(Continuation of the post: An Infinitely Tragic Day)
The first person to call me on July 18, 1996 was someone I had met the night before, while camping. His name was Aaron, an 18 year old man from De Pere, WI. We had shared an infatuated, euphoric night talking to one another under the stars. He and his friend were camping right beside our site on Kelly Lake, WI. My friend and I swam, at dusk, with him and his friend for awhile and then stayed up talking; on a small ledge, overlooking the water. This was the first boy I ever thought was not only cute, but unbelievably dreamy, with dark, curly hair and blue eyes, and to top it off; he actually seemed genuinely smitten with me and thought I was pretty. My friend was jealous, but happy for me at the same time. He asked me the next morning, right before we left, if it would be okay for him to call me later to hang out some more. I tried to hold back my excitement and told him that would be fine. I tried not to count on it though, boys I met at this age did not usually follow through with these types of commitments. By the time he did, I had forgotten all about him.
When he called, I hesitated to talk to him and was put in a tough predicament; blow him off or tell him the truth, I chose the latter. I knew it would sound like the most pathetic excuse anyone had ever given someone for not wanting to go on a date. The worst part is, my gut and heart were overjoyed by his call, and I still really wanted to go. Partially because I knew this would be the only chance I had to see this gorgeous man again, and I wanted to run from the insanity of my current reality.
Unfortunately, due to the shockingly, unanticipated circumstances I, for many reasons, couldn’t; not with what had just happened. My heart and soul wanted to transcend my present world, and go back to the phantasmagorical ambiance of young, enraptured infatuation. Regrettably, it was not fair to me or him. I would have been dealing with my tragic loss; while he would have been trying to entertain a girl he just met, hardly knew, who had just suffered the biggest catastrophe of her life.
When I answered, he asked me to go miniature golfing. I thanked him and told him, “I wish I could, but my dad just died this morning in a car accident.” I think I proceeded to ask him to call me again, letting him know I would still like to see him, but I knew there was very little chance of this. Not only was I, now, a teenage girl with a deceased father, but I was living in a place that was an hour away from where he lived. I am sure when faced with his choices, he already knew he was not going to opt for spending any of his last high school summer with a 15 year old whose dad had just died. He told me, the night before, that he was planning to go to college in Hawaii and had limited time before he left. This phone conversation was the last time we ever spoke. I have always wondered what would have happened had my father not died that day, but I will never know because he did.
The other call I made that day was to my best friend, Nicole. I had known her since Kindergarten and even though we now lived 40 minutes apart, her family had been a part of ours most of my life. I remember the call well. I had to go use the phone in our van because the house phone was tied up. When I got her on the phone I decided to replicate the phrase I had heard so many times in shows and movies growing up, “Are you sitting down?” She said she wasn’t, and I told her she should. Then once she assured me she was, I told her what had happened. Following our conversation, her family drove 40 minutes north to come and see us that day, along with so many other friends and relatives; to offer support and condolences.
I remember the house being full from the first floor down to the basement and out into the yard. My Uncle Leon, my mother’s eldest brother, who I had seen very little of growing up, stood outside with rainbow suspenders on and smoked cigarettes nonstop. He talked constantly; it was just his nature. It took every bit of willpower for me not to ask him for a cigarette, as he stood puffing away, chain smoking. The coincidence in all of this is, the previous day, on my way to the campsite, had been the first time I tried a cigarette. My friend tempted me and against my better judgement, I agreed to share one with her. A Marlboro Menthol. We shared it, and much to my amazement, I enjoyed it; I didn’t choke, cough, or get sick and throw-up, like my father had when he tried his first cigarette.
Now, during the delirium of this awkward, distressing day; while trying to deal and grapple with my new reality, I felt like I needed one, in an anxious, panicky sort of way. As if I had been smoking for years and was having withdrawal. I knew it would hurt my mother, in a way she would not be able to handle, so I resisted the urge and decided to walk away when the compulsion was too difficult to bear. I am still not sure of any specifics from the random conversations that I floated in and out of throughout these countless hours. I was in a constant daze and disoriented by the shock and melancholy of the circumstances; not sure where to go or what to do with myself. I decided to spend most of the time with my friends who had come to comfort us; trying to talk about the life of my father, instead of the unexpected death.