Friday, October 28, 2011

Wednesday October 12th, 2011- A day I'll never forget

There was nothing special about the day. I worked. I thought about working out. I chose to not eat well at some point. I probably met Elisabeth for lunch (or at least talked about it). I took Clancy out. I talked with Steve. I just went about my day. Nothing unusual. Even when I read on Twitter, or CNN, or while watching the news, that a crazy mofo decided to walk into a hair salon in Seal Beach, CA and shot and killed seven people inside and one guy sitting in his truck just outside. All over a custody dispute.

My brother-in-law lives there with his family. And I listened to the news and thought "That sucks" and went about my day knowing that this kind of crazy shit happens all the time. I never once imagined it would touch close to home. Which is why Steve and I spent the better part of that day being completely ignorant to how much this was impacting our lives in ways we wouldn't know for several hours.

And then at 739pm everything changed.

Pat called my cell phone because Steve wasn't answering his ("The phone is an option, not an obligation" rings through my head every time I become frustrated when my husband doesn't answer his phone). We had just gotten together with Pat on Monday, so while my thoughts quickly drifted to the shootings we had seen on the news not an hour earlier, I still didn't assume it meant anything bad.

Unfortunately I was oh so wrong.

Steve fell to his knees leaning his head against the arm rest of the couch the longer he was on the phone. And I watched, my stomach in knots, my mouth becoming instantly dry, my heart racing and my hands sweating. In that instant I heard Steve repeating "Oh Pat. I'm so sorry" over and over again. After a few minutes, Steve hung up the phone and said Michele was getting her hair cut at the salon at the time of the shooting.

No one knew where she was.
She hadn't answered her phone in hours.
There was no news coming from the police on what was happening with Michele or any of the other victims.
No one technically knew if she was alive or dead.

And as it turns out, in the absence of factual information, people can and will hold onto faith and hope.

Steve looked at me and said "She's gone." Even though Pat said they had been searching through the hospital in Long Beach and were going back again, while we were throwing random clothing and toiletries haphazardly into a bag, Steve believed all along that there was no way Michele had made it out.

Not because he was being pessimistic. But because of the facts in front of us: she was there at the time of the shooting and no one had heard from her.

We got in the car and went down to Seal Beach not knowing how long we'd be there for or what exactly we were walking into.

You know how, when you were in college and you'd come home for Thanksgiving (or Christmas) and you'd get together with all your friends and hang out around someone's kitchen table and drink and just catch up? Well that's exactly what it was like when we got to Pat and Michele's house.

There were people all over the place. Cousins, friends, neighbors- all concerned, all wondering what the bleep was going on. But doing a fantastic job of spacing out with the comfort of processed cheese, alcohol and cookies. (All things a favorite in the Corridan household back in the day of our father's battle with esophageal cancer). I thought it was weird at first, but realized it was denial in its greatest form. And who was I to judge how people chose to make it through the shock of this unimaginable situation that no one is ever prepared to navigate?

We said our hellos and hugged everyone. I stood in front of Pat while he explained what he knew, which wasn't anything different and I found myself moments away from losing my shit in a house of people who were laughing, playing, joking and drinking. I put up a finger to say "hold on", walked outside and burst out crying trying to catch my breath as the enormity of the situation tried like hell to sink in.

I will tell you, if you ever find yourself in a situation like this- and I hope to God you don't- it's impossible to understand because your mind is incapable of doing anything other than trying to rationalize a way out of the hell you're going through. I kept thinking things like...
this can't be happening.
maybe she's in the hospital.
was she really getting her hair cut?
where are we and what are we doing here?
what the fuck are we going to do if it's all true?
what is wrong with people?
she's fine she's fine she's fine.

I didn't have the close relationship I had hoped to have with my sister-in-law. For the first 8-9 years of my relationship with Steve, I tried very very hard to have a closer relationship with the Fasts (all of them), and it just never happened. I think the different stages of our lives made that nearly impossible. That and the very very different definitions we had on what it meant to be close family. And while I initially felt strange being there waiting for news, you realize in times like this that none of it matters at all. In times of need, family (close or not) binds together and hold each other up.

Pat was nervously fidgeting all night. Who could blame him? He kept grabbing at his pants and fidgeting with the seam. Other times, he'd just wipe his hands constantly on his pants. The fear taking over and evident in his nervous motions all night long. Looking at his Blackberry for any sign of information. Swigging beer to numb the pain and reality of the situation.

We waited a very long four hours before getting confirmation from the coroner's office that one of the eight bodies taken from the salon was in fact Michele's. Watching Pat and the kids get this news will be one of the most heartbreaking things I will ever witness. I'm sure of that.

There were lots of tears and hugging as the now smaller nuclear family clutched tightly to one another in the comfort of Pat & Michele's bed, among all the things that was familiar to them. Like the swim goggles Michele hung from the bed post so she could get up and out by 5am to go swimming down the street.

I'm not sure how much time passed before people started making their way home and everyone turned in for the night. But before I knew it, Steve and I were holding onto each other in Laura's room wondering what the hell had just happened and again trying to rationalize our way through this not being a reality. Michele did not get murdered while getting her hair cut. Pat was not without his wife, a woman he'd been together with for 24 years. (On Monday when we met for sushi after a doctor's appointment, Pat said that Michele had mentioned to him that they had been together for just as many years as they had been apart). Pat, Laura & Lisa were not motherless. Otis, Michele's most faithful companion, her beloved black lab, was not going to be wandering around the house aimlessly looking for his best friend.

I mean...honestly.

Somehow we slept that night. I still don't know how. I just know that we did. And when morning came, reality sunk in again. I woke up before the rest of the house started stirring and cleaned as much as I could, not being able to shake how f'd up it was that I was cleaning Michele's kitchen on a Thursday morning when I should have been at work. Still wondering "did this really just happen?"

More people woke up. More people stopped by. Everyone experiencing varying levels of shock, sadness and disbelief.

Throughout the day there was more drinking and eating and hanging out over at Michele's brother's house in Sunset Beach. I spent more time with Michele's family in that one afternoon than I had the entire time I knew her (nearly 10 years). And it made me sad; I really enjoyed their company and hated that it took this tragedy to bring our families together. Her nieces, close to my age, were fun and funny and nice. Her sister-in-law was amazing at taking care of everyone and making sure there was plenty of food and drinks to go around- constantly. In the end, as horrible as the situation was- no is- I was grateful for getting to know this wonderful family even better.

At some point that day, I went home and Steve stayed. I had to get back to work and to Clancy. But Steve stayed behind and was an amazing big brother. While I went back and forth over the weekend, Steve kept staying, providing all sorts of support to Pat. It was wonderful to see them stick together. And by Sunday night, Steve came home and I loved having him there. As you can imagine, going through something like this most certainly helps provide clarity and makes you hold onto the people you love a little closer.

We attempted to get back to some sort of a normal routine, even though there was nothing normal about our lives. Steve went back to work on Monday (10/17). He worked out and I pretended to.

And we waited for information on services.

On Wednesday we went back down to Seal Beach for a beautiful prayer service and on Thursday we went back down again for the funeral mass. There were hundreds of people there. Media. Police officers. Family. Friends. Strangers. Everyone coming out to pay respects. The services were amazing and I continued to learn more about Michele than I had known previously. And most importantly, there was a lot of celebrating her life.

It's hard to imagine that it's been two weeks since the shooting.

Michele leaves behind a husband who is lost without her. A couple days after the shooting, Steve and I were keeping Pay company during a rare moment with no one in the house, when he attempted to log into their online bank account to find out when bills (most importantly, the mortgage) were due. He tried unsuccessfully so many times he locked himself out. No one was able to check the home voicemail because only Michele knew the access code.

I learned a lot about Michele. I also learned that the Michele I knew was very different than the one most people knew and talked about. And while I don't have any regrets, because I genuinely believe I tried everything to bring us all closer together, I am sad that I didn't know the "Shell" they all spoke of.

This terrible tragedy is more than I'm capable of comprehending. Even now, over two weeks later, I still can't wrap my brain around it. And because I went very very long periods of time without seeing Michele, it doesn't feel strange that I haven't seen her, or won't see her. (By the grace of some higher power, we miraculously got together as a family the Sunday before Michele died. Something for which I'll always be grateful that the gods and schedules aligned to make that happen). The priest who spoke at Michele's funeral- a longtime family friend of the Daschbach's- said that there's no point in wasting time trying to make sense of such a senseless act. And when my mind wanders and tries to make sense of it all, I think of what Father Gaffey said and attempt to refocus on something else.

This time away has been good. My mind goes to Michele often. Whether it's by lighting a candle inside Notre Dame in Paris or thinking of her when I'm sipping on tea (she was a voracious tea drinking) or when I'm writing with one of her three children (I've communicated with them more than in the entire time I've been involved with this family). Checking in on Laura to see how her mid-term went. Finding out from Pat Jr. how it is being back at school. Asking Lisa for her soccer schedule so we can check out her mad skillz on the soccer field. Thinking about Michele brings about a lot of sadness and confusion, but in the wake of such destruction, I'm holding out hope that goods things will rise to the surface.


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