From Her View

Philip’s story isn’t one story. I have my version; Phil, his; Natalie, hers. I asked my daughter if she’d take a few minutes and write a little about what it’s been like for her.  She’s a tough kid, and she’s handled Philip’s death by coming more into life. And in this she inspires me; on my own, I would have been happy to wither away, have the wind blow me somewhere that might feel like home. But she suffers Philip’s death too, and sometimes neither of us know what to do.

“How can I live without him?” I ask her. “I was supposed to go first.”

“How can I live without him?” she asks me. “He was supposed to be here when you did.”

From Natalie:

My time spent at Rutgers was a rough patch in my life. My first semester I was unhappy there, but it didn’t compare to the tragedy that occurred on February 22nd, 2012.

A big comfort to me at school was the support of my family and close friends. I was lucky my parents were 45 minutes north, and that my boyfriend and closest friends were in New York City and Philadelphia. It was easy to see either of them on a weekend, even make just a day trip if it felt necessary. But best of all, my brother Philip lived five minutes from me. I could go to him anytime. Sometimes I would see his car when I was walking to class and it would make me smile. We ate lunch together, and I’d go to his house on the weekends. He was loving, sweet and caring. I have never known anyone like him.

When he first died, I didn’t feel it. Not really. When the police came into my dorm and said, “Is this your brother?” I knew he was gone before I looked at the picture they were handing me. When the policeman said, “He’s dead,” I started hyperventilating, shaking and crying. When I finally stopped, I felt close to nothing. I was numb. Numb throughout the wake and the funeral. Numb throughout the days afterward.

A week after he died, I went back to school. My mom came with me and helped me unpack the few things I’d taken home with me. Then she drove me to class and went home. I watched her drive away, and had a growing pain in my stomach. I had to suppress the urge to run after her. I watched her car until she was out of site, turned around and walked to class.

“It’s okay,” I thought, “I’m fine.” And I was, for like, a minute.

In class, I sat down and tried to pay attention to my food and health teacher. For the first few minutes I listened, I took notes. But after a while, I started feeling uncomfortable. What was the point? I didn’t even like this class. My brother was gone and I was sitting in the lecture hall listening to a woman talk about things I didn’t care about.

“It’s not like anyone would even notice if I wasn’t here.”

But I stayed. Until it got hot. Until I couldn’t sit still. My legs trembled. My eyes watered. There was this pressure; like the air suddenly weighed 500 pounds, pressing on my body.

What was happening?

Enough. I snapped out of it. I stood up. I left the lecture hall, walked into some empty computer lab, sat down on a chair and focused on my breathing. After about fifteen minutes, I got up and went back to class. But I couldn’t shake the feeling, not really. I managed to go to my next class, but around 5:30, something changed.

Back at my dorm, I unlocked the door and went inside.


The smell was putrid. I hated this room, where my life got turned upside down. I hated the bed I was sitting on when I found out I would never see my brother again. I hated the computer I was using and the books I was studying when the police came into my room.

Why was it all the same?

And everything that I’d been feeling all day just rose to a peak and I knew. Without thinking, I was running. Out of that room. Down the stairs. Out the door. Running. Until I reached the train station.

I could not stay at that school. The problem wasn’t the smell of my dorm or the bed or the computer or the books. The problem wasn’t Rutgers, but that Phil was no longer there. I needed to get away from there, I needed time to heal, I needed to be with my parents, I needed the comfort of home.

© 2013 Denise Smyth


5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. tersiaburger
    Apr 23, 2013 @ 15:26:20



  2. anna whiston-donaldson
    Jun 16, 2013 @ 10:18:10

    yes. yes. yes. oh, Natalie , thank you for sharing your point of view. love and hugs.


  3. Denise
    Jun 16, 2013 @ 12:57:33

    She sends a big smile and says you’re very welcome ;o)


  4. Becki Duckworth
    Dec 16, 2013 @ 18:41:25

    Tell Natalie thanks for sharing.


  5. Denise
    Dec 16, 2013 @ 18:56:58

    She will love that ;o)


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