I stand in the slightly cracked doorway of my son’s room, studying the sliver of his face illuminated by the dim light spilling in from the hallway. He’s 15, and just a year younger than the two teens who died earlier this morning. On the floor next to his bed is his cell phone, seemingly discarded, just below a dangling hand.
The one with the baseball scar on the knuckle.
It’s not until I notice the moisture glistening around his eyes, and see the tear edge hesitantly down his cheek, that I realize he’s only pretending to sleep
His phone buzzes and lights up momentarily as someone’s grief is expressed in a Tweet. I glimpse a screen that scrolls endlessly with disbelief. Outrage. Sadness and pain. Classmates, friends and family trying to comprehend the incomprehensible…
It began with my fire department pager buzzing and shrieking a little after 7 a.m., followed by the report of a motor vehicle accident 15 miles away. A car over an embankment. Possible entrapment. Five occupants; two unresponsive. The caller was one of the victims. All were students heading to school.
It’s a small town. In my five years as a volunteer firefighter, I’ve responded to many emergencies and fatalities involving a bloodied but still familiar face.
But not this many faces at once.
Not this young.
I move to the living room and sit on the couch, clutching the pager. Listening. Unsure if my inability to respond until after surgery next week is a blessing or curse. I want to help. I want to BE the familiar face that gets the remaining victims through. At the same time, I want to stay on the couch and never see what I know my engine company is seeing as it announces its arrival on-scene. I can hear it in my captain’s voice — the tone of forced sanity and calm; the desire to scream, tightly squelched by duty. There would be time to scream later.
“Two code greens. One code yellow,” a medic reports, then adds: “Two code blacks.”
Though I didn’t know who it was at the time, in that moment Abby Boydston and Weston Bowman are officially pronounced dead. Two kids I had written about in Wednesday’s sports section. Kids whose images were in a file on my desktop; photos I’d taken last week during football and volleyball games; smiling faces after hard-fought wins, celebrating with teammates and coaches.
Unknowingly for the last time…
As I stand in the doorway, I see my son reach down for his cell phone. The light from the screen reveals his glossy, puffy eyes. The door creaks as I open it and step into the room.
“I’m sorry, Dad. I just need to be alone.”
I say nothing and kneel next to his bed, wrapping my arms around him. He remains rigid except for the a slow, rhythmic sob that escapes despite of his best efforts.
I continue to hold him.
After a few minutes, there is a muffled thud as his phone drops to the floor. I feel his arms slide over me, getting tighter. As we hold each other in the darkness, the repetitive chime of Twitter notifications is the only sound — until, gradually, it is overtaken by his sobbing.
I selfishly give thanks for still having all my children to hold.
And pray I never have to arrive within the flashing hues of red and blue and recognize any of their faces.