One year ago today, I went to your apartment, and you were dead.
You proposed to me April 4th, 1995, and we were married April 6th of 1996. For so long, April was my best month ever. It meant life, renewal, hope and love.
Until last April.
Last April, I made a mental note of what would have been our 16th wedding anniversary, if we hadn't gotten divorced. And then I moved on.
Regardless of what you always thought, I never believed divorce was in the cards for us. Until I found out just how bad your addictions were. And I had to choose between keeping my children safe and healthy, or staying with someone out of a sense of responsibility and past memories.
There was no question. My children will always come first.
Last April, I found out that your grandfather had died on April 10th. Your family never told you, so you didn't go to the funeral. Not realizing this, I texted my condolences to you, and that's how you found out that he had died. I can't imagine what a punch in the gut that must have been, on so many levels.
April 10th is the last time I ever saw you alive. You dropped the kids off at my house, after they'd spent the weekend at your place. Zach's birthday had been just 10 days before, and it was the first time he'd ever gotten to have you all to himself. He came home the next morning just glowing.
18 days after his birthday, you were dead.
I was so pissed at you when you dropped the kids off, that I wouldn't even let you in the house. I took their stuff from you at the door and shut it in your face.
Why? Because you refused to pay child support, and refused to get a job. And the plasma bank had refused me because I have epilepsy and I was feeling somewhat desperate. You knew this.
Just before I shut the door in your face, I saw that smile of yours. The smile that never reached your eyes. The one that said, "I know I screwed up. Can't we just forget about it and"....and what? Be friends? Not so much. Get along? Ok, we could do that. Just barely.
I knew you were drinking again. Because you never could get anything past me. And because you missed Julia's choral reading that week. For the second time. I texted you and told you I wasn't going to come over this time. I asked you to call your sponsor. For our children's sake, if nothing more.
I told you I wasn't going to let your addictions draw me into your sick matrix, because I had a feeling that whenever you felt lonely or unloved by your mother, you started drinking, knowing that my need to help and rescue would bring me to your door.
But not this time.
This time, I decided that I would not be the other half to this co-dependent back and forth. I was done.
On April 15th, I happened to be in your apartment complex on work-related business. After the evaluation I'd done was completed, I couldn't help it. I walked over to your building. I opened the door, painted maroon many years ago. I trudged up the avocado green carpeted stairs, to your apartment.
It was a Friday, around 4:30pm. I listened at the door for a few minutes, but all I heard was the noise of your fan. I struggled with myself more than anyone will ever know. Should I knock? If I do, I'm falling back into that old pattern. No. I need to walk away.
But that's easier said than done. I raised my hand, made a fist and got ready to knock. I hesitated, knowing in my gut that this scene would play out, again and again, as long as your liver held out. I thought about our kids, their hopes and prayers for a Sober Daddy repeatedly shattered by your addiction. But didn't I owe them another chance at a Sober Daddy?
Whir-whir-whir-whir replied the fan. I could tell you had it on oscillate.
I made my decision.
And I walked away.
That night, Julia texted you. You texted back:
"I love you sweetie. See you soon!"
That was the last any of us ever heard from you. She texted and called you repeatedly the entire weekend, but you didn't respond. This was not like you, and I started to get worried.
Sunday night, April 17, 2011. I told the kids I was going to the store to get some bread, but I went to your apartment instead.
You were dead.
The next three hours were a nightmare, a blur, something I would never wish on my worst enemy. The police showed up, then the coroner. Neighbors peeked their heads out, and then closed their doors again.
When they got ready to bring you out on the stretcher, I asked to see you one last time. Because I'd been angry at you the previous week, and I didn't want that to be the last time I ever saw you. Your eyes were closed, your mouth was rigid and you had thrown up. I stroked your hair for the last time, remembering how soft it had always been. I ran my fingers over your eyebrows, and the bridge of your nose, just like I'd done before bed for the past 18 years. And then I kissed you on your forehead.
The police gave Panther food and water, since she'd been out for who knows how long. Then they asked if I would take her. I told them, yes, she was the family cat. My kids will want her.
I drove home, crying, with Panther confused and wailing on my lap. I wondered where I would find the words to tell our children you were dead. Gone forever. Ben called when I was at the intersection of Main and University and told me he wasn't sure, but he'd heard you might be...He's dead, I told him. It's true. I just left his apartment. I have his cat. I heard Ben's sob catch in his throat as he said Oh God, no! Because he'd been your best friend since 6th grade. He was the Best Man at our wedding. And the sound of his half-prayer/half-pleading hit me in the gut all over again and I lost it. Right in front of Avanti's. Because I knew it was just a taste of things to come.
Telling the kids was horrible. Julia screamed and threw her shoes, and then ran out on the boulevard and threw herself down on the ground. Zach's sweet little face crumpled when he realized what I was saying.
And for just a second, I hated you. For doing this to our children, and to me. You and I both know how you died, and for that, I don't know that I can ever forgive you. And over the next year, I alternated between feeling sympathy for you, and hating you for what you'd selfishly done to our children.
The kids and I slept in the living room that entire next week, because we couldn't stand to be apart. Neighbors brought us food, which immediately went into the freezer, because none of us had any appetite. We took turns crying, sleeping, laughing hysterically and giving Panther lots of love.
The next few months were the worst any of us had ever experienced. Your children had their first Father's Day without you. Their first Thanksgiving without you. Christmas. Hanukkah. New Year's. The Super Bowl. We celebrated what would have been your 44th birthday. Without you.
But for me, my birthday was the worst. Because, you see, I turned 44. And you would forever be 43.
Each day gets a little bit better. We all have our days, especially Zach. Because he'd just gotten to have you to himself, when you took yourself away from him.
But he's a tough kiddo, and Julia is beyond tough. We're doing ok, and I refuse to allow your choices to rule our lives.
So this post is my acknowledgment of your pain, my recognition of your struggle, and my goodbye.
We will always love you, each in our own way, but I need to move on and find my own happiness.
Goodbye and God Bless.