Combatting Worry-Creep

After a gift of gorgeous Spring days, Saturday morning and the weekend promises to be a little gloomy with only a dim haze of light where yesterday sparkled. I still mark weekends because I still have a job. Yes, our bookstores in the tristate area are closed but because I work primarily with educators and companies, I’m still in operation – my days safely at home on computer and phone doing business and sharing pep talks. Sometimes I am hit by worry-creep. I catch myself not breathing, my chest tightens until I remember things I am grateful for. Like for now I’m employed.

During my years of life in perpetual crisis-mode, I learned that focusing on gratitude calmed me. My heart goes out to all who are currently living with their own addiction or addict. Liquor stores in Connecticut remain open – considered essential and us social drinkers get to laugh appreciatively because who doesn’t need cocktail hour now? But there’s no such chuckle from someone who is seriously hooked. Recalling the recklessness I witnessed from my late partners, I am grateful not to be contending with an active addict in my life now. Strength and love to you if you are.

Back to things that calm the heart…

Having Molly here with me definitely tops the list. She was so ready to step away from her mom and out of this state where she’s spent her life. If her plan to land a job in NYC by February had worked out, well – it wouldn’t have been great right now. So yes, she’s not employed yet but she’s safe and healthy. We make each other laugh and bonus: she’s an amazing cook. Even if she were 6 and I was homeschooling her, corralling her away from friends and having to explain our current insanity – she would be my first delight and inspiration. But I won’t lie: I’m SO grateful to be living with this incredible adult version instead.

We love our home – although neither of us would win awards for best housekeeper and almost everything is shabby but not chic – we delight in this space. I look forward to getting my hands in the dirt, meanwhile adoring the cheery daffodils in our yard. We are lucky to have this home that I’ve managed to hang onto through all these years. The mortgage is almost down to what it originally was 24 years ago when I first bought it. – yes the bank will probably always own it. But thanks to refinancing (I have a great guy for this if you need one!) and my steady employment with blessed Barnes & Noble, we’ve weathered tough years in-place. We hope to continue to do that. I am very grateful to be quarantined in this sweet home – with a porch.

The list can go on. I’m sure you’ve got one too. Keep it handy. Of course I get anxious about this terrible illness disrupting our current grace-filled lives. I dread the thought of either of us, any loved one, any of you — losing our precious breath. But then — I breathe because I CAN — so deeply, filling my healthy lungs, expanding them as far as they will go and it feels positively joyful. I do this at night as I look at the stars – inhaling the cold night air while Rufus wanders the patchy lawn. I do it when I wake – stretching into the morning and gratefully taking a very deep, delicious breath.

How are you doing?

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Forcing Spring and Myself

Peach blossoms

I hibernate. From reassuring texts and emails exchanged with friends who are also in a kind of dormancy, I know that it’s not just me and the groundhogs lying low. We are all tired and inclined to burrow deep into our own nests as dark closes in too early these winter months. I certainly am. At the end of the day or on a weekend, after a full work week, I want to light my wood stove, pull the curtains closed, crawl beneath the blankets with a book or the remote and talk to no one.

It doesn’t help that I have a job requiring I be outgoing, seek out strangers to try and convince them to buy lots of books. I like my company, love what I sell, am interested in other people and am socially adept – but like many book people, it’s not my natural inclination. As an introvert in an extrovert job, I definitely crave solitude after beating the bushes.

But it’s a fine line. Sometimes I feel like I have gone too far down the alone rabbit hole. Especially during winter, I tend to hide out in my own world, almost forgetting the pleasure of connection. It’s easier to stay in. But statistics show and I believe, that we humans need each other to thrive. I don’t mean through social networks – I want contact — to laugh, feel the comfort of a hug, hear a story, share a drink, a meal.

I’m so grateful to the many dear ones who make social overtures to me and accept mine. We take care of each other that way. Getting out with others can be more of an issue for us single people – particularly when you were once part of a couple. Venturing out requires more energy, motivation and confidence when you’re alone, particularly at first. It’s a skill worth honing because… well, you know. I certainly wish the men I once believed I’d be spending my life with were still here with me. I miss that. (To say ‘men’ rather than ‘man’ sounds weird – but there are two loved ghosts in my life.) Still, I enjoy my own company and have become quite content in my solitude. But the danger is how much easier it is to burrow down deeper, venturing out less. And I believe that for my health and well being, I need to resist the inclination to retreat. Do you know what I mean?

As always, I find my best life cues in nature. Last week I pruned my peach and pear trees, putting a few branches in water. And blossoms are already emerging — a reminder to the reclusive me, of the beauty that may come from forcing things along.

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Over the Years of Writing it Down

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Almost sunset so only a few more hours before kissing goodbye to December and another decade. I’m determined, by the skin of my teeth and a few hours, to maintain my record of not yet missing a month of posting at least something here.

I would have written more but for: computer problems, lack of discipline, lack of inspiration, laziness, existential questions about ‘what’s the point?’. You know – the usual. But I pay to maintain this blog – domain name, anti-hack security – enough that I don’t want to waste the $200 plus I just spent for another 2 year whirl around the dance floor. It’s a bit like taking a class so I feel compelled to periodically write.

The other day I ran into another blogger who lives locally and we discussed inactivity on our respective blogs. We agreed that we do enjoy it – the cyber community and the process of writing. Like right this very second — I feel good! The activity of ‘writing’ is mostly pleasurable for me and at the least, compelling. In parting, she and I committed to stepping it up and writing. (I can’t remember the timeline – but here I am, Susan – I look forward to yours!)

Recently I was speaking with my beloved sister. We speak often about everything and anything. She’s a great listener and asks thoughtful questions that land like stones in my often dull lake-mind, leaving ripples of insight long after we’ve hung up. Both of us have boxes of journals – the only place one might read what I’m sure is her stunning writing. Like I said, we talk about everything – including our inevitable demise. I asked her the other day what should be done with her journals when her number is up? Burn them – she said, somewhat to my disappointment. Too bad. I bet she’s got some great books in there.

It’s been a long time since I regularly kept a journal. Sometimes I might write down a dream but that’s about it. Sometimes I’ll randomly look at one. Here, I’ll do it now… (I walked to a shelf and randomly selected) a journal from 2001. Again, I randomly flipped open to something written while Neil and I were on an AA/Al-Anon recovery retreat for couples somewhere up the coast run by an inspiring priest – Father Mike C. (Oh, we did try hard for so many years!) What seems uncanny is how much the pages relate to my current ramble. From all the journals and all the pages I could have opened to, here’s where I landed:

“Julia Cameron, author of The Artists’ Way” was at the store the other day – and although I didn’t find her earth-shattering, her message is definitely a good one. And some simple exercises like writing 3 pages every morning and making an “artist’s date” with one’s self…. I have moved so far away from doing my work instead, chasing Neil and his addiction. And this was a choice. And one I no longer choose. It is that simple. I need to be on my own road now – back to finding that peace and joy and discovery I feel when I create. This is my prayer.”

Thank you Julia Cameron –  I guess you are ‘earth-shattering’ enough in the end! I confess to never really reading her – but I will now and get to those 3 pages. Here’s to closing out this decade and entering a new one with love and indeed, a prayer for a road of peace, joy and discovery for us all. Happy New Year! xxx

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Ruminations on Autumn Clean-up (or not) and Time

I share my little plot with 8 trees large enough that I hope none fall on my house. They make a lot of leaves. If the spirit moves me I will rake them into mounds alongside the hedge or into my raised garden bed where they do their beautiful business of rotting.

My neighbors across the street have no trees and I wonder if they hate me when the wind blows in their direction? We are friends so I doubt it – but I’m sure they feel a tad exasperated by the mess my arbor-love makes on their tree-less property. And I wonder a little if their intention is to torture me every Saturday when the landscaper comes with a blower to blow mostly my tree’s leaves off their perfect lawn. There are not many sounds I hate more than the sound of a gas blower as it goes on and on and on.

My gardening… philosophy? technique? I search for the word that best describes my intentional laissez-faire attitude around autumn clean-up. I believe and there is much proof, that left to itself, nature takes better care of itself than when we meddle. The decomposed leaves enrich my property so it doesn’t make sense to stuff them into bags to be picked up by the noisy trucks emitting additional carbon gases into our atmosphere while they do it.

There is some clean-up I eventually get around to. I twist the thorny vines and weeds into cans to be picked up by those same trucks or smash them into the back of my car to drive them to the brush dump myself. Every year invasive weeds like Japanese knotweed and bittersweet win the battle in at least one corner of my yard. Every spring I have high hopes that this will be the year I’ll keep said corner clear of growth. But as we move into summer and the heat and bugs amp up, I give up, conceding until autumn when I can more easily pull and snip at the recently frost-killed invasive plants.

I think about time and how it makes some things easier. Of course body aches and wrinkles alert me to the challenges time can bring = aging. But mostly I see time as my ally. With time (and effort) things that once were entrenched in my actual and metaphorical ‘patch’ become easier to deal with. A few short months ago, I was daunted by an overwhelming green mass full of thorns and worse — ticks. After a few frosty nights, the thicket shrank to skeletal twists I could tackle.

In the garden on an unseasonably warm day, I brace myself with bent knees, heels dug into the earth, inhaling a deep breath of mint (my advice: grow only in pots!) while yanking on a resistant tangle, I think of old resentments, anger, grief – pulling harder, feeling the strain into my legs until with a snap, release down to my core, my soul. Looking closely at the branches of the fruit trees saved now from being swallowed up by this wild growth, I see the teeniest, tightest little buds. Hope.

 

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New to the Neighborhood

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Dawn and dusk have drawn closer and shorter days means that on the 5 days a week I work, there’s less light for long walks with dear Rufus. Morning outings are always short – just quick forays down the block with just enough time to sniff around and lift a leg a few times before heading back inside so I can get ready for work. When there’s enough daylight left on my return home, I like to take him either to the dog park where he trips over his own little legs running so hard and fast, or for a 2 mile jaunt I call the river walk. Either way, it’s a welcome outing for both of us. And even more fun when Molly joins us, her and I gabbing as we trade off on holding the leash of our tugging pooch. (we are lax on training)

The dawn walks are just me and Rufus. And lately: a fox. The first morning I saw him from a distance – a creature sitting in the middle of the road. I didn’t have my glasses on and couldn’t quite make out what it was but certainly it was bigger than one of our known-residents – neither rabbit nor groundhog. It sat very still with it’s back to us, smack in the middle of the street. I squinted to try and make out – was it a dog weirdly sitting there so still? Then it stood up and leapt into the woods. hmmm.

A few mornings later, we met fox face-to-face. It wasn’t frightened and in fact, stepped towards us even as I stamped the ground and cried ‘scat!’. It seemed more curious than threatening but it’s bigger than Rufus, who didn’t make a peep. I scooped up our wee dog and dashed back home. Fox did not follow. At first I wasn’t sure if it was fox or coyote – but it’s tail is very bushy and body slender. A beautiful creature! But I was shaken, imagining it attacking our beloved little dog.

Rufus and I have encountered fox 3 more times, sometimes days in a row. Fox is fearless, stepping towards us – never aggressively – perhaps wondering about Rufus’s fox-like ears. Maybe this youngish-kit thinks he’s a cousin. He probably wants to sniff him to find out – or to see if he wants to eat him for breakfast. I called animal control to ask their advice, whether I should be alarmed. They said it might be a young cub, alone and indeed curious – although fox will eat a cat so if our dog is that size (yes, he’s smaller) then I should carry a stick and make sure Rufus had had his rabies shot – just in case. I’ve taken to carrying an umbrella or rake during the low-light hours. I’m sure the neighbors think I’m nuts.

Interestingly, Molly has yet to encounter fox and teased me that I was imagining it but now is spooked about taking him out when it’s dark. My sister suggested the fox is my spirit animal and in fact, these encounters have begun to feel a little magical. I went down the internet search foxhole of what fox encounters might mean – and of course choose the positive interpretations — especially seizing on the Japanese symbolism of longevity and protection from evil. Just please, dear fox, do not eat Rufus.

PS: My neighbor shared this great photo of said fox.

A beauty, no?

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Chapter 35

Kyoto 2004

 In July my friend Naomi called from Japan. When I lived in Kyoto, Naomi and I spent many late nights in hip bars discussing art and men. Now we spoke only once or twice a year. I told her about Neil’s suicide and heard the shock in her silence and quickly filled it in with reassurances.

“We’re doing okay now. And hey – I made Molly a promise that within the next two years, I’m taking her to Japan to show her all the places I always talk about.”

“Two years? Why two years? What about this year? Come now! I have some money just sitting in the bank in San Francisco. I’m going to send it to you so you can come to Kyoto this year.”

“That’s very generous of you Naomi, but I can’t take your money.”

“What do you mean? Of course you can. I’m sending you a check today, so make plans. I’ll also send you the name of my friend who’s a travel agent – she can find a great deal on flights,” she insisted.

A few days later, a check arrived in the mail for $3000. I brought it down to Chris’s house.

“Look – she really did it – she sent me the money! What do I do with this?” I held the check up in disbelief.

“What are you talking about? That’s great – you go to Japan – what do you think? What a good friend you have.”

“I have many good friends, including you guys. But Chris, I can’t take this!” I waved the check.

“Why not? She wants you to have it or she wouldn’t have sent it to you.”

“But it’s too much!”

“What if she had sent you airline tickets instead? Would you accept them?”

“I guess.”

“So what’s the difference? You have to go. You need this and Molly needs it too.”

We were sitting in Chris’s kitchen drinking red wine. Molly and I came here almost daily for the warmth and comfort of being with this family, sharing both tears and laughter. Chris was right, if Naomi had sent tickets, I would use them. We would go.

 

In late August, Molly and I wandered through Kyoto’s sweltering streets as if in a dream. We often spoke of Neil on this trip and I continued to try to make sense of his suicide. We wondered aloud to each other why he chose to give up a chance at having even one day like we were enjoying. This sadness ran like an undercurrent through everything – wading into the Kamo River trying not to disturb the elegant egrets, ducking under the noren into tiny restaurants where Molly learned the etiquette of slurping her noodles. How could he have chosen to miss this experience – to miss life? I imagined him here with us, too tall for the little Japanese souvenir shops near Kiyomizu-dera temple, flirting with uniformed schoolgirls, giggling behind their hands at the attention of so handsome a foreigner. They would have thought him a movie star and he would have played along, rattling off the movies he’d been an extra in. Molly watched as smokers made their way into the designated smoking car on the Shinkansen train and said, “That’s where Daddy would have been!”

Conjuring him like this, we laughed affectionately, his phantom presence always with us. I had often imagined the three of us one day making this trip. Now as Molly and I visited spots I once described to Neil, I wished he were.

My life in Kyoto had been a time of solitude, contemplation. It was the perfect place for me to be now. Perhaps I might rediscover the centered person who had spent hours wandering temples and gardens for inspiration. Back then, I’d pedal my bicycle back from the rock gardens to paint or carve wood sculptures in my postage stamp sized garden. After a decade of obsessing over Neil, I needed to find my way back to that self-possessed person once so alive to the world. Kyoto was also where I first recognized the longing to be a mother, to have a family. I held Molly’s sticky hand in my own as I led her through my old neighborhood.

“That’s where I lived.” I pointed to the heavy wooden gate hiding the patch of garden and an old wooden house. I stood on the hill over the little river listening to rush of water over stones, remembering that at night, as I lay in my futon under the open window, how the flowing water sounded to me like the cacophony of chattering party guests.

We got lost in the narrow streets, stopping into gardens and temples, stepping across mossy boulders and gravel paths. We sat in the shade of verandas looking out at the sculptural gardens of gravel and rock, the cool wood and tatami mats beneath our bare feet. Meditation came naturally in these ancient spiritual places. I felt I was learning how to breathe again.

 

It had been 15 years since I left Japan, but some of my expatriate friends still made their homes in Kyoto. Jenny, an Australian with flaming red hair and freckles, now had two daughters around the same age as Molly. Jenny’s marriage to a Japanese man had not worked out either. We had a lot to catch up on as we traipsed the girls around Kyoto together. Climbing up the rocky path through the tunnel of seemingly endless orange tori gates of Fushimi Inari – a huge Shinto shrine south of the city we smiled at each other as whooping and laughing, our girls ran ahead of us.

“Well, mate – it’s a credit to you that Molly is wonderful. She seems like a really happy child,” Jenny said.

“Do you think so? I feel like she is okay, although the future will tell. It’s amazing for us to be here together and it feels like coming home to me.”

“Yes, Kyoto really gets under your skin. Would you ever think about living here again?”

Moving back to Kyoto was tempting on so many levels: the safety of the place, the beauty still felt so exotic. And while I knew it was a ridiculous notion, I couldn’t help thinking that by dramatically changing our world, our painful memories might fade faster.

“You know, in some ways I’d love to but it would be too much for me now – and not the best thing for Molly. Besides, my Japanese was never great and I don’t have enough brain cells to really learn to speak it well now. And, I’ll never be able to read which would drive me crazy.”

Jenny laughed, “Yeah, it’s embarrassing how us gaijin live here for all of these years and are still functionally illiterate.”

“I know – my reading ability only goes as far as identifying what bathroom to go into!”

Up ahead the orange tunnel of gates opened into a small clearing with a temple and teashop. The girls stood expectantly, obviously hoping for a treat. Jenny bought them all a drink then we stepped into the little temple. Rows of flickering candles reminded me of my Catholic childhood then the gentle notes of wind chimes, rushing stream behind the temple and Buddha, eyes closed, surrounded by more crudely carved, smaller figures, brought me into my exotic present. I knew the little figures to be jizo, each face and mood different: smiling, laughing, angry, serene, many with little hats on or aprons wrapped around their simple stone torso. The O-jizo-sama is believed to ease suffering and shorten the sentence of those in hell.

“Do you want to light a candle for your Grandpa?” Jenny asked her girls. Her father had died the year before. The girls nodded solemnly. Molly looked over at me.

“Yes, Moll. Light one for Daddy.”

Jenny dug in her bag for coins to give to the old man who sold them their drinks. Each came back with a long match. Jenny showed them how to use a flint stone at the altar to get a flame. The girls carefully chose one of the unlit candles as their own. Molly watched as the sisters expertly lit the wicks, turned to the benevolent face of Buddha, clapped two times then bowed their heads for a few minutes, eyes closed.

“Mommy, do it with me.” Molly whispered, tugging on my arm.

We stood side by side, the air thick with the smell of incense. I watched as she lit a candle in front of a laughing figure. He appeared to laugh even harder in the flickering light of Molly’s candle. She extinguished the long match into the ashes as she’d seen the girls do and side-by-side, we clapped to get the attention of the gods, bent our heads, eyes closed over our prayer hands. A cool breeze broke through the humid air and the leaves on the trees made a strange rustle that sounded like laughter. Molly and I opened our eyes and looked at each other, eyes wide.

“It’s like Daddy is answering us!” she whispered.

“I think he is honey. I think he’s telling us that he’s okay. I can almost hear him laughing!”

I felt it. Tears welled up in my eyes and a profound peace and lightness swept through me. I looked gratefully again at the laughing jizo and silently thanked him for delivering Neil and for delivering me, safely out of hell. Molly’s hand in mine, we stepped out of the temple onto the path. One of Jenny’s girls tapped her on the arm. “You’re it!”

Giggling, Molly followed her friends into the tunnel of orange gates.

 

Epilogue

 

The calendars of our lives become checkered with time, marked by anniversaries of wonderful joys, terrible sorrows. A certain day once just another measure of 24-hours is ever after associated with the thing that happened. May 1st is that day for me. I remember the cloudless, strangely bright morning I found my husband dead. But this year, the morning was shrouded in fog and I was grateful for one less trigger.

Grieving after suicide is complex. Rarely do people kill themselves completely out of the blue. Addiction and depression lived in our little house for years. After his death, mixed in with my shock, anger and anguish was also profound relief. “It’s over.” I said to myself even as I doubled-over in sobs when the policeman confirmed what I knew.

Molly and I were recently discussing the awkwardness of telling people what happened to her father, my husband. We reassure them after they say, “Oh, I’m so sorry” with dismay, maybe a little horror. Sorry to have upset them, we answer, “No, it’s okay, really!” And of course, that’s a weird thing to say – it’s not okay and it was terrible, and it’s still sad. But we have not forgotten how frightened we were as the man we loved was swallowed by addiction. Our day-to-day lives were unstable, his behavior so erratic that we ultimately felt released from a terrible insanity. We have largely made our peace with the bad parts and now remember mostly the good. Time has given us that grace.

The anger that gripped me for years has been replaced by forgiveness. But a desire to understand what damaged him remains. Was it something in his military experience – about which he was so strangely mum? Surely almost 20 years of cocaine use destroyed much of his brain, but I am certain he was self-medicating but for what? Bipolar? Every mental health professional he encountered failed him – and us.

The years pass and I still want to understand what destroyed this good man. As I look at photos, I remember the early days when I first met him in that crazy war zone. There he is standing amidst the ruins in Bosnia, making children laugh. Wasn’t he handsome! His personality filled the room and he made sure with well-told (if rude) jokes and crazy antics that he was the center of attention. What amends was he making, what demons were kept at bay as he helped to save rather than to kill people in that terrible Balkan war where we met? In the center of constant crisis seemed to work like a fix and he thrived on what traumatized me. He seized every opportunity to save someone – and in doing so, for those years at least, he saved himself. He was at his best there.

I am grateful for the grace of time that allows for sadness when I remember him on a date I can never forget.

 

THE END

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Chapter 34

Could we afford to stay in our beloved little house? Did we even want to? Every time I left the house I passed the doorway to the garage and saw him again. I walked quickly and resisted the almost magnetic pull to look at the eave. Part of me longed to leave the scene of Neil’s death behind but my neighborhood had become our family. The last months solidified our roots with friends who absorbed us into their lives and we felt safe. I added numbers over and over as if I might come up with a different total. Could I keep paying the mortgage on this drafty little house with a long list of needed repairs, including a new roof? On just my salary, it felt impossible. But I had been doing it. Neil’s employment was erratic and even when he earned a paycheck he supported his drug habit before us.

I always associated Social Security with retirement so was surprised I would receive a monthly check for Molly based on the few years Neil worked in the US. Documents in hand, I drove to a nondescript building across from the courthouse and took the elevator up to the Social Security offices. A woman behind a thick plastic window buzzed me in and directed me to a skinny man who looked like he’d been there for a century. His desk was piled with files. He nodded and then began to drone out what documents I should hand to him.

“Social Security card.”

He sounded as if he were a surgeon asking for a scalpel. I shuffled through the papers in my manila envelope and handed it to him.

“Driver’s License.”

“It’s expired, although I don’t suppose that matters, does it?” I said.

“Is it the most recent one?”
“Yes. His license had been suspended so he couldn’t get another.” This unnecessary detail of my troubled husband was of no interest to the man peering over out-dated, silver rimmed glasses at the page in front of him. Did I hope for some reaction from him? Why did I want to tell this guy my story? Obviously, he wasn’t interested.

Watching the back of his oily head I was grateful he wasn’t looking at me as I my eyes filled with tears.

“Passport.”

I handed over the slim maroon UK passport stamped with dates that triggered flashes of wandered streets, savored meals and us holding each other tight in a world that felt ours.

“Is there a Green Card?”

His Green Card – the cause of so much frustration while waiting for permission to work. Was that when he started up with cocaine again?

“Will I get these back?” I asked.

“Yes. I just need to make copies.”

A cliché civil servant, the man did his job without looking at me. No word of condolence, not even the refrain I heard so many times during the past two weeks, “I’m sorry for your loss” or some platitude to make this all less cold and official. Maybe some gallows humor even a little sarcasm would be welcome. He took Neil’s documents off to the copy machine. I tried to suppress a sob, crumpling the yellow envelope. Returning, he read from his computer.

“You will get $565 a month for your daughter. Are you working?”

“Yes.”

“If you lose your job or for any reason are not working anymore, you will get $967 a month,” he said without looking up from his paper. “A check will be mailed out the week of the deceased’s birthday each month so you should expect your first month check around the 10th of next month. And there is a one time death payment of $250 mailed out to you within the next two months.”

“What do I do with that?”

“It’s up to you.”

“Do you need anything else from me?”

I was anxious to get out of there. When the dented metal door to the elevator closed with a groan, the tears I’d been swallowing spilled down my face. How pitifully our lives are measured – by this handful of documents now back in the crumpled yellow envelope – a packet of government-issued laminated plastic cards as proof of our lives and then our death. But, I could finally count on monthly support from Neil just when I thought he had left us only his debt.

Lucy reported from England that the family held a funeral and cremation. For Molly’s sake I decided we should hold a memorial service. I had long ago rejected the religion of my childhood and anyway, it was not Neil’s. The only church I had connected with was a nearby Unitarian Church. Molly learned about many religions and I appreciated that no guilt was being doled out from the altar while I sat for a quiet hour in the lovely glass building surrounded by trees. Sometimes Neil, trying to be the family man, would join us. We both liked the minister and it felt uncanny how often his straightforward, mostly secular sermon was exactly what we needed to hear. When this happened we left affected and for a few hours I allowed myself to hope something profound had shifted for Neil, that he heard and felt the same thing as me and that a shared insight might be the miracle to turn our lives around. I called the minister to discuss a memorial service.

Frank’s shock of white hair and full beard, rosy cheeks and twinkling eyes made him a natural for the Santa outfit he donned each Christmas. It was this comforting face that greeted me as I entered his office. The walls of his office were glass and the surrounding trees seemed part of the room. I sat on a comfortable couch full of pillows across from the minister who listened quietly as I told him about Neil’s suicide. When I finished he let out a sigh and said, “Well, that was a huge ‘fuck you’ he gave you, wasn’t it? He gave you the ultimate finger.”

I looked back at him and burst out crying.

Frank understood and targeted my anger and made it seem okay to feel that fury.

“I’m sure you know Shakespeare’s Hamlet soliloquy: ‘to be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them?’ – I think it speaks volumes.”

“Yes, Neil loved it too – he knew it by heart. Hamlet was the very last film he worked on before leaving the movie business. This should definitely be part of the service.”

We would not honey coat the story. While celebrating Neil as friend, father and husband, I would not shy away from nor be cowed by the stigma of his disease or violent death. Acknowledging the damage he wrought in his addiction and death seemed to dissipate some of my bone-aching anger and pain. As Frank prodded me gently, memories of the goodness of Neil also returned. Neil was an addict who did a terrible thing in killing himself, but he was a good – not terrible man. Planning the ceremony led me beyond memories of lies and the chaos of living with addiction and beyond the image of his horrific last act.

 

The evening of the service Molly and I waited in a side room watching our friends and neighbors enter the church. As the principal and assistant principal of her school walked up the steps, followed by a few classmates Molly danced around the room, thrilled they were there for her. Neighbors came and people from my work, old friends – a steady stream soon filled the boat-shaped building. My heart felt full watching the parade of people who cared about us, who had stood behind me through the joys and struggles of the past 10 years. There were couples from the joint Al-Anon and AA meeting Neil and I went to, old friends with their spouses and children. A few of Neil’s past work-mates came, but mostly his friends were from AA. They were better at forgiving his transgressions or maybe knew better than to lend him money or believe his promises so never felt burnt by him. Molly and I followed the minister up the center aisle to the front row. The massive windows were open and an occasional breeze filled the space with the sound of rustling leaves from the surrounding forest.

The minister recited the Hamlet soliloquy, poetically addressing suicide head-on rather than letting it dangle with the terrible weight of the unspoken. He then invited Molly to light a candle on a small altar with Neil’s picture on it. Molly’s new shoes with a bit of a heel, clip-clopped up the few steps to the stage. She carefully used a long stick to take the flame from one candle to light the votive in front of her father’s photo. She’d turned nine just a few days earlier. The candle flickered in front of a headshot Neil had taken when we first arrived in the US when he thought he might try and get back into the movie business. His face fills the frame, full and healthy, eyes looking straight at the camera, smiling.

Molly and I sifted through hundreds of photographs taken over the years to make the collages in the church foyer, laughing as we glued pictures of Neil wearing Molly’s tutu and in a New York café with a beard of cappuccino foam, capturing the man constantly putting on a show. Craving attention, requiring the spotlight, yet never revealing his self. What effort this must have taken, so impossible to sustain. I glanced at his actor’s photo.

Then it was my turn. I stepped up to the podium and with sweaty palms, placed two sheets of paper in front of me and looked up. I knew these faces, close to a hundred friends who filled the room and looked back at me. Many knew of the struggles of my home because I had vented, wept and worried to them over the years. Others knew Neil as the character who made them laugh and greeted them warmly in the neighborhood and little else. How could they know?

“I’m overwhelmed to see everyone here. Thank you for coming.” Taking a deep breath, I began, periodically looking up from my paper at the sea of friendly faces.

I talked about how Neil loved to have people around the house. He was a generous host and put out a great spread, taking pride in preparing plates of food as beautiful as they were delicious. And no one ever came to our house without getting offered a cup of tea.

“I already miss his cups of tea…”

I choked up, remembering his last words to me. Struggling to regain my composure, I continued, my voice breaking only a little, “… that he made throughout the day, they were a reason to just stop and sit together.” I stopped for a moment to swallow my tears.

“Neil will be missed in the neighborhood. Walking Tetley, he always shouted out greetings to neighbors, waving to people as if he were mayor. Neil was so friendly, warm, fun and exciting and made quickly made any community in the world, his own.”

I described meeting Neil in February of 1993 in Sarajevo and how he transformed my bleak life there and all the good things he did as a humanitarian aid worker in a war zone. In some ways, they were his best days. Perhaps only war was big and hideous enough to distract him from his inner demons. In Bosnia, he felt needed. He conjured hilarity even as shells thundered around us, yet he recognized danger and was adept at getting out of dicey situations – talking his way through checkpoints manned by drunken soldiers, befriending a few of the bandits along the way. Neil saved lives – yanking people out of sniper fire into his car or smuggling whatever ethnic type was on the out, into a safe-zone. And he kept at it when we moved to Connecticut. As Molly and I sorted through photographs, we found an ‘Unsung Hero’ certificate awarded to Neil by the local Red Cross for pulling a woman out of a burning car on I-95. He was on his way to work and for once had a good excuse for being late because, of course he stopped. His instinct was to go towards trouble instead of away, to see if anyone needed saving. He joked how it was his best excuse ever for being late and was sure to bring the police report as proof.

“But he couldn’t save himself,” Molly had wisely said as she sat on my bed and looked at the snapshot she held in her hand of her handsome father.

“Neil hated the disease that haunted him. He would hate me mentioning it even now. He wanted to keep it secret from everyone, including me and even, I think, from his self. His dark secret, this demon of drug addiction, ultimately killed him. So I feel compelled to name it. Many of us were hurt by his habit and are still baffled by it – and by his death.”

I thanked everyone for coming, and for the love and support during the month that had just past and through the years. And I thanked Neil for the laughter and for the most unbelievable joy in my life: Molly.

I stepped down and took my seat next to her, pulling her close. I had thought long and hard about acknowledging Neil’s addiction in this venue. Of course many here already knew – but not all – not the school principal or many of my neighbors. In the end, I decided I wanted Molly to know there was nothing for her to be ashamed of.

 

Friends gathered round and reminded me of good times, sharing anecdotes of Neil’s humor and warmth. The ceremony gave us a chance to recreate those days and recall the goodness of his life. Slowly, I could hope, the haunting, last image of my husband would be replaced by one of the man I had loved.

 

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Chapter 33

Like Molly, I carried on with my regular schedule as if by ignoring the nightmare I might vanquish it. I went to a scheduled dentist appointment eager to see if I might feel anything after days of feeling nothing. As usual, my hygienist and I chatted about our lives, our families, our kids, during moments before and after when my mouth was not open in a lockjaw position. As the chair shifted back, she paused with a breath and exhaled, “My husband lost his job.”

“Well, it could be worse. My husband killed himself this weekend.”

She dropped her dental scraper.

“I guess it’s weird that I still came to my appointment…I mean I probably shouldn’t even be out in the world yet. I don’t think it’s sunk in.”

“I’m so sorry!” she said, gathering fresh tools before scraping my teeth and digging into my gums. I didn’t even wince.

 

The State Examiner’s Office informed me they were releasing Neil’s body and would send him on to a funeral home. The mortician needed clothes. Neil, the impeccable dresser who had once changed his clothes multiple times a day and had worn two outfits for our wedding, had died in khaki shorts worn for so many days that dirt rimmed the seam of the pockets most likely with a lighter and a few cigarette stubs in the right pocket. I also needed to sign release papers so they could send the body to England as his mother and girls wanted, relinquishing my claim to their son and father without hesitation. That ball had been rolling well before his death, our bond and my commitment frayed from years of lies.

Someone from the funeral home would meet me at City Hall, a short walk from my house. The same day as the dentist, I stayed home by myself in the house for the first time since his death. It was a too-hot day, more like August than May.

 

I stood outside the closet where a week earlier I’d shoved clothing he’d left scattered all over our bedroom. I reached for the door handle. It stuck. I leaned my weight against the old wooden door until the latch popped and it opened with a wave of cologne, cigarettes, scent of Neil disappearing into the atmosphere mixed with the bitter smell of mothballs. I dragged the heavy bag out of the closet, grasped the zipper and pulled it with a ripping sound as the cheap plastic separated. On top was his beloved, faded jean jacket. I lifted it and held it to my face and inhaled. I once loved how Neil’s odor lingered on my own clothes after his embrace, evoking memories, promises. I filled my lungs and as I exhaled, a dam of anger, resentment and disappointment crumbled under the weight of my grief.

I muffled the awful sound of the strange sounds that erupted from me, into the pile of Neil’s clothes. Sobbing, I emptied the duffel, burying my face in his sweaters and jeans, cursing and aching-for, the man I loved. A red ascot, the one he wore the day we met in Bosnia, I held against my cheek, the wrinkled silk soft against my cheek. I put it to my nose and inhaled as if I might capture the thrill and sweetness of our first days together. Any hope of life with the man who wore these so handsomely, speeding through sniper fire, was gone. No more promises – never again. His promises had become mostly lies, but as long as he lived, in some distant recess of my being I still believed him and still hoped. Now I was left with this sorry suitcase of clothes. I put the tear-drenched silk with a few different ties, into a plastic bag. I zipped a white shirt and his grey suit into a garment bag.

Still weeping, I walked down to City Hall across the running track and baseball field. We walked here together on our way to see the neighborhood kids march in the parade. Now, I clutched a suit he’d bought to wear to one of his daughter’s weddings, not for his own funeral. This couldn’t be happening. I sat on a bench beneath a row of blossoming trees just beginning to drop their white petals. I held the clothes close to my chest, tears streaming down my face. A middle-aged man with dyed black hair in a shiny suit must have easily known it was me he was looking for.

“Mrs. Hamilton?” he asked.

“Yes.” It sounded strange to be called this now.

“First of all, I’m very sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you.” I wiped my face with the back of my hand.

“There are a few papers I need you to sign so we can release the body to your husband’s family in England.”

I signed the papers without reading them.

“And these are the clothes?” He motioned to the bag I still held to my chest.

“Yes. I also have a few ties here – so his daughters could choose. Can you send those along?” I handed him a plastic grocery bag of neckwear including the tear- drenched ascot.

“Of course.” The man took the clothing and shook my hand, his as damp as mine.

“Again, my sympathy.”

“Thank you.”

The entire transaction took less than five minutes. Empty-handed, I walked back to the house and returned to the closet. I put everything back into the duffel bag but couldn’t get the zipper to close. I pushed the bulging bag back into the closet and leaned against the door. Molly would be home from school soon and I needed to pull myself together.

 

A few days later I called the coroner’s office for the results of the tests on Neil’s body. As cause of death was obvious, a youngish sounding woman who identified herself as a medical examiner explained, they had only done a toxicology test.

“The tests showed cocaine, anti-depressants and alcohol present in his system at the time of death,” the woman read this from her report with as much warmth and sympathy as such clinical text would allow.

“Thank you.” I could not think of anything else to say so simply said goodbye and hung up the phone.

Finally I had a definitive answer to the question I had lived with for so long. Since becoming aware of Neil’s addiction, I never looked at him without searching his eyes, watching him rub his nose or suck his teeth, wondering if he was high, always wondering. He always swore he was not and I always doubted him – thinking his kiss tasted bitter, suspicious of his twitching lips. For once, I had absolute confirmation. The death certificate cites cause of death as hanging but in fact, years of snorting that fucking deadly powder is what killed Neil. I had not lied to Molly when I told her he died from drugs. Cocaine had devoured our family. I looked at the clock. Molly would be getting off the bus in a few minutes.

“Let’s go Tet, it’s time to get Molly.” I hooked Tetley to his leash and followed him out the door and down the street to meet my daughter’s school bus.

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Chapter 32

I recall the scratch of dirt beneath my knees as I knelt in the garden the day before, the air blowing through my open window as I drove to the hardware store, the smell of the pillowcase as I fell to sleep. Before details are crystalline but the minutes, the hours and days after remain a blur. Days later I sat outside in the warmth of the sun, cradling a hot cup of tea. Over and over in my mind, I replayed scenes looking for clues. His last words to me to me – did I want a cup of tea? What if I said yes to the cup of tea he offered instead of retreating into sleep? Would drinking a cup of tea have given him the will to live? Would he still be alive if I had just gotten out of bed for a damn cup of tea with him? I flung the hot cup I was drinking into the garden, the milky brew spraying the lawn before the old chipped mug landed between the tulips. I tried to picture him walking into cluttered garage in the early hours of the morning, past the lawn mower, rakes, shovels set against the wall – was he weeping? And when he died – and I hope to God that was quick – where did he go, this life that was ‘Neil’ – his essence slipping away over years until this terrible, final exit?

Molly might have found him and for that, I hated him. He must have thought of that possibility too and then did it anyway? Was his intention so cruel? This still triggers my fury. Molly was introduced to grief too soon – but how much worse would it have been were she to have been the one to find him.

I searched my memory for strange particulars: where was Tetley during the moments when I found Neil? I had been on my way to take him for his morning walk. Was I still holding onto his leash when I went to Neil’s body? I couldn’t place him there, so maybe he had retreated back into the house. For some reason, I wanted every detail about that hideous morning and it bugged me I could not remember Tetley. It seemed imperative I string together the morbid details even as I wanted to forget it all. I threw out the wicker chair and the clippers I’d used to cut Neil down with. The remnant of rope was still wound tightly around the beam for a few days. I must have asked someone to cut it off. Who did that? Or did I do it myself? Years later, this is a clouded memory – although I know the wood is forever imprinted by the twist of rope, to anybody else, looking like a slip of the saw at the lumberyard.

That morning I sat like an awkward guest perched on the edge of my couch. Chris had left Molly with her husband and kids to sit beside me. She held my hand. I’d never held my friend’s hand, how much smaller and softer hers was. The police waited in the garage with Neil’s body for the coroner to arrive, occasionally coming in the house to check on me. Neil was left slouched in the chair, now draped in a white sheet. One of the officers told me with barely masked outrage, that he had a daughter Molly’s age could not understand how a father would do such a thing. Molly. She was still across the street. What was she thinking? I needed to talk to her.

“What do I do? I need to tell Molly. How do I tell her?”

“I don’t know but you have to tell her something. She’s got to be wondering what’s happening. Come, I’ll go with you.” Chris stood up, drawing me with her.

“Goddamn him!” One of Neil’s scuffed shoes was poking out beneath the couch. I kicked it out of sight.

We walked down the driveway together, not turning our heads, neither of us looking back at the garage. We sidestepped the broken wine bottle.

“I have to sweep this up.” I said, pausing to push the larger pieces over to the side of the road, resisting the urge to pick up the UNPROFOR label.

Had he been thinking of our days together in Bosnia before he tied the noose? Did he remember how we held each other in his bed at the Holiday Inn through dark nights of heavy shelling? I felt so confident in this man and our love then, never imagining the enemy lurking within. That my protector would one day, ravaged by addiction, destroy the dreams conjured during those dark nights in Sarajevo. I threw the largest shards to the side of the road.

Molly sat on Chris’s couch next to Gary, her husband and their two kids, watching a movie. They looked so normal. I hated to disturb the scene.

“Molly, honey…” I called, motioning for her to come with me downstairs to the family room. Her eyes seemed focused on something distant as if to avoid looking at me. Her little back straight, she walked ahead of me down the stairs as if ready to receive a punishment. I wanted to hold her close and tell her everything was fine. It wasn’t. I sat next to her on the sofa in my neighbor’s basement, took a deep breath and blurted it out:

“Daddy’s dead, Molly.”

“You didn’t have to say it like that!” Molly said, looking at me as if I said something gauche. I had.

“I’m sorry. I don’t know how else to say it.”

Molly’s expression didn’t change from a mask of stunned control.

“Can I see him? I’d like to see him,” she said.

“But… he’s gone. I mean, his body is there but he isn’t, honey, not really. I don’t think it would be a good thing for you to see him this way. I don’t think Daddy would want you to see him like this.”

I thought of his sheet-covered body growing colder in the garage.

“How? How did he die?” she asked, still no tears, matter-of-fact.

“Drugs. He took too many drugs.”

It just came out that way – and it wasn’t a lie. Cocaine did kill him. Slowly but surely, the drug wreaked havoc on his body and brain. The noose around Neil’s neck flashed into my head, his feet off the ground — hanging. The terrible, gruesome image is forever branded into my mind. I could not share that with my eight-year old girl. Someday, yes, she will want to know and I will tell her. Not now.

“I need to get back to the house honey. Please stay here and I’ll come get you later, okay? I love you.”

I leaned forward to embrace her and she drew away from me. I understood – I didn’t know what to feel either and my touch might topple her precarious emotional balancing act.

Chris and I hurried back to the house pushing through the already bent branches in the hedge rather than walk up the drive and see his body, covered with a sheet but still in the garage.

 

I needed to call England to tell Neil’s family. Except for Lucy, I did not have regular contact with any of them. Before the past six months Neil had spent in his hometown, he only spoke with his mother every few months. Years sometimes passed with him not speaking to his siblings. I knew Neil’s mother never liked me – the ‘Yankee’ wife, and now she would hate me forever, cutting my head out of photographs. I called the brother’s pub and was relieved when he picked up.

“Neil’s dead, Kim. He killed himself this morning.” I blurted.

“Oh my god! Oh no, no!” he sounded winded.

“Please, can you tell every one there? I’ll talk to the girls later but I’d be grateful if you’d call them for me,” I said.

“Yes, yes. Oh my God! Take care of yourself, Tricia. And Molly.”

I was grateful he did not ask me more questions, probably too shocked by the news himself.

Other neighborhood friends appeared and my sister had driven up from the city in record time. We barely talked, drinking tea together as we stared at the living room floor. It was almost noon by the time the car from the State Examiner’s office arrived to take Neil’s body, now zipped into a bag, away in the long hearse-like vehicle. Unnatural deaths like his require investigation, possible an autopsy. I didn’t care since I had no idea what one otherwise did with a body. I watched from the porch. Just as Neil had threatened a few days ago, he left the house in a box. He was gone.

I felt a strange calm. For the next twenty-four hours a stream of friends passed through our little house. Molly played card games with my sister, happy for the company. She insisted on going to school on Monday. I understood her longing for the comfort of daily routine, the desire to pretend nothing had happened, that everything was normal. But when was anything normal in her life? What was normal about doing drug pick-ups with your father? Yet her father was the fun one – ready to make her laugh, tease and tickle, cuddle her. In her confusing soup of emotions, Molly told me she also felt relief. With her father’s death came an end to the chaos, the sense of never being sure when the earth beneath her feet would give way.

In the days following Neil’s death, I took spring-cleaning to another level, opening every window, stripping the beds and washing all the linens in the hottest water. I gathered scruffy pants, boxer shorts, and t-shirts and other clothing still scattered around our bedroom and stuffed them into a huge duffel bag and dragged it into a closet we rarely used. I lit incense in every room and imagined that the smoke disappearing through the windows was the fog in my head clearing away.

 

Years ago Neil and I had a macabre conversation about how and where we wanted our bodies to be disposed of when we died and he told me then, he wanted to be sent ‘home’. Home. Not even this house we loved so much was ever Neil’s home. He never found ‘home’ only the trappings of house, family of a wife and daughter, none of it ever sufficient. What was he searching for or fleeing from his entire life? It was right he be sent back to where it all began. Maybe his family in England, who asked his body be sent to them, could find solace in some closing ritual of burial or cremation. For me, it would not be enough.

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Chapter 31

I woke to sunlight moving across my bed like a twisting kaleidoscope. Scents of spring air filled the room and for a moment, I felt at peace before that familiar pinch of worry resumed cramping my heart. Every day this week, I’d woken up tense and ready for battle. But this morning I remembered Neil’s decision to go back to England and felt a rare calm. Tetley curled up beside me, nudged me with his nose, stretched and leapt off the bed then scratched the side of the mattress.

“Okay buddy, I’m getting up.”

Molly’s bed was an empty jumble of sheets; she must have fallen asleep in my bedroom while watching the movie. I pulled on a pair of jeans and cautiously leaned in the doorway, expecting to see Neil and her asleep. Only Molly was sprawled in the middle of the huge bed. I tiptoed in and kissed her damp cheek. Descending the stairs, I thought I’d find him passed out on the couch – but it was empty. Strange. Where could he be? Already awake? Unlikely. I walked towards the kitchen to get the dog’s leash and on the floor, lit by a slant of morning light was a sheet of paper. I picked it up. I knew what it was. I could have had a collection of all the scrawled notes he’d left for me over the years. The waking peace vanished, my stomach flooded with the usual mix of dread and anger, the beats of my heart quickened to double-time. Judging from past experience, he’d be gone for a few hours and when he returned, last night’s decision about leaving would be forgotten and he’d be raring for a fight. Sighing, I put the paper high up on a bookshelf where Molly would not see it.

“Come on, let’s take you for a walk,” I said to Tetley, clicking the leash onto his collar as I stepped into the screened-in breezeway between the house and garage. I looked out at the chairs where we drank our tea yesterday and half-expected to see Neil smoking a cigarette, but the chairs were empty. The breezeway was at the back of the house and while filled with sun in the afternoon, now the light was dim, but the door was open to the garage and I could see a stream of light with dust particles glinting dreamlike through the air. How beautiful, I thought glancing in as I walked by to the door. And stopped. From a rafter catty-corner from where I stood was Neil. He wore only a pair of khaki shorts his long body stretched tight, eyes and mouth closed, a noose around his neck. Hanging.

“Fuck! Fuck!” Cursing, I went to him and tried to lift his body to relieve the strain, to support his weight. “You fucking asshole! What the fuck did you do? I don’t believe you did this, Neil!” I needed to somehow loosen the rope pulled tight into his flesh. Maybe he was still alive. I pulled over a white wicker chair that lay on its side – the one he must have stood on – and tried to get the weight of his body on it to reduce the pull. His legs were heavy and I could not maneuver them. Was he still alive? I needed to get help but did not want to release his weight as if my holding him up might really be easing the choke on his neck. But what else could I do? I released him and ran across the lawn to my closest neighbor’s house. I banged on the door, calling her name. No answer. I ran across the street to where the town’s fire chief lived. Banging on the door and screaming, “Help me! Please help me!” still, no one answered. I ran back to my house and grabbed the phone to call the police dialing 911 then quickly hung up. Molly! I needed to get her out of the house first. She couldn’t see the hideous thing her father did.

The phone in my hand rang as I sprinted up the stairs. It was the police.

“What’s the emergency? Someone called 911 from your location.” a woman spoke to me from the phone still in my hand.

“Yes… I think my husband killed himself in the garage,” (did I just say that aloud? Was this happening?) “I need to get my daughter out of the house now.” I disconnected and went into the bedroom where just moments before I’d peeked in on my sleeping daughter.

“Molly, you need to get up immediately and come with me. Come on honey, get up right now please.”

She lifted her head from the pillow, her eyes glazed with sleep. She took my hand and climbed off the bed. Squeezing her fingers tightly in my own, I led her downstairs and out the front door, across the lawn, stepping over the deflated ball she had played with yesterday. Clutching Molly’s damp hand, I pushed through the scratchy branches of the overgrown privet hedge before the police arrived.

“Is Daddy okay?” she asked as we ran to our neighbors on that warm May morning.

“I don’t know, honey, I don’t know.”

I knew.

A decade earlier, amidst the war in Bosnia, a dashing Englishman promised me a life of romance and children. Leaving the Balkans to raise our family, I imagined us growing old together. Instead, our little house in Connecticut became a different kind of battleground. Glass littered the street. I recognized the UNPROFOR label from a bottle of wine Neil and I had saved from our days in peacekeeping. It must have been like vinegar. Neil obviously drank it in the night and smashed the bottle out here. Molly was barefoot.

“Be careful of the glass,” I said, navigating her away from the shards.

We crossed the street to my neighbor Chris’s house and I banged on the door. It seemed forever until my friend came to the door, still half-asleep.

“Please, can Molly stay here? I need to go back to the house.”

Did I still think I could save him?

Chris retrieved Molly’s hand from mine and drew her into the house without a word. She knew not to ask any questions. I ran back up the hill and into the garage, grabbing the pruning clipper I’d cut back the roses with the other day. Positioning the white wicker chair just below Neil, I climbed onto a stool and clipped the thin rope, guiding his body into the chair. My husband slumped in the chair as I tried to loosen the noose from his neck. Could he still be alive? I heard the slip of gravel as cars sped into the driveway. I pushed the automatic garage door button and ran outside. A police car and ambulance were in the drive. The officer and paramedic rushed passed me to Neil. I stood by the ambulance holding my head, not looking at what they were doing. What if he was alive? What condition would he be in? What if they revived him to live as a vegetable? Within seconds, the police officer, a short black man walked towards me.

“I’m sorry, he’s gone.”

I crouched down against the bumper of the police car as if I’d been punched in the stomach, releasing a strange moan that turned into an ugly sob. It was over.

 

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