Tragedy struck a year ago this week. None of us saw it coming. But isn’t that how it always is? No one ever sees it coming. Not even the most vigilant in life. In 2001, the FBI missed out on the bombing of Twin Towers at the World Trade Center. It caught them unawares just like it did with the rest of the world. I can only imagine the pressure and frantic motions that followed at Quantico, their headquarters, afterward.
In 2018, Arnold checked out. He checked out never to return. The news came from Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Referral Hospital in Kisumu to Kabete and hit me with the force of an Obsidian Rock. If I had the right words to describe the devastation and the anger and the grief then I’d pen them all down here today. But I lack words. No one ever has the words to describe the loss of a loved one. When it happens, questions linger on your head like taxes. You struggle coming to terms with it. You look for some hidden answers but none come your way. Such is the nature of grief. It starts out small and balloons. And then mutual friends reach out. That’s when the pain hit the hardest. It hits like a nuclear weapon.
I did my commercial law exams in that maddening state of grief. One moment I am concentrating on a question, the next moment my mind rolls on Arnold and I see ourselves as kids in that huge field at home playing football. At some point, my mind even goes back to the silly arguments that we used to have about things like how to pronounce the word REDEEMER. We really had some serious fights over that word. Kids will always be kids.
The transition from life to death may be seamless for the dead but not for the living. For the living, it evokes a state of disbelief, desolation, disorientation and devastation. Nothing could possibly be more confusing.
I once read somewhere in one of Biko’s writings that as we grow old, more people we know die. It didn’t interest me back at the time but the realization has been hitting me slowly like those hurricanes with names that hit Puerto Rico within every two years. At some point, I remember my friend Bettina jokingly telling me that “your friends are really dying. I should probably distance myself”. I laughed it out but deep inside Biko’s words resurfaced started stabbing me from within. But this short blog today is not about grief. It’s about celebration of a life. It’s about marking a one year anniversary since Arnold’s departure. I have been reaching out to mutual friends from all over in some sort of quizzical solidarity and in a bid to source some of the forgotten memories that Arnold left them with. The responses have been encouraging. It’s not all been rosy though. For some, the grief is still there. It’s there like it never went. One constant thing however is that the memories are still fresh all over. They are as fresh in Kisumu as they are in Nairobi and in Mombasa as well as in Migori.
His brother Fred has been unreachable. He was one of the most affected by this whole disaster. I remember him crying in a sorrowful voice that night before the burial. A brother shouldn’t have to go through that. I could feel his pain. Not even a gunshot wound could elicit such pain. I’ll keep looking for him to have a chat on how he is doing and ask about how the year has been without his younger brother.
I imagine that Arnold is up there right now looking down at us with his shy smile and sweet girlish mannerisms. I imagine that he is happy wherever he is. He must be. He always was. It was rare seeing him sad even when he had the most horrendous of days. I imagine that he is watching over his mum and all his other family members during these times. I also imagine that someday we will reunite and that it will just be like the old days.
The old days were fun. We were young and stupid but that is what made it all amazing. We lived life in full throttle. We climbed mango trees and watched action movies with great enthusiasm. We loved wrestling. I was John Cena. He was Randy Orton. We fought sometimes. He hated losing I remember. I look back in awe and wonder to myself if there is anything we didn’t do as little TINY kids. I was so good at molding vehicles using clay and plasticine. He, on the other hand, was incredible in making animal sounds and designing what we called ‘explosives’.
I remember this one time we went swimming and he faked drowning sending us all in panic mode. If I had the power to bring those days back, I’d do so in a blink. But that’s not how life works. Life is so mysterious. One day you have something or someone and the next day it’s gone and the only thing left is the memories to grapple with. The only option we have is to relish and cherish the moments for things may vanish so quickly.
Two months ago, someone called me asking where Arnold went. He had been trying to reach him to no avail. It was hard breaking the news but I did. That’s when I realized that I had never completely gotten over it. Things are however much different than they were a year ago. It’s much less painful than it was. I also feel ready to accept that things happen for a reason.
I remember the person asking me how he’s supposed to live with such kind of news. I didn’t have a ready answer for him. I just told him what I once heard Jack Bauer say. “You just live with it. There’s no other way”. Jack Bauer is the fictional character in the TV Series 24. Those were his words to Kate Morgan in Season 9 when Kate asked if she was ever going to be able to get over her husband’s death.
In Arnold we learnt the power of smiling. His presence taught us so many things. In him we also learnt that there is no place for half measures in the world. He was a restless boy but now he has found eternal rest.
Rest well Cousin. You made my childhood memorable. What a lad you were. I miss you everyday.
We loved you so much. Your name is forever imprinted in our fragile hearts…
Thank you for gracing our lives.