A Saturday in July


“No one sees it coming. No one walks when they should’ve been running.” – Brandi Carlile

   I don’t know what I expected. Cans of beans and jugs of purified water stocked in neat rows in a linen closet. Clunky, metal  lock securing a dimly lit bunker. Boarded windows. A dreaded date circled on a calendar. Public hysteria. Or maybe something of Biblical proportions. Earth would shake and flood and rot, fire spit from the sky, the good called evil and the evil called good, a mighty storm would wash the world away. In retrospect, perhaps the last guess was as close as any. The hardest part to grasp, the fearful bit, is that it’s hard to tell when the world is ending. No clear signs, no lightning bolts, no voice of God booming “RUN. DON’T WALK!.” For all the times we’ve bit our lips and waited for it, anticipating a Mayan date or technological meltdown, the wrath of a displeased God, the end if surprisingly subtle. Until it’s not.

AlI I knew that morning was tidy rows of flip-flops stacked across my closet floor, zippers clicking closed the suitcases, a much anticipated start to a beach vacation circled on the calendar. It was a sunny Saturday, children buzzed around the store as parents stocked carts of back-to-school supplies. I tried on bathing suits, picked a blue butterflied something. When my phone buzzed I was debating how big a girl could pull off a two-piece. I was picturing waves and calm and tan skin. I was picturing impending happiness.

The phone buzzed again. Again. And again. I grabbed sunglasses to compliment the towel I’d chosen to compliment the bathing suit.  The phone buzzed on and on & I finally answered it, absentmindedly surveying the goods in my cart as my mother rattled off four little words. I wasn’t paying attention, would’ve bet my blue butterfly trunks that she was just calling for small talk, bored and wanting some company.  “Your dad is dead,” I think she said, but it hardly registered. “Your dad is dead. Your dad is dead. Oh my God, your dad is dead,” and still I wasn’t understanding. I looked down at my beach essentials and thought I better go ahead, check out, go take care of this. Her voice shook and blurred, like patchy background noise, and I realized I was crying, right there in a Wal-Mart. The body understands before the mind. I’d darted to an empty aisle. A white-haired stock lady turned and looked at me, alarmed. Her eyes said she was horrified. As I shook my head to clear it I realized I was horrified, too.

Then I am in my parked car. I am calling police in a town a couple hours away. I am patched through to the Captain. I’m not sure what he is the Captain of. He is apologizing, but I can’t hear him. Fumbling with the air conditioner, switching the radio, I realize I can’t hear over my own wheezing. I am asking him to clear this up. I would like him to tell me where, exactly, my dad is so I can hold his hand. It’s seems important, crucial even, that I am with him, holding his big, square hands. I am saying, “No. I was just there. With him. I was just there with him. This week. There should still be pizza in the fridge. My son drew Poppi a picture. I was just there with him. He told me I looked pretty in my blue sundress. I was just there with him.”

I am begging someone to tell me dad’s ok. I will learn later that he is not. I am begging someone to tell me at least dad died in his sleep, a quick, quiet heart attack. I will learn later that he did not. I am begging someone to tell me that dad was shot. Oh my God. And I realize this is a scary, new place I’ve found myself in: a world in which I am desperate for my dad just to have experienced the quickest, less painful murder available. I am begging the impossible possibility that if someone could take his gentle life that they took it gently. But it wasn’t gentle, I’d learn much later from a news report . Where am I? What world is this where even a gunshot was too much to hope for? But for now The Captain cannot tell me details. No one can tell me anything save for my dad is dead and seemingly not of natural causes. They can tell you the world is ending but not how. Maybe you wouldn’t believe them even if they could.

This. This is how the world ends.  Deflated, emptied of joy that keeps your chin up, shoulders open, upright. Refilled with a thick, slow sludge of leaden grief. Heavy. Heavy. You are paralyzed in fear and  you are drowning in the sorrow.

I threw up in an orange plastic cup in my car. I can’t see through my tears, but there is my husband coming to get me. Then I am grabbing my bag. Then I am hugging my neighbor. He’s rushed in to keep my son safe from the chaos. He is wearing an American flag bathing suit. For a minute I remember I was just shopping for a suit. I remember it’s a sunny Saturday. It’s sweet, honey-suckle smell. It’s summertime. Then I am in a shaded backseat on the interstate. We’re going to Dad. We’re going to get this sorted out.  I read a news report on a phone but can’t comprehend the words. My eyes stop hard on the images of my dad’s duplex cordoned off with bright tape. A metal rack wheels a big bag to the trunk of a shiny van. My brother’s picture is flashed across the screen. The reporter looks sad. And still I’m not understanding.

My phone buzzes and I answer it. A sweet woman’s voice asks me medical questions about my dad. “I’m here with your dad,” she says. Thank God.  I cry out in temporary joy. I tell her we are on our way. Tell him we are so close to him. Tell him I’m going to hold his hand.  I felt a surge of frantic gratitude. Thank God for the mix up. I expect her to comfort me, assure me that I’m having a bad dream and can wake now. But she’s tasked with explaining that she is with his body. Just his body. And still, because all the helpless can do is hold on for dear life to hope, I need to hold his body’s hand.

This is how the world ends. You are drowning, overwhelmed and overcome, and then you are torn from the grounded, solid place, sucked up and hurled- spinning, spinning, tossed. You land in a hot parking lot in Jackson, startled and hurting. I’m here! I’m here! Where am I?

Then I am throwing up Diet Coke in the bland bathroom sink of a police station. I noticed it fizzing and for a minute things are quiet and narrowed down to a sick stomach and some soda. That’s all this is. My belly hurts. Let’s go home.  I walk out to a flurry of detectives who cannot give details and there are my sisters with wide, blank stares and there is my husband with tears dripping from beneath sunglasses and there is my dad’s baby brother and I am stunned all of a sudden at the sight of him. He rode to Jackson with us, two hours in the car but maybe I hadn’t seen him. There is his mustache and his eyes and his big shoulders and I feel punched, knocked back for a split second thinking he is my sweet Dad, come to clear this mess up. There is my mom, what is left of her. I see her heavy shuffled steps, her shoulders curled in.  I can see her spirit withered, and I can tell she’s heard the world is ending, too.  I think of the mugshot, the bizarre and dizzy sight of my brother on the news and am knocked back again realizing that my brother is my mother’s son. Oh my God. Oh her God. Oh my dad. Oh her little boy. I look around the room to what is left of my family. We are sunken eyes and tired bones and hardly shadows of who we were this morning. “Oh my God,” I think. “He’s killed us, too.”

You are falling down, washed over and over, pulled under the water and then thrown up and out of the sky. You crash down on the curb, the parking lot of a Jackson hotel on a Saturday night, and you are disoriented, unsure of why you’re here.  You are making mental lists of tasks to do: call crime scene cleaners, plan a funeral, breathe, breathe.

I glance over to my big sister and her eyes are swollen and raw from tears. Deepest shade of sadness. Her legs are being eaten up with bugs who found her on the asphalt and I realize my legs are bitten, too. But it seems impossible to get up. It seems like we might just sit here until Dad comes back. Or at least we’ll sit here until everyone else has been informed. The world has ended. It is over. I feel horrible to break the news to them. I’m so sorry to have to tell you. The world is gone.

A dad carries a sleepy toddler through the sliding hotel doors. A few tipsy teens huddle across the lot from you, sharing a lighter, tugging at their short skirts and exposed bra straps. “Nothing’s wrong here,” I think and it is the single most stunning thought of this world-ending day. He has never not been here. He’s gone. Yet the world is still going through the motions despite its rapture. All they know is that it is a hot, Saturday night in a little Tennessee town.

This is how the world ends. It is a beautiful day full of bright sun and green trees. It is an unsuspecting family getting a too-late phone call. It is the obliteration of everything you ever felt safe and sure about. It is exactly not what you expected. Because I’d have told you that the worst part of the end of the world would probably be the actual end of the world, the death of it. I wouldn’t have guessed that the harshest, horrifying part would be this: The world will end and your poor eyes will have to bear witness to the aftermath, little girl. The world will end, the good are gone, his hands aren’t here to hold, and you’ll be left behind. This is how the world ends. Just a sunny Saturday in July.

38 thoughts on “A Saturday in July

  1. Impossible to click like on this incredible piece of writing, because I wish I could do something to take this cup of suffering from you. From Tom. From Thomas. You know you can call, text or visit any time. If you just need somewhere to scream, you can call and scream, and I will understand. None of these words help. I know. But you are heavy on my heart every single day. I hope, somehow, you feel that energy.

  2. Much love and support to you and your family. This writing is beautiful and raw and heart wrenching. To have to go through it, I can’t imagine. You have captured the piece of the world ending that is the most surreal, that it doesn’t seem to stop for everyone else. Somehow it really should. Know that this piece stops the world for the rest of us, if only for a moment.

  3. Once again, you are able to express how horrible this tragedy is and I weep for all of you and for all who loved Jeff. I weep for myself and I can still feel the screams from my heart and mouth when I got the news that he was dead. Gone and the unanswered questions still in my head. I do know how happy you girls made him and the change in his voice when he spoke of you and Thomas coming for a visit. Miss him so badly

  4. It’s so hard to make sense of something this senseless. But your writing is so beautiful and it’s a beacon to help you. Use it to guide you to your home on the other side of grief, where peace lives. Sending you much love.

  5. Your writing/realization that your mother is bearing a double pain of the world ending twice, and your witness and comprehension that your family is torn asunder from this world, into a place of unknowing is beautifully, painfully crafted from your heart. I’m in pain for you all.

  6. I wish I had any words, I know nothing is appropriate or can even come close to to saying how deeply I feel your loss, your words can help the healing start, even though nothing will ever be the same…thinking of you and sending so much love xo

  7. Incredible writing. I am at a loss for words to try and comfort you and Lilly and the rest of the family. I cannot fathom what you girls have gone through in the past several months. All I can say is that from your pain, I pray that you can see you have a real talent for writing and I KNOW your parents would love to see you help others with your way with words. I know

  8. Your words are so beautiful, but … sorry. Sorry is what I feel. So sorry and sad I cannot do, be or say more.

  9. My dear Tori–I have no real words that will make a difference. I can’t unmake the world’s ending or any of the avalanching endings that followed that one.

    I don’t know much, but I do believe that grace goes even into the post-apocalypse in which you now find yourself. Not that you, or anyone there, for that matter, would recognize the word–let alone its meaning. But G-R-A-C-E is scratched in the hard wood of a closet floor. You can’t see it. But you can trace it’s letters in the dark, your daddy’s square hand will guide you to the exact spot, beneath the flip-flops, still lined up in ordinary rows, near the two-piece bathing suit and other beach not-so-essentials.

    Your writing here is nothing short of brilliant. Your parents now stand hand-in-hand in heaven, reading over your shoulder, nodding, nodding. This is the girl they know. They are together. And they are proud. So proud!

    Sara and I are here for you in any way possible. We love you. Write on, sweet Tori. And do your parents proud.

    Hugs from Ecuador,

  10. This has been so painful, I was almost able to pretend it never happened. Thanks for refocusing my eye on the ball Tori. You clearly have the cloned super-size heart of your father. I will never forget him, as long as I live. Please keep writing…

  11. Tori, the depth of this pain is palpable. (And this post only talks about the day in July, not even the day in September.) I can’t even imagine what it’s like to experience what you have had to experience, but please know that your words are transformative and healing and saturated with love. xoxo

  12. Tori, I read this yesterday and I still can’t form the words to express how I feel reading what you went through. But I’ll try anyway. Just know I can feel your pain, your sadness….and I am so sorry.

    And thank you. Thank you for having the strength to write this. The oddest thing about my dad dying so suddenly was how the world went on anyway, as if nothing had happened. The day of his funeral it was beautiful, sunny and bright. But I felt as if my world was over. How can the sun still shine? But it does. Please know that you will find the strength to go on. You will. I know it. We are all here for you.

  13. This is am amazing and heartfelt piece of writing. We all feel your pain, each and every one of us. Stay strong and know that the world hasn’t really ended – you are here to keep it alive by sharing your parents’ legacy with the rest of us.

  14. Oh, Tori, I don’t know how you write this. I don’t know how you make words out of this. I know you’ve been trying to figure them out for four months and this was what you felt was the best you could do, and it is amazing, but for your heart it is still not enough. There are so many people aching with you and for you. But somewhere, there is also your dad (and your mom) trying to tell you the world is still with you. So many hearts are carrying you in them.

  15. Dear Tori,
    I hope that the feeling I read and feel in each word is real, and can help you challenge the horror. Help it feel less sharp and overwhelming.
    If I could say anything to lessen your pain, I would. But all I can do is read and send you my deepest sympathies. For you, your mom, sisters, your uncle. For the soul lost so cruelly.
    And I will be here to read and to remember the day your world changed so very much.

  16. As always T no words. I know for sure though your parents are so very very proud of you and your sisters. You guys are in my prayers daily.

  17. You have no reason to know me, but I went to Parmer with your dad for 8 years and kept loose contact since. I could always expect kind reflections from him on Facebook about the “old days”. I half expected him to show up at a party we had that week end as there was a good showing from the old crowd. Many of us re gathered for him and your family at Woodlawn.
    I am very sorry for your loss. I can relate having tragicly lost a brother I loved deeply.
    I thank you for putting to word so eloquently the feelings that are so difficult to relay. You have a gift.
    Finally, I offer some hope. I lost my brother many years ago.
    I have learned, the pain will dull. The anger and horror will subside. The thoughts that you can’t go on without them will fade. Through all these changes, can emerge the love that will never subside or fade or dull with time. Seek only the love from happier times remembered and you will be whole again!!!
    I promice!!!

  18. Oh Tori how I ache for your loss of all the good you knew and the horrible days since July.. Your incredible writing struck such a chord in me I have no words to tell you. I send you and your family all the bandaids, love and healing light I can muster. I am so sorry.

  19. I am so sorry for what you and your family are going through right now. I’m at a loss for words to say, but your writing is incredible and I have so much respect for you sharing this through your loss. My heart goes out to you.

  20. Tori, this is the first thing I’ve read of yours– just linked from Housewife Plus. You capture a horrible moment so well… and the bewilderment we experience when we realize the world is continuing on without us. It’s been some time since you wrote this, I hope you and your family are well.

  21. I am so very sorry. I received a similar phone call about my own father’s suicide, also on a hot sunny day in July. While I don’t know how you feel, I do know pain, shock, disbelieve that you are describing. Another blogger told me about your loss when I posted about a murder that came to affect my family very deeply. Again, my deepest sympathies as you live through the pain. I so hope that you are feeling some peace already. My thoughts are with you and your family.

  22. I was really looking forward to seeing Jeff that Saturday night at Fred’s party. I hadn’t seen him in a while, but we stayed in touch.

    Last week I signed a new account near Jackson: “I’ll check in with… I need to talk to you. I want to celebrate. I need your advice about a tech issue. I need to hear your contagious laughter. I need my friend right now.”

    I remember talking with your mom at Woodlawn. She started to tremble as she tried to tell me…I suggested we talk about IT after the funeral. “Just get thru this, and you are allowed to fall apart latter.” I didn’t plan on that conversation. The words just came flying out of my mouth. I gave her my business card and a hug. I should have asked for her number in case she didn’t call me. Maybe she needed to fall apart right then and there? Who was I to say?

    She didn’t reach out. Surely it couldn’t get any worse…find her. A personal issue distracted me. Before I knew it, another world quietly collapsed. I didn’t even know she was right down the street from me.

    I still feel pain and loss. I can’t imagine how much amplification of that emotion feels like on your end. Thanks for sharing. It’s important.

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