It was Thursday April 26, almost 48 hours to the minute since I had last spoken with my oldest child. After LC picked up his truck from the shop in Manchester we headed towards home. I was driving in front with LC following behind me. We were only a couple of minutes from the house (just down the street, turn left, and the house was one block away) when my cell phone rang.
Without looking I dug my phone out of the pocket of my pack, looked down at the screen to see who was calling, but could not read the name on the screen in the shadows of the trees I was driving under. I answered it anyway. I thought that it was probably LC calling me because I had taken a different route than normal through back roads towards the house, and I assumed that he was calling to make fun of me for driving through the redneck section of town. He would do that.
A woman said my name and she was crying and I did not recognize her voice. "Who is this?". "It's me. Jessica" she said through her tears.
My stomach dropped. I knew. I don't know how I knew but the world both sped up and slowed down at the same time and as I spoke to her I hoped that he was only hurt. He was hurt. He was only hurt. I hesitated and then very slowly and very calmly asked her "Jess.................what's wrong?"
She had come home from work, seen Sean's truck in the driveway, gone into the house and found him laying on the floor of the upstairs master bedroom. "Karin........I'm so sorry. Sean's dead. I'm so sorry".
I told her that he couldn't be dead. I had just talked to him two days ago on the phone and he was fine. Jess had just seen him that morning and he was fine. He was fine he was fine he was fine he was fine.
My brain was speeding........rapid fire trying to make sense of what Jessica was telling me. Still trying to process, I suddenly realized that I was looking down at the floor board. I looked up through the windshield and realized that I had stopped at a 4-way STOP sign. I looked up at my rear view mirror, saw LC's truck stopped behind mine, and another truck stopped behind him. In a rapidly developing numbness and fog, I had no idea how long I had been at the STOP sign but told Jessica that I needed to pull the truck off the road. Stay on the line Jess, don't hang up, I just need to pull the truck off the road. She told me OK. Honey.........stay on the line. OK.
Driving through the STOP sign I pulled into the long parking lot of an apartment complex on the other side of the intersection, drove down to the the large cluster of mailboxes in the corner of the lot, shut the truck down and climbed out of the truck. I began talking to Jessica again as LC pulled up behind my truck, climbed out and walked towards me with his arms out. I backed away from him and raised my hands in front of me, wordlessly telling him to get away from me.
"Jessica............tell me exactly what happened".........I began to frantically pace like the caged wolf I had seen at a petting zoo in Saint John, New Brunswick so many years before when my grown man Sean was only a small toddler Sean. My sweet little child Sean.
Jessica had said goodbye to him that morning and he was fine. He made chili in the kitchen that morning. He was supposed to leave for work around lunch time. Jessica called him around 3 and he did not answer his phone. When she arrived home close to 5pm Jessica saw Sean's truck in the driveway and thought that was strange because he was supposed to be gone. She went into the house and found Sean lying dead on the floor upstairs in the master bedroom. She ran to the neighbors' house for help. He had bruises all over his body.
Bruises? Had a stranger broken into the house and killed him? Did he let somebody he knew into the house and that person killed him? My brain frantically moved rapid fire from one thought to another, one question to another.
Had she called 911? Yes.
Are you doing CPR? No.......Karin.........I'm so sorry. He's dead.
Where are you now? At the neighbors house.
Do you have family with you? My sister is with me.
What about your parents? They're on the way.
I told Jessica that we were only a couple of minutes from the house, needed to drop off one of the trucks and we would be there just as quickly as we could get there. Through tears she told me OK.
Violently slamming my phone closed I looked at LC and told him "We need to go to Sean's house. We need to go now. Sean's dead".
Before LC could say anything or react in any way I had already climbed back into my truck and within only a minute was speeding into the driveway of our house. LC came in behind me, wordlessly put Jamie into the house, walked outside and looked at me. "Did you say that Sean was DEAD?". "Yes. We have to go. Right now".
It would be two weeks before I finally realized just how abruptly I had broken the news to LC. The way I told him was horrible and it breaks my heart even now to remember how I told him. He understands my abruptness and so do I. But it breaks my heart anyway.
We wordlessly drove to a gas station on the main street in Tullahoma to fill the truck up with gas. While LC did that I paced the parking lot talking to Jessica again. My heart at that moment was with this young woman. The woman who had miscarried their baby late last Fall. The woman who had just lost her husband. The woman who had found her husband dead. The woman who was now carrying their unborn child in what was classified as a high-risk pregnancy.
Were her parents there yet? Not yet but they were on the way.
We'll be there just as soon as we can Jess. Stay with the neighbors. Stay with family. Don't be alone. We'll be there as soon as we can.
I called her one more time during the 90 minute trip. Her parents were there. She was at the neighbors house. She could not go home. The police had the entire house roped off.
LC and I wordlessly drove the entire 90 minute trip. I don't remember any of the trip. I didn't cry. I didn't feel anything. Three words played continually, and endlessly, and mindlessly in my brain during the entire trip. Not my son. Not my son. Not my son. Not my son. Not my son. Not my son. Not my son. Not my son. Not my son. In an endless loop......................
As we pulled off I-65 and were only a few minutes from my son's house I came to an instant realization that scared me. It was the realization that for the last 90 minutes I had been wearing numbing, emotion-protecting armor. It was the realization that at that very moment the smallest of cracks had suddenly developed in the armor. The realization that within the next couple of minutes that small crack would completely open up. That there would be no more protection. That I was about to walk through the doors into hell.....................
We turned onto Sean's street, drove half way down the road and the first thing I saw was the ambulance. And then police vehicles. And then the yellow police tape encircling the yard and the house. The random men (some in uniform, some not) standing in the yard and the three men in EMT uniforms sitting on the tailgate of Sean's truck in the driveway. Jessica's father and Gizmo (one of Sean and Jess' little dogs) standing on the sidewalk outside the neighbors' house. Random residents on the street standing around and looking in the direction of the house.
LC stopped the truck for a moment, trying to decide where to park, and as he pulled to a stop I jumped out of the truck. I ran across the street to Jess' dad, looked at him, and flew into his arms, both of us immediately crying. We held each other tight, desperately in shock and grief and desperately trying to gather strength from each other. Eventually I pulled away from him and asked him what he knew. He didn't know anything beyond what Jessica had already told me.
I looked over at Sean's house, saw LC wordlessly pass by me on the way to the house, and I called his name. When he turned to look at me I angrily told him "I want to see him". He didn't say a word. He just stood for a few moments with a look on his face of.........what? Pain? Anguish? The knowledge that I would not be able to see my child? All of the above? I didn't know, but again forcefully restated "I want to see him". He wordlessly turned and walked towards the officers in the yard.
I turned back to Jess' father and asked where Jessica was. In the neighbors house. Consumed with my own growing pain I again felt extreme empathy for this young girl. God - she had been through so much. Too much. Unbearably much.
Before I headed into the neighbors' house LC walked back over to me. He had told the EMT's sitting on the tailgate of Sean's truck to have some respect for the dead man who was still lying on the floor in the bedroom of his house, and the man's mother who was standing right over there, and get off the tailgate of Sean's truck. He then introduced himself to the officers milling around outside Sean's house, told them that he was a retired officer and asked if there was any sign of forced entry. The officers told him no. They could not tell him much beyond that, but that at least was new information and pushed one possibility out of the possible. I thanked LC for the information. And thanked him for telling disrespectful assholes to get off my boys' truck. I turned away from LC and headed towards my sons' wife.
I walked into the house, nodded to the homeowners without words and without even really seeing them, and walked over to Jessica who was sitting on the couch surrounded by her mother and sister. I acknowledged the family without a word and without really seeing them either, Jessica stood up from the couch and wordlessly walked into my arms and we both cried together. I held her tight and stroked her long red hair, much as a mother would hold a daughter. She and I had always just been polite to each other. We did not really know each other all that well, truthfully did not have a lot in common with each other. But my son loved her and that had always been good enough. But in that moment all of my heart was with her, and we cried together in each other's arms. Two women bonded together in both our mutual agony and our mutual love for one man
We talked briefly while we sat on the couch together, holding hands and in shock, not believing that the unthinkable had happened. I cried again. I talked briefly with Jess' mother but don't remember what I said. She had her mother, sister, neighbors caring for her, and unable to sit down for long I gently told Jessica that I was going back outside.
I walked outside and instantly leaned against somebodys' car to cry. I don't know whose car it was. Probably the neighbors. When I was done I looked around me. Neighbors still standing in their yards and on the sidewalk curiously watching the scene around us. My brain silently screamed for them to "get the fuck away". EMT's and unformed police and plain clothes police, somebody from the coroners office all standing around while other police continued with their work inside Sean's house. My brain also screamed for THEM to "get the fuck away". LC standing on the side of the road wordlessly watching me. For a moment we stood silently looking at each other. There were no tears but the pain in his face was unbearable.
I couldn't reach out to him. I trusted him more than anyone else in the world and I knew that if I allowed him to hold me I would not be able to maintain any kind of control at all. I would be lost in despair. I couldn't hide any of it from him. I wouldn't be able to hide it from myself. And so I could not go to him. Not yet. I had to call Chris. And Sean's father.
I called Chris. I broke the news to him. I told him everything I knew which was not much and not enough. I asked him for his father's phone number. Part way through my call to my youngest child I could not hold it together and handed the phone to LC until I could regain my composure, and then I told Chris that I was calling his dad and that I would call him right back. When I hung up the phone my legs were weak and I knew that if I did not quickly sit down that I would fall down. The front lawn of the neighbors' house would do. Sitting. Crying. Crying. Crying. Too much crying. Only the start of the crying.
When I called Sean's father I listened to a voice that I had not heard in 15 or more years tell me that he was sorry he had missed my call but if I left a message he would call me back as soon as possible. I gave my name. I gave my cell phone number and then repeated it again because I realized that I was speaking too quickly and that he might not have gotten all of the number.
Please call me back as soon as you get this message. It's an emergency..............................
After leaving a message for Sean's father I called Chris back. He knew. Now I needed to know that he was OK. He was so far away from me. Alone. He stoically, in typical Chris fashion, assured me that he was alright. He wanted to come down to see me. To be there for the funeral. I told him that I would call him the next day - sooner if I found out anything more. And then I said the same words to Chris that were my last words to Sean. The same words I always said to both of my boys whenever I said goodbye to them.
I love you Baby.
Someone from the medical examiner's office came up to me, expressed condolences, handed me his card. LC approached me and suggested that I go back into the neighbor's house. I did not want to and I stood alone in the yard not knowing what to do next, what to say next, what to feel next. The detective in charge of the case came up to me, expressed condolences, handed me his card. And as I answered his few brief questions through tears, trying desperately but mostly unsuccessfully to think straight, it all finally came crashing down and I stopped crying.
I had been certain that I would not be able to see my son while the police were inside the house conducting their investigation. But it had never occurred to me that I would not be able to see him once they were done. I wanted to see my son. My boy. My child. My...........son. I desperately wanted to see him. It had never occurred to me that I wouldn't be able to see him. Not once they were done whatever they had to do. It never occurred to me. I had been operating under that assumption ever since we got to the house. The detective told me that I would not be able to see him.
As I was still talking to the detective they wheeled my child out of his house. The top half of the gurney was sitting at a 45 degree angle and he was covered with a white sheet. It would be two weeks before I questioned why he was upright and not laying flat. I already knew the answer as soon as the question was raised in my mind but it took two weeks....................
I watched them wheel Sean out. Watched as they loaded him into the ambulance. Watched as the ambulance drove down the street, turned around and watched as it drove by the house again before disappearing from sight. I turned and asked LC why I couldn't see Sean. Investigation. Evidence. Karin..........you didn't want to see him. Don't tell me what I want!!!!!!! Why didn't you TELL me???????? To this day I don't remember if he answered me.
Everyone left. Still standing on the neighbor's lawn I looked up and down the road and saw that people were beginning to filter back into their homes. The show was over.
Jessica's parents and sister and I all walked with Jess back into her home, people alternating at her side because she was in shock, shaky, broken hearted, pregnant. When we walked into the house I asked Jessica exactly where she had found Sean. With LC beside me I climbed the stairs, walked down the hallway, stood at the doorway of the master bedroom and looked down at the carpeted place in the room where my son had died.
There was nothing. Just carpet. I knew that Sean had not been bleeding, that there was no obvious evidence at the scene to indicate cause of death. I knew that. But to see the carpet looking so normal, the entire bedroom looking so normal was completely disorienting anyway. I walked into the room and sat on the edge of the bed looking down at the carpet directly in front of me where my son had laid, trying desperately to make sense of something, anything. LC sat on the edge of the bed beside me and as I continued to look down at the carpet it hit me. Hard.
Without looking at LC I calmly said "he died alone". He died alone..............he died and lay on the floor alone...........for hours. Alone.
I ran that morning, grocery shopped. Ran. Shopped. While my son lay dead on the floor in his home. I felt like a wrecking ball had slammed into the side of my head.
Jessica's family grabbed clothes, other belongings she needed, and carefully loaded her into the car so that she could stay with them in Murfreesboro. Before she left I hugged her close, stroked her hair, kissed her on top of her head, told her I would call her in the morning. I climbed into the truck and LC wordlessly began to drive the 90 minute drive back to Tullahoma.
On the way home my ex-husband and Sean's father finally called me back and I asked LC to pull the truck over in a parking lot so that I could pace. He already knew. He had already talked to Chris. I told him everything that I could tell him, everything that I knew. Waited for him to say that he would be coming down for the funeral. He asked me to send him an email when I knew the cause of death.
When I hung up the phone I felt like I had been slammed in the side of the head with a wrecking ball. Again. I stood in the empty parking lot in the dark for a minute feeling stunned and completely empty, unable to breathe, unable to think, unsure of what to do next. Unable for a brief minute to even get my feet to work. I finally turned and climbed back into the truck. For the second time that day words repeated themselves in my brain, over and over and over again in a seemingly endless loop.
Send me an email. Send me an email. Send me an email. Send me an email. Send me an email. Send me an email. Send me an email...........................