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The Day I Thought My Daughter Died

March 13, 2012

I was rebuilding a deck with Cheya when the phone rang.  It was my wife so I stepped away to take the call. ‘Hello,’ I said, all sultry-voiced. She was mad, and that should’ve been my first clue. But all I heard were her words.

‘I was on my way to preschool and there was an ambulance and all the neighbors were outside, and Oliver told me that Eva was inside dead.’ Oliver went to Meadowlark with our daughter. But Oliver was also the name of our next door neighbor.

I don’t remember what I hollered into the phone. Cheya said my face went catastrophic. I staggered against the truck, one hundred percent convinced that our daughter was dead. It was the worst fifteen seconds of my life.

Eva. AY-vuh, pronounced the Danish way after her great-grandmother.  The E is a long A, as in: DA-vid. Which was the name of our landlord, our other next-door neighbor. What Ann had actually said was, ‘…Oliver told me that David was inside dead.’

With shaking knees I verified that Eva was still alive. ‘Um, yeah, of course she’s alive,’ said Ann, who hadn’t had quite the same experience. She and David were both runners, and stout beer drinkers, and both of them had suffered career-shortening injuries – his much more recently. Ann was probably the last person to see or speak with him.

It didn’t take long to confirm that he’d taken his own life. We suspected it from the start. And while I can only guess at his reasons, I’ll tell you something strange. Three weeks before he’d almost died on a hike through the Olympic mountain range.

While crossing a steep boulder field David somehow upset a rock and got pinned beneath it. His hiking partner was far ahead and it took him a while to get back to help. By then David was almost out of energy from holding the rock back from crushing him. His friend managed to wedge himself in and allow David to tear his leg out – I saw the scars – and somehow he got out too. Then they had to trek for two days back to civilization and a hospital.

Maybe he felt that death had cheated him. Maybe his knee injury kept him from doing what he loved and life wasn’t worth living without it. Or maybe he was mentally ill, like one of the neighbors across the street intimated.

I know eight people who’ve committed suicide, and I can’t believe they were all mentally ill. If they have one thing in common it’s that their deaths have affected the people they’ve left behind.

‘And memories come down and me once again / am caught without an umbrella’ –Michael Franti

David’s family was unprepared for the news. They lived in Montana, and Seattle, and it was weeks before anyone came to town. Then they only stayed for a day and never introduced themselves. Later a lawyer called and apologized; they were too grief-stricken to deal with anything. He was going to arrange an estate sale and hire a realtor to sell David’s two houses.

The estate sale happened on Black Friday. At five o’clock in the morning on the day after Thanksgiving people were rooting through his trash bins. By seven o’clock, when the sale actually started, over a hundred people were crowding his lawn and spilling onto the sidewalk. People came out of his house with trophies, with stacks of marathon numbers, and bottles of olive oil. It was a fucking madhouse. Someone backed into my truck and tried to drive away.

Then the realtor listed Ann’s phone number as the agent contact on the house listing! She was already stressed and upset about David’s death and the impending move when her phone started buzzing with pushy agents trying to get private showings at a minute’s notice.

It was nice to have someone to yell at. I took out a lot of frustration at that realtor, and I think she deserved it. But in truth much of that frustration was intended for David.

Now people have their reasons and I respect that. This isn’t turning into a litany against suicide. But it might be a good reminder – a hint perhaps – of how closely we’re all connected. And I wouldn’t mind suggesting that if you’re going to take your life, maybe you shouldn’t rent your house next door (which has been sitting empty for a year) to a young self-employed couple – who’ve just gotten back together after a year and a half apart – with a four year old, because they’re going to have to move out during Christmas and it’s going to be expensive and really really suck.

But I’ll tell you what: I got through it all from this perspective: my daughter isn’t dead. Those terrible fifteen seconds allowed me to take David’s decision and the consequences it bore on us with a grain of salt. And two years later, a strange karma occurred. Not long after moving into this Little House – our third place since leaving David’s – we found out that its past owner took his life as well.

I would like to think we’re treating this home with the respect it deserves, the way its former owner would have liked to treat it. I never knew him and don’t know his story. But then who ever knows someone else’s story? All we’re left with are memories, broken hearts and broken lawnmowers. I think it’s okay to mourn our lost ones, get really mad at them from time to time, and still love them afterwards. RIP


From → Rants

  1. Secret Admirer permalink

    The broken lawnmower is perfect at the end — so familiar, so poignant, so funny. Thanks for that!

  2. Prana permalink

    Wow. I once had a grieving teenage boy and his friends (our boys) recieve the news of a father’s suicide right on my front lawn. Intense.

    But your title is the most striking thing about the story. And is Ann, like David was, a runner and stout beer drinker? Or did I miss something in the pronouns?

    I really enjoy your writing! Aloha, Prana.

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