8 years ago today, my life was forever altered. Time stood still. I watched my parents collapse at separate instances and in separate rooms. I witnessed 70+ people, who I never knew cared so much about my family, jam themselves into the waiting room at St. Ann’s Hospital. I can still smell the ICU. The bright lights and the white tiled floors still stings my eyes. The doctor’s voice telling us that Paul had no blood flow to his brain at 7:30am still feels surreal. It all still feels like yesterday. Or 80 years ago.
8 years ago, my only brother passed away from a head injury. He died on a Sunday morning. I still can hear him laughing with me at 2am, the Thursday before, watching Extreme Elimination Challenge, the Halloween episode where contestants in an Asian country competed in these ridiculous obstacle courses while decked out in Halloween costumes. I had come home from working a long shift at Galyan’s, and I made sugar cookies for us.
The Friday before his death, my parents came to visit me at Galyan’s. They were excited to tell me that they had eaten dinner with Paul at a restaurant, and he informed them that he had decided to become a history teacher. I think my parents were excited because he was finally turning the corner and “growing up”. I remember feeling hopeful yet still skeptical, which I regret now, but I vividly remember my mother’s face. She looked tired. Exhausted. Relieved. As if to say, “Finally. We made it. We did it. Paul is going to be alright.”
The next morning, Saturday, I woke up to the phone ringing off the hook. I can honestly say that not answering that phone was one of the worst decisions of my life. I was in grad school – no one called me at my parent’s house; I had a cell phone. I should have answered the telephone because it was my dad calling from St. Ann’s.
I went to work that morning, and for reasons unknown to me then, I felt the need to bring my cell phone with me to the shoe department and left it in the back room. At around 10AM, my phone rang while I was looking for a men’s ize 11 in a KEEN sandal. After closing the sale, I checked my voicemail and returned my dad’s call. My dad answered and couldn’t speak. He answered and just started sobbing. My dad, probably one of the strongest and level headed human beings I know, was choking on his tears. I instantly regretted not answering the home phone. I remember time stopped. My heart pounded and I was in shock, standing there in the back room, looking down an aisle of rows after rows, stacked upon rows of shoe boxes. I felt instantly small.
After talking to my ex boyfriend and Mackenzie on the phone, I left work and cautiously walked into the hospital, not knowing what to expect. I partly anticipated him being fine, and that all of this was just going to be a huge wake-up call to him. I never thought for a second that I was never going to hold a conversation, let alone have the opportunity to look each other in the eye at that point. When I had arrived, Paul was still alive. He was heavily sedated and the doctor’s had informed my parents that Paul was going to be ok. He had suffered a head injury that he would likely recover from, but he really couldn’t get into any more fights again. Literally, within 1 minute of me arriving in the ICU, I watched Paul start to become as the doctors put it, "agitated" and they ushered me out to the waiting room. While I sat out there, I still felt like all of this was going to end up with all of us losing just a little bit of sleep that weekend. Meanwhile, Paul experienced a massive seizure. Before I left the ICU, I remember watching my dad trying to help Paul get comfortable on the bed; Dad just looked so helpless as the nurses bustled about the room.
What had felt like an hour but was actually only 5 minutes had passed, and a nurse came to get me. They had put my parents in this conference room within ICU. My mom was a mess at this point, shaking and crying over what she had just experienced with her son. Later, I discovered that this was “the room” where you’re told heavy news. I still remember the pattern of the carpet on the floor.
I can’t remember how much time had passed at that point, but I then remember someone from Lifeline of Ohio come to speak to us about organ donation. I was stunned. I looked searchingly at my parents, and I wanted to stand up and demand, “Wait. What in the hell is happening? I thought the doctor’s said he was going to be ok! Is this really happening right now?!” But I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t even move. It felt like I couldn’t breathe. I just looked at my parents, wide eyed and tried to process just what was being said to my mom and dad as this gentleman was asking my parents to sign on this dotted line.
8 years ago, our world got a little smaller. 8 years ago, I became an only child. 8 years ago, my parents experienced every parent’s worst nightmare. 8 years ago, life, as I knew it, was never going to be the same.
Over the past 8 years, a lot has happened. I graduated with my Masters degree and moved 1089 miles south to Sarasota, Florida and began my teaching career. I met my husband. We got married. We switched schools. I donated my hair twice. We traveled to visit friends. We survived 4 hurricanes in one year. We bought a condo, then lost it. I ran 3 marathons. We coached track together. We took our first cruise. We turned 30. We bought Vespa scooters. We had a baby. My husband was named Teacher of the Year. I earned my National Board certification. We moved back to Ohio.
A lot of living has happened in 8 years. I can’t tell you what my first day of teaching my first class was like. I can’t tell you what my husband was wearing when I first met him. I can’t describe how I felt the day my husband asked me to marry him. I can’t tell you what my first taste of crème brulee from our favorite restaurant C’est la Vie tasted like or what the Sarasota beach smells like. But I can tell you everything about the day Paul died. And the days or months that followed. I can describe to you what it was like to wake up every morning for months to my parents crying. I can tell you about how when I stood up to speak at his funeral, everyone was crying before I even spoke and I couldn't even look at my own mother. I can tell you about how I couldn’t get close to anyone for fear that they too, might leave me. I can tell you what I was wearing at the hospital that Sunday morning (red hooded sweatshirt) and I can describe the duffel bag that I packed for my mom and dad since they stayed the night at the hospital. I can tell you what it was like to not be able to sleep for weeks because I couldn’t shut off my brain.
I often wonder how my life would have been different had Paul made it through. I would have never moved to Florida, never met my husband and therefore never had Juliette. In a strange or twisted way, I feel as if I need to thank Paul, for allowing me to grow and experience the things I did after he had gone. I can’t smell his cologne in my car anymore like I used to or feel his presence, but I know he’s somewhere out there in the universe. Thanks, Paulie, for giving me the strength to give just about anything a shot. Thank you, for reminding me that no matter what happens, you've always got family.
RIP Paul Geoffrey Price 02/22/2004