Monday, April 18, 2011

Walking Away

April 18, 2011

Hi Andrea,

            I know you will not be surprised by this.  I left your stepdad, Dean.  I lasted for three months after your death.  Today would have been our 20th wedding anniversary. 
            After you died, everyone told me “No major changes for a year.  Wait a year, and then decide.”  My father was the only one who told me different.  He was the one I turned to for advice when I learned there was another woman; when Dean laid out in 21 degree weather after stumbling and passing out in the woodshed—wetting himself in the process.  He was the one who listened all those days and nights and holidays Dean spent with the bottle.  
When I called him and told him, “Dad, I need you to talk me into staying.”
            He replied, “I think you already know the answer.  All I can tell you is--when you are ready to leave, call me.  I’ll be there with the pickup.”
            It wasn’t when he got so drunk at your memorial service he could barely walk, let alone drive as I needed him to, that I decided to leave.  It wasn’t the next day, when he woke up to make Bloody Mary’s and scrambled eggs for Jake and Kim.  I could not eat.  It was not when he was so hung over he could not drive me to Funeral Alternatives to drop off your clothing and personal effects—then coming home to find him stumbling and barely coherent.  
            I decided to leave on Wednesday, December 2, 2009.  The console clock on my Subaru recorded the exact time in green light, 5:48 p.m.
            We met on the corner of Old Highway 99 and Highway 2.  I was coming from work in Olympia.  I did not have time to go home and make it to Providence Hospital in Centralia for the Grief Support Group Christmas tree ceremony.  Dean drove to the Shell Station and parked in the back.  When I drove up, I could see his silhouette behind the driver’s seat of his truck.  As he got out, and locked the driver’s door, I braced myself, I knew.  As he slid into the passenger seat of my car, he reeked of Stoli.  My hands gripped the steering wheel a little tighter.  I said nothing.  As I pulled back out onto the highway, I focused on the turning of my head, the tensing of the muscles of my neck as I searched the road for traffic. Rain fell steadily.  The only sound in the car was the steady click, click the windshield wipers made.  I willed myself to not start crying then.  I did not have the energy for a fight.  I had to take him with me or miss this Christmas program.  I did not know how I could make it though Christmas without you.  I hoped there were others there who could give me guidance.
            I turned right onto Old Highway 99.  The light was red.  I took the free right turn when I had the chance, exited to Interstate 5.  When we arrived the group was gathered in the hallway and lobby at the entrance to the hospital.  We gathered there to decorate a 12 foot noble fir.  The decorations were ornaments we decorated.  Each person took a colored bulb or a white wooden angel and a glitter pen and wrote their child’s name, the date they were born, the date they died, then placed the ornament on the tree.  When the tree became too full, we decorated a banner on the wall.  Some parents did not come back every year, we took turns placing their ornaments for them.
            As I took my turn, I could hear Dean, everyone could.  He had his arm around one of the women.  He was telling her about his son in medical school, about his lovely grandchildren, about his son in California and his beautiful, brilliant girlfriend, about his other son in California and his girlfriend too.  When he was done telling her, he went on to tell someone else.  When I finished decorating, making spirals, drawing flowers, I hung your ornament on the tree—Andrea Marcella, 12/23/81-9/1/09. 
            He did not come to me when I sat down in a chair off by myself. 
            When everyone was done, we all moved to Kit Carson’s, I think you and I had breakfast there together once.  Kit Carson’s had a banquet room set up for our group.  A place where we could sit, share a meal and share the stories of our children.  Dean and I sat across from a couple and their two older children.  The waitress came, asked us what we wanted to drink. 
            “I’ll have plain iced tea.”  I said.  “No sugar.”
            “A double martini for me.”  Dean said.
            I looked at him.  “I think you’ve had enough already.”
            “I’ll decide that.” He replied, staring at me icily.
            I began talking to the couple across the table.  Their daughter died on Christmas Eve several years before.  Her sister went in to wake her up to open presents.  She was dead.  I asked them how they planned to spend the holidays, if they had any suggestions for me, the newly initiated to this group.
 “Our faith in God has helped us through.  Without that, we could not have survived.”  They started. 
            “Only idiots believe in God.” Dean bellowed.  “You might as well believe in elves and fairies.”  Dean droned on and on.
            I heard nothing after that.  We ordered, our food came, I pushed mine around on the plate.  When I could finally summon the energy, I said, “I’m leaving now.  It’s time to go.”
            “I’m not finished with my drink.”  Dean said.  “I want another.”
            I stood up with my purse and keys.  “I’m leaving now.  It’s time to go.”  I began to walk away.