On that day, it was bright and sunny. It was a Monday, the one just after Thanksgiving. I got up and got ready for work; I heard him breathing. I left.
On that day, I got to work and bought a bag of tiny Christmas bows, which I would use to decorate my nametag. I didn't even get to open the bag, because I got paged about ten minutes into my shift to pick up a call on the outside line. It was too early for such a call.
On that day, I heard the words "He's not breathing" uttered for the first time in real life, in reference to a human being. Somehow I had the presence of mind to ask if she'd called 911. A coworker drove me home. I remember two, and only two, things from that drive: passing the ambulance going the other way, and saying, "I'm not ready for this."
On that day, I wasn't ready. Part of me had known, since very shortly after his birth, that a day like this was almost certain to come. His life was too ephemeral; every day was too much a struggle for it to not come to a point when the struggle just had to end. But I wasn't ready, on that day. How the hell could I have been?
On that day, The Daughter slept through it all. She missed a school field trip, but she slept through her mother's panicked attempts at CPR, though paramedics, and through three police officers who stayed there to wait for me to get home. She slept while I let the cops leave, and while I sat in the armchair – the one where I'd often held him during feedings and naps – and waited for the phone to ring.
On that day, I discovered that when you know what the news is going to be, there is no more piercing, shattering, world-destroying sound as the phone ringing. I answered it before the ring had even finished. It was a nurse who nicely and professionally told me that she was going to hand the phone to my wife. I heard the words then, the words I'd known were coming – "He's gone".
On that day I learned that the words you know are coming can still blow everything in your life away.
On that day I called work and told them I wouldn't be back in. I tried to tell them why without saying the goddamn words "He died", but no amount of euphemism was getting through to the person I was talking to, so I had to fucking say it. That was the first time I was angry through it all. It would not be the last.
On that day I awoke The Daughter and told her that we had to go to the hospital. "Is he sick again?" she asked. "Yeah," I said. We drove down there. We had to wait at the desk for the attendant to come back to show us to the room where The Wife was waiting. There were a few other people there, a Catholic chaplain among them, being so nice and supportive and there. I finally kicked them all out. I was damned if we were doing this in front of a bunch of damned strangers.
On that day, I was pretty rude to that Chaplain. Later she offered a prayer, to which I brusquely responded, "Our pastor's coming. He can do it." Not a fine moment, and looking back, I don't think I had much of an excuse. Not even that was a good excuse for snapping at someone who was genuinely trying to be a source of comfort. I realize that that Chaplain has probably seen worse, and like as not, she has no recollection now of that day. But I remember it.
On that day, we had to talk to a county coroner's office employee who was very professional and about as kind as he could have been as he explained to us that by County law (or maybe it was State law), an autopsy would be performed, because it had involved cerebral palsy. He said we could stop it with a court order. We didn't have a lawyer, though, or much inclination to fight that particular battle.
On that day I learned that if you die with a breathing tube in your throat, it stays in there until the body is released. I'm sure there's a logical reason for this. I'm not sure there's a good reason for this.
On that day, we had to tell The Daughter that her little brother had died. I can think back on nearly every minute of his life that I remember and not cry, but this moment...I can't think of it without tears. I was worried if she even understood death all that much, but she immediately began to cry and said, "I didn't get to say goodbye." She understood it just fine.
On that day, The Daughter was robbed of being a sister. We left her later on with a friend so we could do some things...or maybe this was the next day...the friend later told us that, referring to his g-tube, The Daughter asked, "Will the angels know how to feed him?" We got her a necklace a short time later, with a pendant on it that read, "Special Sister", because she was. But as far as I know, she has never worn it. I wonder often how the scar of that day and the ones that followed will affect her the rest of her days.
On that day, I realized that I have questions that will never be answered. I came to a deep anger at a God who may not even be there. I came to questions like, "What, our prayers weren't good enough?" and "What about your plan is so important that this was essential?" and "If this was your plan all along, then what was the point of the praying?". I began to feel a deep contempt for platitudes such as "He works in mysterious ways." Someone told me that maybe God put him with us, knowing that we could take care of him, with his cerebral palsy, and my immediate thought (which I had the good sense not to speak out loud) was, "Or, God could, you know, just not have him born with CP in the first goddamned place." I still struggle with this. I don't expect this struggle to ever end.
On that day I lost any chance to redeem myself. In truth...I wasn't the best father for him.
On that day, the sun shone bright and clear as I drove home with a family that was smaller than it had been the day before.