For Stephen

I’ve dreaded this post, because I knew this entry had to be about Stephen. And I fear failing to convey what happened. How it felt. How it still feels.

***

We stayed with my friend Angie before flying to London, Labor Day weekend. Not only was my family there, but her brother-in-law, Stephen, was there, too. He was a nice young man. 24. Blonde. Tallish. Polite. Computer-y. Well-spoken in a nerdy sort of way; and, I felt right away, a very gentle soul. He said he was going to his first ever concert that night.

“Oh?”  We chatted over lunch. “Who’re you seeing?”

“The Backstreet Boys.”

I giggled, but Stephen owned it, saying his girlfriend really wanted to go. ( So add “good sport” to the above description); and the next morning, he padded into the kitchen looking very sleepy. “You are my fire, ” I told him. “My one desire.”

“Shut up,” he smiled in his orange juice.

He admitted the concert was good, but that he was tired. As a result, he spent the day on the sofa, playing Minecraft with my son, Harvey. I’d say they played Minecraft for 8 hours that day and every time I walked by, I overheard Stephen explaining things to my little boy with profound patience and respect, answering his 9-year-old questions without irritation. Every once in a while, Sophia and Emily, our screaming banshee little girls would tear through the living room, sometimes crawling over Stephen like a climbing frame, which he tolerated without complaint, only pausing sometimes to quiet them down, or stop their arguing with a calm, gentle voice. I remember thinking how very good he was with the children, GENUINELY good, the way some people just are.

The next day, Labor Day, I walked downstairs, smiling to see Stephen on the couch, this time held captive by two pajama clad little girls, snuggled into either side. I know he’d rather been playing Minecraft than watching the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, but he wasn’t about to disappoint Sophia and Emily. “You’re so good, ” I told him, and we all spent a quiet day together. Christopher and I packed for Europe while Angie cooked, and the children played. The neighborhood pool was closed, so the girls put on their princess best and sweet talked Stephen into blowing up their pool.

He died a few hours later.

He lost control of his vehicle and died at the scene.

His parents found out when policemen knocked on their door. They called Mike, Angie’s husband, at work, then Mike called Angie. I heard screams from the next room. That’s how I found out. She dropped the phone and fell into me.

***

There’s a white-hot numbness that accompanies tragedy. You’re stunned into shock. Silence. Your mouth falls dumbly trying to say something rational. But I just saw him! your mind screams. I made his last meal. How do we tell the children? My God, his parents . . . The ringing in the ears stops for other questions: What happened? Was he wearing his seatbelt? Was he on the phone? His plate’s still in the sink. This isn’t really happening, right? His breath is still in that pool.

My last words reverberated in my head. “Take care,” I told him, not knowing . . . but then there’s that part. The knowing. Earlier that day, I told Angie I had a bad feeling.

“What kind of bad feeling?” she asked.

But I couldn’t give specifics. Just a bad feeling. We didn’t discuss it further.

Later that night, before we got the news, I saw two quick, bright purple flashes in the living room. “Oh hello!” I said brightly. ( I almost always acknowledge Spirit out loud.)

“Girl, don’t be bringing your ghosts in my house,” Angie laughed.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “Purple is good Spirit.”

We carried on chatting, 30 minutes away from knowing.

***

I think about how young he was. 24. I think about his parents, his brother, their gut-wrenching loss. I think how often we’re warned that tomorrow’s not promised, and how easily we recite that and dismiss it at the same time. I wonder if any part of Stephen’s soul knew he was moving on, to be with God that day. I’d like to think he did. Because he spent time with his favorite people, attended his first concert, won the hearts of my children, and was surrounded by love. He called Angie on his way home, thanking her for a wonderful weekend. She said it was the first time he’d done that.

Firsts.

And lasts.

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In loving memory of Stephen Novacek, November 22, 1988 – September 2, 2013.

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8 thoughts on “For Stephen

  1. Beautiful , Jennifer . Thank you for sharing . How often we get these reminders ….yet how often we fall back into the mundane , rigorous daily hustle. Hoping this inspires many to live richly, deeply and purposefully.

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  2. Sometimes there’s no way to lead up to the point of the story – that he died – because there was no crescendo, no suspense-laden soundtrack. Life was happening, and then suddenly there was death. That’s exactly how it happened, so it’s exactly how you told it. My cousin died two years ago. He was 25. I remember my youngest sister calling with the news. I had to ask her twice if it was the same Jesse we were talking about. I remember my right hand shaking uncontrollably. And I remember calling my second youngest sister to tell her, how she crumbled and broke over the phone. We cried a lot during the wake and the funeral, but it was after we walked back from the cemetery to the car, after it had all been said and done and there was nothing left to do but fill in the grave, that I could feel the break coming. The tears were streaming down my face as I walked, not caring who saw, but holding it in as best I could until I could get to the privacy of my car. My husband asked me, “Are you okay?” I said, “No. I’m not okay. IT’S NOT OKAY! THIS WILL NEVER BE OKAY!” I was shouting, “He was only 25 years old! It’s not right, it’s not right, it’s not right…” I let the worst of the grief out like a herd of horses and just let them run. I had to. We still had the reception to go to, and I had to get rid of some of this pain that I had been holding back for two days. I have soaked handfuls of kleenex just now, crying with these remembered feelings, and crying for you. Life’s a hell of a thing. You just never know what kind of plot twist is coming next. I am sorry that Stephen’s story was so short, but sometimes a short story says it all.

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  3. What a beautiful portrayal of who this young man! Thanks for sharing. It is always a good reminder of today is a gift. Please pass my condolences on to the family and friends. Lisa

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  4. Oh Jennifer, as I read this, I could see perfectly the young man Stephen and I could see the loving light in him and then as I knew before you got to it, I started to cry. I can tell you without reservation that he had completed his final life lesson and had made a shining 100 +++++++ on it and God smiled and said come home and Stephen was whisked away into Abba ‘s loving embrace with God saying well done, you did all you promised that you would do.

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  5. Jennifer, thank you so much for posting this. Angela told me about your post, and I just randomly came across it a day before his birthday.

    You know, I remember the day of the concert, I remember meeting you and your beautiful children and, as I told Angela later and what Stephen and I were talking about on our way to the concert, was that those names were pretty awesome and unique.. Stephen and I had actually thought about naming one of our daughters Sophia and we had named Harvey to a big teddy bear that he had given me on Valentine’s Day.. :’)

    It’s funny because he told me he didn’t know any BSB songs, but.. He was singing to a bunch of them! Haha! You should’ve seen him dancing to some of them! Haha! 😛 It was the cutest thing ever! He looked really happy and like he was just having a good time.

    After the concert, my sister, her boyfriend, Stephen, and I were hungry so we went out to eat. We decided to go to Carl’s Jr.. We went through the drive thru and I’ll never forget how much fun we were having with the guy trying to take our order and getting everything all mixed up.. It was hilarious!

    So after about 10 minutes of trying to get our orders right my sister decided to drive off and we ended going to Whataburger.. We had so much fun just talking and eating, Stephen was cracking jokes like crazy, and saying old family stories.. He had us laughing the whole time! It was pretty awesome! It was also about 2am.. Haha!

    When we dropped him off, I got out of the car.. Kinda sorta sleep-walked to his arms, gave him a hug, looked up at those beautiful green eyes I love so much in my sleep-drunk gloriousness, gave him a quick kiss, told him I loved him, and got back into the car.

    That was the last time I saw him.

    It’s been two months and I still can’t believe it happened. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t question why it happened; there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t feel terrible for fighting with him that Monday; there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t tell him how much I love him and miss him.. My life has been drastically changed. Add to that everything else that has been going on, and you can tell that these past two months have been really hard.

    He really was everything you said and one of the best men I have met in my life.. We loved each other so very much! And I miss him like crazy, but I know that I will see him again soon.. Just have to be patient. It’s funny how he keeps his promises: he told me that he would never leave me, and even though he left this Earth, he didn’t leave me in Spirit.. :’) ❤

    Again, thank you so much for posting this Jennifer. God bless! ❤

    Rebecca A. Ruiz

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