No Title Can Explain This
*This was written on 10/10/18, the day my beautiful friend, my sister, died.*
It is World Mental Health Day and my heartbeat is pulsing so heavily in my skull that it feels like my veins could rip out of my head at any moment. There’s an emptiness in my chest that feels as if I haven’t eaten in days and my body is starting to feed on itself. I can feel the acids churning inside of me and the reverb from my shaking limbs is giving me sea legs. My body feels physically exhausted and I keep looking at my hands. The popped blood vessel I acquired while I tried to resuscitate my friend’s lifeless body was already fading to a pink, even though it has only been 7 hours since these hands frantically pumped on her chest. What started as a normal busy day ended with me lying in bed trying to get the image of her lifeless body and cocked head staring eyes wide open at the ceiling of her black truck, out of my mind. Her eyes were so open. And so empty.
Kaiti’s mom reached out to me because she didn’t come home the night before and she hadn’t been into work yet either. She was rebellious and depressed, our Kaiti, and it wasn’t the first time she had done something like this. And yet, something in her mom’s voice troubled me as she cried to me about how much she loved her daughter and how worried she was. Something felt desperate, unnerving, wrong. The fears she had were airdropping right into my living room and I was suddenly very concerned.
I tried to call Kaiti, but she didn’t answer, so I left a voicemail letting her know we were all worried and to please call me, or her mom, or her other friend, or anyone.
Moments after, I received a text from her best friend and co-worker letting me know that she had tracked Kaiti’s work phone to an address. We agreed that perhaps she had been visiting with that guy she would vaguely tell us about from time to time. The one she referred to only as “this friend of mine”. I only live about 10 minutes from the location, so I texted Kaiti’s mom to see if she wanted me to go and scope it out.
Her mom called me immediately and said, “I couldn’t ask you to do that. You have small children. That would be a lot to put them in the car and…” I cut her off. “My kids are at school. It’s not a big deal.” She thanked me and I assured her I would keep her posted as soon as I got there. I wasn’t able to keep that promise to Mrs. Petsche.
On my short drive over the hill my concern grew. I began feeling a stir in the pit of my stomach that something wasn’t right. I tried to block this out and instead focused on the idea of her being asleep at this guy’s house. I decided that I would march right up to that door, ring the bell, and ask this “friend of hers” to please go and get her so that I could talk to her and make her call her mom. I would later discover that where she was parked was entirely random, leaving even more unanswered questions for us all.
As I turned onto the street I saw her truck from behind and pulled forward in front of the next house. I got out of my car and began to walk toward the driveway when I noticed someone in Kaiti’s truck.
At first I thought maybe she had just gotten in. Maybe she did in fact sleep in and was just hopping in her car to send some “I’m sorry for worrying you” texts and go on her way. But as I inched closer I noticed her head was back. I picked up my speed and when my face reached her window, there she was, head to the sky, eyes wide open, no sign of life.
I yelled her name and jumped back in fear as I dialed 911. The dispatcher couldn’t understand me at first and kept asking, “Ma’am.. are you saying your son is not breathing?”
“Not my son! My friend! I think she might be dead!” I manage to mumble out the address and the man on the other line says,
“Now ma’am, is she in the car?”
“Can you open the car?”
Confused and scared I reply, “What? What do you mean?”
“Is the car unlocked or can you…”
“The window is down, I can reach the lock.”
Then he says, “Okay, miss. You need to unlock the car and get your friend out. Lay her body on the ground.”
This didn’t make any sense to me in the moment and I was terrified.
“Ma’am, you need to remove your friend’s body from the car and lay it on the ground.”
“I don’t know if I can”
He says, “you have to.”
And so I grab my friend by the shoulder to pull her body into mine. Just then, her phone begins to ring. The volume is on and I can see the name “Ian Petsche” pop up. It’s her brother.
The dispatcher keeps saying, “you need to get her out and lay her on the floor.”
“I’m trying. She’s bigger than me, I’m trying.”
I manage to get her lifeless body out of the truck and I fall to the floor to use my body as a shield protect her body from touching the ground too quickly.
It feels like everything is moving in slow motion as I carefully rest her head full of orange locks on the asphalt. For some reason this feels extremely important to me in this moment. Something inside of me screams that her head needs to be carefully laid on that ground. So I lay her gently as if I am laying one of my children down to sleep for the night.
I tell him she’s down and he says,
“Now ma’am. Place your hand on the middle of her chest and your other hand firmly over it. Straighten your arms and press down two inches, rapidly. Now keep doing that until the paramedics get there. They are already on their way”
I grip my phone with the side of my ear as I pump my friend’s chest as firmly and as fast as I can.
After a moment, I hear a sound escape her lungs. The initial one is something straight out of a horror film. I hope that a breath will follow but something in my soul tells me its the last of her life leaving her body. The noise seems to be leaving the way a can of cooking spray will give off its last few spray sounds after the bottle has emptied. There was no life in it.
Suddenly, it was silent and all I could hear was my crying. My hands and forearms were burning and my phone was still slipping.
A woman drove by and stopped. “Oh my God! Do you need help? Do you need me to call 911?!”
“I’m on the phone with them now!” I yell as I frantically try and pump, pump, pump the air back into her chest.
The woman gets out of her car and the moment she does I let my phone fall to the floor. Paramedics show up behind me and the woman leads me off of my friend so the professionals can do their job. She grabs my phone and my car keys off of the floor and leads me to the sidewalk where I am met by a tall man.
I don’t know if this man was a police officer or the fire department or a paramedic or what, but he began asking the questions.
“Did you find her like this on the floor?”
“No”, I reply. “The man on the phone when I called 911 told me to pull her out and press on her chest. He told me to.”
This man tried to calm me down.
“You did the right thing. Do you know if she had her I.D. on her? Where is her stuff?”
I tell the man that she has a bag in the front seat and he tells me to go and get her wallet out of it for him. He has me remove the bag from the car and find her I.D. for him.
I recap the story to him through hyperventilation and the woman who pulled over holds my body up with her arms. He walks away, he’s being ushered by one of the firemen. From the other side of her truck I can hear one of them say, “We are officially calling it.”
I fall straight to the floor and the woman who pulled over follows me down there. She holds me as I convulse and sob on the floor. She asks me if I’m married.
“Do you have children?”
“Then you need to be strong for them, honey. Be strong. Can you call your husband?”
“They told me not to call anyone.”
Then she asks the man if I can call my husband because she doesn’t think I can drive and they agree.
I’m not sure if Derek could really understand what I was saying, but he didn’t need to. I never call Derek unless its important and he knew it. He was already making his way to me before the woman who stopped for me took my phone to translate.
She told him that I could not drive in the condition I was in and he needed to get there immediately. “Here is the address”.
We sat, the woman and I, as I moaned and howled and shook. Then she told me she had to leave to pick up her grand babies.
“I said a prayer for her and I’m saying them for you too.”
“Thank you so much for helping me” I sobbed.
As she walked away I called out, “What is your name?”
“Gloria”, she said. “I live next door. I am so sorry for you and your loss.”
I needed to know her name before she left. This woman who fell to the ground with me. Who held me. Who grabbed my phone and my keys and my arm and my body as I trembled and wailed.
Suddenly I was alone. One of the officers asked me to take my stuff and move over in the shade.
“This isn’t my bag. It’s hers. The other man asked me to get it out of the car and grab her ID.”
“Hm. Well, it’s already out of the car so just bring it over there with you.”
The female officer got on the phone with someone as she tried to search Kaiti’s truck for clues. I yelled out, “this is her backpack!” And she came and collected it.
I sat on the concrete on the sidewalk between two cops in two cars and brought my hands to my face. They were trembling profusely and so were my legs, so I firmly placed them on top of my thighs to try and stop the shaking.
I whispered, “This can’t be real. This can’t be real.”
But then I got a glimpse of the white sheet blanketing my friend’s body and the river would flow.
I looked up. The sky was so blue. How could a sky look so beautiful on a day like this? In a moment like this? Where was the gloom? Surely the sky had to know what a mournful day this was. So why were the birds still singing? Why was the sun still shining? Why did a perfect shade of blue blanket the sky as my sister’s body laid in the street under a thin white sheet?
I’m getting calls, voicemails, texts form Kaiti’s mom and her best friend and even her aunt. But the police have told me not to respond to anyone. They needed to finish some things and rule out a crime scene before informing the family because they didn’t need a bunch of people showing up.
I call Derek and he talks to me as the officer asks me to go grab my ID. I haven’t felt like I could stand but I manage to get up and over to my car. Then, I’m told he has some questions so I hang up with Derek and began to answer.
Once Derek is there and I’m done giving a statement, we are ushered over to a new spot on the concrete to sit until I am allowed to leave.
At this spot, I can see Kaiti’s sneakers popping through the sheet.
We sit and talk and then a neighbor approaches us with two water bottles.
“I’m Rob. I live next door and thought you could use these.”
We thank him.
“What’s your names?”
He is kind. He wants information. He wants to know how his quiet neighborhood had just witnessed a death on its doorsteps.
I’m trying to be polite, trying to answer as I can. But his questions feel too hard.
“Were you close?”
Derek chimes in, “they were like sisters.”
I nod my head.
“Was she a Harry Potter fan?”
I don’t look up at him but I wonder why he would ask such an odd question.
“I saw her jacket when they just lifted the sheet.”
Her jacket? I think. I can’t even remember what she was wearing. I know she was in a black shirt, because I could still see my hands on top of her chest pressing frantically. I know she’s wearing sneakers because I can still see them underneath the sheet. But suddenly I realize I hadn’t taken a moment to even look at how her hair was or what she was dressed in because I couldn’t look away from her face. This realization makes my heart sink. I feel like I missed my opportunity to savor the last time I would ever see my friend because I was too busy being terrified and panicking and hoping I might somehow, magically, push life back into her chest.
About twenty minutes later the officers approach us again and let us know that her family has been notified. Derek asks them if we can leave and they give the okay.
I look to Derek.
“How can I call her mom? I don’t even know what to say. What do you say to a woman who has to bury her baby?”
He said, “You just call her. You don’t have to say anything. There’s nothing you can say. Just pick up your phone. You can do it.”
And so, I did. I finally called her back and she asks me if I heard. If I ever made it there.
“I’m the one who found her. I am so sorry. I’m so, so sorry.”
I decide to go ahead and leave after I get off the phone because her mom informs me that they are on their way and I want them to have their privacy to grieve. I don’t want them to feel as if they need to also tend to me.
As I stand, I think for a moment that I want to go to her body and hug her. Give her a kiss on her cheek, maybe. I walk slowly to my Jeep⏤trying to stall while I make this internal decision. But ultimately, I decide I can’t. I resolve that the moment I laid her head carefully on the ground was the moment we said goodbye. It felt like she had been saving that air for me. Almost as if she had been waiting for someone who loved her to find her and lay her down and release the tiny trapped bit of her very last breath into the world. It felt like the most poetic goodbye of all time.
I don’t know why God chose me to find Kaiti and in that same vein I know in the pit of my soul that it had to be me.
The last time we spoke, she thought I was mad at her. And even though I told her I wasn’t, she was convinced.
I said, “It’s hard to explain to you because you aren’t in a place where you are ready or willing to receive my words with love and instead you are hearing them as if I am angry or attacking you. I’m not mad at you. Nothing is happening. I just needed to breathe.”
Then I left her response on a shelf to come back to later. I resolved that we would take a couple of days to sit on it. After all, I was busy and overwhelmed and she just needed to cool off and realize that I am in her corner, always.
Later never came.
I found her body four days later and Kaiti died believing I was mad at her.
What she never fully understood in this life was how fiercely I loved her. But I hope that she was there with me, watching over as I pulled her body from her vehicle and laid her to rest. I hope that now, as she walks in heaven without pain or fear or suffering, that she can see how deeply loved she was on this earth. How deeply loved she still is.
And let my story, her story, our story, serve as a reminder that tomorrow is a guideline, not a rule. We believe that nobody should ever have to bury their child, that a life shouldn’t end at only 29 years old, that people should get a chance to grow old⏤but we don’t to decide that.
What we do get to decide, is how we treat people while they are here. I did my best to love and support my friend while she lived. I wasn’t always right. I didn’t always live up to the kind of friend I wanted to be. But I tried. And I hope heaven has WIFI so she can read this and know that I did everything I could.
Until we meet again, my sweet.