous unraveling that pulled away more as the unanswered minutes droned on?

One of my biggest fears is not being there to avert the misstep into the deep end, or to break the fall from the slide, or to jerk the car away from the head-on collision…of feeling like I could have done something to stop it even when there wasn't anything that I could have controlled. Of having to hold the the moment just before devastation out in the palms of my hands and roll it over like a tragic prism, able to see in retrospect how the shifted angles might have meant that it was my child that was with me and not the recurrent, torturous thought, "If only…."

28 Comments

  1. Carrie Holmquist on April 28, 2009 at 7:08 pm

    What a sick, sick, man….



  2. My Reality on April 28, 2009 at 7:31 pm

    Wow. I don’t have the words.
    I am sorry for your loss and for his poor mother. I can’t imagine such a senseless act of violence.



  3. Kara on April 28, 2009 at 7:41 pm

    I am the living victim of a murder. My mama was killed 14 1/2 years ago. Yes, the ¨what ifs¨ and ¨if onlys¨ will eat you alive. The only safely I´ve found from them is to find strength in the ¨thank goodnesses¨. I have a list of them I retreat to whenever the other stuff resurface. I imagine for Renee one of them will be, ¨Thank goodness, he kissed me goodbye that morning.¨ I will be praying she finds her ¨thank goodnesses¨ before the ¨what ifs¨ and ¨if onlys¨ overtake her completely.



  4. Jo on April 28, 2009 at 7:58 pm

    Moxie, I’m holding you in my thoughts and prayers. Please let Gerald’s mother know we are all thinking of her and her son today.
    Hugs,
    Jo



  5. katedaphne on April 28, 2009 at 8:06 pm

    Moxie, I am so very sorry for your loss. And for Renee’s, and Gerald’s. Your family will be in my prayers.
    Love,
    Kate



  6. tash on April 28, 2009 at 8:21 pm

    I said it before, but guilt is the thing I hate the most about grief. It complicates everything, it freezes everything. Only until it melts, on her timetable, can she move through the rest of the ugliness.
    I am so incredibly sorry, Moxie. My grief counsellor here in PA runs a workshop for moms who’ve lost their children to gun violence. If there’s anything I can ask of her, for you (and her), please let me know. There might be a similar group or therapist in your area.



  7. Kristin on April 28, 2009 at 8:25 pm

    I think the “if onlies” are every parents worst nightmare. My heart goes out to his mom and I hope she doesn’t torture herself that long.



  8. Sandi on April 28, 2009 at 8:45 pm

    My biggest fear is what Renee is living through. I can’t even imagine the pain. I don’t want to, and I pray I never know it.



  9. dawn on April 28, 2009 at 8:46 pm

    I don’t even know what to say Moxie, I am so sorry. It sounds so simple to tell her not to blame herself, that she did not do anything, but I am afraid it will be a long time before she believes it, if ever. praying for all of you during this terrible time.



  10. Sara on April 28, 2009 at 8:52 pm

    Words fail me. I am so sorry for her loss, and for that of every mother who has lost a child.



  11. Danielle on April 28, 2009 at 8:54 pm

    Guilt and if only’s and what if’s have got to be the worst when having a loved one die. Renee is close to my heart, as are you.
    *HUGS*



  12. Andrea on April 28, 2009 at 10:39 pm

    Oh Moxie, that is horrible. I am so very sorry for your family’s loss tragic loss of such a sweet young man. I will keep you all in my thoughts & prayers.



  13. JessPond on April 28, 2009 at 10:41 pm

    It’s so so terrible. What a troubled person that soldier must have been. Sad for him (how can he live?), but sadder for your family, of course.
    Your poor aunt…I can’t imagine.
    We lost Travis’ cousin when they were both 18 to an auto accident and it was so…jarring. The whole thing was jarring. His mother, though, has made a lot out of it…comforting those who have lost a child. I hope your aunt can find the good from the bad, too.



  14. JuliaKB on April 28, 2009 at 11:20 pm

    I am so effing sorry. This is just horrible.
    Like Tash, I hate the guilt of bereavement. I count myself lucky for getting to escape it. And it breaks my heart to think of Renee and her what ifs. I’m just so sorry.



  15. anymommy on April 28, 2009 at 11:21 pm

    God yes. Exactly. Sometimes I think, you just never know which wonderfully ordinary moment is the moment before something terrible happens. Is the ‘what if.’ But, I know in the depths of my heart that you can’t live life like that, you have to live like each wonderfully ordinary moment will be followed by another.
    I am so so sorry for your loss Moxie. I hope your aunt can find a way to let these what ifs go. I hope you can all find a way through the grief. Love and hugs, s



  16. Deshaine on April 29, 2009 at 12:52 am

    I’m sorry for your family’s loss.



  17. SCY on April 29, 2009 at 5:26 am

    Moxie, my deepest condolences to you and your family. I pray that God holds Renee close and gives her the strength she needs right now.
    HUGS
    xxx



  18. Shelli on April 29, 2009 at 7:26 am

    Moxie, I am so sorry. Reading this post brought tears to my eyes. There is never a more heart-ripping experience than the loss of a child. I can’t imagine the pain Renee is experiencing.
    Hugs to you both, and lots of prayers.



  19. theazuredrake on April 29, 2009 at 9:21 am

    That is just so horrible to hear. At first while reading it, I actually thought he was the high school boy who was killed in my area not that long ago, also by a returning Iraq soldier. But this happened more then a few weeks ago, almost a month now I think.
    You’re family will be in my heart, I too cannot imagine the pain Renee is going through.



  20. niobe on April 29, 2009 at 10:04 am

    Just heartbreaking. And the more details you learn, the more heartbreaking it is.



  21. becoming whole on April 29, 2009 at 10:04 am

    I’m so sorry. I’m just so very, very sorry.



  22. Nishkanu on April 29, 2009 at 11:26 am

    So sad for you and your family, Moxie.



  23. Ms. J on April 29, 2009 at 1:55 pm

    I wanted to express my deepest sympathies and condolensces. I know there are no words that can comfort.



  24. Luna on April 29, 2009 at 3:13 pm

    I’m so sorry for your family’s loss, Moxie



  25. Betty M on April 29, 2009 at 4:06 pm

    I’m so very sorry to see these two posts. Deepest sympathies to your family.



  26. Baby Smiling In Back Seat on April 29, 2009 at 5:19 pm

    Moxie, I am so sorry for you and your family.
    The If Only game never gets you anywhere. My mother constantly plays If Only, for bad things but never for good. I always tell her that there are a thousand other bad things that you have narrowly avoided in life without even realizing, and lots of good things that almost didn’t happen.
    Today, everything converged to turn out this way. The day before, maybe if she had made him breakfast he would have been in the path of a drunk driver. We can never know all the possible things that could have happened but didn’t.
    Renee has nothing to feel guilty about. I hope that as time passes, she’ll see that.
    Take care.



  27. kimmyg123@yahoo.com on April 29, 2009 at 5:27 pm

    Sending more ((Hugs))! I am such a loss of what to say. My HUGEST fear in life is the loss of any of my kiddo’s!! Sending so much love and prayers prayers prayers!!



  28. Nancy on April 30, 2009 at 9:16 pm

    oh my god kym, i am just now reading as I haven’t read anything since the surgery. what a terrible, terrible tragedy. i’m so very sorry.