I took this photo the morning of 3/1/2016. It was a beautiful spring morning and I decided to take the 50-minute walk to my lab instead of taking the trolley. It was a perfect commute and I commemorated it with this picture. I put some appropriate hashtags with the image (#morningcommute #nofilterneeded #agooddaytovote) and went about my day. Now, I think of this picture as the picture-when-everything-was-still-good. It was a generic Tuesday after that — I taught a stats lab, had office hours, enjoyed a talk at our division’s lunch lecture series, sat through a lab meeting, and probably did some reading. At some point, Jared and I went to vote in the Virginia primaries.
In the afternoon, I was supposed to work out with my friend, Peter. But, he’d had a rough day because he’d recently lost someone he cared about and so he suggested we have a drink at the local brewery instead. I’d had a few sips of beer and we’d just gotten an appetizer when Jared came rushing through the door and found us at the bar. He told me to come with him right now. I gave Peter a look, raising my eyebrows, jokingly indicating wonder-what-could-this-be. But then I saw Jared’s expression. I became confused. As he pulled me toward the door, I stopped him, all of the sudden in a panic. I asked him what happened. I think he just said again that I needed to come with him. I stopped walking and asked him again what happened. He uttered the words: “Your brother. He’s been shot. He’s gone.”
Jared somehow got me outside of the brewery. He ran back to Peter to tell him we had to go. Somehow, he maneuvered me back to the apartment, just a few blocks walk away. I walked and collapsed, walked and collapsed towards home, crying over and over again “It can’t be! It can’t be!”
It’s odd how your mind plays tricks on you when you’re in shock. My thinking wasn’t making any sense. Somehow, I booked our flights, intermittently begging a god I don’t believe in for this to please not be true. Then, I thought about whether I could still go to the conference two weeks away. Little did I know I wouldn’t be able to do any kind of work for months. Then, I realized I had to pack, but I couldn’t understand what you’re supposed to pack for your brother’s funeral. I decided to stuff a suitcase full of already-worn clothes because I figured I’d worn them already, so I knew they’d at least match. Then, I threw some black items into the suitcase as well. I realized that my grandmother was sound asleep in Switzerland, and I knew I had to lock her out of her Facebook account or she’d see what had happened online. So, I did that next. I called cousins in various parts of the world and charged them with telling their branch of the family what had happened. I called a few of my closest friends — one after the other, each started to scream or plead when I told them what happened. Jared called my advisor and arranged for neighbors and friends to take care of our pets while we traveled.
Somehow, we got on a flight. Somehow, as I sat at Philly airport waiting for the connection, alternating between total shock and sobs, Jared picked up bagels in case we wanted to eat something later. But, we wouldn’t really eat for days. We arrived in Dallas, and I ran right by the officer who had been sent to get us. I don’t know where I thought I was rushing to, just that I needed to get there. She caught up with me and directed us into a private room while our luggage was found. Soon after, I arrived wherever my family was (I still have no clue where that was) and walked in thinking: “This can’t be right. They look normal.” Well, it was right.
Next, decisions had to be made about the service. Speeches had to be written. An urn chosen. We had to help family from abroad arrive. We had a slideshow to make for the viewings. We had to attend those viewings. I remember getting, literally, hundreds of hugs at one of the viewings. Hundreds. Tight bear-hugs, one after the other, from all the officers. I was weeping, inconsolable, and it was almost as if the tears were squeezed out of me. We were driven from one thing to the next, always with the motorcade of blue lights flashing ahead and behind us. I remember the absolute outrage in the bus when someone cut off the motorcade. None of us could eat, but we drank a lot of Fireball, because that was Dave’s favorite. Finally, there was the big service at Pennington Field. As Our bus rounded the corner, leaving Marta and Dave’s house to head to the service, two little boys stood outside of a home, quietly waving American flags. The bus fell silent. That image is seared into my mind. I will never forget those boys. Just as I will never forget the agony of Dave’s Last Call, beautifully and gut-wrenchingly done by one of the dispatchers.
Next, we had to make plans for and decisions about the service at St. Patrick’s cathedral in NYC. More family traveled to NYC, then did we, with a water cannon salute bidding us goodbye from Dallas. We were taken, by motorcade, from Newark Airport to NYC, all the roads had been blocked and we were flying though an empty Lincoln tunnel before we maneuvered empty NYC streets, and we were finally greeted by dozens of NYPD officers, some in uniform others in civilian clothing, saluting us as we entered the hotel.
It goes on and on. I will never be able to put down all the details of what happened in those few days. I can’t even make sense of much of the timeline.
I’m not quite sure what made want to write this all out and put it “out there” for the world. Maybe, in a way, I’m still trying to understand what happened. Maybe, I just want the world to understand that my brother was not just a uniform. He was an amazing, beautiful, hilarious, intelligent, loving soul, and every single day, hour to hour, minute to minute, his loss lingers over everything we do. Maybe, I’m trying to figure out how to move forward. I think many of us touched by this tragedy are making it through our days, somehow, but completely unsure of how exactly we’re doing it. Finally, at least part of the reason for writing this is because I want to acknowledge the literally hundreds of people who have been there for our family over the course of the last year, and the thousands more who have sent us their thoughts and prayers every day. I learned that tragedy brings out the best and worst in people. Some friendships didn’t withstand this storm, but at the same time, total strangers have become unbelievable sources of comfort and strength.
The moving-forward-part, though, is much harder to comprehend. I’m not sure how to do that. There’s no recipe for this. A driving force for me has been to think about how I can make an impact in a way that would make Dave proud. So, I’m thinking a lot about that. But, no matter how unclear it all still is, I think there are some lessons we can take directly from Dave. As young as he was when he was taken from us, there was a kind of wisdom to how he lived his life. We just need to look at what he did, to know what we can do too. Like him, let’s love our families. Let’s invest in our friendships. Let’s not worry too much about spending that dollar or smoking that cigar or having that drink. More than anything, let’s care for one another, and ideally, make each other smile or laugh while doing it.
Dave, I miss you beyond words. You were my best friend.