In a person’s life certain times come along that propagate major upheaval, a significant shift in thought, emotion, or action. For me that was pretty much all of 1987.
I didn’t realize until recent weeks, as the 25 year anniversary of my nephew’s death loomed, the significance of that tragedy in my life.
March 4, 1987, fell on a Wednesday. At the time I was occupying an engineering cubicle with an International manufacturing company based in Wake Forest, NC. I had been there two years. We were preparing for a big startup at a Liquefied Natural Gas facility on the coast of Belgium.
The phone rang. As soon as I answered and heard my brother’s voice I knew something was wrong. He’s never been the kind of guy that just called to ask about the weather.
He was calling to tell me in the wee hours of that morning our nephew was driving home from an outing and likely fell asleep at the wheel. He did not survive the crash. Jeffrey was 25. I was 32.
I didn’t really connect it until recently that it was more like losing a little brother than a nephew. He was my sister’s second son. Johnny was a year older than Jeffrey so essentially I grew up with those boys. I watched Jeffrey travel some of those same paths I covered and never connected the dots on where it might lead.
When you are young you want to think you are bullet-proof, that it won’t “happen to me.” It’s a lie we have to tell ourselves so we can keep doing what we are doing, rationalize our behavior and justify our actions. It could have just as easily been me on hundreds of occasions.
The next morning I left Raleigh headed to South Carolina for Jeffrey’s funeral. When I made the turn south on I-95 at Benson, N.C., the song that came on the radio was James Taylor‘s Fire and Rain.
Just yesterday morning they let me know you were gone…
The words hit me like a ton of bricks and I wept as the song continued to play.
I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain
I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end
I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend
But I always thought that I’d see you again
Frankly the memory of the next few days is fleeting. To me Jeffrey was more than family, he was a friend. I watched my sister grieve the loss and felt powerlessness of unimaginable depth.
I returned to Raleigh a few days later to get ready to head to Belgium. A few weeks later I flew across the Atlantic. I have little recollection of the trip or the time spent there. We stayed on the coast at a little town called Zeebrugge. Evenings found me sitting in some pub trying out a never-ending flow of those really good European beers.
Neither my head or heart was in the game. I climbed into a bottle and ran from my grief. I don’t recall much but I do know that sometime near the end of the Belgium project I hopped on an airplane and came home. My position with the company was in peril.
That August I found myself in divorce court one more time. I don’t remember the drive back to Raleigh. Without getting into a lot of detail I checked into a treatment center a few days later, August 24, 1987.
I have been clean and sober everyday since.
Life is good. I still miss Jeffrey.