Aftermath (The Crux, Part 2)

“I need to think and relax. I need to be in the water,” Collins said after a few moments of silence.

Jon didn’t really know what to do; the whole situation was so unexpected.

“Alright, dude; we’ll head down to the beach and you can think there as long as you need.”

The three of them drove down to one of the beaches on the lake shore, and Collins was out the door and in the water before the vehicle had stopped moving. They waded thigh-deep into the lake and stood there in silence for about ten minutes, just watching the sun set. It truly was beautiful. After that experience, Collins would say that there is no better place to receive bad news than northern Michigan in July.

The weather was perfect, the sky was clear except for a few stray clouds on the horizon, and the water was surprisingly cool. The lake stretched out north, east, and west as far as the eye could see, and the sun was setting on the water to the west just as a full moon was rising in the east. It was quiet and peaceful. They all simply gazed at the beauty of it all, with Jon and Reed waiting for Collins to break the silence when he was ready.

Finally, he spoke.

“What the hell, man. This is crap.”

The other two nodded in agreement, knowing there was nothing they could say that would make this any easier. Collins continued, “Ok, I need to relax and think this through. I have time for grieving later; right now, I need a plan. Jonny, do you mind if Reed spends the night at your place and we leave in the morning?”

“Yeah, that’s fine; we had already discussed him staying the night while you were on the phone.”

“Good, thank you. Alright, Reed, you should probably get some rest tonight. I certainly am not going to sleep at all, so you’ll be driving my car on the way home.”

Reed nodded again, then turned to Jon, and said, “Is there a grocery store or something close by? I need to grab a few things for the night. I left straight from the hospital and some people from the church drove me to the airport. I didn’t have a chance to pack a bag or anything.”

“Sure thing; when he’s ready, we can head over to the store, grab what you need, maybe a couple frozen pizzas for dinner, and you can crash for the night. You’ve got to be tired.”

“I’m bushed. I got the call from his mom while I was at the church, and then I spent a couple hours there before they all realized that they needed to tell Chris what had happened. His mom didn’t want him to have to drive home alone with that on his mind, so the senior pastor bought me a plane ticket up here, and I was out the door. I rented a car at the airport, and got on the phone with him right away.”

“Thanks for coming up here on such short notice, man. I really appreciate it,” Collins said quietly. “Let’s head over to the store, and then head back to Jonny’s place.”

They went to the grocery store, picked up Reed’s necessities and three frozen pizzas, and then made their way back to Jon’s apartment. Once they arrived, they ate and Reed laid down to grab some sleep. They decided they would try and leave the apartment by 8am, and Reed needed some shut-eye if he was going to be able to drive the entire 9-hour ride home.

When Reed went to sleep, Collins and Jon went for a drive. Jon figured Collins needed to keep moving, and he would talk when he was ready. They discussed the plan for the morning and how Collins would handle the funeral arrangements, skirting around the real issue at hand. Finally, as they passed a park on the lake, Collins told Jon to pull over.

“Jonny, what am I going to do? My dad is dead. My sisters are still teenagers; they’re not even in college yet. I’m still a kid myself: I’m in my early twenties, for crying out loud. I still rely on my old man for a ton of stuff. I talk to him about everything; nobody gives advice the way he does. What are we going to do now?”

Jon took a slow breath, trying to find an acceptable answer. “I don’t know what to tell you, dude. It sucks all the way around. Right now, you have to take the time to grieve, and then figure everything else out later. Take a few days to really work through this. It’s going to suck for a really long time, but if you face it right away and don’t bottle up what’s going on inside, I think it will be easier to figure the other stuff out when the time comes.”

“Yeah, that’s a good point. It’s just total horse crap. I know that nobody lives forever, and I was eventually going to have to bury my parents, but I thought I’d be older. I thought I’d be ready for it.”

“No matter how old you get, you’re never ready for it. I’ve seen grown men with grown children of their own have just as hard of a time coming to terms with their parents dying as you are now. You just have to keep your head up. Talk about this stuff, let it out. Don’t let it crush you and don’t bottle it all up inside. Let it flow. It’s a massive thing to deal with, but I think you’ll be alright. You’re a strong kid and you have a lot of good, strong people around you who will help you through this. You know you can always call me and talk about this. You’ve got Schmidty back home; you’ve got your family who is going through this right there with you. You’re not alone.”

“Yeah…it almost doesn’t feel real. It’s like I’m going to get back to my folks’ place and he’ll be on the couch. It feels like a dream, but I know this isn’t something I’m going to wake up from. There’s a part of me that doesn’t want to ever go home. I want to stay here in Michigan and pretend this never happened. I know I have to get in that car in the morning and drive back to my Dad’s house. I know that when I walk through the door, he won’t be there. I know that for the rest of my life, I’m going to live with this hole inside me, this scar that will always remind me of what I lost. It’s kind of selfish, really…I’m not sad for him, I’m sad for us. He’s fine; he’s in a better place. It’s the rest of us who are stuck here without him.”

“It’s rough, man, for sure. In time, that wound will heal. It will leave one hell of a scar, just like you said, but it will heal, and you’ll be ok. It will just take time. Meanwhile, you have people you can rely on. You’ve always got us.”

“Thanks, Jonny. This is helping a lot. I just need to keep occupied until I get home. Once I’m home I’ll have stuff to do, and I’ll be fine. Right now, I just need to keep moving.”

“That’s fine, dude. We can drive around and walk around all night if you need to.”

As it turns out, that’s exactly what he needed. They stayed at that park a few hours, and then they drove around and walked around until the sun came up. When sunrise came, they made their way back to Jon’s apartment and stood in the parking lot drinking coffee and Collins smoking like a chimney until Reed woke up. They talked at times, and other times they stood in silence. As sad as it was, Collins was right: there was no better place to receive bad news. Having the opportunity to calm himself and work through the initial shock in such a peaceful place prepared him for the flurry of activity that awaited him back home.

When Reed woke up, he and Collins packed up his car, said goodbye to Jon, and began the long ride home. Collins hadn’t slept all night long, so he laid the passenger seat back and almost immediately fell asleep. Reed quietly listened to some tunes as they sped down the road. About an hour and a half into the trip, Collins was awakened by a loud banging noise coming from under the hood.

Bolting upright, he exclaimed, “What the *censored* was that?!”

Reed looked over to Collins, shrugged his shoulders, and mumbled, “Dunno,” and kept driving. Collins glanced at the tachometer and saw that it was redlining.

“Reed, pull over. We are maxing out the rpms and we are losing speed; something is definitely wrong.”

They pulled the car over and Collins immediately lit up a cigarette. Popping the hood and seeing that the problem was not something he was going to be able to fix on his own, he started laughing. The stress of the entire situation came crashing down on him in that moment and he burst into a fit of maniacal laughter. He looked up and started yelling at the sky.

“Really?! Of all the times for my car to take a crap, it had to be right now? I can’t seem to catch a break; what on earth am I supposed to do now?! I just want to get home so I can be at my father’s FREAKING FUNERAL! What the hell do you want from me?! This is already hard enough, without this adding to the mess!”

Reed got out of the car at this point and walked over to Collins, who had shut the hood and was leaning against the car.

“Well, Chris, what seems to be the problem?”

“I don’t know for sure, but I know it’s not anything I can handle. I’m guessing the transmission blew out, so we’re going to need a tow. I don’t have any money for a tow, and I damn sure don’t have enough money for a mechanic to fix whatever is wrong.”

“Ok…let me make a few calls. I think the church will be willing to help get us home.”

So Collins called his mother and told her what had happened while Reed called the senior pastor of the church. After several minutes and half a pack of cigarettes later, Reed came over and told Collins that the church would pay to have the car towed and looked at by a local mechanic.

They were able to get ahold of one in a nearby small town (thank God for the internet and smart phones), and after an hour of tinkering under the hood, he was able to tell the duo that the transmission had completely fallen apart. There was no repairing it, and to get a new one would take several days and more money than the car was worth.

Reed made a few more calls, and was able to get in touch with one of the members on the church board who owned several car dealerships, one of which was in Green Bay. He worked out a deal where a dealership in Michigan let Reed and Collins take a car to Green Bay, and in return, the board member would have two brand new cars shipped up to the other dealership.

With a solution finally ironed out, Collins had his car taken to the junkyard, and the money he got for it paid for the mechanic’s time, both tows, and the cab ride over to the dealership. Climbing into the new vehicle and continuing the trip home, Collins took some time to try and relax. He fell into a fitful sleep, full of dark dreams that left him more exhausted than when he fell asleep. In time, they reached Green Bay, where the church board member, Dave, met them. From there, Dave drove them the rest of the way home.

After the whole fiasco with Collins’ car, they actually made pretty good time, and made it back to Collins parents’ house before sundown. Upon arrival, Collins thanked Dave for working so hard to get him back home, grabbed his things, and stepped out of the car. Reed got out and stopped Collins before he made his way up the driveway.

“Chris…this stuff really sucks. It’s going to be very difficult for a long time, but you can always pick up the phone and call. I’m going to let you go in and see your family, but I will be back tomorrow to help you guys get all the details and arrangements worked out.”

“Alright, Reed. I really appreciate everything you guys have done today. This has been crazy, and you all bent over backwards to get me home. I can’t tell you how much that means to me.”

“Don’t mention it, man. When the need arises, we step in. It’s what we do. Plus, we love you guys, so it was important to us that we help you out any way we could.”

Collins said goodbye and slowly walked up to the front door. His youngest sister, Laura, met him outside, flying out the door and into his arms. As he stood there holding her, all he could think about was how glad he was to be home. With as crazy as the last couple of days had been, and how much he wanted to run away from the whole situation, he realized that the only place he really wanted to be was home.

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