I didn't want to. I'd had an hour of sleep the night before and then I'd worked all day, and I had fully intended on going home and catching a nap. I was also maybe avoiding the situation a little, and my family knew it. Cassidy (my cousin who is more like an older sister in some ways) started texting me, telling me I need to come over, that it would be better to do it when there were people there to cry with me.
I knew her intentions in saying that, and I knew they were true, but it still pissed me off. I didn't want to cry with anyone. I just wanted to be left alone.
So I went, and I promised myself I wouldn't cry. I put on my stupid Strider shades like they would give me the power of stoicism, anything, anything to keep from breaking down, because I knew that if it happened the panic attack that would set in would be unreal and all-consuming.
I made it down Maple Street, past the thrift store I liked to shop in (it had been gutted), past the gas station where I get doughnuts and coffee on my way to work (gone), past the pizza place where my Mom used to pick up dinner at least once a week (gutted too, and with a huge yellow X spray-painted on the side, a garish number 2 over it, meaning the place had been searched, and two found dead.) I did really well until I made it onto my street, when I started shaking like a leaf. Everything was too flat and open, and I found myself struggling to even recognize things.
It gets a little fuzzy after that. There were people everywhere in my front yard. I felt like an intruder as I pulled up and parked my car haphazardly in the grass. I could see them ready to swoop upon me for hugs, and when I stumbled out of the car, the first thing I said was, "Please don't touch me. Do not touch me." I think I told my Mom that if she tried, I'd punch her in the face. I don't know. I just stood there, leaning against my car like a douchebag, watching everything around me with my arms crossed to keep them from shaking.
Eventually my Mom managed to lead me away and around the back of the house, where all our belongings are strewn throughout the backyard and field. I found the teddy bear my first boyfriend gave me lying dejected, face down in grass, damp and covered in dirt. A little further on, a baby picture of my sister, pieces of my favorite coffee mugs, the old-fashioned bread tin that sat on the kitchen counter for my whole life. Mom was talking to me, but I was barely listening. I stood there staring at the house, and the sun was going down and light hit against the kitchen window, and it was so fucking familiar and suddenly I was 11 and standing next to the swing set we had as kids, looking through the window and I could almost see my Mom in there cooking dinner and that's when I lost all my shit.
She grabbed me and told me to let it out, and I just stood there with noodle arms, one hand clutching that stupid teddy bear and hyperventilating for all I was worth. At some point she left me alone, and I'm not even sure how long I stood in the backyard. I felt outside myself, and I could hear these awful wailing noises coming out of my throat, and the whole dining room wall was in the grass at my feet in one big piece, electrical plugs and all, and everything felt upside down.
I don't remember how I got back around the house, except that Cassidy held onto my arm and led me as I shuffled zombie-style to a spot on the grass and just sort of collapsed there, still hanging onto that bear.
It took about an hour for the shock to wear off, and I guess I was okay after that. I took some photos. We went inside, and I was standing there in the dark, looking over my Mom's shoulder through the kitchen doorway, the one that used to lead into the dining room. That door now leads outside, and-- y'know how in dreams, reality sort of folds in on itself, and familiar places become strange, like you're seeing two places at once? It was exactly like that. So surreal, and it gave me a weird kind of vertigo that made everything spin.
God, I should probably wrap this up.
That house had been part of my family for generations. My Mom's grandparents lived there, and she and her sisters used to spend summers with them there. When my grandfather died, my grandmother moved the whole family to Virginia, and into that house. My Mom and Dad moved into it themselves when I was one year old. It's the house where my sister was brought home from the hospital, where we grew up together, where we built our lives.
I keep telling myself we were lucky, and it's the truth. My family is alive. It's just that it still hurts, y'know?
Here's a video that is going around on Facebook right now. Most of the photos are from my hometown. The music is pretty cheesy, but I think it highlights what's actually going on really well.
Love you all.