No one wants to hear a knock on the door in the middle of the night. No one wants to hear the phone ring, waking them from their peaceful sleep. No one wants to hear a distraught voice on the other end of the phone line or open the front door and see a police officer standing there. This happens to people every day and night. It is life-changing, terrifying and unimaginable to anyone to hear a police officer say that there was an incident involving a loved one. There is the mad dash to the hospital to race to the side of a family member, hoping and praying the entire way there. This is what happens when someone makes the poor decision to get behind the wheel after drinking.
I remember being sound asleep on the top bunk of the bunk beds I shared with my sister on January 17th, 1997. I remember waking up to the sound of the phone ringing and my mother answering it. Her voice fell and shortly thereafter she entered our room and told us that there was an accident involving my brother who had gone to see a movie with a friend. She told us a sitter was coming as they were heading to the hospital and soon that sitter arrived. I climbed out of my bed and crawled into bed with my sister and my sitter and hoped and prayed that my brother, Bubby, was okay. I drifted back to sleep and had the most vivid dream of my life.
I stood on a dock with my sisters and my parents as we gazed on a large boat that was drifting out to sea. My brother, who was seventeen, was standing on the boat waving at us as we waved back. I looked up at my mother as tears streamed down her cheeks, “When will he back?” I asked her as the boat faded from view. I know now that I was trying to process what was going on. I was only seven years old, a month shy of my eighth birthday.
“He’s never coming back,” she told me, her voice was shaking as the boat disappeared from view.
The very next thing that I knew was my mother entering the room, my babysitter was gone and it was just my sister and I in the bottom bunk. She gently touched us to wake us up. She had not slept all night, her face was solemn, her eyes were puffy, “Girls, I need you to wake up and come into the living room.”
We got out of bed and walked slowly to the living room. I was expecting to enter to the living room and seeing my brother in a wheelchair but he was alive. That was not the case; we entered the living room and sat down on the couch. My parents were exhausted and tearful. I knew something very, very bad had happened.
“Last night, your brother was in an accident, he died,” my mother told us, wrapping her arms around us. My older sister started crying instantly and I rose from the couch and walked calmly to the bathroom where I promptly threw up. I could not cry like everyone else. I felt sick to my stomach; I kept pinching myself, trying to tell myself that this had to be a dream. It could not possibly be real. Not my big brother, not my protector and friend. This was not real. He was not dead. But I didn’t wake up from a dream, the nightmare was real.
Throughout the day, the house filled with friends and family, the house was full of sadness and tears as I lay on the couch staring mindlessly at the wall. Every now and then someone would check on me as everyone gathered in the kitchen. I remember someone handed me chocolate donuts, but I had no desire to eat. I could not feel anything, I was completely numb. I could not simply accept that my seemingly perfect world, my family, was now in shambles. I could not cry. I did not know what was wrong with me, everyone else was crying, but I just lay in nearly a catatonic state. I hated, more than anything, seeing my mother completely devastated. Her pain echoed through my body, she and I had always been close and seeing her suffering, seeing her wondering about funeral plans absolutely crushed me.
I was only seven, I did not understand death. I was so comfortable in my childhood and what appeared to me as a very happy home. I loved my brother tremendously. He was the ideal big brother, he joked around with us, loved playing video games, was intelligent and fun loving. He was kind, compassionate and loving; he was everything that I wanted to be. But, now, his life light was blown out, and we were all left in extreme grief.
A few days later came the funeral that was held at our local church. My mother had created memories of him to be viewed, such as his GI Joes and photographs. It was not till the funeral that I actually broke down and cried. I was touched, as were my parents, by how many people showed up to the visitation and funeral. Even though I could finally cry and express my grief appropriately, I was still in denial of this actually happening. This was something that I never expected and I didn’t want to accept it as the truth.
After the funeral, the house was never the same. There was an obvious void in our hearts and within the walls. The house smelled of flowers for weeks afterwards, to the point it actually became nauseating. My mother sunk into a deep depression and my sister and I were confused about how to react to this. It became quieter and I began to retreat into myself. It was safer to do that than to break down all the time. I tried to suck it up, I tried to become stronger for my mother, but it was difficult. Seeing her grieve was the worst thing for any child. A mother should not have to bury her child.
We visited his grave often; my mother always cleaned off his headstone and placed flowers there. Sometimes she would go alone and sometimes she would take my sister and I. After a difficult year passed, we had a gathering at his gravesite and released balloons in the sky. I clung to my mother’s hand, a year had passed, but it felt so recent, it still felt so heavy on my heart. I still saw her grieve daily over my brother until her death in March 1998. I still did not understand how this had happened. As far as I was concerned it was a vehicle accident.
It was not for a couple years later that I understand the gravity of the matter. I finally understood how it happened and I understood why I sat in courtrooms. I think the most important thing that I realized that his death, the injury to his friend, and the dismantling of my family could have been easily prevented. My brother did not die in an accident; he was killed by a drunk driver. Someone knowingly got behind the wheel of their car while intoxicated. There was no “accident” about it; my brother was taken from this world by someone’s stupid and careless act.
This happens all around the world at every single minute. People become impaired and fail to see the consequences of their actions. It infuriated me when I realized how easily this could have been avoided! It made me sick to my stomach! I learned, however, to do what my brother would have done, and turn this pain, this anger into power. My mother has since left this world, but she had been trying to find a way to cope with her own pain. She had looked into a couple organizations that empower victims and their families and I started branching out into advocacy when I moved out of my father’s house at sixteen. I just could not allow this anger and agony devour me.
It has been sixteen years since he was killed. He would have been thirty-three years old now; he has three nieces, one of them my own daughter, and two nephews. He is missed by my two sisters, my father and I. I often wonder what life would be like if he was alive and what he would think of my life and who I am. There are many things in my life that he would be disappointed to have seen, but he was always understanding of people and would have loved me anyway. Becoming an advocate against drunk drivers is a way to memorialize him, to memorialize all of the victims that die every day because of someone’s horrible decision.
I have witnessed the horrors of drunk driving, not only by my brother’s death, but I know several people who have been affected by drunk drivers, losing everything. I know one individual who drove home drunk one early morning and fell asleep at the wheel of his truck, wrecking it into a field. He survived and did not hit anyone else, caused major body damage to his truck but he lost everything because of his poor decision. His marriage ended, he lost his place to live, he lost his family and friends and many things that he loved.
There is no way to justify driving drunk, it affects everyone around you. Even if you aren’t killed, injured or even hit someone else, you destroy lives. It can be easily avoided but the vast majority of people still do not grasp the gravity of the problem. They do not see the personal aspect of what happens when someone drives drunk, high or distracted. My brother is not here because someone killed him, it was not an accident, and an individual deliberately drove his vehicle and took my brother away from me and my family. His death was not in vain, the pain that has been caused by him dying has fueled my crusade against drunk drivers, I only hope that I can help save one life.