On what would be the worst day of my life, I woke up without reason. My body roused itself on its own, hours before my alarm would go off. At predawn, the darkness of my bedroom felt protective. A cloak covering me as I slept.

But the tranquility barely lasted. I had a missed call from my mom, and when I called her back, she told me the most terrible thing I have ever heard.

My brother Tyler died in a car accident.

Without warning, the darkness that had just soothed me now felt ominous.

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I’d barely heard what my mom said when my body felt like it had wound tighter and tighter around itself: a spiral of shock, trying, too late, to shield me. In the two-and-a-half years since then, there have been a handful of times when I’ve felt my body coil like this again — always at the prospect, or actual occurrence, of disaster.

One of those times was Tuesday, March 26.

Another morning of cataclysmic change. Again, I woke up without an alarm, the calm of the still, dark new day only lasting for the several seconds it took me to reach for my phone. Unthinkable news had again arrived overnight — this time by email. The subject line announced: ”Baltimore-area officials to provide update on Key Bridge collapse.”

”I must not actually be awake yet,” I thought. Because of course the Key Bridge didn’t — couldn’t, wouldn’t — collapse. The Key Bridge was part of Baltimore’s sky.

But, impossibly, that sky fell. The Key Bridge was gone.

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As I tried to understand this, my body was still. I felt sick — nauseous, short of breath — for Baltimore. My mind, however, raced. How could I help? Where could I go? How do we fix this?

The collapse of the Key Bridge has not impacted me directly. I did not know the six men who fell to their deaths while working on the bridge. I’m not part of the communities whose livelihoods depended on the bridge. I never crossed it as part of my commute. And still, I grieved.

Because I know what it’s like for a single sentence to irrevocably change everything. For an instant to be long enough to upheave life as you know it.

I also know what it’s like to feel trapped in an unasked-for reality, watching as the rest of the world goes by.

Tyler, whose smile made you crack your own, whose heart for nature I am proud to share, was suddenly and permanently gone when I woke up one morning. But still, somehow, time continues to pass.

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It’s been a little over a month since the Key Bridge collapsed. In those first days of the tragedy, we were consumed by it. We needed to know every update. We shared photos and memories of the bridge. Many of us cried.

And, after a while, a lot of us moved on. Already, we go through our days like we did when the bridge still spanned the Patapsco River. For us, it was iconic to the city we call home, but not a significant part of our daily lives or personal history.

Even as our collective attention has been directed elsewhere, I’ve continued to hurt for any and everyone grieving Alejandro Hernandez Fuentes, Dorlian Ronial Castillo Cabrera, Miguel Luna, Maynor Yassir Suazo Sandoval, José Mynor Lopéz, and Carlos Daniel Hernandez. I’ve wondered if they, too, have found that, during the first month following the sudden death of a loved one, time moves both too slowly to endure and too quickly to believe.

I’ve wondered if, in this first month, they’ve also been tortured by the contrast of their loved one having just been here — and now being gone forever. The first night after I learned that Tyler died, I fell asleep praying that I wouldn’t wake up the next morning forgetting that he was gone.

By the time I got out of bed the morning the bridge collapsed, the sun was shining. I walked to one of my favorite parts of Patterson Park: Tyler’s tree. My family had planted it about a year after he died. It’s where I go on the days it’s hardest he’s not here. When I want to spend time with him.

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It’s also where I go when things don’t make sense.

On my walk, the Patterson Park Observatory moved in and out of my view. Up until eight hours before, you could see the Key Bridge from that hill. I could see it from my classroom where I taught high school English in Southeast Baltimore. I could see it while kayaking near Fort McHenry. That morning, it still didn’t seem possible that none of us would ever see it again.

When I got to Tyler’s tree, I cried. Because my brother died. Because the Key Bridge is gone. Because people were on it when it collapsed, and everyone who loved them had woken up that day to a nightmare.

I gazed around the park, this piece of my city, of my home, that has held me during my hardest days. Baltimore, the town we’re lucky to love and proud to protect. A place beleaguered even before the bridge collapsed.

I know that a few seconds can change one’s life forever. The pain becomes permanent. I pray that everyone grieving the loss of life from the collapse, or from any other tragedy, finds the space, the time, the capacity to grieve — and that they always will, even when the rest of the world has moved on.

Kerry Graham is part of The Baltimore Banner's Creatives in Residence program, which amplifies the work of artists and writers from the Baltimore region.

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