Tragedy on the 4th of July

Everyone has a chapter (but most likely more than one) that help to define them as individuals. Generally, these are not always the happy-go-lucky situations or experiences. That’s not to say that only shitty times mold us, but I would say the resilience and the lessons we learn during these times are true testaments to our character. These are the times that not only test us, but scare the hell out of us. Living nightmares that don’t fade away with the rising sun.

There will always be dark with the light. Good with the bad. Not all of my posts are going to be aimed at health and wellness of the body. Sometimes, we have things occur to us, not physically, but emotionally and/or psychologically. The health and wellness of our minds are as important (if not more) than the gains we make in the gym, or the progress we make in the kitchen.

I have never openly shared the story of what happened that day. The morning I woke up to the horrific news and had to explain to my 5 year old princess that she was without the king in her life. While I had been a single parent for years, a role I never expected to have was immediately placed on my shoulders: sole parent.

This was their last picture together, taken the weekend before he died.

It was July 3rd, my daughter and I had been out to see the firework show that a local suburb of Minneapolis puts on. We like to go to this show, as it makes it so much nicer not having to get up early for work the next day. We’d spent hours walking the carnival they had set up, eating caramel corn, ice cream treats, and mini donuts (Mmm donuts). When the light show was about to start we made our way to the street and sat down on the curb and curled up together. It was amazing. We ooh’d and ahh’d, and couldn’t get enough. When they ended, we hauled ass back to the car to try and beat the traffic leaving the event. Wishful thinking on my part, as we ended up trapped in a parking ramp for almost 45min. Luckily, it was late, and Peanut had fallen asleep so I just sat back and relaxed and patiently made my way home. I knew the next day we had planned to meet some friends at the beach for a few hours, and just the thought of having my toes in the sand kept the normal road rage I display from time to time at bay.

We got home late, and I carried Kaylynn into my room and placed her on my bed, then went out to the living room and flopped down on the couch. My mother was living with us then, and had been up watching tv. We chatted for a little bit about the upcoming long weekend. She was babysitting all weekend as I had made plans to go up north to a boyfriend’s cabin for his birthday, which happened to be July 4th. Mom was telling me all of the things she had planned to do and was looking forward to keeping our tiny motor mouth busy for a few days with all sorts of fun activities. We finished our conversation, hugged, and went to bed.

I rarely wake up in the middle of the night. For some reason, I remember rolling over and instinctively grabbing for my phone to check the time (I mean, who has real alarm clocks anymore, anyway?). What I saw was that it was about 4:30am, and I had upwards of 12 missed phone calls – all from the same two numbers: his mom, and his sister. I knew something was wrong, but mentally, I wasn’t ready to find out what yet. I rolled over and immediately fell back asleep, hard.

The sun beating through my windows around 7:30am was enough to wake me up. I remember laying there for a moment, thinking I had been dreaming earlier… I mean, the sun was shining, it was a holiday (and in my opinion, one of the best ones), and I was being snuggled by my mini. How could there be anything wrong today? But almost as soon as those thoughts wafted through my mind, they were interrupted by the realization that I had in fact seen missed calls on my phone. I reached for it and saw that now I had missed close to 40 phone calls. Just then, the phone began ringing in my hand.

I took a deep breath and answered the call. “Ame??” I heard on the other line. “Yea, it’s me, what’s going on?” It was his sister, my long time best friend, and she did not sound good. “Hold on,” she said and handed the phone over. “Ame, are you there?” His mom was now on the phone. My heart was pounding and my chest felt like a thousand pounds with each breath as I assured her that I was there. “Jordan’s gone,” she stated. Wait, what?? “He was in a car accident and was killed early this morning while leaving the bar,” she continued. “Can you please call his friends and tell them? And please don’t share it on Facebook, we are still trying to get in touch with grandma to tell her.” My mind was stunned. What in the actual fuck was happening?

My mom has always been an early riser and heard the whole thing from the other room. Since Kaylynn had been in my room, I was perched on the end of her bed during this phone conversation. Mom had sat down beside me at some point and had her arm around me. The first thing that came out of my mouth was wondering what I supposed to do now with an entire weekend planned for both of us. Mom didn’t have an answer…no one had answers at this moment. Still in shock, I told her to let me know when Kaylynn woke up, and I stepped outside to make some of the hardest phone calls I’ve ever had to make…

I met Jordan when I was 12 years old. A friend and I were walking up and down Main Street of our quiet, small, hometown of Princeton, MN. We were dressed far older than we were, and had gobs of makeup on that no 12 year old should have been wearing. At the time, we lived for cat calls from “hot” guys driving around, or riding bikes up and down the 2-traffic-light strip. A dark Bronco pulled into a nearby parking lot and we trotted over to say hello. Two very good looking guys were in the front seat, hanging out of the windows to chat us up. We exchanged names and small talk. Then the other boy asked how old we were, and we truthfully said twelve. The conversation pretty much ended there and the vehicle sped off. I remember my friend saying, “I call Josh!” to which I immediately responded, “good, I liked Jordan anyway!” It would be a couple more years before I saw him again, when I got my first job at Taco John’s and found that he also worked there. We remained friends and occasionally he would buy my beer for house parties once he was of age, but we didn’t start dating until I was 18.

To make a long story short, we started dating in April of 2004. I graduated that year and moved to Chicago for school. 8 weeks later, he joined me in the Windy City and we lived there together for 3 1/2 years. I was getting lonesome for family and Minnesota life, and decided I wanted to move back home, with the plan that he would stay in Chicago for awhile and save up so we could get our place once he was ready to move back. We were on and off for the year he stayed behind. Long distance relationships are tough, and even more tough when communication is broken and substance abuse comes into play. But we worked through it, and after a month long “break” we reconciled and were better than ever. We even began having grown-up talks, like babies and home ownership. Something we never discussed previously without a look of absolute horror plastered on our faces.

When it was time for him to make the move, I had flown out to Chicago to help him pack the last of his stuff, and together we drove back to Minnesota and stored everything at my aunt’s house. Two weeks later, I woke up on a Saturday morning with one thought on my mind: my period was a day late. Now this isn’t crazy late, I know, but I was always pretty regular with my cycle. I mentally counted the days in my head, and yes I was supposed to start shark week (get it?) the day before. I happened to have a pregnancy test in my bathroom, any other time I was worried, I’d take a test and almost immediately start my mense right after. Looking back, I can’t imagine the look on my face when that faint second line appeared. After 5 positive tests at home and another one from the hospital confirmed we were indeed expecting, we were actually thrilled at the to be becoming parents.

We did make it through the pregnancy, but not long after. Our daughter was roughly 6 months old when we split. Nothing crazy happened, just that we grew up and grew apart. Jordan would take Kaylynn every other weekend and for the most part, life was normal. I had grown up in an almost identical situation so for me, it wasn’t a failure of a relationship, but rather an opportunity to keep the friendship alive for the sake of our child…

I had finally finished spreading the word of his death to his closest friends. Even though we had been apart almost as long as we’d been together, both his family and friends treated me as if I were family the entire time. I promised to keep information flowing as soon as I knew anything more.

I was standing in my backyard, looking out over the property I had just purchased less than 6 months before, when I heard the back door open and my mom poked her head out. “Kaylynn is awake, and using the bathroom. I’ll be honest, I can’t be here when you tell her….I’ll be back in half an hour.” Somehow, this honesty from my mom never once bothered me, but instead helped to empower me. There was a lifetime of sole parenting ahead for me, and that moment was as good a time as any to start.

My sleepy eyed, bed head little girl stepped out into the sunlight as I heard my mom’s car take off down the street. I sat down and took her onto my lap. Looking into her big, beautiful blue eyes, her dad’s eyes, I took a deep breath and tried to keep as steady as possible. I told her that there was an accident and daddy was in heaven now. Her little lips quivered as she asked me a very legitimate question: “so I don’t have a father anymore?” I bit my own lip and shook my head gently, explaining that he would always be her daddy, and he would be in her heart forever, she just wouldn’t be able see him anymore. With that, we both clutched one another and sobbed for a few minutes. In the sunshine and beauty of that day, I rocked my baby girl back and forth and soothed a pain she wasn’t even old enough to understand and one I couldn’t yet relate to. She was mourning the loss of the most important man in her life, as I mourned the loss of my first real love, best friend, and partner in parenthood. Neither of us would be the same ever again.

Initially, I figured we would cancel all of the plans we had made for that weekend. I don’t know why I had thought sitting at home was any better, after all, whether we liked it or not, we still had lives to lead. When mom got back, all three of us sat down and had a talk. In the end, Kaylynn was not happy about missing out on all of the things she had been promised she was going to be doing. She still wanted to go to the beach with our friends that day, and she still wanted to spend the weekend with grandma. Reluctantly, I asked mom a little later in private what I should do. Her response was not only some of the most accurate advice, but also took the weight of the moment off of my shoulders. She told me: “Ame, I think Kaylynn is going to be okay. At this age, she doesn’t really know the magnitude of the situation like you do. She also may not be hurting as much as you are at this very moment, being so young. Life is going to get very real for you both come Monday when you all begin funeral arrangements. I think you should take the weekend and get away from it while you can.” And so I did.

That weekend was exactly what I needed. I was able to escape from the reality of what life was going to be like and enjoy a (somewhat) care free weekend at the lake, trying not to focus on anything except soaking in the moments of distraction as they were peaceful and precious.

A part of me, even to this day, worried about the judgement that may come from this action. She abandoned her child after something like that to go up north with a different guy?? No I didn’t. Nothing could be farther from the truth. My mom helped raise my daughter, and no one else in the world loves her like she does. Their bond is incredible and unbreakable. Mom also knew that if things took a turn for the worst, I would have been home as fast as my car would take me. But that wasn’t necessary. Kaylynn had a wonderful weekend, full of fun and memories. She has since asked why I wasn’t there with her, and I tell her the truth each time. She doesn’t judge me for it, even if a part of my own heart still breaks that I couldn’t have been two places at once. Looking back however, I wouldn’t have changed the decisions I made. They were decisions made to help prepare me for what life was going to be like after we lost him. There were many quiet moments that were spent analyzing how I would tackle the future. One thing was for sure, though: no one can fully prepare for something like this. You learn as you go, and you learn as you grow.

This year, things were pretty low key. We spend each 4th of July together, nothing specifically planned other than the understanding that we are not spending the day mourning his death. We are mindful of the day, but we don’t dwell on things we cannot control. Only at bedtime did we even speak of it. She told me that she had tried to have a fun day but also felt like she couldn’t fully and that she should have been sad. I told her that daddy wouldn’t want her to be sad, because he loved so much to laugh and enjoy life. He would want her to be doing the same. I also told her that the pain she has in her heart will never go away, but will get easier and easier to carry. She nodded and buried her face in my chest and I rocked my tear filled girl again until she fell asleep.

Kaylynn and Jordan at a friend’s wedding 2013

God gives the toughest battles to his strongest soldiers. For a long time, I only thought that applied to me int his situation. As I think about it more and more, it’s so clear that He also sees my daughter as one of His little soldiers. He gave her a daddy and took him away all before she started kindergarten. The most amazing thing to me though, is that she never once has used this for pity in any way. In fact, she doesn’t even tell people that Jordan died. She doesn’t want the attention from it and she doesn’t want others to see her cry. So tiny, and so very mighty.

I share this as a reminder that we all carry things with us. Most days are perfectly fine and normal. But every once in awhile, I too feel that hole in my heart where Jordan used to live and I can’t stop the flow of tears that stream down my cheek. Whether its healthy or not, I never let her see me like this… Sometimes I think it would make it hard for her, and sometimes I think it would be harder for me. We talk about him almost daily, as I want her to know its okay to include him in our lives. He existed and I never want her to feel like he’s just disappeared.

As I mentioned in the beginning, there are times in your life when things go horribly wrong, and we all have a choice to become a victim or a survivor. This experience was another factor that eventually led to my health and fitness journey. I want to be here for my daughter for as long as God will allow it. More importantly, I want the quality of that life to be the best it can be. In many ways, I’m all she has left, and that sort of pressure can be very powerful. I choose to be strong, not just for her, but for us.

“I’m thankful for my struggle because without it I wouldn’t have stumbled across my strength.” – Alex Elle

With that, I leave you until next time. Stay happy, stay healthy, and stay hopeful.

Xoxo – Ame



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