Wednesday, November 16, 2011

We Remember

The following was written by a special guest blogger: My amazing daughter, Eleanor.

I still remember the feel of fear surging through my heart. I still remember crying for days afterward, and not really feeling the hugs people were giving me. I remember not being able to smile at Music Camp, much less sing or dance. And then I remember letting go of my own selfishness and feeling peace, a peace I hadn’t felt for a long time.

But I guess I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start from the beginning.

It was June 1st, 2011, when I found out we were moving. My family still didn’t know where yet. It was my last week of school, and the 8th grade class was going on a day-long trip to Six Flags: Great America in Chicago, Illinois. When I finally got off the long bus ride back to little Watertown, Wisconsin, and hopped in the car, my head still spinning with thoughts of cotton-candy, exhilarating roller-coaster rides, and Mitchell Klavekuske – the most popular boy in school, my mom broke the news. “We’re moving.” No “hello” or anything, just those simple words.

Simple words I’ve heard nine other times in my life. They shouldn’t have bothered me; I should have been used to them by now. But for some reason Watertown had always felt…different. And now we were moving away. I had only spent two years in Watertown, but I had already made many friends, and I would miss them all. My mom’s words sent me spiraling into a deep, dark, depression. I had always been a happy person, but I got so upset I could barely pull myself through the last week of school – even with all the joy of yearbook signing and “I’ll see you in the summer!” When summer hit all I wanted to do was feel sorry for myself and sleep. So that’s all I did; self-pity and sleep.

Fast forward to the last week of July. My mom was getting worried about me, so she signed my siblings and I up for Music Camp at a local church. It was the same week my parents were going house-hunting in Greenville, South Carolina. Because my parents were going to be halfway across the country my five siblings and I would be taken care of by family friends Betsy and Katie Zimmermann, who also happened to run Music Camp with their parents. So every day, after singing and dancing, we would go home with those cheery girls to practice singing and dancing. Great. Just what my depressed-self needed.

But Wednesday of that week my life changed.

By Wednesday, I had learned all about Betsy and Katie, and I knew there was a lot more depth to them than their cheery outsides displayed. Like how Betsy was patiently waiting for the man of her dreams to propose to her, and Katie’s nervousness about going to college in the fall. I also learned that their parents loved boating – and on Wednesday we were heading out to Sandy Beaches Lake with Katie, Mr. and Mrs. Zimmermann, two grade-school boys Katie “nannied,” and Tyler Baseman. And I was actually really happy to go.

Now Tyler Baseman was a real special kid. He was the Zimmermann girl’s cousin and Katie’s age. But he had cerebral palsy. He was really bright, almost a genius, but he had trouble moving. He was really skinny, most of his clothing was loose, and he was pale and frail. He often walked in a shuffling manner and couldn’t coordinate his body to function like “normal” people’s do. I only just met him on Monday at Music Camp, but there was just something about him that was amazing. Despite his skinny, frail body, he had the best personality. He never gave up on anything and was sweet to everyone. I mean the best. Like, Mitchell Klavekuske, most popular boy in school, eat your heart out.

The day started out normally enough. It was a fun day at Music Camp and then Katie drove us all over to her house, where we had a packed lunch. I remember, after lunch, changing into bathing suits and getting excited about the lake. Mr. Zimmermann attached the boat to the car, and he, Mrs. Z, and the boys all took off. Katie and the girls drove in another car. As we drove off to the lake, Anna told Katie how it would be her first time at a beach, and Isabel share it would be her first time on a boat. And me? Well, for me, it was the first time, in a long time, I was actually smiling. When we got to the beach everyone was excited. The younger kids splashed right in the water, followed by Tyler. I sat on the edge and talked with Mrs. Zimmermann. After a lot of fun, we all retired for snacks and hot dogs. In those last precious moments Tyler’s last photograph was taken. And the irony of it all was that he had the biggest smile on his face.

Part of me wants to say it’s my fault. After all, Mr. Z took all the Weldie kids out on the boat for one last run. I wasn’t going to go tubing, but at the last minute I decided to. And that took 15 minutes. 15 minutes we could have been on shore. 15 minutes we could have saved Tyler with.

When we got back to shore the two boys Katie “nannied” came running up. “Is Tyler with you guys?” one asked. We shook our heads no. I remember, as the wind whipped through my hair around my face, Mr. Zimmermann asking “Is Mrs. Z worried?” Tyler was a strong swimmer, after all, and he wouldn’t run off without telling his aunt or uncle. We got off the boat and made our way to shore, confident we would find Tyler. The beach was still busy and sunny, and he probably just got lost in the crowd. But when we got to where we had set up our things, Mrs. Zimmermann was not there. Mr. Z went and found her, and she said, as clear as day, “Tyler’s missing.”

That’s when the panic settled in. The rest is kind of a blur. The cops were called. I dried off my siblings with towels as Mr. and Mrs. Zimmermann and Katie gave accounts to the police men. One of my clearest memories, though, is a kid trudging through the sand, a frustrated look on his face. “They closed off the water” he told his mom. “Some dumb kid went missing, and now we can’t swim.” I wanted to yell and scream. “If only you knew Tyler!” my mind pounded. “You would be scared to death right now!” And that’s how we all felt – scared. Some of us handled it in different ways. The younger kids cracked jokes to ease the tension. My 10-year-old brother, Harry, popped in his iPod. And me, I tried to stay brave for the little ones, but inside I was screaming and kicking and sobbing all at the same time.

Katie drove everyone home after they were done giving police reports, almost in dead silence. I popped in a Hillsong cd. The first song that came on was “No more sorrow, no more pain. No more failure, He has overcome.” I reached over and grabbed Katie’s hand, and I don’t know if I was being delusional, but I could’ve sworn I felt fear in her touch, but when the song came on, it subsided.

Katie dropped me and my siblings off at home, where I made pizzas and sat everyone in front of the television. I didn’t know how to tell my parents, so I sent them a single text message: “Tyler’s missing.”

In about half an hour I received at least 10 phone calls from people from the Zimmermann’s church (the one we were attending Music Camp at). I had babysat for many of these families, and they were friends of my parents. The phone calls all pretty much went the same way: “Eleanor, sweetheart, are you okay? Do you need anything? You can come and sleep over at our house if you want. Okay…well call me back. And call if you need anything.” I had received so many offers, I didn’t know whose house to go to. When my mom called, after a lot of blubbering on my part, she suggested we just stay home for the night. I called everyone back and told them my plan, after reassuring them I was fine. That night I fell into a fitful sleep around 3:00am.

When I awoke in that morning I was surprised to find I had fallen asleep with my cell-phone clutched in my hand. I must have fallen asleep texting someone, I thought, and flipped the phone open. I checked my new text messages. One was from my mom. I heard her voice as clear as if she had been talking to me: “Tyler’s body was found. He drowned.”

It was 6:00 in the morning after a three-hour sleep. The perfect way to start my day.

I called my mom, and she advised us to go to Music Camp, even though it would be hard. I called Mrs. Smith, one of my mom’s friends, and asked for a ride to the church. She said she could pick us up. So I woke up all my siblings with a smile, however fake it was. I didn’t tell them about Tyler’s body, because I knew they would talk about it at Music Camp. Tyler had been a strong member of Music Camp since he was little, and he loved it, and we loved him. But no matter how well I could fake happiness, it was still strange to see the sun rising, and cars rushing around on the roads, like they had no idea what was going on. And maybe they didn’t. But I felt in my heart as if the whole world had to stop just to mourn Tyler, even if I knew it wouldn’t happen in my head.

When I stepped into the church I was attacked by numerous hugs. But I didn’t really feel any of them. I mostly cried my way through Thursday Music Camp, stopping to talk with the youth pastor, Pastor Tyler, and Mr. Sina, who was also the chorus teacher at my middle school. By the end of the day I was feeling a little better. Pastor Tyler, or PT as everyone refers to him as, told me something that dawned on me: Tyler’s death had caused me to stop thinking about the lousiness of my situation. My facebook status that night: “Life is funny – one minute it’s all about you, and then something happens, and the world shifts.” Both Betsy and Katie Zimmermann “liked” it.

Despite Mr. Zimmermann not being there for the last two days, Music Camp’s two Friday performances went flawlessly. Fittingly, we dedicated the performance to Tyler Baseman, “who we know now rests peacefully in heaven, his body made perfect.” Us who knew Tyler personally were saying “He’s probably playing basketball right now. He loved basketball.” We decided not to fill the spot where he stood with someone else, but to leave it open. Katie and Betsy showed up for the later performance, and during our break time we crowded into PT’s office and hugged each other. We didn’t even say much, just remembered.

Wednesday, July 27th changed my life forever. Ever since that day I’ve been trying to change my selfish character. Oh, sure, I still want the last cookie sometimes, and I miss a lot of people in Watertown. But we’re going back next summer for Betsy’s wedding. And Katie and I keep in touch because we’re both going through changes – she in college, me in Greenville. So I guess missing people isn’t the biggest part of the move anymore. It’s really the realization that life is funny – one minute it’s all about you, and then something happens, and the world shifts. It’s really just about remembering.


Cindee Snider Re said...

Wow, Ellie! Powerful words. Bless you for sharing them!

denise said...

beautiful...thank you for sharing

Nancy Gehrung said...


Traci and Elanor, ever since I met you both a few summers back when I helped with the kids at your bible studies, I knew there was something special about both of you and the rest of your wonderful family. Thank you for sharing your heart(s)!