I’d like to think we started the day like any other. But I don’t remember. He was in Kansas, not California so that meant it would be a good day, a slow day. Maybe we would have gone to First Watch, our favorite breakfast place, but I don’t think we did. Maybe we would have had coffee together and walked around the back four, enjoying the paradise of Kansas – pond, creek, copse of trees, a huge expanse of grass, the puppies, Twinkie and Cupcake, following us and romping.
This was one of the last photos of us, doing what we loved. Kissing each other while we listened to live blues, drinking beer, and eating bbq! It was our first time at BB's Lawnside. We didn’t know what to wear and it was date night so we came in looking like a million bucks and everyone else was in jeans and shorts. We laughed at ourselves.
Did we do that? I’m going to pretend we did and that we talked about how peaceful Kansas is and that we are so glad our kids are out of the California rat race. Protected from the mean realities of politics. I’m sure we would have complained that their canoe hadn’t been put back properly or there was a paddle on the grass. We would have laughed and said, “That’s why we moved here.” What a blessed life.
What did I do all day? I have no idea. I probably ran Rumba and cleaned the kitchen, worked on my farmer’s tan (I wear wellies in the yard for protection from the bugs) while I trained the puppies. I think I pre-posted on my blog. I know that around 4:30 I was sitting in my chair studying Rom Coms, by reading my latest novel from the Johnson County Library. It was kind of stupid. The kids were swimming at a new friend’s house, I knew where it was but I didn’t even know their names. This is Kansas, free range is possible.
I heard the garage door open and went to greet Eric. He looked so handsome. He was wearing his best color, pink. His plaid pink polo button down to be exact, polo chinos and his Cole Haan loafers. Why do I remember this? Because he was positively glowing. He laughed and gave me a kiss and said, “I have so much to tell you about my day.” My insides warmed because that was what we did. After 28 years of marriage each of our lives apart had become soap operas the other would devour, fast forwarding through the commercials. We knew each other’s characters and plots. Sometimes there’d be twists, we lived for the twists. He went into his home office to make calls and I went to finish my chapter. I could hear the usual conference calls… California politics, no doubt.
I finished my chapter and told him I’d go start dinner because I had a writing meeting to go to. My essay contest submission was all spiffed up for the professional proof reader who volunteers his time each month at the Johnson County Library system during their monthly writers seminar. What a wonderful place I get to live.
I heard him get on the phone again as I walked to the kitchen to start the broccoli steaming. We were dieting because Eric’s California suits had gotten a little too tight. Oh, and my mommy fledgling writer jeans too! Kansas City is, after all, a restaurant town.
After I put the broccoli on I went to tell Eric this joke, “I fell asleep cooking dinner because it’s so boring.”
I walked down the hall and heard nothing; certain he was finishing up some emails.
I opened the door.
First hundredth of a second I though he was fiddling with the wires under the desk because our Internet isn’t the most reliable.
Second hundredth of a second, wait, he’s joking because he’s leaning funny.
Third hundredth of a second, he’s dead.
I pushed him up and saw that there were purple markings around his eyes and his skin felt different. He was dead. I knew he was dead. Even though I had heard him talking no more than seven minutes ago.
I picked up his phone and called 911. I remember saying, “I think my husband is dead” and yelling my address. The dispatcher said I had to get him on the floor for chest compressions. Here’s where autopilot started. Now, over three weeks later, I think I’m still on autopilot most of every day.
“I can’t, he’s too heavy.”
“Do it,” the dispatcher said, so I pushed Eric out of his chair and turned him over and started counting and compressing with the dispatcher. How long is three or four minutes? Forever when I’m giving my husband CPR. No time at all when I’m giving my husband CPR. I remember looking at my hands, which are pretty small. They were feeling his expansive chest for the last time. Pushing, in a rhythm. “I love you Eric.”
I’m so proud of myself for letting the last time I touched my husband be the moments I was trying to bring back his life. Everyone keeps telling me how strong I am. I don’t know if I’m strong or just willing to submit to what needs to be done.
I heard the sirens as the dispatcher said the paramedics were pulling in. I ran outside and flagged them down and ran back inside to continue CPR. Then they came in and took over. As I was backing down the hallway, my only thought was the kids. I didn’t want them coming home. I called my neighbor Stacey. No answer. I texted her I was having an emergency and that I thought Eric was dead and I needed her to get the kids so they wouldn’t come home. Then I tried Darren, her husband, but I think he called me.
Someone took the phone from me and spoke authoritatively.
The Johnson County deputy? The battalion chief? I don’t know, but both were at my side for the next 35 minutes while they tried to revive my husband. During that time, I only thought of practical things. Why? I don’t know. I’m a practical person and that’s my most comfortable place? Maybe.
Here is what I thought about.
Tayne needs to be here. I called her and the battalion chief took the phone. She lives in Phoenix and she was here by midnight. Is there a better friend in the world?
The puppies needed to eat and go potty before I could go to the hospital. The deputy helped me do that. He had labs himself.
Where were the kids? The deputy had visited the Watson’s house to make sure the kids were safe. Someone had brought them there, from their new friend’s house. Darren left work early? Was home? Was on his way home? I don’t know.
I couldn’t go to the hospital in my summer puppy training romping clothes. Shorts, wellies, t-shirt. What would a widow wear? That was weird... widow? I was afraid of being cold so I asked if I could change. He said I didn’t need to. And I didn’t, after all, I knew I wouldn’t be staying in the hospital because the battalion chief, who had promised me each time he updated me that he would be honest, had told me no heartbeat had been recovered. First, the deputy went to my closet to get my grey zip hoodie. It had to be that one for some reason. He understood. He also brought me my sandals. But then I was panicked. I’d be too cold. So, I put on jeans and got my shall/blankie (I know, but it’s so warm and has big pockets, which for some reason I thought I’d need). Then I needed my big purse to put my shall/blankie in. The responders were so kind and patient.
Then I could put it off no longer, we went outside after they took Eric to the ambulance. Thankfully, they made sure I never saw him. Walking outside was like a punch of hot and humid air but I was still cold. There were how many emergency vehicles in my driveway and in front of the house? Seven or eight? And so many neighbors. The battalion chief took me across the yard and put me in the car and then we escorted Eric to the hospital, but he had already confirmed that Eric was, as I knew, dead.
At the hospital we pulled into the roundabout, after Eric had been taken inside. There was Uncle Larry and Aunt Chu. Eric was dead, I knew, but was he? Seeing them, a retired firefighter and former paramedic confirmed it. Yes, he was dead. They had been communicating with the battalion chief, in fire fighter language.
I will never forget the comfort of the picture in my mind’s eye of them, huddled against the wind (was it even windy?), in front of the flag pole, waiting. They live in Blue Springs, a forty-five minute drive, but were there, waiting. For me. To help me. I think they were my second call, after the Watsons, before Tayne. But I don’t remember.
They came to me while I sat in the Suburban. We were all in shock. I refused to go and see Eric. I preferred our last moments as they were rather than our last moments in a morgue or emergency room with a non-working breathing tube and a cut-up shirt.
Chu and Larry went instead. I don’t know if they had to identify him or something. But Chu came out and said that I had made the right choice not to go in. And for some reason I had a Styrofoam hospital cup of iced water in my hand. The battalion chief offered to escort us home, to get the kids, to sit with me while I told the kids. That’s the kind of people fire fighters are. We declined and got in Larry’s Jeep.
I don’t remember the ride home. Just the dread. I have to tell my kids that their dad is dead. Kate, who is so loved by daddy. He takes her on sushi dates and lets her wiggle and giggle. He’s never said a harsh word to her. He just saved her from the orphanage and made her the most special girl in the world.
And then there is Liam. So sensitive, so secure in his dad’s presence. Carrying a briefcase, insisting on having business cards with Eric’s logo. So sure that he would “take over dad’s office someday.” In love with the junk food binges with dad and Twilight Zone marathons. This was gone. And they were left with me. How could my kids become orphans again? I always smugly thought we would be immune to parental death. How could God make them suffer being an orphan twice over?
I had texted Darren and before I knew it the kids burst into the house asking what was wrong, “Where’s daddy?”
They saw Larry and Chu and Katie screamed, “Where’s Daddy?”
“Daddy died,” I said. What else could I say? I told them what happened.
Do you know what anguish sounds like? It sounds like a child yelling, “Why? Why? Why?” “I want my daddy!” “I don’t want just a mommy!”
Kate sat with Chu hysterically crying. Larry followed Liam outside to finish off the rest of his fireworks and to break a table.
Eric and Kate on their first father daughter adventure, a walk in Vladivostok just after our adoption court date.
I just sat there.
When Tayne came, Larry and Chu went home. I could tell they were in such shock. I was afraid to go to bed so we sat up until three a.m. I don’t know what we talked about, but we made the first calls.
Was this real?
When would it be real? What would happen to us? My life is way too blessed for this. What does it even mean? And today, three weeks later, what does it mean? Is Eric in California? When will he be home? I miss him. My constant companion. My love. My life.
What can I say except this is our family now. We will make it.