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.”
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.