I write about everything and I write all of the time. Occasionally, I share my musings through blogging, a column, or a bust (rhyme) but for the most part I put my thoughts to the keyboard and then safely away to the save folder. And that is it. Last week I stopped doing that, at a time when releasing emotions should have been at an all time high. I bottled them, knowingly and also unknowingly. February 14th, 2012 I received the news that two people in my life, who I care for, had experienced a tragedy. A couple. The Rhineers.
Christian James (CJ) had been struck by a vehicle while bicycling to work and regrettably passed on from this mortal life in to the post-mortal life, temporally leaving his sweet Keri.
A hard truth. A single sentence. One which will define the lives of so many in ways previously unimagined. So why could I not put these emotions and thoughts besieged by that very sentence in to a Word document? Why could I not, the person who writes about everything, easily tap the keys to the rhythm of my emotions? And then, when I knew I could write what I felt, did I stop myself? Why did I put it off?
This column is not going to be sports related, other than the acknowledgment right now, that CJ and I shared an appreciation for the Boston Red Sox. These words you are reading, they are my thoughts, often scrambled, and shared through the use of my inner and outer dialogue. I say everything that I think and feel because I want to make sure that I say aloud that I care dearly for my friends, CJ and Keri Rhineer. My notions—especially during this time—become jumbled, and I do not want anything to become lost when expressing myself. I am done putting my feelings off. I am ready to share. And Keri, if you are reading this, I want to directly say that I love CJ and I love you.
“Stop putting this off. Stop it.”
I have thought the word “stop” a lot this past week.
“When things stop.”
“Stop for a second and be calm.”
“Stop thinking about it.”
“Makes you stop and think.”
“Stop not thinking about it” and;
“Stop feeling this way.”
“I am sick about it. Sick about what happened and sick about what is happening. More and more each day I am sick—that I am sick about it.”
At first, when Brittany and I got back from California with Becca and Richelle, I felt like my emotions over the week had become this water bottle. And this water bottle, over the first five days, was being shaken up. With each day and with each shake, the input of what I saw and every tiny, strange, and foreign thing I felt became these pinches of dust and particles added to the contents of this water bottle. Always shaken up, never still. It never rested. Only when I got back home, did the shaking stop, and the particles that had been mixed in the water began to settle. They began to separate, with the heavier and more valuable pieces sinking to the bottom like gold. I could focus on them. Observe and separate the differences between each fleck. I had no idea what this meant, and whenever I do not know something… I ask the internet. Google tells me it is called ‘delayed grieving’. It can kick in months—sometimes even years—later. For me though, it took a week before it started.
“But am I allowed to grieve? I do not know what to feel, or when to feel it and if I am doing it right. With each second that I truly think about this, I hate it. Stop hating it. Who do you think you are?”
By comparison, my grieving is not the worst, not even close. “So I should stop talking about it right now.” Putting these thoughts in to text speaks too loudly “… I think,” but I need to put them here, so I do not have to keep them in and think about them. Keeping them in and thinking about them all at once is not thinking about them at all. “Get them out.” Then it will stop and I can be. “Just be.”
This being is not even about being strong or something like it. It is as if I feel like I cannot actually be sad because I have no right to feel the loss this way or this much. I deserve no such entitlement. “Accept the loss, but you are not aloud to claim it. Stop being selfish.” I feel when I am acknowledging the emotion, that it creates this stupid guilt. And I feel guilty for that too. Each emotion begets another one, like an endless spiral, going downwards and downwards, never stopping, unless I stop myself from feeling. Stupid spiral. That is why I need to stop. “Stop it, Brady.” I am good at stopping feelings. It is an ability I have strengthened like a body builder does with muscle groups. I thank life-plaguing anxiety, for once. It can stop anything. Including sad. Right now the sad feels like there is sad box for everyone and that box is filled with emotion, and I am stealing the sadness, which was put there for the use of grieving. “Do not even dare take anymore than you already have. You thief.” But you cannot put it back, once used, it cannot be returned. “But I cannot stop. I am sad.”
When I think back to the day it happened, I remember waking up in the morning. It was Valentine’s Day. We were going to make breakfast for each other. Brit and I. Per usual I was last to get out of bed. When I came in to the kitchen Brittany had just turned on the stove and was getting the bread and eggs out of the refrigerator and the toaster out of the cupboard. Spanglish. She knows I love these. I told her let me help you, but she told me we had awoken too late and that she would not have time eat, and still have time to get ready.
“Let me make you breakfast then,” I said.
No. It was her idea in the first place. Ideas like that are always from her psyche. She is sweet like that. I am—as well as anybody else is—lucky be part of her day.
After breakfast, I cannot remember exactly what I did the rest of the morning or what I wore even. I do not know what I did at work or the drive to it. I remember the phone call in the afternoon though.
She was crying. Heavily. It was not the first time I had received a crying phone call. Brit is very passionate, and a woman after all. I have listened to a few tears fall now and then. “Her sister said this, an adjunct professor did that.” This was different. It was not about her but someone we both know.
CJ had been hurt while bicycling to work. Unexpectedly, and badly. He was in the hospital. This is where the ‘stop’ pattern started. She had stopped staying what had happened through her end of the phone. I thought that was the all of the news. The end of her report. This was serious, definitely worthy of uncontrollable tears. But she had stopped with the news. The news was bad, but it was not the worst. Then she unstopped. She continued. I identify this part where the water bottle of emotion began it’s shaking. She told me—what at the time I did not process fully—that the result of the accident left CJ brain dead and on life support.
“Stop.” But it had happened already.
More blank spots. We went to Shelley’s and I talked to Danny on the phone. We decided to drive to California in the morning. And I did not sleep. “I cannot imagine Keri’s sleep.” After the twelve-hour drive to Cali, there were a number of things I was driving towards, a lot of them were things that I did not fully understand or expect. Some of those things I will keep to myself, memories I share with myself, but there is one particular event that I do want to divulge. It is about the Miller family.
I did not know Keri’s family. I had briefly met them on Keri and CJ’s wedding day, and the only ones I really remember were Keri’s mom and her older sister Kaci. And the only reason I remember them is because the two of them and Keri look alike. For all intensive purposes, they were strangers to me. Had this accident never happened I probably would not have interacted with them ever again. I do not know when I would have. Maybe if Brit and I were visiting the Rhineers, maybe for some reason or another, we go there for an afternoon lunch. “Who knows?” But in this situation, of being with Keri during her trial, I walked in to the Miller household, with all the pretenses and barriers and hesitation that normally complicate and stop you from truly getting down in the trenches and loving somebody… all that was completely stripped away. It was pure family. The feeling, the acceptance, the simple existence of its being—which a family is, it is practically indescribable—was what we were thrust in to. I am so thankful for that gift of really and honestly meeting them. It was core. It was legit. I developed a love I was not expecting to be blessed with.
Also, I realized how much I care for Keri and CJ. That knowledge was unearthed. And to be frank it startled me. It is deeper than I would have given it credit for a few weeks ago. Admitting that adds to that spiral guilt, the guilt of not being able to recognize beforehand, but I am not afraid to say it now. It is a declaration I do not stop. Another that I do not stop is calling CJ my friend. CJ is my friend. It is not said out of competition or claim. It is just said. It just is. I love CJ. I am lucky he is my friend.
When I talk to people who have not met him yet, like my parents or co-workers, they have asked me to describe what he is like. The perfect grammar always escapes me, and I can never do him his full justice, so I usually share this memory:
CJ and I were walking together in Salt Lake City towards TRAX. I think we were on our way to meet Keri and Brittany at the Gateway Mall to see a movie. Warrior. “The four of us like that movie.” We hit the brick and had a few blocks before we actually made it to the train stop, where CJ would retell this story from 2002 during the Olympics when his friend stood and announced to the crowed car that they had tickets (which they did not) to that night’s biathlon (or an event like it). By the end of the story CJ was in stitches. His laugh, that belly chuckle that you could not help but love. I can hear it now. Hearing makes me feel good because I know that laugh has not changed. On the way there the subject of ‘would you rather’ came up. Guys love talking about this subject. It is in our genes. This time the question was would you rather be the best baseball player there ever was or the best golfer ever. We discussed the pros and cons of both and the subject then transformed to what we would wish for if we had seven wishes. With one of my wishes I said I would wish for $300 billion dollars. “Why not?” And this is the part where I feel pride in calling CJ my friend. CJ’s wish, was for $1000 dollars and the know-how to turn that money, through hard work and savvy business investments, in to the $300 billion dollars. Where I wanted the easy gift of the fortune, CJ wanted to be the guy who was not given one, but made one. Christian James Rhineer. The hard working, honest person, whose curiosity and drive to understand how and why things were the way there were, define him as a friend, a person, a husband and member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. That is how I describe my friend to people who have not met him yet.
I love him. I love Keri. I hate how my heart breaks. I love being able to find comfort to every "why" question tied to that heartbreak. I love recognizing how I will better live progressing forward. I hate the reason that taught the change. I love that with my friends passing he became—as Keri perfectly stated—a hero to six strangers. He saved their lives after his own could not be.
I know CJ’s personality and curiosity behind it all, is serving him well, as he is now serving the Lord.
Christian James Rhineer
December 18th, 1983 — February 14th, 2012