By Kevin Bailey
Today is August 3—the twins’ birthday. We had a small party, just for our family and Mamere and Papere. Kayleigh let some balloons go for Colton.
“His birthday present,” she said. He’s not in the sky somewhere, but for Kayleigh I hope Colton gets them somehow.
After she opened her presents, we sat around her cake. It had eight candles: “Seven and one to grow on,” Mama always said. Kayleigh blew out her candles and I had a bad thought:
Colton blew out his “one to grow on” last year.
I tell Garrett about these thoughts. He doesn’t look at me funny or tell me why my thoughts are bad. I know they are bad. Garrett just listens to me.
Kayleigh asked a hard question as we ate cake: “Mama, where’s Colton? I know ‘bout Heaven, but where’s that at?”
Everyone got real quiet.
Mama finally spoke.
“It’s hard to explain Heaven. It’s a real place, but where it’s at…I just don’t know.”
“Does he like it there?” Kayleigh said quietly.
“’Cause I don’t like it here without him.” Her voice a whisper, Kayleigh stood up. She walked through the living room, past toys and dolls still not played with, and up to our room. Mama and Daddy followed her.
No one ate any more cake.
I heard if you die in your dreams you die for real, but it’s not true.
I had a nightmare on Colton’s birthday. It didn’t start out bad, though: I dreamed I was with him. I do that a lot. My dreams are so real I wake up and forget he’ll never again wake me with his kisses.
In my dream, we were walking down the road to the park and Colton was holding my hand. As we walked, walls rose on both sides of the road. I heard a noise, and suddenly a truck was barreling toward us from behind! We ran, but I knew we would never make it to the park. As I pushed Colton against the wall, trying to protect him with my body. As I wrapped my arms around him, I looked up and recognized the driver.
The driver was me.
I woke up in the hallway, a big bruise rising on my cheek from where I hit the wall.
“Wake up, Micki! It’s a dream—just a dream!” Daddy sounded scared. He pulled me on his lap. Mama sat beside us on the floor.
“You were dreaming, sweetheart. You’re safe now,” she said in her soft “Mama-voice”.
“Tell us about it, Angel—was it Colton?”
Daddy’s rough hand, gentle on my cheek, were wet with my tears.
“I can’t. It’s too horrible.”
“It might feel better to tell,” Mama’s soft voice soothed me. “I dream about him sometimes too.”
I wanted so badly to tell her.
“I just can’t.”
And I didn’t tell anyone either.
Not for a very long time.
It’s been 38 days since Colton died. He died on June 30 and today is August 7. It’s just after lunch. Garrett thinks it’s a little strange, how I mark the days and all. Sometimes it’s all I think about.
Mama gave me a notebook to write in about what I’m feeling. I call it my “Colton Book”. She said she and Daddy won’t read it unless I tell them it’s okay. I don’t know if I’ll ever let them. The things I write are a little scary.
I let Garrett read it, but I don’t think even he understands what it’s like to know that Colton is dead because of me. If I hadn’t kept him at Donut World so long, Colton wouldn’t be dead. Or if I had talked Daddy into letting me go with them, I’d be dead and Colton would be alive. But Garrett listens when I talk, and reads my book when I let him.
I’m going to the pool now, but I don’t want to. On top of not wanting to, I just haven’t been feeling good at all. My head hurts a lot, and I forget things sometimes, almost like if I was eighty years old, instead of ten.
“After lunch you’re going swimming,” Mama said.
“But, Mama, I wan-” She didn’t let me finish. She gave me a look that said, “You’re going swimming, and that’s final!”
So I am.
I hardly argue with Mama anymore. She used to call me “strong-willed.” (That was a nice way of saying I was stubborn as an old mule!) But I’m not like that now. I don’t have the energy.
Mama worries about that—my energy, that is. I haven’t told her about my headaches. She already thinks I’m making myself sick, so that would just worry her more. She makes me go swimming, because she thinks it might help me recover—whatever it means to “recover” from your little brother dying. I once loved swimming, but not anymore. I have to go though, so I’ll put on my swimsuit now.
It’s been 38 days Colton died.
Daddy cried today.
I’ve seen him cry before, but not like this. Right after breakfast, my sisters had gone to the park and Garrett had stayed the night with his best friend Kyle. I had another stupid headache, so I didn’t go to the park. Instead, I sat out underneath the grove of trees in our backyard, thinking. I do that a lot nowadays. I came up the steps on our back deck and heard Mama and Daddy talking.
“I keep thinking this will get easier.” Daddy’s voice sounded like he had to push real hard to make it come out.
I should leave, I thought.
But I stayed. Something in Daddy’s voice made me stay.
“I don’t think it’ll ever be easy, Jason.” Mama’s voice was soft—like how she talks to us kids when we get hurt.
“I know…it’s just,” Daddy paused, and then his voice was an angry stream. “I wish I could go back; not stop at Friendly’s; not drive so damn fast—”
His words broke, his whole body shook, and he leaned against the counter, punching it twice, then three times. Mama put down the dish she was washing. Wrapping her arms around him, she kissed the top of his head. Tears were in her eyes too.
I moved away from the door. Fear rising inside, I tripped on the tricky bottom step.
Daddy thinks it’s his fault! It’s not! It’s not his fault! It’s my fault! I did it! These were my thoughts as I ran to the trees. I hadn’t thought Daddy would blame himself.
I knew he was sad: his eyes told me that. His eyes were always sad. But blaming himself? Not Daddy! It wasn’t his fault! And he said “damn.” That scared me too, because Daddy never swore. Never. I hated hearing him swear, and knowing that he was terribly sad.
“It was my fault, Daddy! I did it! I made you late, so you had to drive so damn fast!”
I loosed my fear and shame at the trees, and now I’d done it—I swore too. Mama would swat me if she knew. But maybe she wouldn’t. She might understand.
I wanted to run to Daddy–to comfort him, tell him it wasn’t his fault. But I couldn’t, because he’d know I had seen him like that: sad… terribly sad.
So I didn’t go to him.
I’ll let him know that it’s not really his fault. But I won’t tell him that I saw him cry, or heard him swear.
After all, we miss Colton a lot.
Both of us.
Daddy and me.