The day before I returned to school, I went to your apartment with Ben, Zoe, Nicky, Griff, and Scott. They walked through your home and claimed your possessions as their own. Your life was slowly taken apart, piece-by-piece, with every trip we made over there. I liked to listen to “Supermarket Flowers” whenever I drove over. I can feel the lines “memories of a life that’s been loved” and “a heart that’s broken is a heart that’s been loved” when Ed Sheeran sings them to me.
To make it easier on Dad once I was left town, I made people take as much of your stuff as possible. Carter and I had previously claimed your framed pictures on the wall. I wanted The Beatles pictures and she wanted the football ones (a true testament to our contrasting natures, each credited to different parts of you we molded into ourselves). Nicky took that ugly, neon painting of a tree you so greatly loved. It now hangs in his office in Houston. Really ties the room together (sarcasm). He also took your Indian statue and said it will look great at his Ranch.
I’m excited to see the ranch, the place you so ferociously lived then suddenly died, though I am not sure when I’ll be strong enough to visit the last place you were you. Maybe this summer. Maybe never. Ben took all your suits, some dress shoes, and the extra copies of the CD you made him for his wedding. Not many people can say their best friend wrote a song, recorded it, and handed out printed CDs in custom cases at their rehearsal dinner. No one would think to do that but you. Scott claimed the large “I Like Ike” poster and a St. Marks sweatshirt before falling asleep in the bottom bunk of your bunk beds. I’m sad I never got to sleep there myself. Your offer to stay was always denied due to the assumption that I would drive you crazy if I stayed around long enough. Griff claimed your board games and some of your many books as well as the nightstand Dad had taken from the original Dillon Reed offices in New York. They saved books and various memorabilia for the ones who couldn’t be there in person. We put your guitar aside for Connor to have once he came back to Dallas. I gave your bunk beds and desk to Ms. Ledford. I know this is how you would have wanted it, your items being put to good use by people connected through love and friendship.
The next day was my last day in Dallas. It had accidentally been the longest time I’d spent in the metroplex since I graduated High School in 2015. I have a newfound love for Dallas and my people there now. I will forever associate it with my understandings of home and family. I went over to your apartment one last time and let the guys come through for one final sweep. One by one, they slowly left. Saying goodbye to them was like saying goodbye to different parts of you. It hurt immensely. The kind of pain you know is coming but are never properly prepared for.
Dad and I went back in to take one more look around after they left. Even in its ravished state, it made me feel close to you knowing this was once your home. I never wanted to close the door on this space. It took all my strength to will my legs to walk out. My tears were falling harder than I chose to acknowledge. I locked the door one last time. Fuck that stupid electronic lock that never works properly. I loved being keeper of your house while I could, but my role was officially over. I handed in the keys to my replacement. I quickly walked two steps ahead of Dad on our way out hoping he wouldn’t notice the heart wrenching pain that was consuming my body and was written all over my face. I waved him off and headed down the highway to visit you one last time.
Tears fell from my eyes the entire car ride over. As you know, I’m a horrible driver to begin with. Add all my emotional baggage and impaired vision, I was a liability. Watch out other drivers, Crews missile inbound. My phone was connected to the aux cord in the car. I was mid-way through another stream of “Supermarket Flowers” when I pulled into the memorial home. As soon as the car turned onto the property, the song suddenly changed. I felt an immediate pressure on my heart and the radio began to play, our song, “Sanctuary.” My whole body began to shake. An uncontrollable shake like after you drink too much coffee on an empty stomach and can’t will yourself to stay still. The gentle rain of tears rolling down my face swiftly became merciless hurricanes of pain.
I cried out. I sobbed my eyes swollen. I was crying so hard I had to hold my face due to fear my eyes may actually fall right out of socket. I know you had put that song on to remind me that even though I was leaving you would always be with me in my heart. You’ll always be my sanctuary. I know you communicate to me through music now. Carter too. She said you played “The Trail We Blaze” for her just the other day. She had a similar stop-the-car-and-sob-your-eyes-out experience. We love assuming you are the one behind our Spotify shuffles.
The song’s duration proved the perfect amount of time to collect my pride and glue my eyes back into my head. When it ended, I was ready to get out of the car to see you. I walked slowly up to you and sat on the wet grass before your plot. I rolled my eyes at the temporary plaque that misinformed specters you had died on December 31st. Idiots, he died on the 30th. We only told y’all ten times. I told you I loved you more than anything, explained how proud I was to be your baby sister, and kissed my hand before touching the grass that had begun to grow over you.
I drove down Northwest Highway to your new neighbor’s apartment. Dad and I sat around quietly, fearfully anticipating my impending departure. He told me that if I wasn’t ready to go back overseas we could delay my flight a couple days, a week, even a semester. I didn’t let myself think this was an option. I knew I had to go. The longer I waited to continue my life the harder it would be to start. I also knew that you would get mad at me for sitting around feeling sorry for myself for one more day.
Dad and I didn’t say much driving to the airport. I connected my phone and we listened to the playlist Ben made in your honor. Dad walked me inside. We checked my bags. We refrained from saying much because we knew if we spoke, even made eye contact, we wouldn’t be able to hold back our tears. Our dry faces didn’t last long, as the tears came ferociously as we hugged goodbye before I went through security. We held each other so tightly that I wasn’t sure I would ever be able to pull away. People must have thought we were some sensitive individuals hugging before I went away for a matter of weeks. A scared daughter going away on a semester abroad or something wholesome like that. The people at the airport had no idea we were saying goodbye to our most important support systems after enduring a horrible tragedy.
Dad pulled away and stepped back, urging me forward. He stayed to watch me go through security and I cried the entire time. I cried when the guy asked to see my passport and boarding pass. I kept crying when your pin set off the metal detector and I had to remove it. I kept crying even when my bag had to be searched, three times, because I had forgotten to take out a pack of matches. There really is no room for sympathy when it’s a matter of international security.
Sponsored by Mom’s elaborate medicine cabinet, I had a sleeping pill to medicate me through the long journey ahead. The next 16 hours felt like genuine time travel. I fell asleep while we were taxiing in DFW and didn’t wake up until we pulled into our gate at Heathrow. I fell asleep sitting up during my four-hour layover. If a kind man hadn’t woken me up to let me know I had been asleep for a while, I would probably have missed my connection. Did you will him to do this? I know you did. I slept through the next flight. I slept the entire taxi ride back to St. Andrews. I had to tell my Scottish cab driver that I had had a tough Christmas break and that my brother had died unexpectedly, just so he wouldn’t try to spark up any conversation for the duration of our ride. He left me alone to cry and stare out the window while musical philosophy played from your iPod. Big thanks, Frank.
I arrived home to my flat and saw that friends had left me snacks, flowers, and kind notes. Another wave of fireflies in flight. Haunted by the photos of you all over my room, I broke down and sunk to the floor as soon as I was left alone. What next? Who do I become in life without you? Overcome by confusion and grief, I did nothing but sleep for those first few days back. I slept through my first class of the new year. The teachers excused my absence under the reason Bereavement.