“People say I’m crazy doing what I’m doing
Well they give me all kinds of warnings to save me from ruin…
When I say that I’m okay well they look at me kind of strange
Surely you’re not happy now you no longer play the game…
People say I’m lazy dreaming my life away
Well they give me all kinds of advice designed to enlighten me…
When I tell them that I’m doing fine watching shadows on the wall
Don’t you miss the big time boy; you’re no longer on the ball
I’m just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round
I really love to watch them roll…
No longer riding on the merry-go-round
I just had to let it go.” ~ John Lennon, “Watching the Wheels”
This is the first post I’ve written in nearly six months! Aw, and I missed all of you too… *sniff*… Make no mistake about it: it’s not that there hasn’t been much to report; on the contrary, I have plenty of musings and anecdotes which I’ve been dying to share; therefore, we have a lot of catching up to do, my fellow bloggers/followers/friends! For the sake of this particular post however, I’ll nutshell it for you: my beloved Cancer cusp and I officially reunited in a living-together capacity in late October after a two and a half month “getting-to-know-you-again” journey. Things have been amazing and I’m hard pressed to remember being happier before in my life. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I’d actually be saying (typing?) these words. But here I am and there’s nowhere else I’d rather be. Happiness is abundant and life is — and has been — beautiful. But for this post, I will be focusing on one of the most painful events of my life thus far, occurring during my extended blogging hiatus. As the “Volume I” in the title indicates, there is much more to come regarding this tragic turn of events. It sucked the breath right out of me like a full-on punch to the stomach or, perhaps more accurately, like a dagger plunged through my very heart and soul.
Monday evening, December 31, 2012. I worked until 9pm. My Cancer cusp love was home waiting for me and we planned a quiet, just-the-two-of-us evening to ring in the New Year…complete with homemade loaded baked potato soup, other snacks, and of course an abundance of alcoholic beverages: beer, wine, margaritas…you name it. We were both off work New Year’s Day so we genuinely looked forward with great anticipation and excitement of doing next to nothing the following day, perhaps with the exception of noshing on our traditional black eyed peas, which we planned to slow cook along with a meaty ham hock in the crock pot. Just after the stroke of midnight, I sent text messages wishing each of my children a “happy, happy new year!” and each one of them had responded in kind shortly thereafter. And around 3 or 4am on New Year’s morning, we fell into bed…exhausted but thrilled to be back together and beginning a brand new year of possibilities.
Around 1:30pm on New Year’s Day afternoon, I slowly began to rouse. That’s some serious sleeping in but I didn’t care; my agenda for the day included…well, nothing! I rubbed my eyes, stretched, turned my head to the left and watched as my wonderful Cancer man continued sleeping next to me. I leaned over and gave him a kiss, which didn’t wake him, but that was okay; that hadn’t been my intention. I got up, threw on a T-shirt, and shuffled to the bathroom. I then went into the kitchen, poured the dried black eyed peas into the crock pot, added the water and the delicious, salty ham hock, and set the slow cooker on low. I then plopped myself down on the living room couch and turned on the TV.
I yawned and lit a cigarette. What to do, what to do, I silently pondered. After all, for this one day I wasn’t at the mercy of any schedule whatsoever and it just doesn’t get much better than that. Bliss.
Suddenly inspired, I got up and put Tiger Woods 2005 in our Xbox 360 and thought it sounded like fun to just chill on the couch, wearing only an oversized T-shirt, playing golf while I waited for my love to wake up and join me in the living room, probably with a “mornin’ babe” kiss and a cup of coffee. I powered on the console and waited as it began to load.
While the game was loading, the song “Little Suzi” by Tesla pierced the silence in the apartment as it began to loudly play from my cell phone on the kitchen table, indicating my 21 year-old Scorpio daughter, Suzanne, was calling. I smiled as I got up and grabbed my phone from the charger, assuming she was simply calling to wish us a happy new year, perhaps planning to let us talk to her Libra son, our awesome five year-old grandson Brendan (a.k.a. “Lil B”).
I swiped the touchscreen to answer her call. “Hey sweetie, what’s up?” I smiled, surprised at the call. Scorpio Suz rarely just calls out of the blue; she usually texts.
“Mom!” my daughter sobbed, trying to catch her breath.
Instantly, my smile vanished and I felt the blood drain from my face as my excitement turned to terror. What was wrong? What was she going to tell me? In the space of what in hindsight was probably no more than one or two seconds, all kinds of horrible scenarios filled my head. Had something happened to my grandson? To my Taurus son, who is now living with them in Arizona? Was my son in-law okay? “What?! What is it!?” I almost shouted, begging for an answer that I wasn’t even sure I wanted to hear. “What happened?!” I repeated loudly, seemingly in an effort to drown out whatever her response would be…
She then choked out the words in between sobs as she tried to catch her breath. The words that have replayed in my mind every day of my life ever since.
I felt disoriented, confused, as if I’d heard her wrong. I heard her say “Tom” but I couldn’t wrap my mind around the words…or his name being used in that context.
I shouted in a panic as my heart and mind began to race. “Who??” Surely I’d misunderstood her. “Tom who?!”
But I knew.
“Tom!” she continued, crying about as hard as I’d ever heard her cry in her 21 years.
“What?! What happened?” I asked loudly, still hoping maybe she was wrong; maybe it wasn’t true. It couldn’t be true.
“I don’t know,” Suz sniffed, trying to catch her breath again. “Jace just talked to Danielle [Tom’s ex] and she told him…do you want to talk to Jace?”
“Yes!” I told her adamantly. “Let me talk to him!”
My 16 year-old Taurus son took the phone. “Hey…” he said solemnly.
“What happened to Tom!?” I angrily demanded as I paced the living room floor so fast and furiously that it could have worn a path in the carpet.
“I don’t know, mom…Danielle just told me he died last night…” my son said quietly
At this point, I was filled with such a potpourri of mixed emotions that even now I’m not sure if I could identify them all individually. But the one at the forefront during that moment was rage. Tom? My Cancer ex-husband? The man from whom I inherited my current surname when we were married on December 29, 2000? The man with whom I had briefly reconciled when I was living in Hot Springs, AR after he moved down there to be with me in 2011 & 2012 ? The man who took my children’s dying father to chemotherapy sessions and whom he promised to fill in as their father should the unthinkable happen (which it did in January 2001)? No. No! No, Tom, you don’t get to die! Who the hell do you think you are? You don’t get to die and leave these kids, leave your daughter, leave your family…and leave me! I don’t think so!
“That motherfucker!” I snapped angrily. I looked around the room. I felt like breaking something. But I didn’t. “That stupid son of a bitch! What the fuck did he do!?”
“Don’t…,” my uncharacteristically placid Taurus-cusp son urged me, “don’t dishonor his name like that…” I could hear him fighting back tears.
But I was infuriated. “No!” I argued. “I guaranfuckintee you, however this happened, it was not natural! Whatever killed him was because of something, probably something fucking stupid, that he did!” I believe I then told my son I loved him – I’m not absolutely sure; I think a bit of self-protective amnesia set in around this time, causing me to lose some of the details – but I did ask him to put his sister back on the phone.
When she said “hello?” I was still in such shock, such disbelief, and feeling such utter rage about what had happened, I told my daughter, “I’m gonna get off here and see what I can find out…I’ll let you know…and let me know if you hear anything, okay?” Still crying, she told me she would and that she loved me.
At this point, evidently roused from sleep by my emotional tirade in the living room, my Cancer cusp man came walking out of the bedroom and with genuine concern in his eyes, he asked, “What’s goin’ on?”
I took a deep breath. I hadn’t yet cried. I blurted out, “Tom died last night.”
“Hey, I ain’t never coming home…
Hey, I’ll just wander my own road
Hey, I can’t meet you here tomorrow…
Say goodbye, don’t follow
Misery so hollow…”
~ Alice In Chains, “Don’t Follow”
Oh my God. Did I really just say those words? I wondered. Is this really happening?
Without hesitation, he walked over to me and held me in his arms, stroking my hair, trying to comfort me. “Oh baby. Oh, baby. I’m so sorry…” For a moment I felt safe, protected, comforted. At the same time, I felt confused…why was he consoling me? Tom was my ex-husband. I felt like a fraud, like I didn’t deserve any sympathy. Then, speaking into his shoulder, I said, “I have to find out what happened…”
I hadn’t spoken to Tom since early December, about three weeks prior to his death, but I knew he had been living at home in Weirton, WV with his stepmother, a forty-something Libra named Leisa, the kind of person who knocks herself out taking care of others before tending to herself. Tom’s father, a fun-loving Leo known as “Big Tom” (a misnomer, as “big” Tom was actually smaller than his son) had passed away from a long battle with cancer only four and a half months prior. At that very moment it suddenly occurred to me that although I had been quite upset to learn of Big Tom’s passing, I was now overcome with an intense feeling of relief that at least he hadn’t survived long enough to suffer every parent’s worst nightmare: the loss of a child. So what if Tom was 36 years old? He could have been 86 years old and it wouldn’t have mattered: your child is still, always and forever, your baby.
Not knowing Leisa’s phone number, I logged onto Facebook and was immediately greeted with an inbox message from Tom’s cousin Dan’s wife, Jenny, whom I’d gotten to know somewhat via Facebook over the previous year. And as I read her words – possibly aloud, I don’t really remember – I had to re-read them…and re-read them…and re-read them yet again because they just weren’t sinking in. This couldn’t be reality; this happens to other faceless, nameless people, not to us! It was like an out-of-body experience reading Jenny’s words:
“Tommy was killed in a car accident last night. The family is keeping this closed-lipped for a while but I thought you should know. I’ll let you know when arrangements are set so you can contact whomever you like. […] so please just keep this between us for a day or so. So sorry for your loss.”
Reading that message, repeatedly, it still felt unbelievably surreal. This can’t be true. I had no doubt whatsoever that any second now, I would wake up in a heart-pounding cold sweat, crying, but simultaneously relieved that it had all only been an, albeit very realistic, nightmare…
I never did wake up.
And then I began to cry. And I don’t mean shed a few tears. I wailed. I sobbed uncontrollably. I dropped to my hands and knees and screamed like a wounded animal. I shouted, “why is this happening? Why?!” over and over again, as though I might actually get an answer. I thought I’d never stop. My heart literally ached with sadness. It was torturous.
Tom is really, truly gone. He’s never coming back. Never again will I hear his voice on the phone, or receive a text from him, or be able to give him a hug, or tell him I love him. I won’t be able to share things with him…news/updates about the kids…and never again will we have one of our haven’t-talked-to-ya-in a-while-how-have-you-been phone calls where we catch up on each other’s lives. So much has been lost. Gone forever. And that’s just on my end. I haven’t even begun to touch on the life-altering impact this loss has had and will continue to have on Tom’s beloved eight year-old daughter, my three children whom we raised together, Danielle, the mother of his daughter Lindsey (I’ve been in her shoes when my children lost their biological father to cancer in early 2001 so I truly do know what she’s experiencing and feeling), along with the rest of his family, especially his stepmother Leisa, his younger sister Jamie and younger brother Justin, and everyone else who loved and cared about him…which there were and are many.
And so it appears the Universe has decided I need a refresher course in Grief 101 as I embark on another journey through life’s inevitable, excruciatingly painful grieving process. There’s no escape; therefore, my only option is to deal with it. Some days it’s just making it through one day at a time; on the worst days the goal is to make it through one minute at a time, like a toddler learning to walk. The bottom line, however, is that I will survive this…somehow. It won’t be easy; in fact, it’s one of the worst experiences one can ever face.
To be continued…
“And I’ll take with me the memories to be my sunshine after the rain…
It’s so hard to say goodbye to yesterday.” ~Boyz II Men, “It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday”
All he ever wanted was to teach you, to reach you
Death is the cousin of sleep
Just close your eyes, count sheep and breathe deep…
Think about the sound of relief that surrounds you.
~ Atmosphere, “Bleed Slow”