I waited three years to read my brother’s autopsy report.
Three years of convincing myself that I didn’t want or need to know every painful detail about how the last moments of Travis’ life were spent. How sheer physics of steel and wood colliding at a high rate of speed destroyed his young and healthy body.
Cleaning out mom’s house after she died I found the mountainous like file. Thick and ominous. Heavy, as if paying tribute to the weight of devastation its contents held within. I shoved the file roughly and quickly into a white kitchen trash bag with an array of other relics mom collected after the accident.
Newspaper clippings detailing the crash and pending criminal case.
Cards and drawings given to mom by his friends at Travis’ memorial service.
Items I didn’t want to keep but couldn’t part with in the immediacy of my mom’s sudden unexpected death.
The bag lay awry on top of my hope chest for some time. The irony not lost on me: The bag white and voluminous like an engorged ghost smothering the hope chest. A physical representation of how my own hope felt at that time.
From its perch the bag beckoned to me. More precisely, the autopsy report.
I staved it off for several months.
But one night when my skin was crawling and my brain was wracking and my insides were churning on fire with grief and pain, I decided to retrieve and read the report.
Fingers trembling with trepidation as I held the file. For I recognized that once I saw I could not unsee nor forget.
Slowly, I open the large manila file and begin sifting through bland demographics.
NAME: TRAVIS JOHN GAY DOB: 2/26/1994 SEX: M AGE: 20
HEIGHT, WEIGHT, HAIR COLOR, EYE COLOR, DATE OF DEATH, CAUSE OF DEATH……
Impersonal data. Unable to capture or represent the essence of Travis. His sweetness and sensitivity. His affectionate bear hugs that were unlike no other. His infectious laugh. The way he still called me Sissy even as an adult who hulked over me. His love for his family and friends.
Sift and flip
Information and data I cannot comprehend…..Statistics, facts, physics, jargon.
An analysis drawing of the implied crash scenario.
Flip, flip, flip.
I arrive at the section of the report I know will gouge me to my core. I am almost asking for the pain in anticipation. It is all I know right now.
There is no unseeing now. My extensive anatomy and physiology background provides me with an acute mental image of each trauma while my memory personifies my brother’s burned and broken body.
Bones mangled, shattered and fractured.
Organs crushed, lacerated and ruptured.
Over 80% of his body scorched by the fire that engulfed the vehicle immediately after the crash.
A body beyond repair.
Though the police investigator politely lied and assured me that Travis felt nothing and died instantly, the defensive posturing of his body detailed within the report tell otherwise.
I am gutted. The bag is purged. The report contents strewn about me. Now, I am smothered in the horror of its facts of my brother’s last moments alive. I imagine him alone, in excruciating pain, knowing he is facing the end.
Alone. He is alone. I swore to protect him. Yet he is utterly alone in his death. I failed to do my duty as his big sister.
Shortly after that night I burn the contents of that terrible collection. Every single thing.
I didn’t want it enticing others into investigating its contents. Nor did I want to flagellate myself again.
The report burned into a small insignificant pile of ash, long taken by the wind. Though it haunts me still.
Many lives were irrevocably broken that night. Uprooted like the strong tall pine the vehicle collided with. Trapping Travis inside the passenger seat.
One life was extinguished.
The remaining survivors facing a seemingly insurmountable precipice.
Yet here I stand.
Thanks for reading xxxxxxxxx