Thursday, June 09, 2011

Wishing it away

I lived in Montreal for the first two decades of my life. I grew up in a tight-knit community in the West Island and made lifelong friends (including Kelly-Anne!) as a very small child. I attended a great elementary and high school, got a good education, and then pursued my dreams at McGill University. I was the first person in my family to graduate with a bachelor's degree.

When I wrapped up my history degree at McGill, I decided to move to the United States and pursue a graduate degree. I was fortunate enough to be accepted to all the schools I applied to and lucky to get a great education. I finished up grad school in 2004 and then headed off the big city to pursue a career in policy and politics.

I haven't been a resident of Montreal in nearly 10 years. Amazingly, it feels really distant to me now. I never imagined I would feel that way.

But I recently realized that Kelly-Anne's death has something to do with it.

When I got the call early in the morning on October 4, 2004, that my best friend had been stabbed my whole world fell apart. I remember the covnersation with my mother. I began yelling: "Stabbed? What do you mean she has been stabbed?" Optimistically, I was thinking she had been probably been stabbed in the leg. "Where was she stabbed?" When my mother gently let me know that she had been stabbed in the head and would most likely not recover, I sank to the floor of my bedroom and began crying uncontrollably.

I got up, threw some clothes in a bag, grabbed my passport and went to the airport. Somewhere along the way I think I called my boss and told her I wouldn't be in to work that day. God knows what that message said, but I imagine it was jarring to hear your relatively new employee say "Sorry, I can't come in today. My best friend was stabbed in the head by her boyfriend and is on life support. I will call you when I can."

I boarded the plane in utter disbelief. Could this really be happening? One look at my father's face when he picked me up at the airport let me know it was for real. We made our way to the Montreal General Hospital. I felt numb.

I entered Kelly-Anne's room in the Intensive Care Unit. Her mother, father, and sister (whom I've known virtually my whole life) were all their crowded around her bed with my own mother. Kell looked lifeless and was hooked up to an alarming number of machines. They had shaved her head. I knew she was already gone.

I remember Kelly-Anne's mother, Doreen, called out to Kelly-Anne--"Look, Kell, Rachel's here to see you! It is time to get up!" For those who had spent the past 12 hours sitting besider her bedside while machines kept her alive it hadn't yet sunk in that she was brain dead. I've never felt as much pain as I did at that moment. Kelly-Anne couldn't get up. She would never get up. She would never again greet me with an excited smile on her face. She would never greet me at all.

Everything was a blur, yet I was eerily calmn. I knew I had to be. I was ushered into a small room where two top neurologists at the hospital showed me the x-rays of Kelly-Anne's head. You could clearly see the knife blade lodged in her skull, slicing her spinal column, and entering her brainstem. They explained she was brain dead. I didn't doubt this diagnosis--it was obvious.

Eventually the news sunk in. The ICU was a mob scene. I greeted dozens of Kell's friends and our former classmates as they cried uncontrollably. I held back my tears. I needed to be strong. I wanted to be strong. I thought that's what Kell would have wanted from me. She was removed from life support the next day.

I then did the only thing I could think of--I found a way to pay tribute to her. I gathered hundreds of photos. I hunted down videos from elementary school that our gym teacher ahd kept. I worked for two days with my boyfriend and close friend to create a tribute video that could be shown at Kelly-Anne's wake. We wanted people to remember her life, not just her tragic death. It was my small way to pay tribute to my best fiend.

It felt like thousands of people were at the funeral home and the funeral the next day. I saw people I'd known forever. I hugged people. I told them we would be ok. I wiped tears and handed out kleenexes. Everyone said the same thing. "I can't believe Kelly-Anne is dead." We buried her and said our goodbyes.

The next day I went to the major crimes unit in Montreal to tell them what I knew of Kelly-Anne and Marty's relationship. To explain that Kelly-Anne had told me it wasn't working out, that they were in the process of breaking up. That things weren't good between them.

The day after that, I returned to the United States and to my job utterly shell shocked. A little over a week after Kell was attacked. I got off the plane, went straight to work, and stared at my computer, unable to process my thoughts and feelings. My coworkers tried their best, but they had no idea what to say or do. What do you do when someone has experienced such tragedy?

I soldiered on. Evetually I began to be able to go a minute, an hour, and eventually a half a day without my thoughts being consumed with grief. I learned what new normal was. But I have never felt the same way about Montreal. I can't help it, but when I get off the plane all the feelings I felt that day come back to me so vividly. I remember Kelly-Anne's death, I remember the tragedy, I remember the powerlessness I felt. I remember the overwheling sadness.

To be sure, it has gotten better these past seven years. I return home with regularity and visit family and friends. I traipse around the city and remember the good times I had with Kell--how much fun we had as children, teenagers, and young adults. But no matter what, when I enter that city, be it by plane, train, or automobile, I feel a little like I did on that terrible day I learned of this tragedy. And that is something I doubt will ever go away.


My daughter, Kelly-Anne said...


Kell loved you very much. I remember yelling to her that you were in the room and I know Kell knew you were there as her left eye twitched. She may have been brain dead, but somehow I believe she did hear me and know you were present. Even to this day I remember most of the time at the hospital and it is as if it was yesterday. I know I will never forget. I will also never forget the love and support that we had from you and your parents.


Rachel said...

Thanks, Dodo! I love you too! I didn't know if you remembered that or not. I know Kell knew I was there as well... but I guess what I was trying to say is that I understood right away her earthly body wasn't getting up. It is funny how I knew that, yet (even today) sometimes find myself fantasizing that she's just away somewhere on a trip!

my daughter, Kelly-Anne said...

Kell is nearer to us than we can ever imagine. Too many things have happened here on earth to me and I know she had something to do with it all!