Today my heart is heavy. I never realized this day, 11 years ago, would become a day that would forever mark one of the most difficult weekends of my life. Six years later, another tragedy was added to the already devastating and life-changing dates. These next three days, every year, are difficult for me: September 24, 25 and 26 – days I’d rather skip over. I wish I could sleep through September.

September 24, 2005.
I was at a college party with friends – it was parents weekend. Everyone was mingling and enjoying themselves; parents talking to students, students getting to know each other. It was my freshman year. I was lucky to have been dating a local guy and had become very close with a few of his close girl friends. They had become my two best friends. A man at the party kept talking to us and making passes at me – I thought it was weird because he was obviously someone’s father. I kept ignoring him and thought nothing of it.

My two friends went off to the restroom and I stayed behind, off a bit to the side since I didn’t know anyone. Suddenly, the man came up behind me, grabbed my elbow and whispered into my ear, “You’re coming with me and if you try to scream I’m going to make it so you can never scream again” and he started aggressively leading me towards the door of the party.

People always tell you, in these situations, say something – kick and scream – do anything you can to get away from the abductor. What they don’t realize is the rush of fear you feel; the shockingly-cold rush that takes over your body completely numbing you. You can’t speak, you can’t move – you’re suddenly standing outside of yourself – staring at the situation – and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.

Fortunately, from across the room, a girl at the party saw everything; she saw him creep up behind me, pinch my elbow and whisper something to me and she saw the color leave my face when the fear took over as he began to lead me towards the door. During this walk towards the door – towards a terrifying unknown – she walked up to me and pretended to know me. “Hey girl! How are you?!” She leaned in and gave me a huge hug, and she whispered into my ear, “Do you know this man?” – her words broke the all-consuming and numbing fear inside me. I started shaking and said no, and I fell to my knees sobbing. As I fell to my knees, the man must have let me go because he ran as fast as he could out of the party.

The moments after that are still a blur to me. People rushed to my side and called the police; my friends had been looking around the party for me since I wasn’t in the same place they’d left me when they went to the restroom. The girl who saved me, her father, my two friends and I went outside and waited for the police to come. When they got there, they took my friends and I to the police station, the girl and her father stayed and wrote a statement while a few other officers went to try and find the man. We wrote out our statements and stayed at the station for a few hours. I was too afraid to sleep in my dorm room that night so I stayed at my friend’s house. I just wanted to be near the people I felt closest to and get the night over with. Little did I know, the weekend was only going to get worse.

September 25, 2005.
The next morning was the beginning of one of the most heartbreaking days of my life. The girls and I went for lunch after puttering around and talking about the events from the night before. After lunch, I decided I was ok going back to my dorm and be alone. We were on our way back when I got a phone call from my Grandma Sharon. I was too emotionally drained from the night before and she had always been super chatty, so I pressed ignore and it went to voicemail. I’d call her back later in the day after some rest.

As I was walking into my room I listened to the voicemail. It was actually my Mom – she was crying. “Danyle call me back, something’s happened.” I immediately dialed my grandmothers number. My mom answered. I know she could hear the fear in my voice when I asked what was wrong. “It’s Uncle Scott, he died.” I crumbled to the floor in tears. This was the worst news I’d ever received. I admired him – I adored him. He was the reason I wrote poetry, the reason I wrote at all. I was his ‘bean’. He was the only family member I’d ever related to. He couldn’t be gone!

I sat on the floor sobbing for awhile. I called my two friends -the ones who had just dropped me off after the trauma from the night before – they came and picked me up and drove me to my grandmother’s house where I learned the details of his death.

My heart broke in a way I cannot describe; I felt guilt for not having cherished the moments and time I had with him while he was alive. I felt resentment towards God for taking him away from me – for not allowing me to express how much I loved him or have a chance to say goodbye. I felt empty. I sank into a serious depression for a very long time.

It was the hardest weekend of my life. So each year thereafter, I dreaded September. I wanted to fast forward to October and not have to think about or relive all the unanswered questions and feelings of guilt, pain and depression I’d gone through. Every year I’ve prayed to God to get me through September as fast as possible. I’d wish I could sleep through it.

September 26, 2012.
Cancer sucks. No matter who you are, where you are or how old you are, cancer has affected you. And cancer sucks.

I was sitting at my desk at work when my mom called. Grandma Jessie lost her battle with cancer. Grandma Jessie, my father’s mother, was a vibrant woman; always on the go, a hard worker with sass and had a great sense of humor – with a laugh and snort that made you laugh so hard you’d almost snort. She always made us laugh when she talked about where she shopped and why, “I got the best deal there today – I’m not getting my groceries anywhere else.” Then, the next week or the one after she’d say, “I hate that store, they’re over priced. I’m never shopping there again”.

She loved her family so much – her children and grandchildren. She loved me and was always so proud of me – she wasn’t shy about telling me that and I can’t even begin to describe how much I appreciated that. Her son, my father, isn’t my biological father. No one knows because – to me, my brother and to everyone in our family – he’s as real of a dad as they come; he’s our one and only dad – we couldn’t have wished for a better one. She never let my brother or I feel like we weren’t biologically her grandchildren.

I loved her so much. When I moved back down to the area in 2009 I lived less than a mile from her so we got to spend a lot more time together. We would drink wine and chat about the guys I had dated – she would call them losers. She didn’t like how I always paid for our dates or how the last guy I’d dated told me I was fat. She’d always joke and say I should leave my wallet at home next time I went out with someone. She encouraged me; reminding me of my successes in life and how I shouldn’t settle for a man who didn’t appreciate everything I had to offer. She encouraged my strength, how opinionated I was – she had a “can do/get it done” attitude – she truly was an amazing woman, she was a fighter.

She had cancer in one of her breasts years prior and had her breast removed. She was cancer free after that. She had a great spirit about having had her breast removed. I’ll never forget the night my parents got married; they married secretly without telling anyone and had the ceremony on the back deck of our home. It was very intimate; they each had their best friend as a witness, my brother and I were there and, of course, the judge to marry them. We drove from one family members house to anothers to share the good news. When we got to Grandma Jessie’s she was thrilled – she knew my parents were meant for one another. When we walked in to tell her the exciting news she said something along the lines of, “Can it wait until I put my boob on?” I’ll never forget that.

She was such a live spirit – always joking around, and if she was mad you’d know. She’d point and waive her index finger in the air when she talked about whatever had pissed her off.

After seven years of being cancer free, she learned the cancer was back. It was in her other breast. So, she had that breast removed. Unfortunately, it had spread into her lymph nodes. Like the fighter she was, she underwent chemotherapy and radiation. It wasn’t enough; the cancer had spread and, eventually, it took over.

Unlike the death of my uncle, I had the chance to spend time with Grandma Jessie. I had time to talk to her about things and make sure she knew how much I loved her. We all had time to prepare. But no matter how prepared you are or how much time you get – it’s never enough, the pain and loss you feel is just as devastating. On September 26, 2012 when my mom called to tell me the news, I was just as shattered as the day I lost my uncle. It’s the kind of break to your heart that never heals. It’s a pain you never get over.

“You’ll get over it…’ It’s the clichés that cause the trouble. To lose someone you love is to alter your life forever. You don’t get over it because ‘it’ is the person you love. The pain stops, there are new people, but the gap never closes. How could it? The particularness of someone who mattered enough to grieve over is not made anodyne by death. This hole in my heart is in the shape of you and no-one else can fit it. Why would I want them to?” – Jeannette Winterson

Today my heart is heavy. These three days are days every year I do my very best to stay busy; not because I don’t want to remember my loved ones, because I do – I remember them every day. I just don’t want to remember the pain, the loss – the emptiness – associated with these three days. I don’t want to get caught up in the hurt. Those days were living nightmares; I want to remember the good times – the memories that now seem like a dream. So let me sleep, let me dream – you can wake me up when September ends.

  • The Dalema (9.24.2016)

Dedicated to Uncle Scott & Grandma Jessie

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