Where the inside of my mind leaks onto the screen.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Dear Travis Wall

Dear Travis Wall -

According to the famous French painter Edgar Degas, "Painting is easy when you don't know how, but very difficult when you do."  My only real experience with painting was a summer painting playground equipment during which more paint probably ended up in my hair and on my clothes than anywhere else, so I'm pretty ill equipped to comment literally on his perspective.  But I've recently gained some difficult experience that allows me to allegorically expand.  If, by some miracle, you're actually reading this, bear with me as I use far more words than probably necessary.  I have been told that words are my paint brush.

There is a small intersection in the neighborhood where my sister and I both live.  Each day on my way home from work, I stop briefly at the same stop sign, pausing for traffic that never exists.  If I turn right, I will end up on the street I called home for ten years.  The second-to-last house on the left is the house to which I brought each of my three sons home when they were born.  It is also the house I shared with a steady stream of family and friends, frequently teased by neighbors for our apparently revolving door.  

In July of 2013, my sister and her family entered that door.  And in April of 2014, my family left it, bound for a brand new address one whole street over.  Poets have written about the importance of the dash between the two dates on a headstone.  The most pivotal dash in my life thus far is the 9 month period between 7/13 and 4/14 during which two families became one.

There are eight supporting characters in this story: myself and my husband Kirk, my sister Michelle and her husband Skye, my three sons (Adam, Alex, and Dylan), and my nephew Ryder.  Each of us played a distinct role in the household.  I was the whirlwind, blowing in and out as my job a teacher and hobby of community theater often require.  Kirk was, as always, the kite string that tethers me to our home and family.  Skye was the party, filling our home with laughter and conversation every evening.  Michelle was the glue, loving my children as her own as she cooked and cleaned and shuttled, never once complaining of the extra burden.  The star of the story, however, was named Tyler Marie Davis by her parents and Princess Ty by my husband. And Tyler was the light.  

One of my favorite things about our shared home was Tyler's enthusiasm each day when a member of my family would return home.  I fondly recall scooping her tiny one-year-old frame into my arms at the end of a long day, then turning my head to the side so she could inspect my daily selection of earrings.  I would often come around the corner to my bedroom and spot that sweet little girl snuggled up to her Uncle Kirk eating Funyons and watching tv.  I have countless pictures of her seated proudly in the lap of one of my sons, and I finally gave up even trying to pretend that she was their cousin.  In fact, when my family full of boys would beg me for a sister, I would remind them they already had one. 

On January 14, 2015, I came to a stop at the familiar stop sign, ready to drive straight to my new home instead of turning right to Michelle's.  I glanced to the right, a motion I've since come to believe was instinctive not only for checking for oncoming cars, but also to look fondly toward my sisters home in gratitude to continue to have her family so near even though we no longer shared a roof.  On this date, however, my gaze fell on a scene now etched permanently into my mind.  There, at the end of the street - my street - my sister's street - was an overwhelming amount of emergency vehicles.  In a moment of panic and selfishness, the thought pounded so loudly in my head that I am not certain if I may actually have been speaking it aloud, "Let it be the neighbors.  Let it be the neighbors."  

There are seven houses between the intersection and my sister's home.  A lifetime seemed to pass as I drove past those seven houses, my heart pounding and my brain racing faster than I seemed to be able to drive.  Somewhere in those agonizing moments of uncertainty, I unrolled my car window.  I wanted nothing more than to somehow be closer to my sister.  I arrived as close to the driveway as the emergency vehicles would allow and saw her there.

On the driveway sat my sister, dressed in polka dot pajama pants and tears.  The world spun as I tried to comprehend the words she spoke to me.  Skye appeared seemingly out of nowhere and cried words into my ear as he hugged me tightly, "Pray - just pray."  My husband, who had responded to Michelle's terrified phone call, was already there.  I took a deep breath, pushed the emotions back, and started to do what had to be done.  

Ryder needed to put socks on.  The emergency personnel needed to know Michelle was pregnant.  Kirk needed to get Skye to the hospital to be with Tyler.  Adam needed a ride to scouts.  Alex and Dylan and Ryder needed a sitter.  Michelle needed our mom.  My hands shook as I dialed, trembled as I texted, and balled up in frustration when I couldn't reach the people I desperately needed.  Eventually, I took to the streets - a crazy person knocking on the doors of neighbors, explaining frantically that there was an emergency, and I needed them - now.

And then the call came.  My husband, the one who bragged constantly about his little Princess Tyler, gave Michelle the news that Tyler would not be life-flighted to the children's hospital.  There was nothing more that life-saving measures could do.  Her response echoes now in my mind as clearly as in the agonizing moments during which she first verbalized it, "She's gone?  How can she be gone?  She was just here."

And for me now, two months later, that's what hurts the most.  Last week, I sat up late at night with my son Alex who couldn't sleep because he was missing Tyler.  We looked through pictures together and told stories about our favorite moments.  I came across a set of pictures from January and noticed the corner of a game piece in the picture's foreground.  Curious what game we'd been playing, I peered more closely.  Tears sprang to my eyes as I realized it was a game we had gotten after Christmas.  After Christmas.  How could a game we'd purchased only two months ago be in a picture with Tyler?  It seemed somehow unfair - a cruel reminder that somehow she is gone, even though she was just here.  

Tyler and Adam - January 1, 2015

But I have my words.  I talk to my husband and my friends incessantly about Tyler.  About what I miss and how I feel.  About my guilt, about my pain, about the happy memories I have.  And when talking isn't enough, then I write.  Even though sometimes it is difficult to express the things I need to say, I have my words.

Michelle, though, has never been much of a talker.  I worry a lot about all the emotions trapped inside of her with no real way to get out.  Those of us close to her have been grateful for the occasional truth she has posted on Facebook, knowing that these snippets are as close as she can come to voicing what she is feeling.

February 9, 2015: Surprised by how much better I feel after repeatedly belting out (through the tears) "Your Daddy's Son" from Ragtime the entire 30 min. drive to my parents' house.

February 14, 2015: The best way that I can describe how I feel at any given moment of the day is that I constantly have that nagging feeling like I have forgotten something.

February 19, 2015: Just had a memory of something Tyler had recently started to do. She would put one hand up in front of her chest an in imitation of Mom say, "Be right back." If only.

March 9, 2015: I really want Travis Wall to choreograph a dance about Tyler to John Mayer's "Dreaming With A Broken Heart". Someone get on this.  

"Painting is easy when you don't know how, but very difficult when you do."  My sister now knows everything there is to know about pain, and that knowledge makes it impossible for her to express it.  I would give my sister the world if I could.  But no matter how many words I write, I will never be able to tell the story she wants told.  I know she wasn't serious when she posted on Facebook, but an old boyfriend of mine always used to say that behind every joke is a little bit of the truth.  If there is any chance that a Travis Wall dance about Tyler would help her say what she can't paint, then I can't stop myself from passing along that message.

Travis, if this somehow actually reached you, and you would like to capture a vision that my words just can't paint, just watch this little ball of fire living it up in the short life she was granted.  And if you see a story you could paint through dance, words would fail me in my efforts to express gratitude.

P.S. Michelle posted in a comment, "I will also accept Derek Hough or Sonya Tayeh."  So, ya know, feel free to forward this if you aren't interested.  :)