My Story (part 5)

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me. Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” Psalms 23:4

It is hard to understand how someone could sum up their life on three-quarters of a page of paper.  But my daddy’s suicide letter did just that. It was vague, empty, shallow.  As my mom sped through town, stopping at every location she could imagine that my dad may be, my sister made desperate phone calls to the police, my dad’s friends, and co-workers.  With life moving 500 miles per hour around me, I found myself frozen in the back seat. The world surrounding me took on an essence of molasses, slowly flowing by in a foggy, glazed state. I couldn’t peel my eyes from the letter in my hands.

He first wrote an apology.  He explained, in complete brevity, that he could not overcome his own personal demons.  He referred to himself as a lone soul and he offered his guidance for how we could move forward without him. Then, he wrote a small paragraph to my mom, followed by a brief paragraph about my sister. And lastly, a short series of sentences about me. His words were generic. His words were gross–stripped of any sincerity or passion. As if he were a shell, void of emotion, when he composed the piece. As if he had already accepted his fate.

When I snapped back into reality, we were pulling up to his office building and all I could see were police lights and uniformed officials. Upon my mom’s instruction, we sprung from the car and ran straight into his office, hysterically searching for any shred of evidence that might provide a clue as to his whereabouts–frantically trying to find my daddy before my daddy gave up.  We were in a race against time, and the seconds seemed to be ticking by faster with each passing moment.  The police filled his office building, fielding calls and tracing clues. There was so much noise–so much commotion. Phones ringing, people yelling, doors slamming. There was so much desperation.

I will never forget the moment when everything stopped.  My mom, my sister and I were all behind my dad’s desk, shuffling through his files. Suddenly the air hung thick with silence.  The three of us looked up at the same time and saw three officers step into the doorway.  The looks on their faces were indescribable. My mom stumbled back and demanded they walk away, demanded they get back to work and keep searching. Demanded that they find her husband. But the officers stood stationary.

“Ma’am, we have found your husband…”

A flicker! A relief, oh what a sweet relief! A moment of utter joy, a moment of—

“Ma’am, we have found your husband’s remains.”

It was then that my world froze.  No child should ever have to endure the sound of their mother’s heart breaking.  No child should ever have to watch their sister shatter and fall broken to the ground.  The sound that I found resonating from the deepest depths of my being was not a cry or a scream.  It was a sound of utter anguish. It poured from me with such ferocity, I could feel the heat rise from my soul.  I felt a numbness overwhelm my body and expand in the crevices of my being. In that instant, our perfect family was shattered. Our perfect lives were destroyed. Normal was an illusion.

It was January 3, 2009 that my daddy put a gun to his heart and pulled the trigger.

His delicately built world had crumbled around him in a matter of days.  The secret my mom had stumbled upon was a lie woven through fourteen years of life’s tapestry.  It was all so avoidable.  There was no infidelity, no impurity–but there was deceit. My dad allowed his personal issues he protected so privately to snowball. By avoiding handling the “tough stuff” of life in a day-to-day manner, and instead allowing it to accumulate through time, my dad lost his way. Too proud to reach out for support, too ashamed to reveal his weaknesses, too much of a “man”, by society’s standards, to simply ask for help.   He was overwhelmed, overstimulated, and found himself in a hole insurmountable in depth…

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My Story (part 3)

“Because of my chains…[I] have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.” Philippians 1:14

Looking back on the winter break of 2009, my memories form a collage of  imagery. A collage of simple moments that have been frozen in form. Some of beauty, some of the deepest anguish.  But all of purpose.  Those individuals that are familiar with the details of this portion of my story are only those closest to myself and my family–those whose lives were shattered along with ours, those who have continued to pick up the pieces these last few years.   However, 1 Peter 3:15 instructs, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord.  Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have…”   Therefore, I am fearless in sharing this darkest moment, for I recognize the greater purpose that it serves.

Returning to Georgia, I was still riding high from the successes of the season.  I was happy to be surrounded by the nostalgia of home and, in my blissful ignorance, unaware of any changes or tensions that existed outside of my own sense of norm.  I remember my dad calling me into his room a few days after I had returned. As I crawled up into his bed, I noticed a hint of fatigue in his eyes. A dimming of the twinkle that was so familiar.  Nevertheless, that sparkle was quickly renewed in his excitement to show me the reason for which he had called me in, so I thought nothing of my initial observation.  On his bedside table stereo, he played the radio broadcast that was recorded during my 90-yard goal and beamed with joy. For what must have been 10 straight minutes, we laughed together, replayed the sound clip, and bounced on his bed–seemingly drunken with pride and excitement. I will never forget the joy of that moment…nor will I forget the single tear I saw him wipe from his cheek when he thought I wasn’t looking.

In the days that followed, life was every bit as normal as it had been in my youth.  Our family exchanged stories, visited friends, shared laughs.  Christmas was just like every other Isom Christmas–emotional, chaotic, dizzying. But comfortable.  Throughout that time, my dad began opening up to me about deep, personal things that we had never discussed before. Thoughts of his childhood, details of his relationships. Looking back, my daddy was different. He made himself so vulnerable, yet so inaccessible at the same time. He seemed weakened, humbled by a greater force. Tired.  But I attributed this new-found vulnerability to circumstance. We had missed each other, we were both growing older, we were both growing closer.  I cherished these moments…

New Years came and went in a matter of four, riveting quarters.  My family shared fantastic memories at the Peach Bowl where LSU (my team) pommelled Georgia Tech (my sister’s team) in the Georgia Dome.  With unbelievable seats and friends in town to entertain, I was oblivious to the drastic shift in emotions that took place that day.  I recognized that my mom seemed out of character–discontent, terrified, resentful. However, the energy of the evening prevented me from asking questions. I dismissed the situation and figured it was none of my business. My rational convinced me that God would care for our family.  Whatever the problem was, God would sort it out. I was faithful to Him, so He would in turn be faithful to us. That’s how it worked, right?

January 2 was the day that everything came to a crashing halt.  I remember, so vividly, standing at work that morning when my cell phone rang. My dad and I talked on the phone an average of 15 times a day, so when I looked at the caller ID and saw his name, I couldn’t help but smile. He knew I was at work, he knew I couldn’t talk. But best friends have no problem breaking the rules, and we were most certainly the best of friends.  Our conversation was every bit as normal as usual.  He asked me how my day was going, what I was up to at work, when I would be home. We made small talk for about 10 minutes until a wave of customers came in and I finally convinced him that I had to go.

The next thing that happened is so burnt into my memory, that the scars spell out the etchings of his words. Per usual before hanging up the phone, I casually said “Love ya!” and lowered the phone from my ear. But this time I heard his voice call out on the other end of the line.  I quickly lifted the receiver back to my ear and heard, what seemed like, the voice of a different man. In a tone so eerily calm, so genuine, so saddened, my daddy said, “I love you so much, Morlan.” I stood for a moment, curious and unsettled, then replied in as stoic and truthful a tone as he, “I love you too, Dad. More than anything.” Click.

Little did I know, that was the last time I would ever speak to my father…