Recently, I came across a piece of writing that I hadn’t touched in almost fifteen years. While out to sea back in 1999, in order to kill some time and keep myself “engaged”, I started writing about my life up to that point. The following is an excerpt from a nearly 15,000 word piece of writing, regarding my youngest sister who passed away in 1991 at age 8 (the age my own son is now).
I’d like to think that my writing has improved since then. I know my language has (I made a concerted effort to stop swearing a year or so back). I’m still picking and choosing passages that I’ll make public. There are a few sections on the writing that are still private and I’m unsure if I’ll ever make them public.
On a sidenote; the younger of the two girls in the picture that accompanies this passage is Leah.
What I mean when I say that is that one of them has already passed on to what many people refer to as “a better place”. Leah was born on September 23rd, 1983. The way I understand it, she got stuck during labor and so a C-section birth was required. Well, in the process she ended up getting tangled in the umbilical cord also so her oxygen supply was cut off for something like four minutes. She ended up with brain damage. Some people would say “Oh, that’s horrible” but I don’t look at it that way. When she ended up the way she did, she ended up changing my life forever. I wouldn’t want her any other way.
One of the first major events that we had with Leah was in November of 1990. She had been living at a foster home. I can’t remember her foster mother’s name but she was a nice gal who had a daughter of her own that was like 2 ½ years old I believe. Well, so back to the story. Leah had come down with pneumonia I think it was. After she got off the bus from school at the end of the day, it was pretty obvious that she wasn’t well. We got a call later on that afternoon/early evening. I still can’t forget the horror that I experienced when I saw Leah’s color. Her foster mother waited until we got there and as soon as we all showed up, we piled into the cars and rushed to the emergency room. My parents said that she was having difficulty breathing and it was pretty apparent that she WAS having a tough time. She was grey as street pavement and just looked so out of it. I would’ve given my soul up to see her better at that point. We got to the hospital and they actually let me in to the emergency room. I can’t remember if Rachel was allowed in or not. Mom and Dad and I just stood by and watched the doctors at work. I don’t remember much of the emergency room scene, or maybe it’s just because I’m trying to forget it all. Whatever the cause, there seems to be a memory block on that whole scene. I spent the night in the waiting lounge and had some of the weirdest dreams I could possibly have. I don’t think I slept much that night but when I did fall asleep it was in spurts. I kept waking up to hear voices saying “There’s no more we can do for her”. It was only my imagination, thank God. Leah won the fight that time.
I was living out in Milford, Nebraska when Leah officially “lost the fight”. I was 14 at the time and I was supposed to be in the school musical “The Sound of Music”. I had the part of Max. It was a great part for me since I was going through the whole “puberty thing” and had a lot of steam to waste. I got to crack funnies and make the audience laugh. I felt that my life was actually complete, well as complete as it could be at age 14 ya know? I practiced my ass off and the whole cast was just killing themselves to make sure that it would be a great production. Milford wasn’t a whole lot bigger than Holland so every little thing that got any kind of hoopla was a big event. I actually had to practice singing and if I do say so myself, I didn’t sound too shabby. I was having a good old time and felt like I was being productive and then all of a sudden my world just crashed. It was October 29, 1991, around 8:30 in the morning.
I was in the gym practicing one of my songs with the school pianist, forgive me I can’t remember her name for the life of me, when the secretary came in. She looked as though she was on the edge of crying and was having a difficult time holding back. She looked at me and right away I knew that something was going on. She only said a few words but that’s all it took to get my mind racing. “Your father is in the office, David”. I looked at her and said “What does he want?” I wasn’t being disrepectful of course but was just curious. I couldn’t think of anything that I had done that warranted him coming to school and chastising me in front of my classmates like he’d done before. Unless he’d found my Playboy that I had hidden in my room, there wasn’t anything I could think of. My next thought was that something had happened to Leah. All of her short life I worried about what it would be like when “it” finally happened. When I say “it” I’m referring to her dying. I had been standing in the corner of the gym that was opposite from the door. So I quietly and worriedly walked to the door of the gymnasium. The office was straight across the hall. The office had a couple of huge windows that you could see just about anything in the office except the principal’s office. As soon as I stepped out of the gym I could see Dad standing in the office. Everyone that was standing in the office had a somber look on their faces and I couldn’t tell but it looked like Dad was fighting tears too. It was at that point that I knew that it had to be Leah. I walked in to the office and Dad just looked my way and said “Leah died this morning”. I guess under the circumstances he really didn’t have any better way to put it. I loved Leah more than anything else I had ever known and still do. Those four words felt to me like someone had ripped my heart out of my chest and tossed it around the room. I don’t think anything else I have ever heard in my short life ever got to me like those words did. Well, you know how some people say that they black out after being presented with a traumatic situation? Not me. I remember exactly what I did. It was like a scene from one of those big budget Hollywood tear-jerkers. I went to him and hugged him and we started crying together and then it was almost like I was disgusted to be there. I let go of him and then just barreled out the door crying at the top of my lungs. I ran down the hall to choir class to get my books. I came running in and time just seemed to stop. Everyone quit singing and looked at me. I had tears pouring down my face and couldn’t even talk. My voice seemed to be non-existent when one of my classmates, Vic, asked me what was wrong. I tried to tell him, I really did, but my vocal chords were in a completely frozen state. I just dropped my books and then walked out, deciding that I’d get them later. Dad and I walked out to the car in silence and got in and drove back home. It was only a five-minute ride from the school to my house but it seemed like the longest five minutes in history.
We got back home and went inside. I can remember just “freaking out” again and started punching things. We had a big portable metal closet to hang clothes in. Kind of an extra one if you didn’t have enough closet space. I punched the living hell out of that thing and bruised my knuckles real good. As I was doing this, Dad was calling around to friends and relatives spreading the bad news.
Shortly after Dad got off the phone we sat down and just looked at each other. I remember just sitting next to him and we were both crying like children. I don’t remember who first brought it up but we decided to “commemorate” the moment by writing a couple of poems. Maybe that was some kind of release for us two. I’m not sure but we ended up writing them and then read them to each other. It was difficult to read them because our voices kept cracking.
Dad and I just sat around the house in a daze for the rest of the day until the afternoon came when we headed into Lincoln to go to the funeral home. They took us all (Mom, Dad, Sis and I) into the embalming room to show us Leah. I can still remember the stupid things like how to get to the embalming room. What I mean is, if I walked into that funeral home today I could still find the embalming room, the visitation room, and the sanctuary. Everything. I can remember where it all is at. So anyway, Leah was laid out on the embalming table and she looked so incredibly peaceful it didn’t seem to hurt so bad looking at her. Trust me, it hurt like hell but it just was nice to know that it was a peaceful and quick death. I ran over to her body and tried to pick her up and hug her but it was the craziest feeling in the world. I really don’t think I will ever forget the feeling of her as I tried to grasp the shell of what used to be my sister.
We bounced back and forth from the funeral home to our home for a couple of days. Leah died on a Tuesday and the funeral wasn’t until Saturday. That first night that we had visitation for Leah I ended up playing Contra on the original Nintendo for a couple of hours. The funny thing about that was that the night secretary had told me I could go play it downstairs in the basement where the undertaker’s room was. I guess the dude slept there but was on vacation. I was terrified because the basement was where several other bodies were sitting waiting to be done up for funerals. To get to the undertaker’s “suite” I had to walk down what seemed to be an extremely long hallway. I guess it really was only 2 or 3 doors long but it took me forever. One of my first experiences with death had been my sister’s. As I was walking down there, I walked past the other embalming rooms where I could see some of the other bodies. I never told anyone about any of that stuff but there was one body that the door hadn’t been completely shut and rigor mortis had set in to the body. I couldn’t tell whether it was a man or a woman but it wasn’t lying in a “normal” position. It looked like it had been contorting during those last few minutes of life. I have never forgotten that damn body, to this day.
When it was time to go for the evening, the secretary told me to make sure all the lights were off before I came up. I remember how scared I was seeing as how the light switch was at one end of the hallway and the stairs were at the other end. So I couldn’t just bolt to the door. I had to walk all the way to one end of the hallway and then turn around and come back again. Well, needless to say, I ran like the wind.
The funeral was on Saturday and I remember that it was so cold and the roads were so slick that a lot of people who wanted to be there couldn’t come out of fear of having to attend their own funerals a little early. Well the funeral was open casket if you were wondering. I hate to say it but I was one of those kids who thought it was cool to dress like GI Joe when I was a little younger so I had had some dog tags made up for me. I know, I know, it’s cheesy but it was cool back then. Anyway, I took those dog tags and they were one of the last things to be placed in the casket. I placed them on Leah’s chest just before the casket was closed for good.
Rachel and I had a dance instructor who my parents had asked to dance at the funeral. Yes, a dance instructor. I took dance for about 3 or 4 years. Don’t laugh, I only did it to meet chicks. It may seem strange to have a dance at a funeral but Leah’s funeral was a little different. My parents thought that it would be more appropriate to make her funeral a little more of a celebration than a time of mourning. She had spent 8 years on this sorry-ass planet in pain and I guess we just assumed death for her was some sort of emancipation for her. The dance instructor danced to a song called “Mourning into Dancing” by Steve Green. Steve Green is a gospel music singer and I had a copy of one of his albums. The song was a pretty uplifting song I’ve gotta say. It was a pretty wonderful dance composition.
Well, the pastor started reading the eulogy that my mother had written and it was probably the first time I had ever seen a grown man having a difficult time with keeping his voice even and un-cracking. As I remember, Pastor Schmidt could only read about a sentence at a time. After the eulogy, the poems that Dad and I had written were read aloud. I also forgot to mention that those poems somehow made their way into the classified ads in the local newspaper. You know, in the section that not too many people really take the time to read.
Well, we had the funeral procession of cars soon after the poems were read and a few more songs were sang. Keep in mind, like I said earlier, Holland was a SMALL town. It was only a 2 ½ minute drive from the church to the cemetery. The roads were so icy, however that the pastor said that he would rather have pretty much just the immediate family come down to the cemetery. Pastor Schmidt read all the good stuff before the casket was laid down into the ground and I went up to the casket and bent over it for one last cry. The temperature was so cold that I had one single tear fall to the lens of my glasses, my right eye, and it froze there.
The first night of the musical was on Friday night, the day before the funeral, I believe and it was pure hell for me. There I was onstage, cracking funnies and making the audience die of laughter. They were having a great time and I was all too happy to oblige but the timing had to be so completely awful for me. I would spout off my lines with all the energy of a stand up comic and then run backstage after my scene was up and cry so profusely that my stage make-up would run. It made things a little rough for the make-up artist. They had to be getting annoyed with me but I’m sure they understood. The first night was pretty rough but it was nothing compared to the second one. Saturday night came and I went from the funeral to the school so I could get ready for the show. I really should never have even tried but I guess I just felt that since we had all put so much work into the musical that it wouldn’t feel right for me to just quit. If you’ve ever been to a funeral then you know that people seem to associate grief with hunger. If you aren’t following me, what I’m trying to say is that we had a heapload of food from the community. The easiest thing to make quickly must be those little deli sandwiches because we got a complete over abundance of those things. Well, my dinner for the evening consisted of a bagful of those little sandwiches. I grabbed a bag and took them to the school so I had something to munch on. I remember after the musical walking outside in order to eat my deli sandwiches. I also can remember that I happened to wander behind the school because it seemed solitary enough. I’m not sure exactly why I needed solitude but come to find out it was the perfect spot to scream up into the heavens and vent some anger.
I was so angry with God at that very moment that I would have done anything to make him feel my pain. I know now, as I did back then, that it was impossible to make God feel anything because he’s God. You can’t make him do anything. You just walk through your life on the planet and serve him in your own individual way and hope he approves of your life. I remember screaming at the top of my lungs things along the lines of, “Why didn’t you take me? Why did you have to take her? She had so many friends and everyone loved her! I have no one who cares two shits about me and she had so many people who cared for her!” I look back now and try to figure out what exactly I hoped to accomplish by those futile echoes of my pain. I guess I just wanted an outlet. Because when I stop to think about it, I did have a few friends and I knew that there were people who cared for me. I just wanted God to realize that he had
taken everything from me. It seemed like everything at the time. I realized later on that my father and mother and sister were all equally as important to me as Leah had been. I can remember taking the bag of sandwiches (it was a used Roman Meal bag. Remember Roman Meal? Good bread) and throwing them with every ounce of the strength I had accumulated over my 14 years of life. I threw them at the wall in front of me and started screaming vulgarities at The Big Guy. I’m so glad now that he didn’t get real irritated and shoot a lightning bolt down at me or something like that. I mean, ya know, he’s God and all. For a little while after that I felt better. I walked back inside the school and several people had heard me screaming out there and looked at me but said nothing. I’m glad that they didn’t. I wouldn’t have known what to say. “Sorry about that, God and I were having a lover’s spat.”
The last time I saw Leah alive had been the weekend before she passed on. One of the best memories that I have of her was that weekend. I would give anything to hear her laugh. Leah seemed to just love “slapstick” comedy. If you were willing to make a complete ass out of yourself and sacrifice your body for the sake of a joke, then you had her vote as “a funny guy”. I used to walk into walls, bang my head against tables and just basically do some of the stupidest stunts you ever could see to make her laugh. Everytime I heard her laugh, every other problem in my life seemed to vanish into the woodwork. I loved to make Leah laugh. I never really forgave myself for that last weekend she was with us. Dad was taking her home on Sunday afternoon and asked me if I wanted to come with him when he dropped her off at her foster mom’s place. I told him no because “Born in East L.A.” with Cheech Marin was on. I’m sure that once something unexpected happens, everyone who was involved goes over the different outcomes if only they would have done something different. Well, your buddy Dave was no different. I still, to this day, wish that I would have seen her off and maybe, just maybe things could have taken a different path. I have never enjoyed that movie too much ever since the incidents surrounding Leah’s passing.It became obvious through the course of Leah’s death that her life had been one of those that could never be measured in any sort of tangible increments. She had been 8 years old but at the same time 80 years old. She had been handicapped but at the same time was in a better state of physical being than any of us. She couldn’t speak a word but had “spoken” to hundreds of people. My sister Leah was, and still is, one of my greatest role models. If I can reach even half as many lives as she did, then I will have come close to her status.
I know one thing that I have never understood and never will is death. Why do all the good people get taken while the ones who make homicide seem justifiable just stay here? Pastor Schmidt did my little sister’s funeral and then about a year later, he came down with cancer and passed on himself to a “better place”. Seems kind of like a big cruel practical joke if you ask me.