Some moments are frozen in time, suspended in midair like a trapeze artist who gravity has forgotten, set apart with no hinge to events preceding it or to those that had been planned for the future. My future plans, if you could call them plans, would forever be shaped and distorted by this moment.
I woke up on New Year’s Day at 6:28 AM. I remember the time because I was disgusted that even on New Year’s with a free day ahead of me I woke up unnecessarily early. My husband, who is an Olympic caliber sleeper, was, of course, asleep. I stared at the ceiling thinking about grabbing my phone for a quick read of anything, hoping it would help me drift back to sleep.
My husband’s phone rang. If I had had time to think about it, I would have braced myself. But it was too early for clear thinking.
My husband picked up the phone and I could hear our oldest son talking loudly. “Dad”, he said. “Are you awake? Put mom on the phone, too.”
“I’m here!”, I said.
I remember a few words that he said: Josh, the name of his younger brother; New Orleans, where Josh was with friends to celebrate New Year’s, I think he said “car”, maybe “police”. I am not sure. I am sure he said, “Josh is dead.”
Josh. My youngest child. Dead.
Josh. My youngest child. Dead?
This is the moment suspended in reality, the moment that unhinged us from the life we thought we had and hurled us into the life we didn’t want.
I think I screamed. No, I am sure that I screamed. I detangled myself from the blankets that had kept me warm and ran to hold onto the only tangible pieces I had of him. Across the hall was his old room, the one he had lived in during high school and he had just been in a few days earlier. He and the rest of our family, children with their families, and grandparents were all huddled together into our house for what we thought was a few days to celebrate Christmas, but, in hindsight, was to celebrate our last few days with Josh.
I buried my head in his clothes and breathed in. I could still smell him on the some of his old clothes left behind.
I was too far away to hear heard Ben’s voice on the phone. Months later my husband told me that he screamed after me, “MOMMY…..”.
And so began a life that I have at times hated. I hate being alive without Josh’s friendship. I hate thinking about what he would be doing if he was alive. I hate knowing that his life was truncated by some negligent and evil person who did not stop when he hit him and instead dragged him through the streets of New Orleans for six cruel miles. I hate not hearing his voice, his laughter, and, perhaps selfishly, hearing his love for us. He was the one who could tell when I was sad or disappointed, or - dare I say it as a mother - depressed. He had discernment and courage, and love that covered a multitude of sins. He was no saint, but in the midst of being a person emerging into adulthood with all its flaws and ugliness, he knew how to love and care.
On the inside my life has been unhinged since 6:30 AM that New Year’s Day, 2016, three hours after Josh breathed his last. On the outside, I think that I appear normal, a mother grieving, but not as displaced from this world and this life as I feel on the inside.
On the outside, I am participating: talking, eating, laughing, but on the inside, I am elsewhere. I am drawn down an alley of thoughts or even something less formed than thoughts - feelings perhaps? a sense?. I know it is about Josh, but if you asked me to describe what I am thinking, I couldn’t describe it to you in English words. My inner self hears a language that doesn’t have an English translation.
I was told that prior to being killed, Josh was walking down the street with two friends. New Year’s Eve celebration was over for them and they decided to head back to the house of the friend they were staying with for the few days. He was with his best friends, the college gang who lived together for four years. They had forged a bond that would carry many of them to work for the same start up and live together in LA.
Josh had called an Uber and the three of them walked down the street to find their ride. The driver couldn’t find them. I found out later that the driver was a recent Uber hire and very likely was not a local. He had come from another state for reasons that I cannot go into here in the interest of and respect for an ongoing investigation.
The driver didn’t know where the intersection of Decatur and Dumaine in the French Quarter was. He couldn’t locate Josh and his friends.
Josh called him and then saw as he was approaching. He told his friends he would flag him down.
The police told me that Josh stepped into the crosswalk. His friends told me he waved his arms so that the driver could see him.
And then - from where? we do not know - a car pulled out and hit Josh. He didn’t fly off the hood; he was not run over. The car pulled him under. He was attached to the undercarriage of the vehicle.
People heard the impact, and heard Josh’s body being dragged.
The driver did not stop.
He dragged him for six miles, through the French Quarter, and over the bridge to the West Bank and dislodged his dead body by the Charles DeGaulle exit.
Another driver sometime later saw Josh’s body and called the police.
The official cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head which means his head was hit with a force hard enough to kill him. I assume the “blunt force trauma” happened when his head hit the pavement moments after the car hit him and pulled him underneath the car’s underbody. The NOPD were nice enough to tell me that Josh probably didn’t know what happened, that he died quickly, but that is all guess work. He could have died anytime during that six mile drag through New Orleans.
I wonder if he felt the pain of the car dragging him through the streets. Did he know what was happening? Was his last emotion fear? Or terror? Did he know he was dying? Was the pain so intense that he had to let go of life?
The not knowing hangs over me, and I cannot let it go. Especially today. Today, September 28th. Josh’s birthday. He would have been 31.
We have survived 1000 days since he was killed.
A thousand days gone, my dear son. Every one of those days I have fiercely missed you. The driver who killed you is still out there driving. He or she was never found and no one has come forward to say, “We know who did this.” You, who believed in the best in everyone, would be surprised by this silence. And I, who had to tell you some of the hard truths about life, would tell you, unfortunately, it is true.
The day that you died, your brother and sister in law were in NY, your sister and brother in law were in Honduras. By midnight they were all home with dad and me. Day one of our thousand days without you.