Saturday, February 16, 2008

Knock, Knock and Welcome to Ken's Blog

Kristin and Ken, 1974

In our house, my bedroom and Ken's bedroom shared a common wall. Sometimes when we were little, we would have to go to bed before we wanted to, and I remember us both taking turns pestering our parents about staying up "just fifteen more minutes." On one occasion when that pestering didn't work, I remember trying to fall asleep and suddenly hearing a "knock, knock" on my bedroom wall. So I knocked back. A few minutes passed, and then I got another knock and I heard a faint giggle. I knocked and giggled back. This continued on until one of us finally fell asleep (or one of our parents yelled at us to knock it off). In fact, it became a sort of ritual between us. I don't remember how long this bedroom routine lasted, but it always made me smile when I got a knock. Many years later, long after those giggly childhood days, we were both teenagers, and there was some sort of tension between us. I was in rolling around in bed, and the next thing I knew, there was a knock on my wall. So I knocked back. The next morning, even though we both knew that was Ken's way of extending the olive branch, I pursued the topic and feigned my annoyance to him, asking, "Why did you knock on my wall last night?" And he replied out of his crooked smile, "I was just making sure you were still there."

I have always been a sleeper. I can fall asleep pretty much anytime, anywhere in seconds flat. And I enjoy sleeping. But there was a time when I hated to sleep. I was a freshman in college when Ken took his life, and I didn't have many confidantes there yet since I had only been a college student for two months. I don't remember whether it was my parents' idea or the college's (or a combination of both), but I was told I had to see our college psychologist once a week after Ken's passing. I completely resented this, and I made it known to the psychologist that I would attend my appointments as I was told, but I would not talk to a stranger about something so tragic and personal. He said that was fine, and for the most part, I would go to his office with books in hand, and we both used the appointments as time to get our work done.

But then I started to hate sleeping. I begged my college rommate to stay awake. I called friends, went into the hall of my dorm, wrote letters, listened to the radio, did anything so that I could put off having to sleep. One day, at my weekly appointment, the psychologist asked me why I looked so tired. I knew better, but I told him the truth. "I am having trouble sleeping." He saw his window of opportunity and pounced. "Why can't you sleep?" he asked. "I can sleep," I corrected him. "I just don't want to sleep." Then I just remember breaking down. I guess I needed to tell someone, especially someone who could add his expert opinion. Through my tears, I told him of our childhood ritual. And then I told him how, every single night when I fell asleep, I would hear a knock in my dreams. When I looked up, it was Ken. We would hug and cry, and he always said he was sorry and promised me he would never take his life again and that he would always be here with me. And then I would wake up, and part of me thought my dream was real. So I would have to relive it all; the recognition that my dream was not reality was just too much to bear day after day. I tried to make it stop. I tried to think of other things before falling asleep. I tried to eat weird things before going to bed. I tried praying to God to stop this torture. Nothing worked. When I finished my admission, after a long pause, I asked the psychologist why he thought my dream continued night after night. When I looked up at him, I saw that his eyes were welling up. "Honestly?" he said, "I think your brother is desperately trying to tell you how sorry he is." I don't know if he only said that because that's what I needed to hear, but I believed him. And once I believed him, going to sleep became a bit less scary. Ken still appeared in my dreams, and often still does, but instead of viewing the dream as cruel, I tried to think of it as a deliberate visit from Ken's spirit.

I had a dream about Ken the night before I had the idea to begin this blog this past December. I welcome those dreams now as any connection to him is one that I cherish. When I realized that 2008 would mark the twentieth anniversary of his death, I wanted to do something to honor my brother's memory. Probably the main concern of anyone who has lost a loved one is that they want his legacy to live on in the memories of others, and I have often wondered if people still think of him. I am humbled by the kind responses I received about this idea, and I am so grateful that Ken had so many caring friends who are interested in this project. Please feel free to share your memories either by emailing me at the link to the right or by commenting on any of the posts on this page. I will try to update this site regularly, so scroll down when you visit to view the new posts.

And to Ken ... Knock, Knock. I'm still here, and I always will be.

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