Nothing good comes from an unexpected phone call at 4:00 a.m. On August 25, 1988, the shrill sound startled Scott and me. Scott, barely conscious, lunged for the phone. I rolled my heaving weight over in an attempt to sit upright. At 8 months pregnant I hadn’t been able to move my bulky, often quivering, belly easily in at least a month.
“Okay. We’ll be there as soon as we can,” Scott said.
My heart was about to thump out of my chest.
“Hon, that was your dad. We need to get dressed. Terry’s been shot, and they’re taking him to Anderson Hospital.
My heart skipped several beats. Terry, my older brother by 2 and 1/2 years, had taken a summer job at the Amoco (now BP) station next to highway 255 in Collinsville. He worked the night shift and last night had been his last night there. He’d be returning to his full time job as the grounds monitor at Collinsville High School.
Faster than I had moved in a month, I threw on some clothes. “Let him be okay. Let him be okay. Let him be okay” was my mantra. The baby, for once, was remarkably still, almost as if he too were praying. I have no idea how long it took for us to arrive at the Hospital. It was normally about a 20 minute drive, but it could have been 2 minutes or 2 hours early that morning. We pulled up next to my parents’ car. A quick scan also showed my sister-in-law and her parents. This could not be good. My mom was crying, MeeMaw was looking sadder than I’d ever seen her before, and my dad was pacing. He rushed to Scott as I went to my mom.
“It can’t be,” she repeated.
Scott knelt beside me and said, “He’s been shot three times. Once in his hand, his shoulder, and his head.”
I looked up, robbed of speech. That was when I noticed the helicopter on the landing pad. “They’re going to transfer him to SLU hospital,” Scott continued.
I tried to comfort my mom, telling her lies I no longer believed, saying that SLU was one off the best hospitals in the country. Terry had a hard head, nothing could penetrate that. He’d be okay. He had to. He was going to be the baby’s godfather. Then, an orderly came out of the hospital and asked us to come in with him. Scott helped me to my feet and I waddled behind the rest of the family. That, though, was when I heard the engine of the helicopter throttle down and watched as the blades slowed. I knew then, but couldn’t – wouldn’t – accept it.
We were all brought into a tiny room in the emergency room. Terry’s best friend, Greg, was also supposed to be there, so Scott went out to find him. I don’t think he realized what we about to be told. An unsmiling yet professional doctor came it. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for a doctor to face a family full of hope and fear.
“I’m sorry. His injuries were too severe. He has expired.”
Again, I couldn’t say anything. The baby gave one big kick and I looked at the faces in the room. My mom and grandmother had tears streaming down their faces, but my mom’s eyes looked vacant, lost. My dad was openly sobbing. My sister-in-law looked stoic and stunned, her parents stood on either side of her, their hands around her waist, and looked at the floor. Scott came in then, along with Greg. He asked me what the doctor had said. I still couldn’t speak. My mouth opened and shut like a guppy who’d leapt from his bowl and landed hard on the ground. I just stared at my husband and shook my head. I think it may have been MeeMaw, I’m not sure, who told the two of them that Terry had died. Greg stormed out of the room. We had been told that we could see him if we wanted to, but looking at me, the doctor said that it might not be a good idea. I truly regret not seeing him that one last time. My dad, though, did. I desperately needed air, so Scott took me outside. The rest of the family followed. Over in the field next to the hospital stood Greg. His arms above his head, screaming at the sky. He bend down, elbows on knees for a moment, the stood rigid and came to us. My dad barreled out of the hospital, paler than any living being should ever be. He couldn’t look at any of us, but got into his car. Sobbing, my mom looked at me and asked if we’d come over to house soon. I nodded, no words left in me.
Scott drove me home so we could take care of the new puppy and change into cooler clothes. August mornings can be chilly and I’d thrown on a heavy sweater. I let the puppy out to pee and suddenly it all became real. I sat down heavily on the dew covered grass and sobbed. Then screamed. Then sobbed. I think some neighbors may have come to stare, but I’m not sure. Later, those same neighbors brought over casseroles. All I remember is Scott picking me up and carrying me inside while I kept shouting that I wanted him back. I have no idea how long I screamed and sobbed, but eventually I calmed. Scott washed my face off with a cool washcloth and we heading over to my parents’ house – puppy in tow.
Throughout that day we made and received probably a hundred phone calls. It’s odd, but as I told what had happened to friends and family, I became calmer. Later that day my parents and sister-in-law went to the funeral home to make arrangements. Five days later, on August 30, 1988, we buried my only brother. The line of cars in the funeral procession snaked behind us for over half a mile. Ten days later, the police caught the man who had killed Terry. Sadly, they caught him after he had killed another man and wounded a second who eventually became paralyzed and then died as a result of his injuries. He is now serving life in prison. This one random act of violence devastated my entire family.
Six weeks later I gave birth to a very large, active, healthy, perfect little boy. We were going to name him Michael James since the name of James has been in my family for several generations. Instead, he is Michael Terrence. Greg, rather than Terry, stood up for him at his christening. Michael was the balm we all desperately needed to help us heal. He was (and still is) the sweetest baby, filled with gurgling giggles and smiles bright enough to light the world – our world certainly.
Despite this blessing, I began to notice things about my mom. She forgot names of people she’d known forever. She would call me five, seven, ten times a day, often repeating the same conversation without realizing it. I’ve done the research and from what I’ve read, severe trauma cannot cause dementia. It can, however, propel it. Not only had we lost my brother, we had begun on a very long and arduous journey of losing my mother. My dad died at the age of 74 in 2004 from complications of heart disease. MeeMaw passed in 2010 at the age of 96. My mom is still alive, sort of. She’s now 86 years old and has never recovered from Terry’s death and then the loss of her husband and mother heralded further declines in her mental stability. She is now confined to a nursing home where time is very fluid. One day she knows me, knows my sons and their ages. Those are the good days. Most days now, however, she knows us, but also asks when her mom or dad (who died in 1976) are coming to pick her up. She told me the other day that she needed to catch a bus home because she didn’t like leaving her mom home with the kids too long. That same day she told me that my brother was “some man. You’re going to be aunt again.” Then, she asked where her mom was, suddenly deciding that she was at home babysitting Terry. I just smiled and said yes, she was with Terry.