I can’t go to the dollar store anymore.
I went in just a few weeks ago without even thinking. My sister and I were on a mission to buy cat litter, and I went to the back refrigerator to grab a soda. I wrapped my too-large-for-a-girl hand around an orange bottle and let the door to the case close.
I went to find my sister. I swerved into the snack aisle.
And then I was back in his truck, with music in a foreign language neither of us understood playing and trash underneath my feet and the back seat full of pinnies and soccer balls and cones. He was driving me home from practice.
“So you think you’ll go to school where you visited last week?” he asked me.
I nodded. “Yeah, I think so.”
“You mind if we make a stop?” he asked, but he already knew the answer.
“Nope,” I replied.
We pulled into the parking lot of the small dollar store. It’s the only store in our tiny little town. We walked in and grazed the front aisles but quickly made a beeline to the snacks. He grabbed a few boxes of moon pies and I grabbed a candy bar and we headed to the check out. It had become tradition. We lived (almost) on the same road so he’d drive me home after late night practice so my mom wouldn’t have to deal with my little brothers so late at night and so that I could still play. And almost every time, we’d stop at the dollar store.
Then on the rest of the way home, we’d eat snacks and talk about life. We talked about my parents’ divorce and school and college and even the boys I was dating at the time. And he’d talk to me about his kids and his wife. He was a father to me in a lot of ways.
I was on the couch in my living room when I heard. I had seen an article that morning that there was an accident uptown in the middle of the night, but I kind of dismissed it, because accidents happen all the time and I rarely actually know anyone involved.
But then I read another article and it said his name.
I started panicking. It had been years since I had actually spent time with him, since I had been gone at college, but I had always known he was someone I could lean on if needed.
My chest tightened up and my throat clenched and I couldn’t breathe properly. I called my mom, but she was out of town with no service. I texted her: “Mom. It’s important. Call me as soon as you see this.”
I re-read the article. He had been life flighted to a larger city—so he was still alive.
Later that day my mom called. “What’s wrong, chicka?”
“Mom, Coach was hit.”
“Coach was hit by a truck,” I repeated, sobbing now.
“Oh my god,” she replied.
I don’t remember the rest of the conversation.
A few days later, around 3 PM, I was cleaning up my classroom. I picked up bricks off the floor and tossed them into color-coordinated bins and I leaned forward and shut all the windows. I picked my phone up off my desk to a message from Coach’s daughter.
“He’s gone, Kaylyn.”
I sat on the floor in that empty classroom and held my breath. This couldn’t be real life. I wanted to hit pause and rewind. I tried to wake myself up from the nightmare but I knew it would never work.
Sometimes nightmares are easier than real life.
I felt crushed, like a heavy weight had been dropped on my chest, knocking the wind out of me. I couldn’t breathe. I clenched my fists to try to rid myself of the anxiety and stood up slowly. I wobbled over to the window and lifted myself up onto the windowsill, where I sat with my knees tucked into my chest and I hit the brick of the sill with loose fists.
Tears fell from my eyes in big heavy drops full of salt and regret and hurt and anger.
I checked my watch. 3:05. I sniffled and rubbed my eyes and finished cleaning up the room in dreary silence. My head ached and pounded against my skull and I just wanted to go home.
After that, I didn’t touch a soccer ball for two weeks. I couldn’t do it. I tried to go out to the fields but all I could think about was that he wouldn’t be there and I would have to turn away.
But after two weeks, I started to play again. Slowly. Sadly. I played in a tournament and then left bawling because I wished he could’ve been there.
But after a little while it started to hurt less. Soccer will always be a connection I have with him. He was the coach that helped me fall back in love with the game after I gave up on it.
Life is super unfair sometimes. I don’t get it. Sometimes it doesn’t seem to even matter if we make good decisions because heartache strikes everywhere at random. It hits the old and the young and the black and the white and the rich and the poor and the good and the evil and everyone in between.
But while there is so much heartache and hurt and pain and loss and suffering in this world, there’s also a lot of hope.
Hope is found in the things we overlook. It’s in the consistency of the tide and the laughter of children and the playing of music and the light of early morning. It’s in the trees that always regrow their leaves and the flowers that bloom in the spring and the rain that nourishes and rejuvenates the earth with gentleness. It’s in the height marks on the wall that new parents make as their children begin to grow and the packages and letters that are delivered to the troops overseas and the pictures that are hung and taped and pasted onto the walls of our homes. Hope is found in the moments you wish life had a pause button—the moments you wish you could remain within for eternity.
I still can’t go to the dollar store without crying. He’s everywhere in there, doses of sadness and grief that are unavoidable.
But maybe one day I will.
I think there’s enough hope to hope for that.