A tribute to Donnovan Castellanos by the Burbank Vikings… The “The All Heart, Never Quit” Award

I am very rarely caught off guard unless a tragedy happens.  I am a pretty normal mom.  I love my kids, but sometimes I just want to scream.  Yesterday in fact I told a friend about an incident with one of my children: “I really could have slapped them”… ( I didn’t of course, I’ve never hit my kids… but I could see how it could happen!)   Some days I get, well bored, with the same routine; up at 6:20 AM, breakfast, lunches, school, house work, my work, pick ups, activities, asking my son to take a shower 95 times until he finally does it… etc.  I often think, as I did today, ” I guess this is it.  This is the life I chose and it’s great. I have two great kids, a house I love, I am doing what I love, we have food…. but this is it.”  It can be a hamster wheel.

Then tonight happened.  Tonight was my sons end of the year football banquet for his team the Burbank Vikings.  I was to sit at a different table, but kids over ran it.  My son and I randomly sat with a few other players, a sister of one, and the parents of another.  People think I am very out going.  I’m not.  Unless I know someone, I want to start drinking or go home. I have been braver as the years have passed and I started talking to the dad, Sean Moreno’s father.  I think it started out with “I can’t believe this glass of wine was only $3″  He said: ” I know, this beer was only $3.50″…. The Elks Lodge man, they are AWESOME.  We spoke for quite a while.  I remember seeing him when football conditioning happened in August, but I never saw him at the games.  Turns out, he is a forest ranger and is gone 6 days a week.  He only sees his family one day a week…THINK ABOUT THAT…. He had accrued vacation days and is getting some time off until February 1, which is so wonderful.  I remember this man when football just started.  His son Sean had never played football, in fact his Sean is quite a baseball player. I believe some kind of an All Star.  Played all his life.  I remember his father being a bit nervous for his son at the beginning of the year. During the banquet his son was quiet, just sitting by his parents, very patient, never said a peep.  All the boys at our table were very quiet and well behaved, and this think was long….

The Burbank Vikings lost one if it’s players in March, a true angel on Earth, Donnovan Castellanos.  The “All Heart Never Quit Award”, in memory of Donnovan was awarded to Sean Moreno tonight.  I have posted the link to the video on this page and the tribute to Donnovan Castellanos as pictures on this post.  In the future I may rewrite it (with author credits) so it is clearer to read, but honestly I don’t think I could get through it with out breaking down.  To Donnovan and his best friend Sean.  Life can be horrific.  There is absolutely no benefit to Donnovan being taken so early.  There is NO beneficial explanation why his parents should have lost their son.  All I know is Donnovan is and had always been an angel here on earth, and his best friend Sean, who played for him this year will never let the world forget him.  My hope is that both the parents of Donnovan and Sean walk with their heads high and proud until the end of time as they raised AMAZING human beings.

I am grateful beyond words for my “hamster wheel” and I hope it never stops spinning.

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24 Years Ago Was the Worst Day of My Life- My Fathers Suicide

24 Years ago my father killed himself. My life was permanently altered.  The downfall had started just 8 months before.  8 months of tears, crying, yelling; mixed with joy and hope that my dad, my best friend would snap out of it and come back to me.  However, 24 years ago a destruction to my soul happened, a pain I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, and hands down the worst day of my life that I never ever want to try to top.  That worst day needs to remain the worst. Unfortunately life has tried to one up this worst day by giving a few of my closest friends the worst days of their lives. I wish I could take away all of their pain in their hearts and mine.

I don’t feel like writing anything more.  I will just post an exert from my book. I really don’t know what I feel today; edgy, sad, mad…. To those who have been Left Behind… Nothing can be fixed… It’s just always there… haunting our dreams….

I was still so hurt, I just kept trying to get even with him.  But I went too far with this horrible lie.  And it was the last time I spoke with my father.  This fight.  A fight I created over virtually nothing.  An argument over nothing that spiralled out of control, and ended with my parents threatening each other with lawyers.  If I would have just went out to lunch with him.  If I would have just taken him up on his gesture to make amends.  None of this would have happened.  I don’t care if my father did have some sort of mental illness. This instance, this lie, was what sparked the next three days’ chain of events.  And I don’t care how many people tell me otherwise.  This part was my doing.  This part was my fault.

I was so angry:

I was so angry he wouldn’t forgive me.

I was so angry I had no respect for him anymore.

I was so angry he didn’t teach me how to drive.

I was so angry I didn’t listen to either of my parents anymore.

I was so angry I didn’t care about school or pompons or dance.

I was so angry the perfect life I thought I had was over.

I was so angry that saying “no” one time could kill my life.

I was so angry I didn’t see it coming.

I was so angry I didn’t care.

I was so angry I wanted him dead.

I was so angry I would cry in front of him and he wouldn’t look away from the TV.

I was so angry he was never the same even when we would speak.

I was so angry things couldn’t go back to the way they were.

I was so angry the dad who’d taken me for bike rides, hot dogs and movies was gone.

I was so angry I would have rather it had been me who had died.

I was so angry I wanted to get him in trouble with my mother.

I was so angry my mom would always be on his side.  I was so angry that I wanted my mom to be on my side, no matter the cost.

I was so angry I wanted my mom to hate him.

I was so angry I felt happy that I lied, that I felt powerful in lying about what he did.

I was so angry he wouldn’t “fake it” and be nice to my friends.

I was so angry he didn’t acknowledge my presence.

I was so angry, I cried.

What if I wasn’t wrong?

After the fight, my father left the house.  He took the truck and left for two days.  We didn’t know where he went.  Those two days were a blur to me.  I couldn’t tell you anything that happened.  Finally, he came home the night of the second day.  His whole demeanor was different, extremely stoic and still very mad.  He didn’t speak to us and we did not attempt to speak to him.  My mom slept in my room with me that night, because she was scared.

The next morning was May 2nd, four days before his 38th birthday.  All he said to me—using his unemotional, restrained, ashamed-of-me voice—was not to take the truck to school that day.  I went to my mom, asked her, and she told me yes, I could take the truck.  Within minutes, I left for school. 

I remember seeing my father walking the dog and looking at me from up on a little embankment at the neighbor’s house.  He was wearing his blue coat and he just stared at me—a stare of disappointment, of loss, of something I couldn’t place.  I don’t know if he was upset because I took the truck, because of my lying, from my being a disappointment as a daughter, or if he was saying good-bye, because he missed who we used to be to one another.  Was he saying good-bye to me in his own way?  He was standing with Ali, my dog, across from the tree house he had built for me when I was a kid . . . the one in which I’d had so many happy times.  He was standing a hundred yards away from where we used to fly kites.  He was standing right by the bus stop I used to walk to each day in grade school.  I think the look he had on his face was just one of sadness.  Of having given up.  Life was just too hard and he didn’t think it could be fixed.  Whether he blamed himself or me or my mother, it just wasn’t working.  It just wasn’t worth it.

I went to school and attended all my classes.  It was a normal, yet abnormal, crappy day.  During gym class, I was walking around the indoor track with my friends and we were discussing my dad and how he’d finally come back home.  My friends confided in me they were scared of my dad and didn’t like coming over to my house.  I told them I hated him.  At that moment, the gym teacher came over and told me to go to the principal’s office.  She wouldn’t tell me what was going on.  I went to the office and my mom and grandpa were in the room, sitting on chairs across from the principal. They looked like ghosts.  My mom told me that my dad had killed himself in our attic and started a

 

fire.  The fireman and police were still at the house.  Mom and Grandpa had come to the school to take me home. 

That moment was the breaking point of my life.  Time stopped.  The pain was like no other I could possibly imagine.  If I thought the last several months were bad, they were nothing compared to that moment and that loss.  It was inconceivable.  My father was the strongest person I knew in the world.  I never in my wildest dreams imagined this as a possible outcome.  No way.  There was no way this could be true.  Did I think my parents would divorce?  Yes.  Did I think my dad would be mad at me for life?  Yes.  But he would still have been on the planet.  Knowing that he was no longer on the planet and connected to me in any way destroyed me.  What had I done?  I had told my friends I hated him, when he was already dead!  How could I have said that?  I said that over and over to myself: “I told them I hated him, when he was already dead.” 

Here are a few of the thoughts that circulated constantly in my mind from that afternoon onward:  I am a monster.  I am so ashamed.  I can never look at my friends in the eyes again.  God heard me say I hated him and he was already dead. A few weeks ago while I was walking my dog Ali, after a fight with my parents (with both siding against me), I wished to the moon my parents were dead. I wished HIM dead.  I MADE THIS HAPPEN.  God listened to me and gave me what I wanted.  I am a monster. I am a horrible, horrible monster. I wish it was me that was dead.  I don’t want to be here.  Why couldn’t it be me? I just want my dad back here.  This can’t be happening.  I am sorry. I am so sorry. Please make this stop.  This can’t be

happening.  I just want to crawl in a hole. I am numb. 

Immediately, my brain just kind of stopped processing new information.  I was like a robot going through the motions of life.  I found myself walking out of the school and sitting in the back seat of the car.  Stuff was going on all around me: sounds, movement, people . . . but all I could think was: I told my friends I hated my dad, but he had already killed himself.  I am the lowest human on the planet.  I deserve to be punished.  It should have been me.  I should be dead right now.  I am the monster.  Where am I?  This cannot be reality.

From what I gathered at the time and from what I have learned since (by dragging information out of my mother, uncle and newspaper articles), these are the facts about “what happened”—that is, the things I know.  After I left for school in the truck, my father walked the dog home, but kept him outside.  He went upstairs to get something, which apparently was bullets, as he showed them to my mother in the kitchen when he came back down.

She thought he was going to kill her, so she went next door to my grandparents’ house and called my dad’s father to have him come home and help.  He didn’t think my dad would go through with anything, so he did not come home from work.  Consequently, my mom got my uncle Stuart and went over to the house.  However, my dad had locked my mom out of the house, barricaded the door with a sheet of plywood, and hid her keys. At that moment, she told me years later, my mom felt

as though she knew what was coming.  He had been threatening this for a couple years now.  When they got into the house, they looked all over, but couldn’t find him. Much later, she told me it was like playing a nightmarish game of “hide-and-seek,” and if they were to have found him, he would have shot her.  Eventually, though, they went up to the attic.  The door was locked.  Due to her fear of being attacked, my mother kept silent, while Stuart pleaded with him to come open the door.  When an explosion shook the house, they had to leave.

From a newspaper article, I found out my father had doused himself with gasoline, he might have shot himself, as there were guns up there, he hung himself with a wire cable, and around the same time, he started a fire.  The firemen were warned there were guns present, so they would not enter the house until the police came.  It was reported that it took quite a while to put out the fire. 

Those are the facts.  They do nothing to comfort the aftermath.

When I got home, the police and the firemen were there.  It took a while for the coroner to arrive.  I believe there might have been a couple reporters from news stations there, as well.  I was numb.  My mother was trying to explain things to me, as I sat at my grandparent’s house staring at our house.  I remember her saying she didn’t want me to see my dad’s body being brought out in a bag by the coroner, but I insisted.  At that point, she was so numb and out of it, how could she have stopped me from watching?  She was emotionally done.

By the time I convinced her to let me watch, most of the crowd of nosey onlookers had dissipated.  I sat on the steps of my grandparents’ porch and watched them bring him out and put him in the truck.  The image of this passing before my eyes was just surreal.  I couldn’t believe it.  How could this happen?  What did I do?  I had now become a murderer.  I had murdered my own father. 

As I sat outside the house, I was by myself.  My mother couldn’t bear to watch.  I was out there when one of my friends from my childhood and her parents walked down the street to check out the scene.  I was so pissed . . . that people just had to be nosy and crowd into other people’s grief.  I went inside.  I finally got a hold of Brian on the phone when he got home from school.  He couldn’t believe what I was telling him.  I begged him to come over as fast as he could, but he had to wait for his mother to come home with the car.  Waiting for him was agony.  I kept calling him to see if he had left yet.  While I was waiting, the phone rang.  A newspaper reporter called to get an interview.  Fucking leeches!  I don’t watch the news to this day.  So much of the news preys upon other people’s pain to make money.  My grandfather hung up on him. 

When word started getting out, family started coming over to both my grandparent’s houses. I couldn’t talk to anyone. I went down to my grandparent’s basement and that’s where I stayed. Eventually, my mom came down and talked to me. She tried to give me some history, information I had purposely been kept in the dark about my entire life—all sorts of details about my father: about his gambling, putting money into the stock

market, the loss of his job, his depression, his mental illness, how he had been threatening to kill himself for years.  All the things she was telling me were just so unbelievable.  I called her a liar and told her to leave.  Was she coming up with all of this stuff to make me feel better?  In my mind, I thought, So what about all of that stuff!  She knows as well as I do what had transpired in the past three days and the past six months.  My mom knew what I had done.  I wanted her to blame me.  I wanted someone to blame me.  Why was everyone getting this all wrong? 

I wanted to see no one, except for Brian.  I just waited and sobbed into my grandma’s couch pillows.  Uncontrollable sobs. Horrific emotional pain.  The only other person I might have seen would have been my Uncle Stuart, who had suffered bouts of depression for years himself (in fact, he was diagnosed manic depressive).  My father and he were the closest of their siblings at that time.  Not only was my dad like a brother and more to him, he was a surrogate father when their dad was abusing alcohol, Stuart himself was apparently my dad’s only friend at the time.  They were like buddies. 

My dad had been Stuart’s role model.  But now he had given up on life.  I wondered, If life was too hard for my dad, how was Stuart ever going to make it?  My dad was the strong one.  Everyone in the family knew Stuart would hide in the basement of his parents’ house for months on end.  He endured terrible suffering with his mental illness. Ultimately, I found out, when Stuart couldn’t save his brother, he felt he had failed him. 

When Brian finally arrived, his face was swollen red with tears.  I explained what I knew.  He told me how the first thing he thought of was how angry he was at my dad.  “How could he throw everything he had away?” Brian asked.  To him, I had the perfect life, and so my dad must have had such, too.  The perfect house, the perfect cars, the perfect family, good job, etc.  Since his parents were divorced and had gone through some pretty hard times, Brian had a hard time understanding my dad’s suicide. 

After our initial discussion of what had happened, Brian’s arms were the only thing that comforted me.  A little sliver of myself believed him when he told me it wasn’t my fault.  I trusted him completely; so when he said it, it could have been- . . . no, it had to be true, didn’t it?  I felt okay when he was there with me.  I felt like if I just had him, I could be alright and I could forget about everything.  I just needed him beside me.  I just needed his energy next to me, around me.  So, it devastated me when he had to go home.  I didn’t want to be alone.  I didn’t want what felt like the other half of my soul to leave.  I felt as though the part remaining couldn’t handle this pain and utter horror on its own.  I didn’t want to be around anyone else and I didn’t want to be alone.  What was I going to do for the rest of the night? 

I knew Brian would be coming back in the morning, but I cried and ached, nonetheless.  I stared at the TV and cried.  I thought about everything relating to my recent relations with my dad . . . and I cried some more.  When I wasn’t

crying, I felt guilty for not crying.  I fell asleep at some point, and to my horror, when I woke up the next day, it was still the same reality!  Brian came over in the morning and we just stayed in the basement all day.  Sometime during the day, my dad’s sister came home from college to see me.  I agreed to see her and she brought me a stuffed animal.  It appeared I would only see people who I knew were in the same pain as me.  I talked with her a bit, and listened to her say the same things everyone else did, like it wasn’t my fault, blah, blah, blah . . . but those words had no meaning.  I know I didn’t have much to say to her and, after a while, she left.  I imagine she went to comfort my grandmother, who had just lost her firstborn son. 

This loss permanently changed the entire dynamic of our whole family forever.  Family get-togethers would never be the same.  There would always be that unspoken grief in the air.  I remember at many holidays in the future, going over to my dad’s parents’ house and my grandfather would break down when he said grace.  He’d lost his firstborn son, who was now gone forever. 

Sometime over the next few days, both my fathers’ parents came to see me.  As per their respective personalities, they each had few words.  When my grandfather tried to talk to me, his voice would close down, his face would turn red, and tears would stream down his eyes.  My grandmother tried to be the rock and appeared more stoic, yet silent tears would still trickle down her cheeks, as well.  They attempted to put on a

brave face for me, but it was so apparent they both were dying inside.  An irreconcilable pain in the middle of their hearts was tearing at the fabric of their souls.  There were really no words . . . just no words.   I hadn’t just killed my father.  I had killed my entire family.  Everything became a blur.

My mother tried to spend time with me, too, but I just didn’t want to.  I just wanted Brian to hold me, and he did.  He held me as I cried.  He held me as I sobbed.  He held me when I asked why.  And he had the best response for all of my questions.  He said, “I don’t know.”  He didn’t try to “fix me.”  He was just there, and that is all I wanted.

During this same time, my mother was also planning the funeral with my grandfather.  I only left the basement to go to the bathroom, and then I wouldn’t look at anyone.  I would just stare at the floor and run in and out as fast as I could, like the kitchen floor was made of lava. When the funeral date and arrangements were finally decided, several days had passed.  In the case of a death such as this, the coroner had to complete his report.  So, naturally, no one was rushing about any of the details.