A Day Late And A Dollar Short – The Tragedy Of November 9th

1 Dec

The specter of November 9th racing toward us consumed me for so many weeks in advance.  I couldn’t envision how we would get through it, and the mere thought of it made me feel ill.  I was afraid we were going to crumble under the weight of the day’s very presence.  But as brutal as it was, we didn’t.  And there is a good reason why.

The reason is that what all of you did to love and support us from the minute we woke up that day literally held us upright and prevented us from falling. Your phone calls, text messages, emails, private and public Facebook messages, and comments on the Kleinsaucer blog were physically and spiritually uplifting to our entire family.  Every time we started to feel weak, something happened that served as a shot of adrenaline for us.

It all started the evening of November 8th, when Matt Sunderland recruited dozens of friends to Jeff’s Facebook group, just as Patti Dawson-Gomez, Ray Queliz, AB, Ryan Williams and others had done in the weeks before, pushing it over the 500 member mark, a wonderful milestone.  And then on the fateful day, there were over 1,000 visits to Kleinsaucer, by far the largest one day total since its inception.  This, too, was uplifting for us to see.

There is a saying that “Every small kindness, like a beautiful tree, grows taller in memory,” and rest assured, our family will always, and I mean always, remember every single act of kindness that you bestowed upon us, not only on the 9th, but on every other day since Jeff left us.

I want and need you to understand, though, exactly why November 9th was such a barrier, such an impossible day to contemplate and to try to tackle.  It goes even beyond the obvious fact that it was the day that our precious son made a conscious decision to leave us.  The tragedy is significantly exacerbated by the fact that November 9, 2010 was supposed to be the day that Jeff’s life would start to turn around and get on track again.  And it was only a bizarre set of circumstances, an absurd sequence of events, which prevented this from happening and led to the polar opposite outcome.

After enduring the dangerous mental side effects of medication that was prescribed to him too casually last September, Jeff agreed to check in to a hospital in October to wean himself off of this stuff.  Once that process was completed, Carey, Jeff and I researched other options to get him some help without medication.

Sure enough, we found what we were looking for- cognitive behavioral therapy.  This practice doesn’t rely on medication.  Instead, it helps clients “identify goals, overcome obstacles, and resolve problems that may be impeding their lives.” Perfect.  We were sure that Jeff just needed a little coaching on how to better handle the every day stresses of life.  During the week of November 1st, Carey accompanied Jeff to an initial evaluation appointment, which would be a precursor to beginning therapy the next week.

Carey called me after the appointment to tell me how good she felt that we had found the answer.  Dr. Daniel Zwillenberg was young, energetic, and genuine, and he had seemed to immediately connect with Jeff.  Daniel told Carey that he was sure he could help Jeff and that he was really looking forward to getting started.  Jeff said he felt good about giving it a go. Their first appointment was set for 11am on November 9th.  I cannot tell you how relieved Carey and I were to have found this option for Jeff.

On the morning of November 9th, at about 10:30am, I decided to call Jeff to see how he was doing and to encourage him to take full advantage of this first session with Daniel.  He was already in the car on his way to the appointment, and for some reason, his Bluetooth didn’t kick in, and he had to answer the phone manually.  We chatted a bit and then…

“Dad, shit, I’m being pulled over by a cop for talking on my cell phone.”

“Jeff, you explain to the officer that your Dad called YOU, the Bluetooth didn’t work, and it was MY fault for keeping you on the phone.  And tell him to call me if he doesn’t believe you.  Call me back right away when he leaves.”

Ten minutes later…

“Hey, you’re not going to believe this, but it was a really nice female officer, and when I explained what happened, she told me to get the Bluetooth fixed and she let me go!”

I vividly remember telling Jeff that after a rough morning, this was a clear sign that things had turned around and everything was going to be just fine.  At that point, Jeff probably had just enough time to make it on schedule if there was no traffic, so we hung up and he resumed the trip.  But about ten minutes later…

“Dad, as soon as I got back on the Sprain, the traffic stopped dead.  I don’t know what’s going on, but there’s no way I’m gonna get to the appointment on time.  I don’t have Dr. Zwillenberg’s number- can you conference him in so we can see if he can take me late?”

This was crazy- the Sprain Parkway between Rte. 287 and the Saw Mill Parkway is one of the most open stretches of road I’ve ever driven on.  There’s almost NEVER traffic on there, much less non-moving traffic.  But when I turned on CBS radio at my office, their traffic report confirmed that the Sprain was a mess.

The WIDE OPEN Sprain Parkway, as it is 99.9% of the time

I told Jeff I’d have to call him back from my land line, which had the conference feature.  When I called back, the Bluetooth thankfully worked this time.  We debated whether there was a chance, even with the traffic, that he could make the appointment on time. 

By then we realized it was already past Jeff’s appointment time, so we conferenced in Daniel, explained what had happened, and although he couldn’t take him late due to another appointment, he rescheduled Jeff for 3:30 that afternoon.  I told Jeff to head home, eat lunch, relax, and to leave himself plenty of time to make the 3:30.  He agreed.  That was the last time I ever spoke to my son.

He did go home and spent nearly an hour and a half in the kitchen with Carey over lunch talking everything through.  She recalls that he seemed more like himself than he had been- less ingratiating and apologetic.  He even got a little irked when she made him a turkey sandwich and he asked “Don’t you have any tomatoes?”  Shortly after that, Carey left to do some errands at a little before 1pm.  She would never see Jeff again.

At 4:05, Daniel called me at my office to inform me that Jeff hadn’t shown up for the 3:30 appointment.  My heart stopped, and every cell in my body told me that something terrible had happened.  According to the death certificate that we later received, he had been gone for 20 minutes by then.

That night, the police brought to our home the things that Jeff left in his car: his cell phone, driver’s license, final notes and a single dollar bill.

A single solitary dollar bill.

When you go over the Bear Mountain Bridge into Rockland County from Westchester, you do not need to pay a toll, but there is a toll required when you go over that bridge back to Westchester from Rockland.  The amount of that toll ?  One dollar.  Jeff had brought exactly one dollar with him, because he was clearly unsure if he could go through with his plan.  He could have turned around, paid the toll and come back home.  If Jeff had spent the dollar, he might be alive today. 

Daniel Zwillenberg was devastated when he heard the news.  The dollar bill wasn’t the only thing that could have saved Jeff.  Daniel could have too.  The wonderful guy that he is, he emailed me on this past November 8th just to tell me that, even though he only met Jeff once, he had made a deep impression upon him and he had not forgotten Jeff.  I responded by telling him that Carey and I still firmly believed he would have turned Jeff around if he had been given the chance, and I attached a link to Kleinsaucer.  His response on November 9th was telling.

“Hi Rich,

Thank you so much for your kind words and for sharing the website with me. After reading your entries and those of his friends, I can only shake my head in disbelief and regret at Jeff’s tragic decision. Just as you wondered how things might have changed if the Knicks game had not been canceled, I have often imagined what might have happened if Jeff had come to see me that day and had not postponed our session. Clearly, he was (and still is) loved by his family and friends, and even one year later, I struggle to understand why this happened. I can only hope that you find some solace in the love that is shared by those who knew him best.  

Daniel”

Daniel’s expressions of bafflement over how this could have happened mirror our own feelings of disbelief.  The day Jeff died could just as easily, if not for the weird confluence of events, have been the day his life turned around, and THAT is the complete picture as to why November 9th was such an excruciating day to face and endure.

We can’t escape the questions that never leave our minds.

What if:

·        The November 2nd Knicks game had not been postponed (for a non-weather reason for the first time since 1965) and Jeff had gone and had the great time he anticipated with Brooke and Julie?

·        The Bluetooth in Jeff’s car worked normally, as it ALWAYS had before, when I called Jeff the morning of November 9th?

·        Jeff was not pulled over by a police officer for talking on his cell phone, which virtually eliminated any chance he had to make his appointment on time?

·        There was no traffic on that stretch of the Sprain Parkway after the police officer let him go, as is the case 99.9% of the time?

·        Daniel didn’t have other clients booked after Jeff’s appointment and was able to just see him whenever he got there?  And the session went as well as we thought it would, and Jeff committed to this therapy program?

·        Once he crossed over the bridge, Jeff realized the absurdity of what he was contemplating and used the one dollar bill to get back home?

·        Jeff started his volunteering work at the Mount Kisco Boys & Girls Club the next day, November 10th, as was all set and planned?

The brutal answer, as far as I’m concerned, is that if any one of the latter six things had worked out in his favor, our beautiful son would be alive today.  At least that’s what I believe and keep telling myself.  What happened on November 9, 2010 was akin to a freak accident.  

Jeff was an extremely impressionable person, particularly in his last months, and when these highly improbable events all happened at once, I believe he took them as signs that things were not meant to work out for him.  I blame the meds for creating that ridiculous mindset.

The odds of Jeff’s Bluetooth deciding not to work, a cop pulling him over, a wall of traffic appearing on the normally wide open Sprain Parkway, and Daniel not being able to see him until 3:30 were astronomical.  It was as if God needed Jeff more than we did at that time and wasn’t going to let him get to Daniel’s office.  I guess that’s why they say God works in mysterious ways.

The bottom line is that we were probably a day late in getting Jeff that appointment for behavioral therapy, and he was a dollar short from coming back home safely.  That is the tragedy of November 9th and the harsh reality that we will have to deal with for the rest of our lives.   

-Rich Klein

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