By Kelly J. Baker.
I’m haunted by a person I never met.
My paternal grandparents lost their middle son, Carl, in a car accident. He was almost 20. His car collided with a parked semi truck. He died. My other uncle, Stevie, walked away from the accident physically unharmed. I can’t speak to other harms. We never talked about it, and Stevie died seven years ago. I wish I knew what he would say. This tragedy came to define my father’s family. Carl’s death was a gaping wound. Sometimes, woundedness bound them together. Grief tied them together tightly, so that no one had room to breathe. Yet this loss also distanced them from one another in irreparably intimate ways. Their mutual pain became particular and separate. Carl’s absence made him even more present, unfortunately unavoidable.
His death served as a reminder of the tenuousness of life and the finality of death. They survived and he didn’t. He haunted them, and later, me as well.
I never met Carl because he died almost three years before I was born. Yet, he lingered. I was told throughout my childhood that I was like him. This was not necessarily a compliment, more often it was an accusation tossed out in anger. I learned that Carl was funny and warm, but also willful and determined. He didn’t follow the path dictated by my grandparents, and they wanted us all to follow their rules. He challenged them. I challenged them years later. I often wonder if they loved him more because of his refusal to bend while I am pretty sure that they loved me less. Carl was the cautionary tale that I refused to acknowledge.