Tag Archives: that awful night

that awful night

‘That awful night’ has been my code phrase for the night two years ago when Zach was killed. I’ve been thinking about it a lot in the last couple of months. Actually, not about the night itself, but the anniversary of it. I’ve been thinking that while I certainly won’t forget what happened on this date, I want to focus on celebrating Zach on his birthday rather than his death day.

The group I was going to in Santa Clara, Compassionate Friends, begins each monthly meeting with a reading of the names of those who died in that month. They also read the names of those who were born. I was never comfortable with that, though. I really wanted – and I still want – to focus on moving forward rather than looking back.

This blog, which began as a tribute to Zach, has become a chronicle of my activities and thoughts. Sometimes they are looking backwards, but more often they are in the moment and with a positive outlook. This, I believe, is how Zach would prefer that he be remembered. In the words of his grandfather Clark Ewing, ‘Pick up the slack for Zach.’ Do something positive, push yourself a little.

I’ve been staying since Monday in Spokane with my friends Peter and Nanci. Peter had a stroke three years ago and has limited speech ability and his right side is paralyzed. The three of us have had discussions about trauma, about change in our lives, and even some good talk about people we knew in high school. In some ways, Peter’s condition reminds me of my father’s. In both cases, their intellect is intact but the mechanism for connecting that intellect to the rest of the world doesn’t work properly. For Peter, there have been some positive signs: he can walk a little with a cane; he has been able to speak a few new words. For my father, I fear there will be no return.

For both men, those who love them have to treasure what we have and not get wrapped up in what we don’t have,

Yesterday was a good day. I helped Nanci hang some cabinets and fixed a broken door. The wind blew the hot water heater pilot out in the afternoon and I helped relight it. But we didn’t go anywhere, we just stayed near each other and talked and treasured the moments.

PTSD

Despite all my blowback from Zach’s death, I really hadn’t thought about my reactions in anything like the terms usually used to describe PTSD. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is most commonly referenced, in my experience, to soldiers after having been in a shooting war. Nowadays, Iraq and Afghanistan are the poster children, but many people came home from Vietnam with it. No doubt many came home from Korea and World War II with it as well, although the syndrome wasn’t recognized in the same way then.

Some of these countries have ongoing trauma, but out of the remaining ones, I’m sure German, Japanese, Russian soldiers came home with PTSD. Vietnamese and Koreans never had to leave home to get it.

So I don’t want to equate my feelings with those of soldiers – of any nation – who have spent months or years in war zones, killing people, seeing their friends killed, and nearly being killed themselves. But the other day, as I was driving on a two lane road at dusk with oncoming traffic going 50 or 60 miles an hour, as I was, I had a little twitch. And that image of Zach’s broken body flashed before my eyes again and I for some reason thought,’ PTSD.’

I haven’t been to a therapy session since last spring. I haven’t been to a good therapy session since Dr Perry left in January. I had a phone session with Linda S that was not satisfying and inconclusive. See my posts on ‘Goals’. I don’t think I will start up again with either although I have had ideas of trying to contact Dr Perry and do some kind of long distance therapy. So far, no action on that.

During the last month, as I was often going to work during regular rush hour, there were times when I felt myself getting extra twitchy while driving, while watching other people do really stupid things on the road. Except for the other day, all the driving I’ve done here in Washington has been fear free. I picked up my rental car today and drove up to a music store about an hour north of Duvall, then came home on a state highway that was mostly two lane. Perhaps I was distracted by having a new car to drive, or by the scenery, but I had no flashbacks. I do often take note when I am driving at 50 – 55 miles an hour of how fast the trees are going by. Sometimes I think of someone hitting my car at that speed.

I think the day will come when I will go back to Baton Rouge and stand along that road and time the cars leaving that intersection. Jake sold the house and lives in Las Vegas now. Micah and Julie are still down there so I will no doubt ask them about it again. The second anniversary of that awful night is next week but I’ve already decided that I will only celebrate Zach’s birthday any more, not his death day.

voice mail

My nephew Danny is planning a family get together this weekend at his house in Lincoln. Us Bay Area folks are planning on going but there are questions about who is staying overnight, how we can car pool, etc. Mom sent me an email yesterday with a bunch of things on it so rather than responding in kind, I called her. They didn’t answer, so I left a message.

I got no response until I checked my email this morning. She said she tried to call but my email was full. Full? What have I got stored . . .? Oh.

So, here’s my story. I save certain voice mails from my kids. The ones that seem indicative of milestones. I usually transfer them to my hard drive and take them off my phone to avoid just the problem that I now have but the last one I got from Zach and the anguished calls from Jeremy and Mom that awful night are still there. I just checked and I did transfer them but I didn’t erase them from my phone. There are a few other, more recent ones, saved.

It’s funny, I only had to hear the first couple of seconds of each one of those to bring it all back this morning. I didn’t get much work done for a while after that. Luckily, the theatre was dark and hardly anyone was around.

For months I was sure I had a early November voice mail message from Zach talking about his upcoming trip to California with Emily. When I finally went through them carefully, it wasn’t there. I guess I erased it by mistake somewhere along the line. Here’s the last one I have, from the summer before.

53 in a 35

I think about this often when I’m out driving. The 53 is a guess. I think of it as too fuckin’ fast. I used the phrase earlier today when responding to a poster on TDPRI who I thought was kind of a jerk. He responded calmly that he, too, had lost a son.

The TDPRI thread had to do with automated driving, with many posters stating that they enjoyed driving and would never willingly give up their hands on the steering wheel. Others said that the number of deaths and injuries by automobile were too many to be ignored and that the government would step in when the technology was ready. Most thought that would be less than 10 years.

At one time I was going to post here all of the statements made by the witnesses of Zach’s death. I haven’t looked at any of that stuff for many months now. I’ve had more than one therapist tell me not to look anymore. The one I can’t remember very well is the statement of the passenger, Shawn R Allen’s girlfriend. It wasn’t as lame as his but it was pretty lame. I guess they’ve gone on with their lives.

I talked to Micah at the work weekend. He said he was living in a different house in Baton Rouge, which I had not been aware of. He went on to tell me Jake moved to Las Vegas and sold the house. Well, now I don’t have to worry about being invited to stay there if I ever were to go back. Going back is unlikely but some days I do have a fantasy of walking from the corner to see exactly what the distance is and really watching the speed of the traffic.

 

anniversary

Not even a week ago I put up a post with this same title. Today is the actual day and only a couple of hours after the time one year ago that Zach was killed. About this time on the west coast, phones were starting to ring with the unbelievable news. For me it was Jeremy who gave me the bald facts, then wailed, ‘My brother is dead!

I saw many nice tributes on Facebook this evening. Zach is not forgotten by anyone who came into contact with him. His two handed handshake that I was told is known amongst his friends as ‘The Wood.’ He told me once he read that the second hand assured that the person would remember you so that’s why he did it. Little did I know how so many would have to remember him and why.

For myself, I’m kind of empty tonight. I’m tired from a tough day physically at work and I have to get up early for a plane flight tomorrow. Happily the plane flight is to Georgia where I will drink in the elixir that is Rosalie.  Sometime this week, Jeremy and I will hoist one for Zach. Maybe we’ll cry together or maybe we won’t but we will surely gather strength from each others presence.

On the Tuesday of that week, the Baton Rouge Police called us to say they were through gathering evidence from the bike and we could come and get it. Not really knowing what to expect, I went over there. The bike was completely trashed but I took it anyway because I didn’t know what else to do. The next day I set it out by the road in front of his car.

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If you look carefully, you can see some of the marks on the road where the truck came to a stop with Zach underneath it. We left town somewhat hurriedly (I thought) that Saturday to get up to Michigan for a celebration there and I forgot to do anything about the bike. Today his roommate Micah posted this picture. He didn’t say and I can’t really tell, but it looks like it’s in their garage.

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Zach on my mind

Seemingly out of nowhere, Zach has been back at the front of my attention. I think it’s because I’ve been on the roads a lot in the last couple of days. Actually, everything has been pretty nominal except for yesterday.

Yesterday was Tom Kent‘s CD release party in Roseville. I was going to go anyway – I had arranged for the day off – but he called me in the morning and said he wanted me to play on two of his tunes from the CD and to please bring a guitar and bass. I had played on those tunes for the CD but had missed the rehearsals for the live show. When that happened I told Tom I would just show up to the party to support him but wouldn’t play.

Anyway, that’s another story. What is germane is that I drove 280 miles yesterday including a significant portion on two lane roads. Today I just drove to work at Davies and coming home a few minutes ago I got to witness several drivers driving faster than they needed to: quick lane changes, tailgating etc.

How do I know they were going faster than they needed to? In almost every case I caught up to them at the next light and they were sitting calmly waiting for the light. All I could think of was, why are you risking the life of an innocent pedestrian or bicyclist for that 10% of the time when you get through the next light. And then what? You’re 30 seconds ahead of where you would otherwise be.

With the anniversary of Zach’s death coming up I have been thinking about some posts I want to do. One will be titled ‘that awful night’ and describe my experiences that night. Some others will be the statements made to the police by the drivers and witnesses. The last several months I have let the whole thing go but I am not finished with the legal system. I am gathering my strength to read those statements again and analyze them carefully. I have an idea what they will show but I will not say now. It may be that it will be different from what I expect. There is a 4 year statute of limitations on criminal charges.

the report

So far I’ve been reluctant to put up anything like progress reports on my efforts to understand what happened in Baton Rouge on the evening of November 14, 2015. Many people have asked me what I want. I’ve always felt, and I still do, that revenge is not the path to follow. Zach is dead & nothing can change that most important fact.

I am unhappy with almost everything the officials of Baton Rouge did – or more precisely didn’t do – in their investigation. Their conclusion that Zach was at fault for entering the street when he shouldn’t have makes me want to scream. Seemingly, everything hinges on the fact that Zach’s Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) was measured at 0.125%. The driver had a BAC of 0 so he’s absolved, goes the narrative. Never mind that he was rat racing another guy to be first past the merge. He got a speeding ticket, BFD.

This subject did come up last weekend, at the breakfast in Grass Valley. Emily spoke very clearly about similar incidents that had come to the attention of she and Zach. She said Zach was willing to see all sides and was generally forgiving of the one most of us would see as the transgressor. Ashley echoed my feelings when she said that she thought the driver should be punished with something more than just a speeding ticket. I asked her specifically what & she said, ‘Prison time.’

Nancy & I both looked into civil suits. She wanted me to join with her but I declined. I consulted another lawyer who eventually got back to me and said the insurance was ‘only’ $15,000 & I would have to share that with my ex-wife. So evidently their M.O. is to jack up the insurance company. They’re not interested in real questions of responsibility.

I consulted yet another lawyer and said I would pay up front to have my questions answered. He sent me to an accident reconstruction specialist who essentially declined to take the job for a variety of technical reasons (he was at least nice enough to explain to me why). The lawyer also suggested that I contact the Baton Rouge District Attorney’s office. He said they generally very responsive to bereaved families.

So it has proven to be. I wrote a letter; they called me back. I wrote another letter because I hadn’t written down the name of the lawyer who called me; they called me back again. Both times I came away with the feeling that the lawyer in the DA’s office was sympathetic to my concerns and would make an honest effort at reviewing the investigation.

The title of this post comes from the interesting fact that the DA lawyer didn’t have a copy of the coroner ‘report’. I said I did and would send it to him, which I did this morning. I call it a ‘report’ because it is two sentences long. Reading it and trying to read the police report again gave me the impetus to write this post.

Cubby’s grief; my grief

I called Cubby today & talked to him on the phone. I’ve been trying to work up the courage to do that ever since his wife died on Easter Sunday morning. I sent him a text that morning but every time since when I thought I had a few minutes to call him I found a way to not do it.

I called him earlier in the year when Ronata took a turn for the worse. I had to leave a message and I almost couldn’t get any coherent words out. He’d been struggling with her being seriously ill since her stroke in 2010 & the thought of another death close to me knotted me up completely.

Cubby told me he had to quit his job at the union because he was basically going crazy. He had thought it would be better for him to go back to work but it wasn’t. Now he’s on partial disability while he tries to make sense of his life. He’s in therapy as I am. I told him about the Bereavement Support Group that Kaiser sponsors that has been very helpful to me. He said he would check out their East Bay schedule.

For those who don’t know, the night Zach was killed I was mixing audio for a show at the Herbst and had turned my phone off. Jeremy was frantically trying to reach me and all he could think of was that he had Cubby’s phone number from 3 1/2 years ago when he came out to work out of the hall for a couple of weeks during the busy season. Cubby called Stacey, who was stage managing that night & got her to have me turn my phone on. Cubby told me to call Jeremy immediately. I knew it was bad but I thought something had happened to Rosalie. Never in a million years would I have guessed what actually did happen.

After I talked to Jeremy and started putting the show stuff in order so I could leave – in a daze, thank you Stacey & Smitty –  I talked to Cubby again about some other jobs I had scheduled for the next two days.. He told me very forcefully that I needed to get with my family and not worry – indeed, not to even think about – any work issues. He said over and over, ‘Whatever you need, I’ll be there for you.’ And I knew he wasn’t bullshitting because he doesn’t bullshit. He stuck with me on the phone as I was driving to Teresa’s.

So we’re talking today about grief and how it manifests – mostly crying jags. I told him I had been pretty good for several weeks but yesterday out of nowhere I started sobbing and couldn’t stop for about ten minutes. He said yeah that’s weird, the same thing happened to him about the same time.

There’s a lot more to the story of that awful night but for now all I want to do is say I talked to Cubby today & I didn’t start bawling. I guess that’s good.