My youngest sister, Lizzie, was 21 years old when she died. She was demolished by a Chevy Silverado while crossing an intersection under a protected walk sign after her noontime statistics seminar at Valdosta State. She hung on for three days in the hospital, then her brainstem swelled early on the third day and she was gone.
My dad called me at 3:56 a.m. ET on Feb. 8, 2014 and coughed the news down the line to me. She had died an hour previous. I was crushed. I shook my other sister, Sarah, awake and her husband drove us to the hospital. There was a coroner there, wearing a black jacket and khakis. He was morose. Dad was morose. Mom was morose. I was too drained to really even react or talk or act or move. Sarah and I sat with her — lifeless, gone forever, missing one lung and a portion of her liver — for about an hour.
I have no idea whatever happened to her damn lung.
Dad and I wrote Lizzie’s obituary together. I suppose we had to. We brewed up a colossal pot of coffee and watched the sun come up and wrote about Lizzie. Lifeless, lively Lizzie. She was an excellent defender for Valdosta’s soccer team. She had wondrous red hair. She studied Latin, like her older brother. Her head was for math, though. My high school’s women’s team now requires that all left backs wear her signature No. 4.
That funeral drew hundreds. Maybe 1,000 people were there. It rained that day. Hell, it rained all week. There’s no sunlight when a young person dies, especially so violently. Completely annihilated by a human invention. Just tossed off into the afterlife — whatever that may look like — in the snap of a finger. She was beautiful and made you sad to sleep. You will never pack as much into 24 hours as Lizzie did, because she was a real damn southern woman. And from Atlanta, to boot.
She’s gone. I had a little sister for 21 years and then she was excised from life. She’s still here, in everything I do. I’m writing about her, because writing about her makes me feel better about the fact she’s gone. It won’t bring her back, I know, and my parents will read this essay and probably weep — just as I am now — but I need to write about her. It’s the only thing tethering me to those 21 years of my and her life. God this hurts.
After Cicero’s daughter Tullia passed away, he wrote that he’d lost the one thing tethering him to this earth. That’s more or less how I felt for a time, and perhaps still do.
For 24 hours every August 24th, I go through something like a waking dream about Lizzie. That’s her birthday. It’s also the anniversary of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. She happened to have been born on the day that Hurricane Andrew made landfall in 1992, and now we’re staring down the prospect of another, historically destructive storm. 24 hours every August. It’s almost too appropriate that it occurs as I begin teaching a new fall semester every year, because often enough I end up historically drunk and sobbing into a Justin Townes Earle album.
God this hurts.
Lizzie only tangentially rooted for Ole Miss football, mainly because I attended Ole Miss for two years and she certainly appreciated the basic sorority culture Oxford enjoys. She was a Phi Mu at Valdosta, like Sarah, and watched me run cross country and track races in college. She ran too, and she was far better than me. She was far better than any of us.
She enjoyed me and Ole Miss in the strange period. The late Eli period. The period where Ole Miss tasted just as much success as it ever really can. The trip in the game against LSU to lose the West Division’s bid to Atlanta. The period in which Eli lost out in the Heisman voting, just like his brother. The period in which Colonel Reb was finally, rightly yanked off the field. Strange times, then, but memorable, and certainly more enjoyable with Lizzie in our lives.
But we’re not there, anymore. We’re in the period of supreme uncertainty — not that Ole Miss football produces that very product every year. We’re in the period where Matt Luke is getting hauled into NCAA Committee on Infractions meetings as courtesy to his job outlook. We’re in the liminal period. We’re in the gray period.
But finally — mercifully, finally — we’ll know what’s going to happen. We — the blog, the fanbase, our enemies — will finally know what the outcome is here. Closure, death penalty or no.
Then they go play Cal out in Berkeley. That’ll be wildly entertaining and anyone with even a passing interest in college football should watch it. Lizzie was a big fan of travel, and if I could have gotten her a ticket, she would’ve been there in a minute. She would have loved Berkeley.
But on Saturday it’s lowly UT-Martin, and hopefully Ole Miss can work out some of the kinks that arose last Saturday. Then it’s Cal, then it’s Bama, then we’re into the real woods. We’re certainly worried about the Rebs’ bowl game prospects this year, of course, and Lizzie would have loved that joke. She’d know exactly why that was funny and why you should stop yelling at us on Facebook about it.
Because she was an incredible, beautiful woman who none of us deserved.