Damon, 5 Years Later
December 3, 2016 ~ Demetra Szatkowski
***This has the potential to be triggering for anyone who has lost someone close to them, and especially for my family. You may not want to read it (or at least make sure you’re somewhere private) if that is the case. ♥***
Last night I purposely put myself back into that space. To remember.
Five years ago today.
Five years ago today I was sitting on my dorm room bed, trying to teach myself how to play the guitar. I can still feel the strings against my fingers. I can feel my curiosity when a boy’s name pops up on my phone, someone I haven’t talked to in a while.
I can still feel my stomach drop when he says: “What happened to your brother?” I feel it drop further when my mom doesn’t answer her phone; further, still, as my brother doesn’t answer his. I feel it leave me completely when my dad answers, sobbing, from the ER.
I feel my hysterical screaming and the raw total emptiness in my body, tears pouring out, unbelieving. I feel the next hours all blur together. There is nothing like that feeling, the feeling of severe, sudden, unexpected loss.
I don’t usually go there in my head, because I cannot stop my imagination. What was it like, to drive and turn a corner and spin out? To have the car slam into the wall? He had to know the second he lost control. What would that terror feel like? What was it like for his friend, to see my brother, my incredibly strong, capable brother, knocked unconscious, mouth foaming? What was it like when the ambulance came, and they cut him out of his seatbelt, and drove him to the hospital? What did he look like? What did those people feel? And when they looked at him in the hospital, and they said, no, his pupils are too dilated, he’s brain dead … What made that surgeon say, we’re gonna operate?
I don’t go there, because I don’t really want to know the answers. It hurts too much. When I think about it too deeply I feel someone slash into my body, that area right between my heart and my stomach and tear out parts of me. I prefer my thoughts to skim on the surface.
I go on the surface when I talk about it. I block parts out. I can tell Damon’s whole story and not cry once and I think people are surprised when that happens, when I say it so casually. It’s because I’m on the top, barely dipping down into the water. I act like I dip down but I don’t. Not that far.
Last night I went back. Back onto my old, deleted Facebook. I read the posts from December 2011. The moment when my wall started flooding with people saying their prayers, the only sign that something bad had happened. My profile picture changed. My posts, tentative but hopeful. So positive. Damon will wake up soon, they said. Pray for Damon to wake up.
No one knew Damon wouldn’t wake up like that, like in a movie. No one knew that it’d take him over a month before his eyelids even started to open, and that even when they did open, sometimes just drooping halfway, that he still wouldn’t see us. Did you know you can open your eyes and not see?
My sister had to go back to school four fucking days after it happened. Four days. Can you imagine what that was like? I can’t. I just can’t.
Fevers. Surgery. Brain fluid. Pneumonia. Half a skull gone, then replaced. Air mattresses on hospital floors.
A hole cut into his throat to help him breathe.
People brought us food. I forgot about that, until a few days ago. Every day for months. Someone in my class said “social media doesn’t accomplish anything. It doesn’t put food on people’s plates.”
I said, “For us, it did.”
My brother is gone. I don’t know if I’ve ever allowed myself to feel that so fully until now. I will never have any more memories of the same boy I lived 17 years of my life with. We will never know what that boy would have become. How his sweetness, his intelligence, his goofiness would have served the world.
I want to stop writing posts about my loss of Damon and ending them by talking about the new brother I have now and how much I love him. People love that, because it ends so positively. Everything is so happy now, it implies. Everything works out for the best.
No. It doesn’t.
Some things are so awful that all we remember when we think about them is trauma. And we live with that trauma for the rest of our lives. And we have to figure out what to do with it. Do we push it down? Do we pretend it’s not there? Do we drown it out with sports, with drugs, with distractions? Do we hold it and let it inform the rest of our lives?
I don’t know. Lately I prefer to hold mine like an open wound, and let everything pour out for the entire world to see.
My mom has a brother who is her rock. Who will be there at any second, who is her support.
I will never have that. I had it, and I lost it.
I remember being at a friend’s apartment one day while she was talking about being scared of her safety. She said one night there were sounds and so she called her brother, and he came right over. Damon would have done that for me, I thought. Anything I ever needed, Damon was always right there. And he knew how to fix everything and how to do everything I couldn’t do. Computers. Cars. Lifting things. Laughing at me.
I miss him. And more than I miss him I feel the loss of what he could have become. What he would be for me now. How he would be in the world now.
I still can’t believe that it happened to me. I never thought something that bad would ever happen to me. You never do, I guess. You never do.
So I lay here, playing the same songs on repeat, letting my mind wander back to those first few months. White snow falling outside the hospital windows. The clothes I wore for days in a row. Nights spent on a chair, watching Damon with cloths wrapped around his head, silence except for the beeping of all the machines. Family there. Always, family there.
I have this darkness to me now that most people either don’t have or don’t acknowledge in themselves.
I watch this video I put together two years after Damon’s accident. Who knows why my high school self felt the need to record on video every funny thing that ever happened, but she did. The most random videos of me, Damon, and Talia, being the absolute silliest together. They’re full of Damon hugs, full of laughter, full of inside jokes that no one else would ever understand no matter how I explained it. One time I was at a training for something and we were asked the question, if you had gone so far out of your body that you were dying, and you wanted to go, what would make you come back?
My siblings, I said. Absolutely nothing else other than that.