You would be fifty-three if you were still here. It’s difficult to imagine you at that age, but I’m sure you would still be the same handsome blue-eyed blonde. I keep pictures of you everywhere and almost a decade later, you haunt my waking hours more than my sleeping.
You visited me in my dreams the first couple of years after the accident. One is vivid in my memory: I come home to you sitting on my couch, grinning like a Cheshire cat. “What are you doing here?” I say incredulously. “You’re supposed to be dead!” I’m angry with you and glad to see you all at the same time. It was the same morning I woke up sobbing, tortured by the reality you were buried in the ground. “I want to go dig him up!” That was two years after your death: Grief has its own timeline.
Childhood memories often come to me. Like the time you were in the winter carnival talent show. You and your classmates choreographed a dance to Ringo Starr singing, “You’re Sixteen”. I can still see you in your tight, brown cords, fitted black turtle neck, and shiny, new, white sneakers. I was embarrassed, thinking people would make fun of you. You were oblivious, dancing with unabashed exuberance. That exuberance for life took you places.
You always had your eye on the horizon, on the next big adventure. I never tired of hearing about your world travels. The people and places you encountered, more than that, who encountered you. Most are unaware of your death. It’s strange to think the people you laughed with, ate with and took hundreds of pictures of can only share in our fond memories, not our sorrow.
I allow myself to go back to the day before your body was found, and make up different scenarios. Undoubtedly, “Oh Shit!” was your last words as you left the road. I can hear you saying it as if you are standing in front of me. I’m overcome by the knowledge of you lying concealed in the grass for a day and a half. What were you thinking? Were you conscious? Did you die instantly or did you lie there awake before your injuries overtook you? Did you pray? Were you angry? Or, did you die the way you lived; accepting whatever life would give or take?
You had driven that back road a million times. We all know how much you love speed, but a 1600 cc’s isn’t as manoeuvrable as your boyhood dirt bike. Maybe a deer jumped in front of you? Or was it land fog?
“It’s a beautiful night for a bike ride,” your final words are like a self-scripted epitaph.
The RCMP officer chided me when I called, “He probably met a lady friend and lost track of time,” Though it was a plausible story I felt patronized. I knew instinctively something was wrong. “You don’t understand,” I objected, “It’s not like him to just not show up without calling.”
“I’m sure everything’s alright, ma’am,” the officer was condescending, but I insisted he make a missing persons report.
We organized our own little search party, driving the back roads, looking in ditches and farmers’ fields. We humoured ourselves with the thought of finding you alive. For some peculiar reason, we didn’t take the road you were eventually found on. To think we were within metres of your body: I literally thank God every time I remember that.
The whole family was in the kitchen when the RCMP arrived; except dad. He was at the top of the basement stairs when the officer announced the news no family wants to hear: “I’m so sorry. We found Skip. I’m afraid he’s gone, he’s dead.” Her delivery was as gentle and compassionate as possible, but it might as well have been an atomic bomb going off in the house.
“What? What? No…Skip…Oh, Jesus!” I can still hear our father’s tortured voice as he stumbled and fell up the last step.
Almost two hundred people followed us from the city to the country graveside; evidence of how loved you were. We flooded the little cemetery and stood waiting to lower your body into the ground after the final prayer. Apparently, the grave diggers underestimated the size of the casket. The switch was flipped, and with it your coffin. There was a collective gasp, as the people gathered there held their breath waiting for our reaction. Laughter erupted from the family and rippled through the crowd. What else could we do? “Classic Skip” someone remarked. I’m certain you were laughing along with us. You were never one to stand on ceremony.
The last time I saw you we were chatting in the kitchen. The phone rang just as you were about to leave. “Wait! Don’t go yet!” I was so emphatic it surprised me. I kissed you on both cheeks, and told you I loved you. It’s a cherished, tangible memory.
Dad’s workshop is full of pieces of your life. Carpenter’s tools and random chunks of lumber keep you a part of us. Some of that lumber has been incorporated into our new home, a monument to your talent as a carpenter.
You built your life around people and your craft. You lived your life with passion, and died doing what you loved. Who could fault you for that. At forty-four, your grayless head of hair was a testament to your youthful approach to life and you will remain forever young in our memory. I love you, Skip. Thanks for being you. Love Your sister