Monday, October 18, 2010

Things I should have said

Friday, October 15th marked the 2 year anniversary of my brothers death.  Walter Joseph Mayer III was killed in a one vehicle accident on a county road near his home outside of Ada, OK.  The circumstances of the accident were all very strange as the vehicle appeared to veer off the road with no attempt to correct or break whatsoever.  It appeared that he was incapacitated at the time he left the road but in the end, the vehicle rolled over causing a large amount of trauma that ultimately killed my brother.  The incident happened in front of the home of a man who had know my brother for some time from his interactions with him while he was managing Ada True Value, which my family had owned for over 25 years.  While there was nothing he could do to save my brother, he called 911 and held him until he passed away.  We are thankful Walter was not alone in his final moments and had a kind acquaintance with him.

I will never forget that day.  I was at work and not accomplishing much.  It was only a few weeks earlier when the proverbial wheels had fallen off the company I was working for.  I had been employed at SemGroup, L.P. for a little over a year and a half.  I had come to SemGroup following a reduction in force at Level 3 Communications.  I had been employed with Level 3 since May of 2000 when it was Williams Communications.  I had survived a bankruptcy, emergence from bankruptcy, monthly layoffs and an acquisition by Level 3.  I had just returned to work after taking a month off for the arrival of our first child.  She was seven weeks old, my wife was on unpaid leave and I was unexpectedly out of a job.  Thankfully I was well known in the Tulsa development community and it did not take me long to find a new position.  I actually had two offers within a week of being laid off and I accepted the position with SemGroup.  I loved my new job.  I had been through so many terrible times with my previous job, which happened to be my first out of college, I kept pinching myself because it didn’t seem possible to me that one could enjoy their job.  I couldn’t fathom the possibility of not dreading getting up and going to work in the morning.  It was quite literally my dream job.  Then someone got greedy.  That what it seems anyway, that may not be entirely fair to whoever was responsible but the problem is no one ever really explained who was responsible, the responsible parties never came forward and apologized or offered any explanation, nothing.  All I knew is we were thrust in to bankruptcy and told we were going to liquidate all assets and close the doors.  My dream job had fallen out from under me.  I was now reluctantly interviewing.

My phone rang and it was my best friend who lives in Ada.  I am always happy to hear from him so I answered the phone with my usual exuberance.  Right away I could tell something wasn’t right. 

“Michael, I don’t know how to say this so I’m just going to do it.  You’re brother was killed in a car accident this morning.  I’m so sorry to be the one to tell you.”

What do you say to that?  How are you supposed to act?  This is my best friend, he wouldn’t just pull something like this out of his ass.  But I didn’t believe him.  And I didn’t say anything for what seemed like minutes.  I usually am a person that has a pretty good idea how to attack a problem and deal with it, but this is one I couldn’t deal with.  I couldn’t fix this one. 

It’s hard for me to put in to words what I was feeling.  It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that my relationship with my brother was, tumultuous.  My brother had lived life hard in some ways.  He certainly burned the candle at both ends.  When I was 15 years old our toxic relationship came to a fiery head on Easter Sunday when we got in to an argument about whether or not we were going to put the fish heads under the shop building for the raccoons that lived there.  Yeah, I will wait a minute while you read that sentence again.  It’s stupid.  It is ridiculous on so many levels that I truly feel foolish writing it down.    My brother, for lack of a better phrase, beat the hell out of me.  Walter Joe was 9 years older than me and as I said above, lived life hard.  As a result he was tougher and more experienced than me in the ways of all out brawls.  He slid me across the gravel driveway on my back and then commenced to pounding my face.  I have a wide spot in my nose to this day from the broken nose that I had to straighten out afterword.

I did not see, speak to or know the whereabouts of my brother for the next 12 years.  Until one day when my mother was contacted by a woman he had been living with for quite some time in the Nashville, TN area.  One thing led to another and we began speaking again and started getting together from time to time.  But it was hard.  Awkward really.  Here’s the thing, Mayer men really are not known for their ability to talk about feelings.  My brother and I were no different, and we never really did talk about that day or any of the days that led up to it.  We just tried to go on like it never happened.  As you can imagine, this was not the most direct or productive path we could have taken to healing our relationship.

In April of 2004 my father was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer that had metastasized to his brain.  We began aggressive treatment but it was clear that he would not be going back to work.  My brother returned to Ada from Nashville to run the family business while dad was receiving treatment for his cancer.  I don’t think any of us ever believed that cancer would actually take my fathers life.  It was clear in my mind that my dad would beat this and everything would return to normal.  Again, feelings, we suck at them.  Eight months later my father succumbed to cancer.  My brother moved back to Ada with his family and began running the hardware store full time.  I did some of the bookwork and kept the computers running but he was hands on, day to day.  I honestly don’t believe that my brother was ever happy running the hardware store.  I believe it stressed him out and caused him a great deal of anxiety.  As a result we decided to liquidate the store.  Walter had worked construction for years in Tennessee and that is what he seemed to be happiest doing.  After the store was closed he went to work for my aunt doing just that.  He was building again and seemed to be happier than ever.

Our relationship was also improving.  While we had never really sat down and said our peace about anything, we seemed to be moving past it all and bonding as brothers should.  I would visit whenever I could and it was always the strangest thing to me to see my brother with my daughter.  He would absolutely melt every time she was around.  He was a different person.  Or at least a person I had never known.  It was clear he thought the world of her and it was also clear that she had him wrapped around her little finger from day one.

But now he was gone.  This was not like when my father passed away.  We could see that coming, not that that made it any easier, but at least we had time to say goodbye.  This was instantaneous.

While I was in Ada for his funeral, I received a call from a recruiter that I had been working with.  He had a job offer.  Really?  I explained my situation and told him I would get back with him in a few days.  Of course he understood and ultimately I accepted the offer.  A few weeks later I was off to my new job. 

These were dark days for me.  I never really felt that I fit in at my new position.  That probably isn’t entirely fair to the company I worked for.  The people that I worked with were wonderful and the work was fast paced and always new, but there was a dark cloud hanging over me that I couldn’t work my way out of.  The events of my life were constantly on my mind, but only the bad ones.  I was angry at the sudden death of my brother.  I was angry at the loss of my “dream job”.  I was angry at the loss of my father.  I felt guilt for a while slew of things that I really had no control over.  I felt almost guilty for living.  However, true to Mayer form, I didn’t talk about it.  I just got busy.  I had a new job, we had just bought a new house, I started getting in to photography.  Just as I had done when my father died, I did anything I could to avoid confronting my feelings.  Just push ‘em down and they will go away.

Thankfully I have a wonderful wife who could sense my despair and found me someone I could talk to.  This was long before I blogged anything because you people are certainly cheaper than any therapist.  Over the course of several weeks many things became more clear to me.  Death isn’t fair you know.  Death robs us of future relationships.  Not dealing with your feelings after a traumatic loss will haunt you in the future.  I had experienced several pretty dramatic losses over the course of about 5 years and all of them together, because I had been ignoring my feelings, were culminating in a very bad situation.  I had lost my father, bought a house, had a daughter, been laid off, lost my “dream job” and then on top of it all, lost my brother before we could say the things we needed to say to each other.

It’s too late now for me to tell my brother I loved him.  I tell myself he knew it, and I know deep down he loved me.  I know my brother was a kind hearted person who would give anyone the shirt off his back.  I also know that he lived his life on his terms and he was in the end, happy.  He once told me after moving back to Ada that he felt at home.  Nowhere he had been for the last however many years felt like home to him.  I am sad that Cinderella will never really know her uncle Walter and that my twin boys won’t get to experience his presence.  It’s one of those relationships that have been robbed from them.  I am sorry that we did not have the relationship that brothers should have. 

I am in a much better place now.  As it turns out, SemGroup did not liquidate and emerged from bankruptcy in late 2009.  They posted my old position and I, being extremely qualified for my position, returned to SemGroup Corp. in April 2010.  I had twin boys in Sept and I feel like I am at peace with my brothers death.  I just don’t want him to be forgotten and I don’t think he will be because if you knew him I think you would agree with me that he was a lot of things, but forgettable is not one of them.

So, hug your kids.  Love your family.  Talk about your feelings.  Say you’re sorry.

I love and miss you Walter Joe.


  1. This is beautiful and hard. I have so much to say but just can't quite see the computer screen through my tears right now...miss both of you.

  2. Beautifully said, and I know it wasn't easy to say. I don't want to embarrass you with a big virtual hug, so how about a Very Manly Punch In The Arm?

  3. Brian (the Ada one).October 25, 2010 at 7:43 PM

    Dude, dont you make me cry!