There is a reason I haven’t posted in a while.
My fourteen-year-old niece unexpectedly and tragically died Tuesday, Dec. 30, after a over week in a coma. The Skomp family is, needless to say, devastated. It’s been the worst few weeks of all of our lives.
There. Pretty horrible, huh.
When I first heard the news of her accident, I had just arrived in Florida, after two and a half weeks of somewhat graceless traveling (while you have already heard about some, there is, inevitably, more). I was ready for a bit of a rest and relaxation, and possibly even some fun. As you have already seen, I had settled myself in my little piece of heaven with my sun visor and my SPF 8 tanning lotion, all ready to let the sounds of the ocean wash over me and the warm sun shine on me for the next two weeks. Alas, the universe had other plans.
One day after my advent, on December 21 at 11pm, as I was dozing off with visions of forthcoming days of snorkeling, writing, and getting brown dancing in my head, I got the call from my brother.
My niece was in the hospital, and our world was about to shift in a way that would forever change our lives.
Naturally, my brother’s wife’s family dropped everything and came to help. Thankfully, they all live in Texas only a few hours away from my brother, and since it was (fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it) the Christmas holidays and therefore not so much caught up in work, they were able to be there quickly. My brother’s and my side of the family? Not so much. Our parents live in England, are in their seventies, and my father has Alzheimer’s. As excruciating as it was, they simply could not get there to be with my brother.
So that left me. All I could think about that night after his call was my was poor brother all alone with this terrible pain and no one to take care of him. In-laws mean well as we all know, but it’s not the same as your own mom and dad holding you while your heart is breaking into a thousand pieces. A sister, even one you don’t get along with that well, is better than nothing, and I knew it. And here I was stuck in the suddenly shitty and cursed Keys with a trailer, an ancient tow vehicle that was already gasping for breath, four little furballs to think about, and zero brain capacity to come up with any kind of reasonable solution. My hands felt tied, and I was in torment.
Over the next few days, as we agonizingly waited, we were given a few days of emotional reprieve when it looked like Hannah was going to come out of the coma. Her preliminary scans looked good, she responded to somatic tests, and all we needed to do was give her some time to return to us. We knew she was dancing in heaven for a while, but we felt confident that she would come back to earth and let us love her back to her original perfection.
During this time, I felt I had been given clemency over not yet having made a decision about picking up and hauling ass to Texas. I had already made plans to visit my brother, but the dates for that were over a month away. I wanted to go now, but what was the cost? And, God help me, what was the cost of not going?
As the week slowly passed, and Christmas came and went and nothing changed, I made a few friends in the Keys. I met a stellar family of five (hi Paige and Steve – I know you’re reading this!) who are also full-timing it, so anyone who thinks they can’t do this RV thing with kids… PTH! These guys are having the time of their LIVES. I love them! I met a wonderful couple from Cincinnati (hi Patty and Dan!) who blissfully helped me fix my water situation in the RV (I have water!!!!), and to whom I will be forever grateful (more on this later). I also, beyond belief, met a fellow BGSU alumnus who happened to be married to an OSU alumnus to boot! How does this happen?! I came all the way from Ohio to get away from Ohio, and here it was asking me to party with them in the Keys. In these trying days, spending time with some folks from “home” felt kinda good.
So, when I was invited to a “Sunday Fun Day” by my Buckeye friends, I accepted. It felt a bit weird, and I wasn’t sure I was going to want to go when the time came, but it sounded like a good idea in the moment. I had checked in with my brother every day to make sure things were either not changing or getting better, and so far so good. I felt it was safe to attempt a day of enjoyment.
The place was actually pretty fantastic. I did have a good time, some of the time. The joint was right on the ocean, and boats could dock so the passengers could enjoy. There was a sparkling blue swimming pool, a jammin’ DJ, an all-up-in-my grill, a bodacious piña-colada-me bar, lazy sunchairs, soft sand and seductive cornhole games. What more could a tortured soul want?
We drank. We ate. We swam. We played cornhole. And then Brian called again.
I didn’t want to answer. I didn’t want to answer! I didn’t want to hear what I knew was coming.
There was news of Hannah. It wasn’t good. A second set of scans had revealed a change in her path of recovery: it was evident that her progress had become arrested at a certain level, and it was highly unlikely that it would go any further.
Apparently a decision needed to be made. Wait and hope? Or… please no…. the other option…
I was rooting for the wait and hope option, but my brother and his family felt that since seven doctors were convinced nothing good would come of it except giant hospital bills and a lot of pain and discomfort for everyone including Hannah, they were leaning in the other direction. Hannah had decided she did not want to stay with us, and her family was letting her go.
This decision pretty much left me legless, and it wasn’t because of the piña coladas I had consumed. I collapsed. In a very crowded parking lot of a tiki bar in the Florida Keys, I quietly slipped to the sand under a palm tree and cried and cried and cried. My little beautiful niece was going to die. And I probably wouldn’t be able to say goodbye. Shamefully, and sadly, I hadn’t seen her since she was five. Now there would never be another chance.
Right there and then I knew I had to get to Texas no matter what. In spite of what seemed like a lot of upheaval and difficulty, it was more important for me to get there than to worry about anything else. Brian needed family. And much as I was enjoying the Keys with my new friends, being there for my brother during this horrible time, and hopefully reaching Hannah before she passed became the highest priority over everything. Suddenly all the things that originally made picking up and leaving seem formidable fell away. I just needed money. And that was the easiest obstacle to overcome.
And so I left. I packed up the camper, the car and my crew and left early morning Tuesday, Dec. 30. I knew the best I could do without my car exploding was to get there in four days. The Keys is a loooong way from Texas, but I could make it. I would get there Friday.
Unfortunately though, Friday was not quick enough. Brian called me Tuesday night to tell me Hannah left us that morning. I was too late.
After 1300+ miles and four very, very long driving days, during which I stopped for gas no less than 25 times and the “check engine” light went on, I reached Texas. Of course, in true Heather luck, it was also raining. It was dark. My campsite was on a massive slant. And only after thirty minutes of backing in the Beast in the blackness, and I had managed to park it, unhitch it, chock it, level it, hook it up to water and electricity, load the kids into it and unpack the car, did I find that I had made my settlement about 2.5 feet too far from the sewer drain.