This Christmas, going home was about a lot more than visiting family. It marked the first trip back to my hometown, where Noah passed away. I’ve not talked a lot about the accident because I’m still processing it, but I can tell you that over the past six months, I’ve developed fear and anxiety about going home because I knew we’d have to relive some of the memories from this summer. This Christmas, that’s exactly what we did.
Back in June, I was nervous about the trip, Noah following me in his own car to make the four-hour drive from suburban Sacramento to the mountains above Fresno. It would be the longest Noah had ever driven. Noah did a great job, following me the entire way while I stalked him in my rear view, and we all arrived safely that night. I’d love to have taken another route home this Christmas, but the drive is long enough and we knew we couldn’t avoid it forever. I was fine on the highway and even into the rolling foothills. My heart sank now and again when we passed one of the stops we made along the way or when I flashed back to what he looked like driving down the road in his little Corolla, tapping his thumbs on the steering wheel. But driving up the mountain on the same road he took the day of the accident was a different story.
I sat in the passenger seat in silence as we drove along the winding road in the pouring rain. I thought about Noah, about how excited he must have been as he took his first solo trip “down the hill” that day. I felt every turn to my core, frustrated that he made it through all of them brilliantly. I let the tears roll down my cheeks as I laid my head against the cold window, remembering barrelling down that same road to the hospital to be by his side. How could he make the four hour trip from Sacramento and then all the way down the hill the next day without incident only to have a MOMENT of inexperience that would cost him his life? IT’S NOT FAIR AND I’M STILL FURIOUS! So, I sat there and cried.
Hubby and Gavin didn’t say much until we reached my brother’s house where we had to hop in my dad’s four-wheel drive to make it the rest of the way in the snow. As we crept along the steep grade at 5 miles per hour and the boys made small talk, I stared out at the falling snow, thinking about the countless hours my kids spent playing in it. Walking through the door of the house where I grew up, where we’ve shared millions of memories with the boys, was a relief and a burden at the same time.
Hubby settled onto the couch and we built a fire. As he sat there, I thought about my last morning with Noah on that same couch. It was just Noah and me that morning. He slept in until 11 o’clock or so. I woke him up and made him a ham and cheese sandwich, some fruit, and a glass of milk. (That kid loved milk. He literally drank a gallon a day.) We hung out, me on my computer, him showing me the occasional YouTube clip or Vine he thought was funny. It was actually a pretty perfect morning in the mountains with my boy. But six months later, that couch reminded me of who wasn’t sitting on it. So, I poured a glass of wine and forced myself to think about happier memories.
After hubby fell asleep, I walked upstairs to “the boys’ room.” My father’s A-frame house has two triangular shaped bedrooms upstairs—one for me and one for my brother growing up. We shared a wall. Over the years, one room became the adult room and the other became the kid room when we would come to visit. I sat down on the bed where Noah had slept the night before the accident. I laid my hand on his pillow and for a second, I felt relief, like I hadn’t gone through the trauma of having to break down Noah’s room for our move. Because THIS room of his was still here.
I touched the books on the shelves, the ones from my childhood that I read to the boys when they were little. I opened the drawer to the desk where I found a few dozen pictures of Noah when he was an infant/toddler. I looked through them and started to cry. Gav heard me and came upstairs to investigate. He said it was the first time he’d been in the room since the accident. I hugged him and together we sat on the bed looking at old pictures of his brother. He told me stories about how they used to play drive-thru in that room with my old Bluetooth headset, and how they’d spend hours playing Uno, Texas Hold ‘Em, and Candyland with their cousins. It felt good to share the memories he had.
When I went to bed in the other room, I remembered the night before the accident, how I could hear every move Noah made as he tossed and turned in bed, undoubtedly watching YouTube. I remembered texting him and then realized that those were the last texts Noah ever got from me—texts of me bitching at him. I pulled them up on my phone.
10:56 p.m. ‘Quit squirming around and go to sleep!’
‘Go to sleep. Everyone can hear every move you make.’
I cried myself to sleep, consumed by the silence in the next room and the guilt of sending bitchy texts.
I could share a dozen other flashbacks or memories I had from Christmas weekend. But those were the hardest: driving that road for the first time; thinking about the irony of him making it all the way down to the bottom of the hill safely, and visiting the house for the first time. Now that we are back home in Sacramento, I feel like we’ve conquered a major hurdle. It doesn’t matter that it was Christmas. That trip would have been hard regardless of when we took it. But I’m glad it’s over and we’ve marked more “firsts” off our list. That isn’t to say that I don’t think it will always be hard for us to go home now. That road will always be where Noah took his last drive and we will always take it home. But I feel a small sense of closure, knowing that if we can be there and find some good now, that we can be there and eventually find joy again.
It’s okay, Noah. I know that what happened was nothing more than an accident. It was no one’s fault. It was just impeccably bad timing. Thank you for being with me when we went back to papa’s and for lifting us up as we remembered all the wonderful times we had there with you. Thank you for holding me in your heart on that road and making it a little easier to understand that it just “is.” I will never forget you, baby boy, and neither will anyone in our family. Though you may not have been with us this Christmas, you are never far from our hearts. I love you. ~Ma