My father was still in the other room, pacing the length of the dining room table as he and my mother searched for a plan. Meanwhile, my mind flashed upon the last week, looking for explanations, answers. Anything.
T had returned from a business trip on July 1st, four days before I left our home in Atlanta to visit family on the West Coast. We had spent those few days together, enjoying each other’s company as we took care of the mundane responsibilities of daily life and celebrated Independence Day. I searched the memories, looking for a clue, but none was forthcoming. He was as loving as always, never hinting that he was drafting the text while embracing me. On the morning of my trip, he walked with me into the airport, helping me with check-in and baggage. Just outside security, next to the black and red poster declaring forbidden carry-on items, he hugged me fiercely. We kissed, full passionate kisses. Pulling back slightly, he reassured me, “You’ll be back before you know it. I love you and I’ll see you soon.” I just couldn’t make sense of it all.
Nothing existed at those moments other than my broken body collapsed on the hardwood floor and my black and silver outdated Nokia flip phone. I alternated between gripping it until my fingertips were white from the pressure and flipping it open, willing a new message to appear on the screen. That phone, the deliverer of the death sentence of my marriage, was the only possible connection I had to my former life. It was my executioner and my security blanket in one.
My dad finally settled his body next to mine on the floor. He held my hand that was gripping the phone, his tenderness contrasting with my rigidity. He delivered the information from the call with a soothing voice, trying to keep himself calm and impart some comfort to me. My mom was going to call my friend Sarah to check on the dogs. My dad and I were going to immediately drive from Eugene, where we were visiting my aunt and uncle, back to Seattle, my dad’s home in order to catch a plane back to Atlanta. My aunt came to us, crouching down so as not to loom over our crumpled bodies. After being informed of the plans, she lifted me onto the bed, where I was left with a box of tissues while my dad called his wife to have her arrange airline tickets.
The bed, although softer than the unyielding floor, offered no comfort. The tissues were simply something for my other hand to grip. Shock had shut me down. As I lay curled on the bed, others backed my belongings and made the preparations to leave. I was helped off the bed and led out the door to my dad’s waiting Miata, my things already placed in the trunk. I robotically pulled the seatbelt around my body, never lessening the grip on my phone in the process. The five hour drive was largely silent; I was still too stunned to speak and my dad’s poor hearing didn’t allow for conversation in the noisy car.
I used that time to reflect back on my marriage. Memories flashing through my mind like pages through a photo album.
T and I met in 1993 at the Kerrville Folk Festival, a hippie-inspired haven outside of San Antonio. I had recently sworn off dating, but I welcomed a friendship with the funny, smart, and creative sixteen year old. Although we were both from the San Antonio area, our homes were 30 minutes apart. Our early friendship was dependent upon the phone, as T had no car and, as I was still fifteen, I had not yet obtained my license.
As weeks turned to months, our friendship became the primary force in both of our lives. He realized that our feelings had developed into love; I was too stubborn to see it yet, as I had decided to eliminate romance from my life.
The first time he told me he loved me, he said it in German. I did not translate it until he left that night.
Our first kiss was in my car, stopped outside his house, after our first time out alone together. It had been 7 months since we met.
It was not a first kiss for either of us, but it felt so new and so powerful that I could feel my entire body swell with the emotion and passion of it. I realized loved him. In English.
I decided to lift my ban on dating.
We had been inseparable in the sixteen years since that kiss.
My memories were interrupted by the woodpecker sound of my phone ringing. My stomach dropped. I opened my hand, revealing the window on the cover of the phone, hoping, expecting, to see his name appear on the screen. Instead, my mom’s name was emblazoned on the phone. I felt a strange blend of disappointment and relief, although I wanted, no needed, to talk to him, it was not a conversation to look forward to.
Opening the phone, I uttered, “Hey.”
“Oh, sweetheart. I am so sorry,” she said through sobs. “I talked to Sarah. She and Curtis went over to the house. The dogs are okay. It sounds like they were alone for a while, though. They were out of food and water and there was a mess all over the basement. She cleaned up and gave them food and water. They’re okay now.”
“Was there any sign of him? Anything?” I questioned.
“No. Reggie went with her, though, because they didn’t know what they were walking in to. I warned her ahead of time that they may find him dead. He may be suicidal.”
“I know. I thought that too”, I replied. “None of this makes sense.”
After hanging up with my mom, I called Rebekah to thank her. I received one additional piece of information from her. She said there had been a letter placed on the kitchen island. She had not read it; its contents would remain unknown for another 12 hours until I could get back home.
The first leg of the journey came to an end as we pulled into my dad’s driveway. The opening garage door revealed his wife, standing in the doorway, holding two plane tickets with my packed luggage and a bag for my dad by her side. After a brief stop to use the bathroom and say goodbye to his wife, we were back in the car, heading to the airport for our 9:20 p.m. departure to Atlanta.
We waited outside the last gate in the concourse to board our flight. The airport was slowing down for the night, the stores closing and more people leaving than coming. I spent the time looking over the text messages from T that I had received since he dropped me off at the airport.
Mr T 7/5/09 6:49 am
Love ya!!! Have a smooth flight and be safe!
Mr T 7/5/09 7:41 am
I told ya I’d stay in touch!
Mr T 7/5/09 3:05 pm
Mr T 7/5/09 3:08 pm
Welcome to Seattle!
Mr T 7/5/09 3:12 pm
Ok. For the record dill pickle cashews are really weird!
Mr T 7/6/09 8:12 am
Morning to you too! Have a nice run?
Mr T 7/6/09 8:14 am
Ha! I assumed you’d already be going out of your mind for a quick five miles. Did you have a good night last night?
Mr T 7/10/09 11:14 am
We’ve had so much rain it sounds like a waterfall in the backyard!
Mr T 7/11/09 12:10 pm
Hey! You okay?
Mr T 7/11/09 12:12 pm
Sorry – I didn’t know I’d missed your call until now. Love you big big!
As I read these, I was compelled to send him another message.
7/11/09 5:54 p.m.
Reb has dogs. My dad is taking me to atl tonight. Where are you? Are you ok? I can’t believe 16 years ending with a text.
7/11/09 7:59 p.m.
Please just let me know if you’re ok im worried about you
My mom’s were even more concerned.
Is it true that you are leaving Lisa and the marriage? First, i need to verify that. If that is accurate, do you have specific plans as to when, ect. Iam so very sorry this is happening,if it is. Cathy
I’m worried about you. Are you OK? Core thing right now is to keep breathing. Medical stuff could be playing a big part in how you are feeling and thinking, distorting things a lot. Also, depression can have a genetic cause, when there is family history of alcoholism. I care about you. How can I help? Please let me be of support. I love you and want you to be OK. Remember, first thing is to keep breathing.
P.S. Depression and lack of sleep can both really mess up thinking and feeling, getting things really off base from what is really true. I’m here for you if you want to talk or write. Love, Mom
PPS-one other key factor to be aware of is the effects and impact of burnout. I have been concerned for years about your pace with work and how that pace destroys a person over time. When burnout accumulates, it can slide downhill pretty quickly, being a huge wake call.
The flight was another endless yet timeless five hours. I was rigid in my seat against the window, my left hand gripping my dad’s right and my own right hand still gripping the phone, even though it had been powered down for the flight.
Early Sunday morning, I finally reached my house: relieved to finally be there, petrified of what I would find. The house felt empty, although I could hear the familiar sounds of the dogs barking from the basement. My eyes quickly scanned the rooms, searching for the “whys” and the “hows.” I spotted a deliberately placed paper on the kitchen island and I began to read, scared to touch the paper, as though it would make the words somehow more real.