October 17, 2006. A Tuesday. A lot of rain that morning. Temp seemed about normal for that time of year in Georgia. The autumn air first starting to move in, the rain only making it colder. I grabbed a grey fleece out of the closet before I left the house that morning. My wife of two weeks, and two dogs, still sound asleep. It was a peaceful morning. Like many before it. The rain at 6am when you’re the only one awake can put anyone at ease, I suppose.
It would be the last time I felt any sense of ease at all for a long time.
But the main thing I remember about that morning is pulling onto South Cobb and almost getting hit by a guy changing lanes at the last second. It was at that light right after going through the Square, at the railroad tracks, right before turning into Atlanta Rd. It rattled me.
We had just recently moved from off of Bells Ferry in Marietta, up to Woodstock — the week of our wedding, actually — and I was still trying to navigate my morning commute with now having to hit 575 up at Sixes and drive into Smyrna, so I was leaving home a little earlier than normal. Maybe that played into the near miss. Maybe it was just a fluke thing. Maybe it was the rain. But that moment stuck with me a good chunk of the day.
Once I got to work, it was business as usual. Nothing all that different from any other rainy day or any other Tuesday. When you’re running a doggie daycare, you start to know what to expect day-to-day. When clients would show up, who would show up even with bad weather, when you really needed to start working, a standard routine. And that’s exactly how it went. Just a normal day.
Lunchtime was when it got quiet. Sometimes eerily quiet to be surrounded by upwards of thirty, forty dogs at a time. The dogs would head to their kennels for a couple hours or so for naptime and we’d have switchover in staff, eat lunch, make reminder calls, whatever during that lull. Sometimes I’d head to the back to eat lunch, walk across the parking lot to Big Lots for a snack, or just sit around and shoot the shit with co-workers, all of which had grown pretty close.
That day me and Dave, who was the new guy on the team, brought in over the summer to run the place, sat around the lobby and chatted like we would normally do. Stupid shit guys talk about, mostly. We had butted heads when he first came on, mainly bc I was the asst manager and was charged with now teaching my superior the ropes, but had gotten to be real good friends over those past couple months. Most of the talk around this time was, obviously, the nuptials my wife and I had on Sept 30th and all the drama surrounding it.
I’ll spare you the details, but the main storyline building up to the big day was the somewhat recent on-again off-again separation of my parents. It had been going on for over a year at this point, having culminated in a huge debacle on the night before my birthday the previous year. That story in itself is for another time, however.
My mother had been troubled for years. Unhappy, controlled, sheltered. Unstable. Her and my father were part of that mid/late 1970s generation that was just out there doing anything and everything in rural Georgia. It was one of those communities where, even now, everyone still knows five people just by stepping foot in Walmart. Their relationship has always been tumultuous. Not violent, but always nearing a breaking point. Dad was the functioning alcoholic: drinking anywhere from a six-pack to a case of Budweiser a day, depending on his work schedule. Mom was the one on and off medication for back pain, sleep issues, psychiatric meds. And both were probably smoking lots of weed once I had moved out. And, honestly, who knows what else.
Mom had tried to take he life numerous times. Every time via overdose. Maybe a one or two were accidental. Maybe they weren’t. But it had become a trend. The most recent was within the past two years because my wife and I were living together at our second apartment, which I believe put it sometime in early 2005.
I knew she was unhappy. I had known for years. But she seemed to be getting to a better place. Divorce proceedings were moving along. Finally. She has been seeing a friend of a friend for a couple months that she seemed to enjoy. She just wanted away from it all. To be done with my father for good. She was willing to give up everything and walk away. Except for her Accord. It’s the only thing she wanted. My dad, the controlling one, refused to budge. It remained the one hang-up through the preliminary proceedings.
Something was off on our wedding day. We had expected awkwardness between my parents, as they had just had a meeting with their lawyers early in the week, but nothing like what happened. We expected distance between them, maybe a cold stare or two. What we got was something everyone would walk away from talking about. Honestly, the last thing I remember before we drove off that day, as man and wife, was my parents embraced on the dance floor. Here we go again.
We finished up our downtime and it was back to the usual grind. I had taken some time off right after the wedding, so I was working a little longer shifts than normal, and it was one of those days. Dave would usually roll out at his normal 5pm and then I would hang around until it was time for the overnight person to close up shop. Evenings were usually like the mornings, you knew exactly what to expect. Like most days, I sat front of house during this time, doing the checkouts, grabbing the daycare dogs, bringing them up front. Simple, easy. A lot of time spent on our slowass (still dialup) internet at the desk.
I was always a little hesitant to answer my cellphone during this time though, only because it was usually when we got a lot of phone calls booking reservations, those “I’m running late” calls and I hated bouncing back and forth between phones. So it wasn’t out of the normal for me to miss a couple calls per day. Friends driving home for work and needing to kill time, my wife calling to figure out our dinner plans. Whatever.
I didn’t think anything of the first two calls, both from my best friend, Luke. We’re also cousins (mom side) so us, along with his older brother, all essentially group as brothers ourself. I don’t think we has ever been closer than we were at that point. He was my best man two weeks earlier, was just settling into his new house with his wife. We all had a lot going on, very similar places in life for once. Usually if he didn’t leave me a voicemail it was just a call to shoot the shit on his way home, or to share some hilarious story from the previous days. No voicemail. Shortly after that, a call from my wife. Missed it because I was with a client. No voicemail. No text right after. Must have been nothing.
I remember I was on the old KSU athletics site, checking when the coming Georgia/Owls basketball game was that year when the work phone rang. I give the usual spiel.
“Hey, it’s me…”
My wife. Weird. She never called the work phone unless she couldn’t get my cell after a couple tries.
“Is anybody there with you?”
“No. Well, I mean, Robin is out back cleaning up the yard. Why? What’s up?”
“It’s your mom. She’s gone.”
It sounds like a movie scene, but the receiver fell from my hands. I ended up on my knees somehow, fumbling for the phone, tracing back the spiral cord until I found my wife on the other end.
“What do you mean?”
“They found her this afternoon. In her bedroom. I’m on my way. Go get Robin to stay with you until I get there.”
Numb. That’s all I remember. Just being numb. I don’t remember much after that.
I don’t remember if I cried right away. I seem to remember just laying on the floor staring up at the ceiling fan. I think the rain had long stopped, but it was late enough to still be almost dark out. My wife was driving in from midtown. May have been ten minutes. May have been thirty. I have no idea.
She finally pulled up. We embraced. We left.
The drive from Cobb/Cherokee out to Barrow was always a weird one. Depending on what time of day you caught it, it either seemed hours or it seemed minutes.
This one felt like days. Weeks, even.
We were headed to the place my mom was staying, a little house she was renting from a friend off 211, out by where County Line Elementary once was. We decided against heading down 316, choosing to stay on 85, out past Buford and Mall of Georgia.
Driving in that time of night always reminded me of coming home for Christmas. Didn’t matter what route we took, going down all those roads with a slight chill in the air, the sun having long sat, always gave that feeling of warmth. Of being around family. Every year on Christmas Eve, my mother’s side would always have a huge dinner at my grandmother’s house. Of course, we were the odd ones out who had to drive an hour to get there, but it still always felt like home after the drive. The more I reflect on it, the more I realize how much it meant to my mom each year. She just had this glow about her, she was always bouncier.
We tried to make small talk. We tried to make sense of it. I tried to make jokes about it. I didn’t know how to react, what to say. What does someone do in a situation like this? How are they supposed to feel? So we sat there. Each of us probably feeling more alone than we had the entire time we has been together up until that point. Two people who should have been enjoying the happiest month of their life, feeling lifeless and cold. Numb. Nothing would ever be the same. Our marriage began to fade from us down a stretch of 85.
We didn’t know what we were pulling up to, who would be there. No clue. There were a couple cars in the driveway, a few people standing around. My mom’s friend, who had found the body, and her husband were the only people I recognized. We approached the group, a single flood light all that shined down on us. The usual sympathies were exchanged before we could say anything.
My only question was “do we know what she took?” assuming this time was like the many before it.
“Oh, honey. You didn’t know? She shot herself.”
Simply. Calmly. Matter of factly.
And I’m sure that’s not how it was intended, but it hit me like a cinder block. I was knocked backwards. Someone reached to catch me.
I turned and walked back to the car.
My mom feared two things in life: snakes and guns.
She couldn’t see or being around either without great discomfort.
When everything happened between her and my father, there was an arrest made and a temporary protective order placed. Both of these had been long violated and/or dismissed. But one of the guidelines of the TPO was my dad had to forfeit any guns in the house over to the cops since he was the one who was staying in their residence.
Well, to keep that from happening, a different friend of my mom’s had taken the guns, all shotguns for what it’s worth, when mom went to grab me things during her court-appointed trip to the house to gather some belongings. Something none of us thought anything of at the time.
And this was over a year later. It was still the last thing on any of our minds. At some point, after moving in to her new place, the guns returned to her, and not my dad. Was it for protection from him? To protect him? None of us know. None of us knew. None of us asked.
So, there it was.
My mother was gone. Is gone.
The last time I saw her, she was in my father’s arms as we were ushered out the door and into the parking lot to drive away into our new life together.
The last time I talked to her was even before that. She had asked for a dance “you know, before things get too crazy” and my response was “yeah, give me a minute” and got pulled away.
Over the following sixteen days, my wife and I had been too busy adjusting to our new house, our new life together, and all the other chaos to spend much time talking to anyone outside of each other. I believe she had talked to my mom once during those two weeks, but I never did.
I had no way of knowing.
I still miss you everyday. Wherever you are right now, I hope you are proud of where your baby boy is in life. It’s been a long, hard eight years without you. Relationships have come and gone. Marriages have come and gone. But I’m here. Struggling, at times. But fighting.
As I write this, there’s the greatest little two year old sleeping one room over that I would give nothing more than for you to be able to hug just once. The same way you used to hug me every time you saw me. He’s the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me and it was only possible with your love and guidance.
I want you to know I’m not mad. I haven’t been for a long time. I understand the pain. I understand the hurt. I understand it all. I know. I’ve been there many times in the last eight years. And, honestly, for years prior to that, I just didn’t know what it was.
You didn’t deserve to suffer. No one does. And I hope you are at peace now.
I love you.