By the time they reached my bedroom door, I was already sitting up - my stomach ratcheted by the tense grip of an unnamed anxiety; my pillow, unburdened of my drowsy head.
To this day I cannot explain how I heard them coming up those stairs in their bare feet or how I knew my father struggled to hold his composure as my mother clutched the folds of her dressing gown and followed him through the dark just a little too closely.
The wooden groan of those old stairs tore into my bones that morning like a hacksaw and all I could see between the predawn shadows was the letter I'd written just hours earlier to my boyfriend, Chris, propped against the lamp on my desk, awaiting an envelope.
I had not slept well. It was late November and there had been so many changes since the end of August when he left for the Air Force in Texas to begin basic training and I began my third new school in as many years.
The conspiracy between fate and the last surge of the Vietnam draft had broken apart the every-waking-minutes of our two-year union with unceremonious indifference.
All night my sleep had been infested by difficult dreams and by the illogical fear that truth and reality were merging into a darkness only a martyr could grasp; and at sixteen, martyrdom seemed applicable only to the nuns among the poor in Bangladesh .
I tried to remind myself that he would be home on leave for Thanksgiving in another few days. It was the only tether to calm I could find, but reviewing the facts offered little relief from my baseless fears.
Chris was now girding his pacifist sensibilites preparing to fight in an unpopular war that had not yet slaughtered its last innocent. I was hovering just over the line of inclusion at an exclusive girl's school -missing him - and finding myself at odds with these young women and their attachment to propriety and with the prep-school veneer that blinded them to the fact that they were no better than anyone else.
Neither one of us was coping well with the worlds into which we were respectively summoned; and although we both knew that the best hope for any future together depended upon our individual successes apart, it was far from comforting most days.
Still, we each did our best; and, of course, there were the letters. Thin, plain-paper sheets with row after row after row of inky blue words penned with the intensity and awkward locutions of a love learned too soon. It had come down to just that little, but without them, I would have nothing.
Chris was learning to fly. I was learning to drive, and both of us were aching to transport our souls to an earlier time through the hallowed intercourse of memories and dreams.
Of course, there was a positive element: We were both clean and drug-free for the first time in years.
Cognition and impetus now surfaced regularly in my psychology and prompted me to care about myself and to arbitrate against all temptation for a better standing in the world, in school and in my own eyes. I even did my homework.
I was no longer escaping today but living for my day of escape.
As I listened to the slow, padded footfall of my parents approaching my room, I looked to the floor and my history book lying next to the nightstand where I'd tossed it the night before. Even in the early morning dark I could make out the swirls and stars in colored marker and the letters that spelled out C H R I S in soft, bubble forms on the torn bookcover I'd fashioned out of a brownpaper grocery bag.
I remembered throwing it there somewhat hastily. I had been doing my homework when a sense of urgency struck and I realized I had not written him as I promised I would. I glanced at the clock. It was nine-twenty-three and although I still needed time to finish my work, the letter could not wait.
So, I wrote.
I would always write.
I would always be there.
He would always be there.
It was my name spoken in the smooth and familiar voice of my mother - though weighted and slow - her head bowed to her chest almost as though she were speaking only to herself.
"Suzi." She said it again, this time with a sharp gravity - like a chisel against stone.
My parents were now sitting on either side of my bed.
I had been waiting for them.
I don't know how.
I didn't know why.
The lights in my room remained off; but it seemed that the darkness clung to them as though they were holding it there - away from me to give me enough light to see through the next moment. They were crying. My father was crying. My father.
"Suzi. We have something very, very bad to tell you."
"Chris has been in a car accident."
"And he was killed."
If the world moved forward from that moment, I could not know it.
If there were air around me worth breathing, I could not take it in.
And if there were another sound beyond the leaden bellow of my own raw grief, I could not hear it.
"Who am I going to talk to? Who am I going to love?" I wailed.
Who will love me?
In that sodden moment violated by the intrusion of a predawn light that had no business rising, everything I ever believed about happiness, hoped for in life, trusted in or held as my own was annihilated.
After that - there was no after that.
After that came months of hollow redundancies that would inform my way of being in the world for many years. A serial commitment to waking up each morning, remembering he was gone and dedicating the remaining hours to forgetting. To that end I would try anything, drink anything, ingest anything, inject anything. It was a slow and arbitrary suicide by indifference.
But Twenty-eight years ago in the midst of a pharmaceutical free-fall leaning dangerously close to terminal, I discovered that I was expecting a child.
After a decade of forgetting, I remembered.
I named him Griffin after the legendary winged lion, a symbol of the divine because what he inspired and the miracle that he was, were nothing less. I remembered and I loved again, and I went on to marry and to the gift of two beautiful daughters.
Today my son is struggling not to drown in that same well of drug abuse and apathy that almost swallowed me. His great, divine wings clipped by his own hand; and while it is up to him to restore his place in the sky, I will do my best to help provide an open runway.
In the meantime, I will continue soaring for both of us.
Death took one young man from me once upon a dark time.
If he has any intention of coming for this one, he will have to go through me.
And trust me, he will be in for one hell of a fight.