Tuesday is such an ordinary, boring day. It doesn’t carry the same sense of dread as Monday, a day with hundreds of memes generated to bemoan its coming. It isn’t a fun midweek cause for celebration like Wednesday, with its Happy Humpday greetings. Thursday offers hope and hang in there baby because it is almost Friday. TGIF. Is there another day so full of promise and glory more than Friday? And the weekends, well they are in fact what we all work for.
But Tuesday? Tuesday is a nothing special kind of day. You don’t expect anything life changing to happen on a Tuesday.
Except for the Tuesday two Highway Patrol officers showed up on my doorstep.
It was 5:45 pm and I was making dinner. He always sent texts asking what I was making for dinner. Always. It didn’t matter that he didn’t eat dinner with us. He wouldn’t come home from work until two hours later and by then the girls would be showered and getting ready for bed. Daddy was there to tuck them in and kiss them goodnight. But he was never home for dinner. So it was sort of a joke that he would text me “what’s for dinner?” and then comment on whether it sounded good to him or not. He wasn’t going to eat it.
He hadn’t texted me yet, but my phone lay open by the cutting board, expectantly. The doorbell rang and I stopped chopping onions to answer it.
Those onions remained unchopped.
They say “life imitates art”. Or is that “art imitates life”? I can’t remember. But as I stood at my front door listening to two Highway Patrol Officers tell me that my husband had been in a fatal car accident, I couldn’t help but think this moment was straight out of a movie. Did the officers learn how to do this, how to deliver terrible news to distraught spouses, watching movies or did movie makers take these scenes out of horrific memories they had buried in the dark recesses of their minds?
It wasn’t real. It was too ridiculous to be real. My husband was at work and I needed to check my phone because by now he had texted me to ask what was for dinner.
Could they come in, they wanted to know. Of course not, I told them. My daughters were inside, happily playing on their Kindles and no way was I going to allow these harbingers of death near them. I wanted to protect them. I wanted to hold on to their innocence for as long as I possibly could.
I wiped the tears off my face, put on a bright smile, and marched inside and told my girls to go to their rooms, put on their headphones, because Mommy had to talk to some grownups.
The officers tried to talk to me, but I didn’t want to hear what they had to say. It was all lies I was certain. Or a misunderstanding. My husband was in a hospital somewhere, they just needed to tell me where, so I could go to him. I needed to make sure he was okay, and then we could laugh about how these people tried to convince me he was dead. This would become one of those colorful stories we would tell well into our 80’s. The kind that old friends would get so sick of hearing. Ugh. How many times are they going to tell this story? We know…we know…you were dead, they would think as they smiled and chuckled politely.
They told me he was at the Medical Examiner’s office. That he had died at the scene. He never made it to a hospital.
Later, I would learn that the accident caused the interstate to be closed for over two hours. For two hours, other people knew he had died before I did. Strangers. Strangers who didn’t know his wife was at home waiting for a text and that his children would need to be tucked in and kissed goodnight. Strangers that were probably angry that some idiot got into an accident and kept them trapped on the interstate.
These are things that happen to other people, I thought. This was someone else’s sad status on Facebook that I needed to comment on. So sorry for your loss, I would probably write. Or maybe, sending you lots of love to get through this. That sounded like something I might write. But this was most definitely not happening to me because that would be ludicrous.
My brother showed up. I cried in his arms then curled up on the couch while he talked to the officers. My daughters were still tucked away in their room. They remained safely in a bubble where I refused to allow the tragedy of our lives to touch them. I wanted to crawl inside that bubble with them. The bubble where my husband was still alive and our lives were still full of laughter.
One of the officers placed a small brown paper bag on the coffee table in front of me. It was the kind of bag I put my daughters’ lunches in when they had a field trip. A bag that didn’t matter if it got lost. Disposable. Insignificant.
His things, she told me. I recoiled at that seemingly innocuous little bag. I refused to look inside it. That bag was full of poison. It would end me. I would not open it because that poison would get out and kill us all.
You have to, the officer told me. I have to give it to you and you have to sign that you received it. What the hell was wrong with this woman? If someone hands you a bag that will end your life, you don’t open it for the love of God. Don’t they teach police officers that?
She opened it for me and placed each item on the coffee table. His cellphone. His wallet. His ID Badge from work.
His wedding ring.
The poison was out. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t escape it. It burned my eyes and seeped into me, into my lungs, into every cell I was made of and dissolved me.
I was undone. I was unraveled thread, tangled in tight knots.
I was death inside a living body.
I waited until the officers were gone. Until they had given my brother all the information I could not hear. Numbers to call, paperwork to read. Things that needed to be done. The business of death.
My daughters still rested inside the bubble. I had to be the one to burst it, to be the one who pricked a hole in the happy, shiny exterior and let all the air out of their lives. I would give them all the air I was breathing. I didn’t need it anymore.
I had to learn to live without breathing.
I wished I had prettier words to say to them. Words that would ease the pain of the truth. But the truth was sharp and I couldn’t keep it from cutting them no matter how much I wanted to. I cut my children apart and made a promise to myself that I would figure out a way to put them back together.
Now we walk around, stumbling, trying to learn how to be without him.
If you talk to us and our words come out jumbled and in the wrong order, if you notice our hearts are askew and beating off-tempo, if you see us limping, dragging useless limbs behind us, I hope you understand.
We are three broken souls. Shredded. Stitched together just enough to keep us moving.