I wake up to a cold draft seeping under the covers. My heart beats slowly, lethargically. I’d rather it be any other day but today.
I roll over, but find the indented spot next to me empty. It’s a cold, winter Saturday morning. It takes all of my strength to rise out of bed.
I glance at the picture on my bed side table, of their two little happy faces pressed against each other. Both of them are bundled up, and their cheeks are rosy from the cold. The picture was taken on a day like this, freezing, the clouds heavy with the promise of snow.
My fingers stroke the frame tenderly, and the heavy sorrow tears at my heart once more. The fateful day, one year ago from today, we sent them to school, with mittens and scarves on. His mittens soaked with blood.
The tears come then, hot and salty against my cold cheeks.
“Mom?” It’s Amanda. She’s standing in the door frame, her slender body leaning against the wall. “Mom I love you. I miss them too,” she says quietly. She turns to leave then.
“I love you too Amanda,” I say. She’s grown up too fast for a 13 year old girl.
I pull a sweater over my pajamas, to drive away the god damn cold that seems to be everywhere. I walk downstairs, and find that Jeff, my husband, has made pancakes for Amanda and I. He comes to me, and wraps his strong arms around my tired body. I lean my head on his shoulder, and sigh heavily.
Time is supposed to heal pain, but all of it still hurts so much.
I remember the exact moment at work when I received the phone call. “Hello, Princeton Publishing Company, how can I help you?” I said.
“Hello, is this Mrs. Susan Pine?” the voice on the other line asked.
“Yes it is,” I say half-paying attention.
“You need to come to the Green Elementary School immediately. There was a shooting about an hour ago, and both of your children, Ellie and Michael were shot. We need you here right now,” he says.
I drop the phone, and I hear the plastic cracking as it crashes onto the linoleum floor. I don’t clearly remember the following, like how I got out of my office, but I must have told my boss because I remember him looking at me with tears leaking out of his small eyes.
“Here, have some breakfast,” Jeff says.
I sit down at the table, and Amanda sits down next to me. I eat small mouthfuls of the sweet pancakes, but I can’t seem to stomach the food fully. The three of us sit at the wooden table, and I can’t help but notice the two empty chairs at the end of the table.
“What are your favorite memories with them? Or individually?” Jeff asks as he forces a forkful of pancake into his mouth.
“Going to sleepaway camp with Ellie was really fun. We weren’t in the same cabin or anything, but one night both of our cabins were at the campfire together and we got to sit together and we had our arms around each other. I remember looking into her eyes and feeling so lucky that I had her and that I would be spending the rest of my life with her. I know she felt the same way. Even the girl sitting next to us said she was jealous that we were so close as sisters,” says Amanda.
I feel as though I’m drowning in sea of my sadness and there’s no way to save me. I shouldn’t be here, sitting at a table with the remaining people of my family talking about the children that I’ve lost.
“I can’t do this,” I say.
I get up and half-run, half-walk up the stairs, away from the reminders of my dead children, of the great tragedy that ripped my life apart last year.
I sit in my bedroom and fall to the floor, and start to cry, uncontrollably. The world is collapsing around me, and I can’t see straight. Ellie and Michael, dead. I’m sobbing and memories of them flash through my mind. Me holding them for the first time, Michael breaking his arm, Ellie’s first dance recital, our family vacation to Thailand a few years ago.
They’re only alive in my memory. And the thought that I won’t be able to hold them, hug them, and kiss them ever again, eats away at my very sanity every day.
The raw, utter pain rips through me, cutting away at me from the inside.
I pulled my car into the school parking lot, taking in the flashing lights of police cars and ambulances. I stumble out of my car, and run to the nearest officer. And that’s when I follow his stare to the entrance of the school, where both of them are being taken out on stretchers.
There is so much blood. In fact, too much blood. Every part of me wants to vomit up every last thing in my stomach, but I know I need to be strong.
I run, feeling the raging terror flash across my chest. I see Michael first. That is where all the blood is coming from. There is so much red, red, red, soaking the stark whiteness of the stretcher.
His face is unnaturally pale, his eyes closed, all energy and life completely gone. His tiny hand is dangling down, mitten still on. It, too is drowning in blood. It slips off, and I remember the slow motion feeling I got, watching it float to the cement below.
The world comes back into focus and his stretcher is frantically, but purposefully rushed away from my view.
I see Ellie, and although she is laying down, her eyes are opened and panicked. Her brown-golden hair is splayed under her head, and her soft, brown eyes are wild with fear.
“Ellie! It’s me, Ellie! It’s Mom! I’m here! I’m here!” I duck under the yellow caution tape, tears streaming down my face.
“Ellie!” I cry as I run up beside her stretcher. Her eyes are almost glazed over, but there is a slight alertness to them as she catches sight of my face. She holds her gaze for a moment, and then her small brown eyes roll back into her head, and she has slipped away.
“No! Ellie! Look at me! Hear me! Please! Don’t go!” I grasp at any sign of life, at anything.
The police officer grabs ahold of me, his grip firm.
“Ma’am, come with me, we’ll drive you to the hospital. Don’t worry you’ll be with them,” he says.
I don’t resist, or at least I think I don’t. I don’t remember the car ride, and the next thing I know, I’m sitting in the hospital waiting room, numb.
I have no idea where Michael and Ellie are. I have no tears, and my panic has suddenly gone, and now all I feel is a weird nothing, like none of this is real.
Jeff is now next to me, how he got there I don’t know.
“Susan! Susan speak to me, how did this happen? Are they ok? They’re not dead right? Susan? Susan? Wake up!” I remember looking at me, thinking maybe if I looked at him he’d understand what had happened.
Instead, he turns around, bewildered, and fades from my view.
It’s hard to remember that part too, when all I felt was a crumbling sense of detachedness.
I do remember Jeff returning to me, hugging me, and the warmth of his love bringing me back to life. And all of sudden, the noise, color, and pain rush into me all over again.
“Jeff! Where are they, do you know?” I ask feeling so hot with panic that I can feel my hands burn.
He looks at me. “They were walking into school when he ambushed both of them, with a gun. He asked where the principal was, and apparently they wouldn’t tell him. He was about to drag Ellie off with him, for god knows what, when Michael jumped right in between both of them. He fired the gun then, and the bullet went straight through Michael and into Ellie. Ellie’s in surgery and they didn’t say anything about Michael. He’s a hero, Susan. He jumped in front of a bullet for his sister,”
I am too appalled to say anything. A bullet is in my daughter right now. A bullet.
“Mr. and Mrs. Pine?” It’s a younger man, dressed in blue scrubs, with a somber face.
“Yes, that’s us” Jeff replies.
He looks at us directly, his eyes stony with loss and sadness. That’s when I know we won’t be receiving good news.
“Your son -- Michael -- we did everything we could, but he had no heartbeat by the time he reached the ambulance. We could not resuscitate him despite CPR for 45 minutes. He is dead. I am deeply sorry,”
Everything and everywhere is complete and utter pain, and I’m crashing down, down, down into the deepest and darkest parts of who I am.
“...and Ellie was in the middle of surgery when her aorta, a major artery, started to tear. We tried to control it, we really did but there was just too much bleeding. Ellie died on the operating table. Again, I’m sorry for your loss,”
This is too much. Both of them? Out of all the chaos in my mind, one strange, oddly comforting thought emerges. They were born on the same day, and now they have died on the same day, together. At least they are together. That doesn’t stop me from crying out, reaching for anything that can drag me up from the place I have sunk to.
Jeff catches me, and I’m sliding down his body, holding on to the only thing I know. I am lost in this all consuming pain, and I feel myself starting to leave, to slide into the melting darkness at the edge of my vision. I let myself go to escape the pain.
Now, here I am, a year later, still as much of a mess as before. At the mercy of a stranger, my twins died in cold blood. My son is a hero, giving up his life for his sister, even though she never even made it in the end.
The pills are in my hand, and I find myself looking into my bathroom mirror. My messy, brown hair is snarly and unkempt. My face is red and tearstained. I look into my eyes to see the same eyes I looked into when I searched the face of the scared girl on the stretcher.
There are the small reminders, every day, of the pain I have experienced; the pain I still experience.
I look down at the pile of small blue pills in my hand. This is my way out of such misery. I’ll finally see my beloved twins once more. Is it really better to live? Death can be so much more enticing at times. I lift my hand up to my mouth. Finally. I can finally let myself go.
“Mom? Mom please no, I need you. I need you now more than anything. Please don’t do this to me. I know it kills you that they’re gone, but it doesn’t mean you can be gone now too! We all suffer, and we all hurt, but that’s part of life, Mom. You still have a kid to take care of! You still have me! You still have Dad!” Amanda’s strong voice echoes against the cold tiles of the bathroom.
“Amanda...I…” I can’t say anymore, for she embraces me, tightly, and scrapes away every last pill from my hand.
“It’s ok Mom, you have me. Just hug me. Be with me. Be here,”
And then there are streaming tears, from both of us, dripping down our tired faces, falling to the floor.
And at that moment, I know I have to continue. I still have a daughter. I can’t betray her. Life goes on, and I know I must go with it.
The cold draft is back, but now I am warmed by the determination and love of my daughter. Through sorrow comes strength. I just hope I have enough to make it through the rest of this day.