Shattered and Shaken Chapter 1

Chapter 1- Shaken

 

WAKING UP TO SORE muscles and a tight chest, my body feels like it’s been torn to pieces. My head hurts, my heart aches, and my soul is shattered. The sun is unwanted, shining bright into my eyes. The loud joyful chirping of birds infuriates me.

Fighting against the sun, I force my eyes open and look at my surroundings, praying I’m lost in a nightmare. The events from this week remain fresh in my mind, and I’m having difficulty grasping the concept that Kyle’s never coming home. The thought of never seeing him again is unbearable. Not only was he my brother, he was my best friend, my provider: my everything.

How could he leave me? He had promised to come home safely; he promised to think of me and push through whatever came his way. He lied. I’m hurt, but I’m also livid that he could be so selfish. When Kyle decided to join the military, he didn’t consider the emotional hell he’d inflict on Mom and I; he didn’t give a flying fuck about either one of our opinions. Kyle was as stubborn as a mule, and once he had his mind set on something, he made it happen – no matter what the consequences were. Prime example, him joining the military. I pleaded for him to stay, but he didn’t, and look what his stubbornness resulted in – death. Now he’s gone and we have no one!

Our father was diagnosed with stage-four lung cancer my junior year of high school, and Kyle’s sophomore year of college. Dad’s physician estimated he would live no more than six months, but he was a fighter and determined to prove them wrong. The cancer was so advanced the physicians were uncomfortable providing him with chemotherapy treatments. The doctors had explained that chemo wouldn’t cure his cancer, but there was a possibility it could help prolong his life. Despite the physicians’ beliefs, dad decided to give chemo a try, but it made him deathly ill.

After six months of treatment and a two-week hospital stay, he decided to let the cancer run its natural course. Dad thrived to live, but unfortunately, he died eighteen months later. Mom, Kyle, and I watched as dad withered away to nothing. The tall, dark, and handsome man I knew as the strongest man in the world had turned brittle and weak. His thick curly locks disappeared, his broad body frame became narrow, and his muscles deteriorated.  As days passed and the cancer spread, dad’s will to live diminished. We stood by him and held his hand as he struggled to take his last breath; it was the most painful experience I’ve ever encountered – until now.

After our father’s death, mom took on a second job to pay for his medical bills. It seems that insurance companies only want to provide their services to healthy patients. Get sick and they kick your ass off the policy faster than you can blink. We were determined to beat cancer’s ass.

Mom had to refinance the house and take out several high interest loans so that dad could receive his treatments, home health, and follow-up doctor visits, putting her eyeball deep in debt. She worked as a nurse for the local emergency room every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday nights. The other nights, she worked as a private nurse caring for patients with disabilities. Before our father became ill, Mom was gorgeous, sporting healthy long brown waves, glowing sun-kissed skin, vibrant green eyes, and a nice toned body. But depression set in, and with the stress of two jobs, mom’s great looks and enthusiasm diminished. Her hair became brittle; her appetite vanished, and she lost an absurd amount of weight. Her cheeks sunk in, while her skin paled, and her eyes lost their shine. In all honesty, she looked like shit. Don’t get me wrong, I mourned the loss of my father, but life moves on. Kyle mourned and moved on, but seeing Mom worn out and defeated made Kyle take matters into his own hands. He knew the true reason mom had to work two jobs.

Mom was a Dave Ramsey graduate, and she refused to let us take out student loans. She was being unrealistic believing I could pay cash for college. Dad’s insurance policy expired before he died, and the money left from his 401k was only enough to pay for one of our tuitions. Since Kyle was oldest, it belonged to him. Kyle wouldn’t allow me to skip college. He put his foot down and demanded Mom drop her second job. He advised her to take his tuition money and invest it into my education. He had made the decision after he had met with military recruiters. They fed his brain with lies, luring him into their trap; it was all bullshit. If being ‘Army strong” is such a great thing, then why must you sign a contract with your blood, huh? What other job requires you to sign a minimum four-year contract to offer up your life? Go ahead, I’ll wait…not a damn one. Their contract isn’t one you can breach and be forced to pay fines or anything like that. You go AWOL and breach your contract, your ass is going to jail. The only pro of enlisting into the military is that it’s a career that requires no experience, and they pay a decent salary for you becoming a life-offering slave, simply my opinion.

I remained bitter for a while, but eventually, I’d adjusted to Kyle’s absence; his first deployment was the most difficult. Normally, he was deployed for seven months at a time, give or take a few months. We talked to each other over the phone almost every morning. We got to speak to one another for about ten minutes, sometime less; they were the minutes I craved each day. Hearing his voice put my nerves at ease; I loved that man more than most siblings will ever admit. Every once in a while, we’d Skype, but those conversations were even shorter. Soldiers would be lined up waiting to see their families, so we made our conversations quick.

I loved seeing Kyle over the screen, but I’d hate to be the reason a child didn’t get to see their mom or dad for what could possibly be their last time. The worst part of Kyle being overseas was playing the waiting game. When someone was killed in the line of duty, their systems would shut down for two weeks, or until the next of kin were notified. The silence was debilitating, and I absolutely hated waiting to hear his voice. When the phone rang and I finally heard his voice, I would fall to my knees and cry. I’d cried for the loss of soldiers. I cried for their families, but mostly, I cried out of happiness, because Kyle’s heart continued beating.

I stop myself from reminiscing and untangle from my sheets. I sit up and my muscles scream out in protest. Sitting still, I allow them to adjust to the position before slinging my legs off the bed and attempting to stand. Reaching my arms above my head, I stretch out soreness that has consumed my muscles. Strolling towards my bedroom window, I pull the curtain aside and reach down to slide the window open. It’s beautiful out. The sun is brightly shining. The air is warm with a slight breeze, and I hear laughter of playing children. Really? What is Mother Nature thinking? It shouldn’t be gorgeous the day after I buried one of the most important people in my life. Kyle’s death is devastating and the world moves on as if nothing’s happened. I feel as if Mother Nature should be unleashing her wrath on Earth. There should be heavy downpours of rain that cause floods, rolls of Earth-shaking thunder, damaging winds and lightning strikes catching shit on fire: anything but sunny. A piece of me wants someone to feel the tiniest ounce of pain my mother and I are experiencing, but another piece of me wouldn’t wish this pain on my worst enemy. Tears prick my eyes, and I attempt to take in a few deep breaths but fail. As soon as I suck in the air, I bust into heart-wrenching sobs. Why is this happening to me? Did I not experience enough heartache watching my father lose his battle to cancer?

As I press my back against the wall and slide down to the floor, my hands cover my face and I scream out every bit of pain that’s within me. I don’t stop until my tears run dry and I’m gasping for air. I try to focus on breathing but it’s difficult. My sadness has turned into complete anger and I have the urge to break things, anything. I push myself up off the floor and punch at the air. I look around my room for something to smash, but there’s nothing. Looking over to my side, I see picture frames filled with Kyle’s smiling face; seeing him causes my heart to clench and pain surges through my veins. Jumping onto my bed, I reach over and forcefully swipe my arm across the nightstand, successfully knocking every picture of me and Kyle to the hardwood floor.

The frames break apart and the glass shatters. Immediately, I regret breaking them, but there’s something about the sound of shattering glass that makes my chest feel lighter, making it easier to breathe. I should feel some sort of remorse by not wanting to look at Kyle’s face, but at the moment, my heart can’t tolerate the slightest glimpse of him. I’d rather surrender myself to the pain of a thousand hornet stings than to feel the pain I get when looking at someone I know I’ll never see again.

I gather some towels and head towards the bathroom. Laying my towels on top of the vanity, I glance into the mirror. I look like shit. My hair’s in knots and matted to the side of my face. My eyes are red and swollen, and my cheeks are tear stained with smeared mascara. I turn towards the shower and turn the water to its hottest setting, praying the heat will ease my aches and pains. I wait a few moments before sticking my hand under the water to test the temperature; it’s hot but tolerable.

Gently pulling the shower curtain aside, I submerge myself into the heat. It’s friggin’ hot! It stings like a mother, but eventually, my body adjusts to the temperature, and the stinging becomes bearable. I reach around and hold my hair up so the pressure from the water can beat against my neck. I roll my neck in circular motions trying to release the tension, but as I let the water relax me, I have flashbacks from the day Kyle was supposed to return home.

 

“I can’t wait to see the look on his face when he gets home,” mom exclaims. “I can’t believe he’s been gone for seven months, feels longer.” The smile she’s wearing is bigger than the state of Texas, and it’s contagious.

“It’s probably because we haven’t spoken to him in over a week,” I suggest, blowing a piece of hair out of my face as I hang balloons.

“Yeah, wonder what’s taking them so long to notify the family? I hate this, ya know…anxiously waiting to see if we’ll get a call with his sweet voice on the other end, or if we’ll be getting an unwanted knock at our door,” she says, her smile disappearing as her eyes begin to mist.

I stop hanging balloons and step down from the stool to walk over and embrace her in a tight hug “Look here, Lucy, don’t you go gettin’ all sappy on me now,” I pucker, using my best Ricky Ricardo impersonation – Dad did it constantly. “Kyle’s fine. He’s probably gettin’ off the plane now and heading over to base. He’ll be home soon,” I urge, squeezing her tightly.

She takes in a deep breath and nods her head “You’re right. He’ll be here shortly, so we better get busy.” She loosens our hug, backs away and makes her way into the kitchen. “Oh, and Allie, you call me by any name other than Mom again…I’ll cut off all your funds,” she informs over her shoulder, her smile reappearing.

It’s close to five thirty and people from our neighborhood begin to show up. The doorbell won’t stop ringing! I decide to leave the door open so the guests can enter on their own. Entering into the kitchen with Mom and some of the guests, I help mix up Kyle’s favorite punch. There’s something about fruit punch, berries, sierra mist and rainbow sherbet that makes him act like he’s five years old again.

Mom and I are stirring the punch when I hear the damn doorbell ring, again. “What. The. Hell,” I mumble, aggravated. I stomp towards the foyer to open the door when Mom pulls me back by my elbow “I counted the guests earlier, and everyone that had an invitation is here,” she states happily. Her eyes shine brightly, and she stares at me like I should know why she’s giddy.

The doorbell sounds again and suddenly it hits me, “Oh my God! Mom! It’s Kyle!” I scream excitedly, grabbing her hand, bouncing up and down.

She grips my hand and we sprint towards the door, eagerly opening it, ready to jump into Kyle’s massive arms. But as our eyes come in contact with unfamiliar faces, we immediately freeze. Oh. My. Damn. It isn’t Kyle greeting us. Instead, there are two men in uniform, and one of them is holding what appears to be a neatly folded American Flag. Now, I’m no expert at this military shit, but I’m pretty sure they aren’t here to join the party.

I look over at my mom who is wide eyed and terrified. The soldier, who looks to be in his mid-thirties, steps forward and nods to my mother. “Are you Mrs. Lucille Anderson?” he asks.

All color drains from mom’s face. She’s speechless, and tears begin to pour down her cheeks. “Yes sir,” she stammers, clutching her hands to her chest.

“Ma’am, we’re her to inform you that your son, Sergeant Kyle Kayden Anderson of the…” his voice breaks as mom screams out in pain.

“No, no, no, no, no! It can’t be,” she repeats, gut wrenching sobs escaping her.

“Oh God…no,” I mumble, realizing what their visit here entails.

The soldier continues on with his speech, but I can’t focus. I can’t comprehend, and I hear very few words coming from his mouth. The words I take in are “killed,” “line of duty,” “flag,” “represents,” and I immediately drop to my knees. I feel like I’ve been struck by lightning.

It takes work to keep breathing. I can’t see; I can’t hear, and I swear someone’s reached through my chest and removed my heart. I see what’s happening, but it can’t be true…can it? My mother’s on her knees, elbows on the floor, head hanging, and her body is violently shaking. The soldier is crouched down trying to comfort her, but she’s pushing him away. I’m completely paralyzed and useless to her. This is a joke, right? Kyle is punking me. He has to be; he promised…

 

The cold water snaps me back into reality. I immediately cut the water off and step out onto the rug to dry myself. Going over to the vanity, I brush my teeth and hair, preparing myself for the day. I take one last look in the mirror. “You’ll survive.”  If I can convince my brain that I’ll be okay, maybe my heart will believe it too. I throw on some loose grey sweatpants with a white tank top and head downstairs to brew some coffee. No matter what’s going on in my life, coffee makes it all better, for a few moments anyway.

As I step off the last stair that leads into the foyer, I stop dead in my tracks. The delicious roasted aroma overtakes my senses; it smells divine. After soaking up the coffee’s delicious scent, I make my way through the living room to join my mother in the kitchen. For someone who buried her son yesterday, she doesn’t look too bad. I mean, you can tell she’s been crying by her red swollen eyes, but somehow, she has a peaceful look on her face. She’s sitting at the island in the middle of our kitchen with a cup of coffee, reading her Bible.

“Morning love. Sleep well?” she asks, smiling up at me from under her lashes.

“No,” I admit, bemused. How can she be so calm after experiencing something so tragic? My soul is empty and a major piece of my heart’s missing, and there’s no way I could force a smile across my face. So, why isn’t she mourning the loss of her one and only son?

“Figures. You look like crap,” she puckers.

“Way to brighten up my day,” I smirk.

She reaches over and pulls out the stool next to her. “Allie, come sit. There’s something I want you to read.”

Walking to the counter across from the island, I pour myself a hot cup of black coffee. As the mug approaches my lips, I feel the heat from the steam; it’s hot enough that it’ll burn the hair off my tongue; however, it doesn’t stop me from sipping it.

I enjoy the blissful feeling as the heat travels down my throat. Gently placing my coffee onto the counter, I slide into the stool beside her. “What ya got?” I hope she isn’t going to shove her Bible down my throat. I was raised in a Christian home. I believe in God and all, but as you can imagine, I’m having a little difficulty in the faith department.

I’m not questioning God’s existence. I just question his works. Our parents taught us that when two or more people gather in His name and agree on something, it’ll happen, but what happened with my father? We laid hands on him and believed in his healing, but cancer took his life. Mom and I held hands each night and prayed for Kyle, and now, he’s dead. So, I’m sure you can imagine my lack of faith.

Aw hell, here it comes “I came across this verse and I think it’d do you some good to read over it,” she insists, sliding her Bible in front of me.

“Mom, I really don’t feel like reading that bullsh-,”

“Allie, don’t finish that sentence!” she demands, cutting me off. “This isn’t like you. Where’s this attitude coming from, huh?”

“I haven’t slept….my soul’s been shattered, and the last man to ever love me is dead. That’s where this is coming from! What I want to know is how you can sit here reading that shit, acting like everything’s fine,” I yell at the top of my lungs.

She slams her coffee mug to the counter and scoots her stool away from the island. “Okay, I’m going to let that slide because I know you’re hurting, but if you ever talk to me like that again, and most importantly, if you ever call God’s word “shit” again, I’ll knock every tooth in your mouth loose. You got that?” She turns away and storms out of the kitchen leaving her Bible wide open in front of me, exposing the highlighted verses.

With a roll of my eyes and an exhale of breath, I take a sip of coffee and relax. As I look down at the yellow highlighted lines, they draw my attention. Ecclesiastes, chapter 3 reads, “A time to be born and a time to die. A time to kill and a time to heal. A time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance. A time to keep and a time to throw away. A time to tear and a time to mend. A time to love and a time to hate. A time for war and a time for peace.”

Ironic, isn’t it. It’s the story of my life. My eyes begin to shed unwanted tears and a lump forms in my throat. If there’s a time to heal, why isn’t it happening to me, huh? Why are my wounds ripped open before they’re able to scar? Hanging my head, I let the tears flow freely.

Mom sneaks behind me, gently laying her hand upon my shoulder. “Let it out, love. You’ll feel better. It’s okay to miss him, but you can’t be angry at Kyle or with God. We’ll all go through trials and tribulations, but you’ve got to stay strong in faith and depend on Him to get us through this devastating time. God’s in control. Remember that, Al,” she whispers.

Arguing with her is pointless, so I nod in agreement to avoid confrontation.

 

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