I was a failure in my own mind.
My engagement ended. I had hurt someone that I loved deeply. My lofty romantic ambitions ended in a grinding and painful defeat. I was not the hero that saved the day.
I was confused, embarrassed, disappointed and determined to make up for my failure to deliver as promised.
That feeling of obligation only intensified when my ex-fiance became pregnant to another man a bit later. The relationship with the child’s father had not worked out. I was worried for both mother and child.
I wondered how my friend would be able to provide and decided I would offer the best support that I could as a friend. When I met Saniyah for the first time my fears began to subside. Holding her filled me with a fatherly pride.
Eventually, as my friend and her child were sufficiently cared for in her community, my initial fears were replaced with a little hope. Saniyah was real living proof that something good could come out of failure and represented hope that my friend would have the lifelong companion.
Nothing could prepare me.
It was a normal sunny spring day, March 26, 2009, a Thursday. I was still getting adjusted to my life on the road as a truck driver and had run hard that week.
I was still on the road when I received a text message. The contents, something about my friend’s baby being in the hospital, really didn’t register for some reason.
However, the message that came a bit later, the one telling me something unthinkable, I did understand and it hit hard.
My mind screamed for an answer.
There was a moment of intense anger.
Saniyah, only eighteen months old, was no longer with us. She has been found in her crib lifeless and blue. Her death caused by a combination of asthma and pneumonia. There was nothing that could be done to save her.
My work week ended abruptly. I told my dispatcher (whose office I was in at the time) that I would be unable to finish the week and had decided I would drive to be there for my friend. Soon after I was on the road headed east.
A surreal night and a mother’s wail.
The morning sun had been replaced by dark skies and driving rain. I drove through the torrential downpour, at the edge of control, the worn grooves of I-80 filled with water, and at a higher rate of speed than safe.
I arrived in Brooklyn that evening not even sure how I got there or what to expect. I had left without any real plan where I would stay or what I would do. All that mattered to me was that I would be there for my friend if she needed me.
I was soon feeling a bit better. My friend was willing to see me, her composure was amazing and soon we were back at her apartment with the small gathering of family and friends.
I had settled down on the couch. My friend was in the other room, which was connected by a large opening, she was looking through pictures as I chatted and then came a moment that will probably be with me to my dying day.
My strong friend, whose calm had been my comfort until then, let out a groan, a wail only a mother could make, and it was a sound that penetrated me to the deepest depths of my being.
That night, while she cried, I bit my lip and held back trying to be strong. But in that moment something broke, something tore deep inside me, I stared through the hole down into a hopeless and terrible darkness that I had not known before.
That was the day my little hope died.
We buried Saniyah a few days later. I recall staring at that little lifeless body, feeling helpless, overwhelmed and knowing that I did not have the faith to bring her back to life. I would have traded my own life to give Saniyah back to my friend.
The hole that stared back at me.
I stopped talking to members of my immediate family who did not attend the funeral. Before then I had been frustrated with a couple of my siblings who always seemed too busy when I called and now were too busy to honor the life of Saniyah.
It was not fair to them that they bore the brunt of my feelings (nor was it fair to the online community that I was a part of then) but I had a deep anger raging inside that could not be calmed. They became the more tangible enemy that I so desperately wanted.
And then there was the guilt. My friend had told me about Saniyah’s health issue and how the doctor seemed more interested in scamming the state than providing quality care. Why had I not intervened then and insisted that she see another physician?
I was not thinking rationally.
I was trying to stay one step ahead of a monster inside of me.
But I could not always run fast enough and in moments where I felt helpless, things that would only cause a healthy person a bit of concern, my gaze would turn inside and the nightmare would catch up to me.
I would look deep into that hole that had opened the night Saniyah died and a despair that I cannot begin to describe in words would envelop me. It is that thing of Lovecraftian horror, the words of Friedrich Nietzsche come to life, a terror that would leave me in pieces and sobbing.
My religion, largely an intellectual project, failed to provide me with good answers. I was, despite regular church attendance, an agnostic for all intents and purposes. My inability to protect those who I loved or prove my way to faith, along with a string of other failures to realize my dreams, left me hollow inside and feeling totally helpless.
The return of a new hope and purpose.
Tears still well up when I talk about Saniyah and the circumstances of her death. Life is never the same after an experience like that. But those episodes of helplessness and profound loss, of reliving that moment from the night she died, have gone away.
My anger subsided. My estranged relationships restored and mostly better than ever. My faith now built on foundation more substantial than the book knowledge that had been so woefully inadequate to save me. I have a bigger hope now than the little one based in my own efforts.
After years of struggle and questions too big for my own mind, I realized that the hope Saniyah represented still lives on. It is a hope built on trust on faith not of my own works and found in the sufficiency of God’s grace.
My temporary loss is heaven’s gain.