“DEATH COLLECTS ITS RANSOM FROM THE LIVING.”- Linda Lee Lyberg
3AM. The phone beside my bed is ringing. Nothing good ever comes from a call at 3AM and this one is no different.
Forcing myself from slumber, I answer.
Screaming and yelling on the other end of the line.
Get over here now! I need to talk with you immediately!
My trembling voice, I can’t, not this time. I have to work in the morning.
I don’t care I want you to come now.
Again, I say I can’t, I told you I have to work in the morning. There’s nothing more to talk about. I have asked you over and over to get help, I can’t do this anymore. Get some sleep. We’ll talk tomorrow.
I will always love you but you have to get help.
These are the last words I ever say to him.
The next morning I go to work. It’s Go Texan Day for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. I am wearing jeans, a cowboy shirt and boots. My mind is elsewhere, on the call from last night. It stays with me all day, but for whatever reason, I do not reach out to him. I justify this by thinking he is sleeping off his hangover;I won’t disturb him.
I finish my day at work and leave. As I am driving, I keep replaying the conversation from last night in my head. I analyze it, looking for signs this was different from all the other countless calls we’ve had in 7 months. I find nothing unusual. The same call, on a different day of the week. I love you, come home. I can’t, get help. I will not enable you.
After work, I drive over to his sister’s house. Both of them are there. We stand in the kitchen and I ask, have y’all heard from him? No, we haven’t. Have your parents heard from him? No.
We all look at one another and finally I say, well someone should go over there and check on him. His younger sister and I go to the house, which is not far away.
I walk up to the two-story white house with black shutters and try to peer in the window. My sister-in-law follows close behind. We are both anxious, as if sensing the outcome, fearing the discovery. The vertical blinds block any view inside. The house is deathly quiet.
Neisha, the dog, jumps through the blinds, and exposes the ghastly horror inside. One fleeting look and I know he is dead. Five seconds are all it takes; five seconds that feel like forever.
He lays there with his arms and legs sprawled out around him in an unnatural pose, his head at an awkward angle. The weapon is on the floor.
After this, everything changes. The world comes to a screeching halt, and all I can hear is screaming, mine and my sister- in-laws’. Deep ragged gasps of despair. We run from the window, stand in the yard, fall into each other’s arms. I pull myself out of my body and look down on the scene below; it is the only way I can cope.
Trapped together in a nightmare, sobbing, screaming, call 911, call 911. In our hearts, we know it is much too late.
People step out of their homes to see what is going on; no one comes near us. We hold each other up; it is the only way we can remain standing. Our grief rings through the neighborhood like a prayer of anguish. Nails raking across a dry chalkboard, raw, exposed, uncomfortable. Neighbors frozen on their front porches with looks of shock. A still life of agony.
Everything that follows is surreal and distorted, as if looking through the bottom of a glass. Someone calls the police. They arrive, don’t come near us, walk to the house. The front door is locked. A fire truck arrives, with an ambulance following it. Confused, I think what are they doing here, there’s no fire. My brain is short-circuiting; I cannot connect the paramedics to the fire department. The firemen break down the door, and proceed inside. We still stand together, arms around each other. Our sobbing is quieter now, but still no one approaches.
His parents arrive. They see the firemen, police, and us. They rush past us with hardly a look, running into the house.
Heartbreaking. Devastating. A waste.
Here’s the thing: Once we were separated there were plenty of nights he called me in the middle of the night after a gig (he was a lead singer/lead guitarist). Asked me to come over. I would go and make breakfast for him. When we were together, it was our family tradition. After we got home from the club, we made breakfast at 2,3,4 in the morning.
I don’t know why I didn’t go to him that night, but I do know God had a hand in it.
That night as I lay there in my bed a few short miles from him, God dropped a blanket over my eyes and heart. I could not feel or see his desperation the way I did at other times. Once, I was on a business trip 1500 miles away from home. I awoke in the middle of the night and knew something was wrong with him. I was right. This time, it felt like another normal middle of the night call, but I stood fast even as he threatened to come to my house.
After the memorial service, everyone gathered at his parent’s house. The one and only thing I remember is this: I overheard his father, speaking to someone. He said, if Linda had gone there that night, my son would still be alive.
Twenty three years later, I am still not so sure about that.
I will never know what may have happened had I gone.
But I do know this: God has a purpose for me. One that included me being here, today, writing this.
I intend to live up to it.
Even if that purpose is nothing more than to be a testament to others.
‘I lived through this and came out on the other side. You can too.’ AMEN