“Stop!” I screamed as I ran up the stairs, “You don’t understand, just shut up”. My older sister Lizz had just walked in the door yelling at my parents because they didn’t pick her up from Youth Group that night. My outburst hardly surprised her; we were constantly fighting and bickering with each other. She didn’t know it wasn’t my typical whining until my mom walked over and sat my sister down. I watched from the top of the staircase as my mom broke the news. My sister’s eyes widen, the tears forming immediately. I wanted to comfort my sister; I wanted her to comfort me. But I was stuck, frozen on that staircase and clutching on to the banister, because in that moment it was the only stability I had left.
Two hours earlier I was sitting in my parents bedroom playing The Sims computer game when our home phone rang. I sprinted to get it, even though being the youngest I was the only one whoever answered the phone. Ten year old me loved talking on the phone; I would keep a conversation going with a random sales guy just because. It fascinated me how someone could be somewhere else, anywhere else in the world, but their voice was right next to my ear. The Caller ID showed it was my grandparent’s number, so I ecstatically answered “Hey Nana!!!! Whatsup?!” I was shocked when my normally jubilant Nana flatly requested to talk to my mom.
“Mooooooommy,” I called as I ran into her bathroom, “Nana’s on the phone and she sounds angry soo…be nice!” I sat next to my mom as she talked, being the curious kid I was, until my mom’s faced turned as serious as Nana’s voice, and she ushered for me to leave. I was offended, my mom always let me listen in, especially when it was Nana calling to talk about something crazy the neighbor’s kid had done, or the new shoes she found at TJ Maxx. My mom half closed the door, and as I peered in through the cracks, I saw her sit on the closed toilet seat and begin to cry. My mom is not a crier. I had never seen my mother cry before, and it terrified me.
My feet lead me down the staircase in a furry to find my dad. He was reclining in his chair, watching the football game with my older brother Mike, as per usual on a Sunday evening. “Mom’s crying,” I blurted, which immediately got his attention. He went up the staircase to see what was going on, and my brother and I crept behind and waited next to the stairs to listen in. I couldn’t make out what they were saying, my mom was breathing heavily and couldn’t speak clearly enough for me to grasp what she was saying, but Mike knew. He told me to walk away, that it was “too sad” for me to handle. “I can handle it Mikey,” I pleaded “I’m almost ten I’m not a little kid anymore”.
My brother and I went down into our basement to play a game of ping-pong, his way of distracting me from what was really going on. But the curious kid I was demanded an answer, “Just tell me! I won’t tell mom you told, promise.”
And then the words I never saw coming, came next. “It’s Kaitlyn” he started. Kaitlyn? I thought, our cousin? Kaitlyn was our 17-year-old cousin, and my role model in life. I idolized her; she was the embodiment of what I wanted to be when I grew up. Kaitlyn was smart, and Kaitlyn was pretty. Kaitlyn played sports and Kaitlyn sang in choir. But above all Kaitlyn was the most kind-hearted individual I have ever met, even up until present day. I remembered a time at their West Virginia home the winter before, where Lizz was annoyed at me for following them around all day, but Kaitlyn let me stay, because I was “one of the girls” and she said she wanted to be with me just as much. I snapped back to the moment, my brother and I at the ping-pong table, and he continued to tell me, “There was a real bad accident with her and Aunt Rhonda, and Aunt Rhonda’s in the hospital she’s in a coma Ker, they don’t know what’s gonna happen to her, but Kaitlyn…” and he trailed off. He couldn’t finish it and we both knew what was next. I started hyperventilating.
“I have to pee” was all I could manage as I ran up the basement stairs to the bathroom. I locked the door and fell to my knees. It couldn’t be true. He must have heard wrong. Bad things don’t happen to good people, and Kaitlyn was the best person I knew. A knock came on the door so I knew I had to come out. I wiped my eyes and tried to look normal, because if I could get back to normal, maybe we all could. Maybe I could walk outside this bathroom door, and everyone would be smiling. We could go back to normal, and I could play my computer game and go back to being a kid.
But as I opened the bathroom door, my mom waited outside with arms stretched open, and I fell into them immediately. “I’m so sorry honey,” my mom cooed as she caressed my hair. “She’s in a better place, and she loved you. Kaitlyn loved you so much sweetie, you know that.” We all kinda stood there in the kitchen for a while, fumbling on words and “I just can’t believe its”. What do you say in that situation? Everything’s gonna be okay? Because it wasn’t. And I wasn’t. I wouldn’t be for a long time after.
My sister Lizz was at youth group, so my mom arranged for her to get a ride from a friend. She walked in annoyed and called out to my parents “Why couldn’t you get me? You know I hate driving with Rachel Benenson she’s so annoying you were supposed to pick me up!” Even the slightest outburst upset me, as I was still trying to decipher what was going on. I went to run to my bedroom, being dramatic as always and yelling at my sister for yelling. And when my mom told my sister what had happened, another thought hit me. My sister walked in the door, and the first thing I did was yell at her. 5 hours away in West Virginia my cousin Ryan sat in a home where his sister would never walk in again. Where something as normal as saying goodbye to your mom and sister as they leave for church, ends up being your last memory of your only sibling. And somehow I still couldn’t even get along with my own sister the first five seconds that she walks into the house.
I spent the next week praying. Really praying hard, to a God I wasn’t really familiar with. I was raised Catholic and I had my Baptism and Communion, but we rarely went to Church and my parents didn’t really talk about religion much. But for the next week every time my mind wandered, I prayed to God that it wasn’t real. That Kaitlyn would wake up, and we’d realize the first responders and doctors were wrong, she wasn’t dead. Every 11:11, and every eyelash I wiped away I wished that she wasn’t gone.
We drove down to West Virginia for the viewing and the funeral, and I brought my favorite American Girl Doll. It was one of the custom ones that you can choose how they look, and I had special ordered her the year before with long brown hair and brown eyes, and named her after my best friend, Kaitlyn. I clutched that doll the entire car ride there. I wasn’t the only one who had trouble accepting this tragedy. My Poppop drove from South Jersey all the way to West Virginia and forgot his suit for the funeral, and instead of renting one there, he drove all the way back home to get his suit. I was so confused at the time by this, but now it makes sense. At a time when he was about to burry his seventeen-year-old granddaughter, he needed his own suit to resemble a sense of normalcy.
I wore a pink skirt to the viewing. Everyone was dressed in black and I couldn’t handle it. Kaitlyn was the happiest girl, why she would want me to wear all black? It was my first funeral so the concept was foreign to me, but my mom liked my reasoning, and let me wear my happy skirt. Once we got there, everyone was hugging each other and couldn’t stop crying, but for the first time I couldn’t start. I saw my other cousins and relatives bawling, and I took it upon myself to try and comfort them. I’ve never been one to deal with my own problems, so I focused on helping my other cousins get through the night.
As everyone was leaving, I sat with my Uncle Pat, Kaitlyn’s father. We talked about the agenda for the next day, the details of which I can’t really remember. But I was certain it started at one time, and he thought another. He called over Ryan, his son, and Ryan agreed with me about whatever time. I laughed and was proud of myself for remembering the funeral information I had read over and over again on the car ride here. Then Uncle Pat looked at me and rubbed my back, laughing a little and said, “You’re a smart one Kerry, just like Kaitlyn was. You remind me a lot of her, you know that?” And that’s when the tears came. I excused myself to the bathroom, because if Uncle Pat could hold it together, I really couldn’t lose it in front of him. I was really impressed by him and Ryan that weekend. Aunt Rhonda was still in the hospital recovering so she couldn’t be there, but Uncle Pat and Ryan stayed strong the whole time, comforting relatives and practically the entire county that came out to remember Kaitlyn. I’m not exaggerating, literally it was packed with people from all over, and all of them told me how wonderful of a person Kaitlyn was. Whether it was classmates she sat with when no one else would, or a teammate who needed moral support, Kaitlyn was always the one helping everyone else out.
I left West Virginia with a heavy heart, but a new outlook on life. I realized it doesn’t matter how good you are, or how hard you try, because life is a fragile thing. It can be gone in an instant, everything you thought you knew can change with the blink of an eye, but you have to be ready for that. You can’t waste your time on petty matters and materialistic desires, because when you die none of that matters. I decided I wanted to live a life the way that Kaitlyn lived hers. I want people to have stories about me, and I want someone to miss me as much as I still miss her.