Once You Are Real

Ben "became." Actually, he simply is, and always was, Real, in full living color and vibrance. If you have ever met him, you know what I am talking about.  He had a spirit beyond words. Honesty in innocence. Slate blue eyes, which allowed us to see Heaven, even if just for a moment.

I would like to say I have "become," but that statement would be fitfully untrue. I am still a work in progress. I may never reach the plane on which he existed for those fifteen beautiful months, but I am trying.

To become real, we are asked to take a journey through the labyrinth of life, where we will become lost, only to find ourselves, over and over again. We must fight through, messy and raw, until we can one day manifest, pure, as our true selves. Real is the place beyond trauma or loss or disease. It is the space where one can simply exist, alone, with nothing left, and still breathe, feeling God’s energy all around. To simply Be. It is You stripped down to your core, in honesty and without fear. Loving yourself, your truth, and the joy of pure existence.

I am not there yet. My labyrinth has many twists and turns. At times, I am able to invite you in to walk the passageways with me – those that give me hope (and therefore offer you hope) and take me one step closer to Ben. But, I have felt the need to protect you from the walls that swiftly close in around us at times. Those walls on which I pound with iron fists, screaming, “Let me out! This can’t be real.”

I hide these walls out of fear.  It is the fear of bearing all of myself for you to see, fear of allowing others to feel pain simply through the telling of our story. I struggle with what my duty is to others. I have seen acquaintances tear up just talking to me, I’m ok, I swear! Shall I just smile? So, I do, and we move on. But, by simply moving on, we are shackled to blindness. I am beginning to understand that the walls may serve a greater purpose than even the clearest pathways of light, for it is through the sound of the walls falling that I can show you It is possible. Have hope. Without these walls, there can be no growth, and we would be left, stagnant. We would all be servants to eternal blindness, never to truly See.

During these first few days of this holiday season, I have found myself faltering in my approach, as my lowest points have brought a yearning to just be Real. I remember a friend uttering these words in idle conversation, a cliché that still resonates today: “The holidays will be tough.” Over Thanksgiving, I have grown less able to be honest with friends. I have not texted or called as often, so as not to interrupt the joy of the holidays that still exists for them. If I don’t want to lie “Today is great!”, and I don’t want to share my burden “Today is so depressing, how do I get through? Did this really happen?”, then silence seems befitting. And, as I walked with my mother through a local Christmas shop yesterday, the walls began to bear down upon my heart.  As traditional Christmas music played in the background, my soul remembered the joy of Christmases past. In a parallel universe, I felt the day as it was supposed to be: our family walking around the shop together, the girls brimming with joy picking out ornaments and sipping apple cider, Kyle and I choosing the perfect wreath, and Ben toddling around touching anything that was shiny. I lift him up, my arms encircling his chubby stomach and kiss his cheeks. Laughingly, I say, “No Benja!” and place him on my hip, our faces nearly touching. I feel his sweet breathe.

In my reality, though, I turned to my mother, as tears streamed down my cheeks, “I can’t do this. I don’t know HOW to do this.” To escape the Christmas memories, we marched upstairs to the discount room, where to my surprise I found a beautiful picture frame waiting for me. It read…You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept…. Soon thereafter, we made a hasty exit.

As I drove home, I could not keep my Real from seeping through the broken places in jagged sentences, somewhere out of my unconscious. I told her that the aftermath of a tragedy is a trauma in itself, day-after-day. I could never have imagined the subsequent losses and events that would unfold. It can’t be real. But, it is. I explained to her that I have become numb to certain of the more painful occurrences; the scars so deep, a thick hide formed over each, serving as a superficial protection. But, it only takes a small scratch at the weakest spot, and the pain bubbles up again, a torrent of emotion.

Yesterday, a solitary moment of realization, one that occurs at the most unexpected times This can’t be real. It is a nightmare? I will wake up soon; promise me….

In the aftermath of a tragedy like this, I do not believe anyone really wants to hear the Real. We’re okay, I swear! But, for each passageway, there is an equally formidable wall.

Lend me an ear, if you want. If not, simply glide past this blog. It is okay. I understand.

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My son died. Alone. Did you cry for me? I DIDN’T KNOW! Please forgive me, come back. It was any other day, which makes it the day all parents fear. You cannot foresee it in order to stop it, and then there is just a gaping hole that remains. July 7th, 2014, the day my world was ripped off its axis, now spinning in darkness, out of control.

Please give me the day back, the moment I drove past my husband’s car on Main Street. Ben is at daycare. Why would I question it?

Please give me the moment back, when I sat at the coffee shop and knew he was safe. If I had been at work, I would have sent the daily text “How was drop-off?”

Please take away the memories of that day, when I drove to my husband’s office with the girls to surprise him for lunch. Was I meters from Ben, yet an eternity already?

Please, Ben, tell God to drown out the images my mind creates of that day. Please, my son, beg of him.

It was on July 7th that I experienced the intuition, which every human dreads; the phone call we all scream against in our nightmares. The rush of anxiety, the moment, when our worst fear materializes in our consciousness, but No, it can’t be true, so we scream and push it away until it is no longer possible to ignore. Just one more minute of the life I know to be true.

Take it all back, I do not want this. This did not happen, not to me.

It is the aftermath, which I could never have foreseen. Do you really want to understand? This is what I keep hidden. Ben’s death was the earthquake, but tremors may last for months or years; forever.

Please stop reading.

My friends told me never to say “I’m sorry,” because no one can judge grief or reactions to trauma. But, I can’t stop, I whisper alone at night:

I’m sorry you were the first person I called, or the second when I left a voicemail (Please don't answer!), in the parking lot near the police station, after I’d collapsed. I’m sorry I made you join me in the unimaginable.

I’m sorry for the things I said, or didn’t say, in the months that followed. Or the times I cried, or didn’t, or my words and actions made no sense at all. But, that is grief. That is trauma.  I could be no other.

I’m sorry, mom, for you lost your grandson. It is against the natural order of things.

If it had stopped at grief ("Ben’s gone, he’s dead!" I muttered into the receiver that night, nurses listening, marking my every word), our story would be somewhat easier to digest, in pieces, over time. “My husband, he’s catatonic, he’s left reality, just rocking and screaming, please help him. Please give him medicine. I’m worried he won’t make it through the night,” I urged, talking to whoever would listen, numb. No one knew what to say. 

But, it doesn't stop at grief. It continues. There are friends lost, those closest to my heart, my soul, “This,” it is just too much. I understand. How can I put that into words? It is a pain beyond pride, but a knife that cuts as deep as death itself. I miss you. I’m at once sorry you knew Ben and glad he touched your life, he was like a son, I’m sorry you had to witness…This. But, those words make no sense; it is trauma and grief speaking. They said not to apologize. But, I’m sorry.

And continues, “Ma’am, you can’t go home, the police are there to investigate; no one can enter.” Not comprehending, “To investigate?! But, I need my glasses, my clothes! We can’t leave the ER tonight, he’s not safe!” Facing the police at our house the next morning of catatonia and shock, I stuttered in shock, “You want to see what? WHY?” My world spinning; lawyer, mother, wife. Who am I anymore? This is a dream, I’m sure. Just keep it together, I told myself, you’ve got to be the strong one or the world will surely fall apart.

The State of Connecticut Department of Children and Families: "Sign this. He can only have supervised visits with his girls.” I blink: “What?” The words on the page blurring, meaning nothing, Ben’s dead, my only truth. Months later, I saw my signature on the bottom line, but was it the ghost of me that held the pen? There was no expiration date, Can my girls never see their father alone again? Soccer, daddy dates at Starbucks, God help me, I thought.

It has yet to end. Will it ever end? Can we, can I, can my girls just rest and heal and be at peace? I am their mother; I wasn’t even involved that day. I’m so confused. This is not logical anymore. 

Daily, we wake up anxious. My phone rings, a rush of anxiety pulses through my nerves, what is next? Force us to do What?! No. I’m their mother. They are innocent and will remain so. I will ensure a tragedy does not take away the only thing they have ever known – love, happiness and joy.

My oldest daughter, after we watched a movie with friends, crying in the car: “I just want to go on a play date now! Why do I have to go home to talk to them again?! Why can’t they just leave me alone so I can move on and be just be happy?”

“I know, honey, but we just have to, since Ben died. You understand. I’m doing my best to make it stop,” I replied.

Friday, November 7th, 5:30 pm, Kyle stated, so matter-of-factly (since haven’t we known all along, through our lack of faith in justice?), “So, my lawyer just called. They’re going to charge me with a misdemeanor. And, like we agreed, I can just surrender in the next few days.”

Lessons learned of media parked on our street, beating on our door, a frenzy that will change our family’s reality forever. How soon will they find out? I will not let this ruin the good family life we all know to be true. The girls -

We had come so far. The moments of joy returning, laughter, hope, the holidays were upon us. In that instant, we fell, sharply, endlessly

back       to

Square One.

My mind wandered to the days after Ben’s death, Kyle lying in bed, friends coming in and out on shifts to ensure he was safe. “Hun, I’ve got to get you a lawyer.”

Catatonic, shock, deepest depths of trauma, “What?” he paused. Tears, shaking, barely able to speak, “They can’t hurt me. Nothing can hurt me more than this.”

Weeks later, he verbalized the truth we all felt, “You know, I feel like the only way this will stop and our suffering will end is if I were to hang myself in the basement. But, the only thing they would regret is that they never got to see me in court, or harass us more about the girls, and I refuse to give them the satisfaction."

But, he is strong, so much stronger than any man I know. He never once questioned Life, other than a fleeting intellectual musing. He held firm to our love and continued on. Psychologists stunned, “Its amazing, no one even gives him credit for that feat.” But, I cannot help, in those groggy moments between dreaming and wakefulness at night, when I hear my phone vibrate, my heart jumps, Is THIS the phone call where a friend calls me and whispers “Lindsey, its Kyle.”

My mother sobbed, as I shared, the day after Thanksgiving, “I know our situation is only a fraction of this, but it is the only analogy that even partially fits from a physiological and mental perspective. We feel like we are prisoners of war, gulping any breath of fresh air offered to us, before the water flows over our faces again. Each day, we live on eggshells. When will the next shot come? Will it be above or below the belt, or straight to the heart? We can’t take much more.”

Becoming real. The truth is we have been beaten down to near nothing, but we still breathe and hold on to what is true, we fight through, together. Our adrenal glands are nearing exhaustion, a constant state of re-traumatization with each phone call or email, rushes of cortisol through our systems. PTSD means even loud voices make our skin crawl; bumps in the road, and we jump out of our skin. We look in the mirror, mere skeletons of our past selves. Food has become a means for survival, not enjoyment.

But, we push forward.

 Why? In this passageway, the writing etched on the wall simply states: Find your core. Trauma strips away all your layers, until you are forced to simply exist, alone, with nothing left, and you must answer the most fundamental questions of Who am I; What is life; What is real? We refuse to give up because we are finding the essence of life and what we know to be real.

How? We put on a suit of armor. My friends laughingly say, “You don’t do pity, do you? Why not? Is it because you feel it weakens you?” Yes, that is it. Exactly. Please don’t say “I’m sorry,” for it weakens me. I’m not sure This is possible really.

 But, it may be. We have come this far.

So, I will continue to write and share the positive moments of my spiritual journey through grief and beyond, of my tight grip on love and hope, for I want you to know it is possible.

But, I want to become real, to follow in Ben’s footsteps. I owe you this much. No human should be held to silence, for then you can never truly exist.

The words I spoke to my mother resonate in my mind today: “Don’t they know? Can’t they feel it? Can’t others imagine what they are doing to us? Kyle - my one true love - he has been broken into a million pieces; he is barely surviving. What has the world become, its end-goal? We are all connected; one action, a ripple, forming another, and another. No wonder society is falling apart, politically and ethically, if this is the way we go about our daily lives.”

Just hold on tight, for just one more day.

My mother was right when she finally replied, sobbing, “I know, it changed everything, life will never be the same.”

 My tears spoke I miss Ben. And, I miss life as it was. Please, can I have it back?

 But, that is not possible, and I remind myself of the words I spoke at Ben’s memorial service:

“We had the perfect life, and maybe this teaches us all that life isn’t meant to be perfect…that broken pieces make us stronger – maybe sorrow is an integral part of life. My friend sent me an email Tuesday that read: The world can seem so unnatural, unfair, and unthinkably cruel. In the end of the novel Farewell to Arms, Hemingway writes “The world breaks everyone, then afterward many are strong at the broken places.” My family, friends and this entire community are the glue keeping these broken pieces together and making us stronger at the broken places. Thank you. Right now, trust me, Ben is watching over us, laughing with his slate blue eyes, thinking 'Oh my, they have no idea how wonderful Heaven is.' ”

I love you, Ben, we hold on because of you and your sisters. “Because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” Only through becoming Real can we find true freedom.