Category: Remembrance

‘Nothin’ lasts forever Even cold November rain’

SAVED BY A GREEN-EYED GIRL FROM DETROIT

When a son dies it rips your heart out. When a son kills himself it rips you all to pieces.

Grief has been joined by anger and guilt. Anger because a young man of twenty would throw away the gift of life. Guilt because you didn’t pick up that last phone call.

It was late, you were in bed with your second wife Susan. The phone was in another room.

“Do you want me to get that?” Susan asked. “It might be Will.”

Will was your son from your first disastrous marriage. He lived in Toronto with his mother. You lived in Miami with Susan.

“I just talked to him earlier for two hours, he wore me out,” you said to her.

You had talked to him several times that week, each time for one or two hours. He was confused, lonely, totally fucked up. In the last call you told him you were exhausted and that you’d call him the next day and talk about his situation some more.

You felt like you were on a not-so-merry fucking merry-go-round. His mother had said in a separate phone call that you were “coddling him,” that he’d never make it on his own in life if you kept doing that. She told you it was time to use some “tough love.”

You let that last call go to voicemail.

The next morning you checked the phone. There was no message.

You were sitting down to breakfast with Susan when the phone rang. It was your ex-wife. She said: “Prepare yourself for a shock.” She told you outright. “Will is dead.”

There was no immediate shockwave. Only a surreal numbness in the mind. You got the details. Enough barbiturates to kill himself three times over.

You hung up the phone and that’s when you cried. You wailed, you screamed. Susan held you tight.

The anguish was replaced in the next days by “arrangements.” You took a plane to Toronto. Your older brother was one of the pallbearers. A beautiful voice inside the church sang ‘Ave Maria.’ There was a lonely ceremony on a hill outside Toronto. You took a plane back to Miami. 

That’s when the horror set in. You woke every morning to the same nightmare. Your son was dead. Your son killed himself. “I could have saved him,” you said over and over to Susan.  

You kept hearing the phone ringing, ringing, that last call, you didn’t pick up. You didn’t pick up. You told Susan you were going to kill yourself. She held you firm and told you straight: “You can’t do that to the rest of your family, you can’t do that to me.”

The nightmare went on for a year. The only reason you survived is Susan kept you alive. She saved your life.

The two of you went on and had a life together, thirty years. You travelled—to Europe, Australia, Canada, all over America. It was a turbulent marriage, great and grisly, but always steadfast. 

Now it is many years later. The rest of your family is dead. Susan is dead. The love of your life.

You live alone in a bungalow with ghosts. You drink a lot. You live the 80-proof life. You smoke purple haze.

On this night, two days before Thanksgiving, your first without Susan, a voice in your head says, “Do you know why you’re still here?”

“No, I don’t,” you answer. It’s a question you have asked yourself many times.

“To honor your son and your two brothers and your mother and your father, and most of all to honor Susan for giving you the strength to go on.”

With thanks to Renata and Outosego.

-30-

Today, Susan came back.

The past came rushing back today.

For the past nine months, since the death of my wife, I have been stumbling around the empty rooms of my house, usually drunk, babbling my mantra: I want my Susan back.

Today I received a phone call from one of my wife’s friends from back in our Miami Beach days 30 years ago. For thirty years I hadn’t heard from her. I had thought about her, and my wife and I had talked about her from time to time, but she seemed to be, as many old friendships, lost in the past.

We talked for an hour and 10 minutes — 70 minutes, each minute for a year of Susan’s 70 years. I do like the symmetry of numbers. 

We talked about the three of us together in Susan’s high-rise apartment on Collins Avenue, getting drunk and stoned with me filming high-as-kite moments on my camcorder (do camcorders still exist?). 

Susan’s friend said I liked transforming things — like renaming Susan’s cat to a name I thought more appropriate, turning the spare bedroom into a study for myself that our friend described as “interesting and masculine.”

At that point in the conversation I said I often worry about things like that, that I was too high- and heavy-handed and wanted to run Susan’s life. Feelings of guilt about many chapters of life together are known to haunt the bereaved.

You could be that way, said our friend, but don’t worry about it. Susan loved you. The times you were away — [visiting my mother in Australia and my son in Canada and generally going walkabout] — all she talked about was you. We’d be out at a bar  and she would say, I have to get back to the apartment, Bill is calling from Australia tonight.

I did not know that, I said, in fact I never knew how she really felt about me — Susan, street-wise gal from Detroit, not given to displays of emotion.

Her friend, like Susan, is a person of faith, which I pray to be, but without success. I told her I miss Susan every waking moment of my life, because she brought stability to my vagabond ways, she was my strength, and, when my son died, my savior. I do not exaggerate when I say she saved my life.

Susan knows all that, our friend said, and her spirit is now your stability and strength. If you could believe that and stay firm, you will be together again.

As I noted, for the past nine months I have been going around the house saying over and over, I want my Susan back.

For an hour and 10 minutes today, I got part of her back. Thank you, Renata.