I CAN'T FIX YOU

“Tears stream down your face, when you lose something you cannot replace…
Tears stream down your face, and I…
Tears stream down your face, I promise you I will learn from my mistakes…
Tears stream down your face, and I…
Lights will guide you home…
And ignite your bones…
And I will try…
To fix you.”
(Coldplay - FIX YOU)


There is a door to a bedroom in a townhouse in Crofton, Maryland. 1732 Aberdeen Circle. Second floor. Front bedroom. I walk through that door every single day of my life. At least once a day. Sometimes more. What happened inside that room in June of 1986 shattered my life into a thousand tiny, jagged shards of glass. I have been trying to put those pieces back together ever since. But the pieces just won’t fit.

On 21 June 1986 my mother died.

I was fourteen.

My pastel, Miami Vice world had just gotten a lot darker.

On 19 June 1986, my father came to me and sat me on the couch. He knelt down to my left and cried as he told me.

“Your mother won’t make it through the night.”

I had spent all day putting together one of those Miami Vice models with my friend Vince. This one was the black Ferrari Spider that Crockett drove during the first two seasons. We were out in the back yard gluing and painting it when my grandmother showed up. She stayed all day. This was my mom’s mother and it was not uncommon for her to come by as we lived in a townhouse in Crofton, Maryland and she lived nearby in Severna Park. But she stayed all day. They were upstairs in my parent’s bedroom for a long time. Vince finally went home. Then my father came and told me.

She was exactly one week shy of her forty-second birthday. She had breast cancer. She had fought it for over four years, and the cancer had won. It always does. Now this is just my opinion, but anyone that says they are in remission is really saying: “I am not dead yet. But I will be soon.” There is no such thing as beating cancer into remission. Not where I come from. My Aunt Maureen has it now, and she is in remission. She is not dead yet. But she will be soon. I know that seems heartless, but it’s how I feel. (I should note that the preceding paragraph was written in late 2001… and My Aunt Maureen died in 2003. The cancer won.)

I watched cancer eat my mother alive, literally, and let me tell you…it always wins. Eventually. The doctors told us that she lived four years longer than she was supposed to and I was fourteen when she died. That means that I should have lost my mother when I was ten. But I didn’t. She hung on…somehow. I am not sure where that kind of strength comes from, but I sure hope I have it in me.

My mother hung on for three more days after my dad told me, lingering in a coma in her bed. She did not want to die in a hospital, so the doctors had released her. That was the hardest thing for me to grasp because she had just come home from the hospital only days before. We sat with her, feeding her ice chips because she couldn’t eat or drink anything. We talked to her. I remember reading a paperback copy of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back while I sat on the bed with her. I wondered if she knew I was there at all, but that answer came when I began to cry. She opened her eyes and softly said, “Shhhhhh.” It wasn’t a mean spirited kind of thing, she was just trying to comfort me. In her darkest hour, my mom was trying to comfort me.

On the morning of 21 June 1986 my sister - the younger of the two - woke me up. She didn’t say a word. We went into my parents’ bedroom and I stood beside her. We were all there. My father, my two older sisters, our dog Nicholas, and our two cats, Buffy and Mey. Buffy was sitting on mom’s legs and Mey and Nicholas were beside her on the bed. We all stood and watched as my mom looked at us for the last time. She opened her eyes and gazed at each member of her family… first my father, then my oldest sister, then the younger one... and finally me. She looked at me for one second, and she smiled. Then she died. Her eyes were open.

I remember standing there for what seemed like an hour waiting for her chest to move up and down again. It never did. This was my first dead body. I was fourteen. My mom was gone forever and her chest just would not move. In my line of duty now, I still find myself looking at deceased people waiting for their chests to move. They never do.

Things changed dramatically that morning. My memories of that time come in flashes, usually when I am driving alone in my truck on the way to work, and always when I listen to the song Fix You by Coldplay. I have an extremely detailed scene in my head that would translate onto film much better than on paper, but I will try to describe these flashes the best I can.

Imagine watching a film where the painful reveal finally arrives. Fix You frames the entire scene, and the song plays in its entirety throughout the whole scene. The scene opens as the song starts to fill the room. As they keys begin to hum, my eyes open to find my sister standing beside my bed. She motions for me to follow her. I slide out of bed and onto the floor in a groggy daze - knowing what is about to come, but not knowing at the same time. Sleep has not visited me lately; we all have spent many hours over the last three days caring for and praying for my mom. It is a short walk from my room to the bed where my mother lies dying. I enter the room and find my other sister and my dad standing on the far side of the bed. My parents’ room is small, as are all of the rooms in this tiny town home. There are two windows along the front of the house, and my parents’ bed rests with the foot board facing these windows. Despite the fact that it is late June, the room is cold. I walk around the foot of the bed and take my place beside the bed. Just like and actor taking his mark. I see the cats and the dog. I stare at my mom. The fear begins its lethal creep into my soul. As my mom looks up at us, the song is starting to build. “Lights will guide you home, and ignite your bones... and I will try… to fix you.” The guitar rips open just as my mother takes her last breath. My gaze stays on my mother’s unmoving chest for a beat too long. No movement. The men from the funeral home carry my mother’s body down the steps and out of my life forever. The guitar blares; the song builds. I stand in the open doorway of our home and stare. The point-of-view shifts to the inside of the hearse, looking back across my mother’s body from the front of the vehicle. The song builds. The drums break the surface of the scene at the exact moment that the hearse doors slam shut, trapping the viewer inside. The point of view pushes forward and presses against the glass of the hearse’s rear windows. I am seen standing in the doorway as the hearse pulls away.

What follows is a flurry of images of people and places - all moving in hyper-speed, in time with the song. Except for me. In every single scene that follows, I am at the center of a storm of activity. But I do not move. Everything and everyone flies around like particles escaping an exploding bomb. As if the world is continuing on without me. I stand inside this fury without making a sound. And not a single tear ever comes. The images come fast now: A small group of friends and family gathering in a funeral home, hesitating to get too near the front of a closed casket. Everyone talking in hushed voices. Me standing off to the side alone. A priest swinging an incense burner; its smoke filtering up to the ceiling of a dark church in Davidsonville, Maryland. Me sitting at the far end of the pew. Off to the side. Alone. My dad giving a speech; the words of which I do not hear. A line of cars driving toward the cemetery. A small crowd gathering around the open ground. Me up front. Off to the side. Alone. The casket lowers. Zoom in on my face. The face of a little boy. Terrified. Alone. No one bothers to offer comfort. No one knows how. Freeze right there. That little boy stares into the camera. And not a single tear ever comes. “Tears stream down your face, when you lose something you cannot replace. Tears stream down your face, and I…tears stream down your face, I promise you I will learn from my mistakes. Tears stream down your face, and I…” The loudest part of the end of song fades just as the first shovel full of dirt is thrown down the hole, the camera showing the reflection of the open wound in the Earth in the little boy’s eyes. “Lights will guide you home, and ignite your bones. And I will try…to fix you.” Fade to black.

I’m sorry mom… I can’t fix you.