Missing Jason is the blog I started about 4 months after my husband died from a cardiac arrhythmia while running the 2014 Raleigh Rock & Roll Marathon. I stopped writing on that blog because I wanted to move on but I now realize pretending like that life and this life are strangers to one another isn’t possible. I wouldn’t be who and where I am if not for that rug being pulled from under me.
As mentioned in an earlier post, the 3rd anniversary is coming up on April 13th so the details of that day and the feelings I had the months following have returned, like a burning ulcer in my stomach. I’ve spent most of this month transitioning from relatively happy to wallowing around in my bed with tears and snot saturating my pillow. I keep it together at work and as soon as I get to the parking deck and in the safety of my car, I just break down.
The tears are not only from the overwhelming absence of his laugh but also because of all the disappointments and letdowns I’ve experienced since that shitty day.
A guy showed up at Jason’s wake who I didn’t know so I assumed he was a coworker of his, but what struck me as odd was how he just sat in the pews as if he was waiting for everyone to leave. That is exactly what he was doing and I soon found out why. He didn’t know Jason, at least when he was still breathing. This stranger was standing along the sidelines with his family waiting for his sister to approach the finish line when he saw Jason crest over the hill and collapse, falling forward and smashing his face on the pavement. He just happened to be a former paramedic so he immediately ran to my husband and turned him over, and started performing CPR until the paramedics arrived with the defibrillator. Nobody’s efforts to save Jason mattered because the doctor told me he was probably dead before he even hit the ground. 31-years of memories and experiences extinguished in milliseconds. I was walking the marathon but I was a couple miles behind Jason, and since he was considered an elite runner then he started the race at 6:30 am, but I was in the slow wave and I was towards the back of the crowd, so I didn’t cross the start line until almost 45 minutes later.
Jason collapsed at mile 11, and I got a phone call from the marathon coordinators at 10 am while I was at mile 9. All they could tell me was that there had been an accident and I needed to get to the hospital. I guess I knew he was gone because they were so vague over the phone, and the chaplain greeted me at the hospital…never a good sign. I was in such shock that I didn’t even really ask the doctor what had happened. All I knew was that his heart stopped and he was dead on arrival. The end. I was able to see him, hold his hand, rest my head on his chest for the last time, kiss that silly mole on his forehead and say my goodbyes. And it was very hard to walk out of that hospital without him. The social worker handed me a clear bag with his phone, sunglasses, running shoes and wedding ring inside. I remember the music from his “running” playlist was paused on “So Here We Are” by Bloc Party. Wow. I kept wondering if that is what was playing when he died. I listen to that song often when I need to feel a connection with him.
I had so much to take care of in the days following and my body was just doing what it had to do. I was tasked with writing an obituary, selecting a casket and an urn, creating a slide show of photos to run in the background of his wake and funeral, write his “celebration of life” speech, create a playlist as background music for the wake, and pick out his last outfit. He wore his favorite shirt and the brand new shoes he had purchased just days before this. He died on a Sunday morning and by the following Thursday everything was over. Everyone else had moved on.
Now, back to the stranger at the funeral. I remember him sheepishly approaching me as the line of visitors thinned out and he looked really scared. I asked him how he knew Jason and he said he didn’t exactly, and then asked if we could go to the side and talk privately. He told me the details of that morning, and how Jason made it to the top of the hill but his gait was odd and his body looked like it was straining. And then he fell forward without putting his hands out to stop himself, violently smashing his chin on the ground. This stranger told me that Jason was surrounded by many people fighting to save him, and he personally had held his hand until they took him away in an ambulance, without the lights flashing of course. He said he saw the wedding ring and felt an immense pain for the person who was about to receive the worst phone call of her life.
I was grateful for this stranger having the courage to come to Jason’s funeral and share with me the last moments of his life. He wanted me to know that Jason died very quickly and most likely didn’t feel anything, but that he was not alone and that he was surrounded by strangers who at that particular moment cried as if they had lost one of their own. I desperately needed to hear that because I felt so guilty for not being there, but also relieved that I didn’t see him collapse because that would be the image of my nightmares. Instead the image imprinted upon me is of him in a hospital bed with tubes coming out of his mouth and his chest rising and falling. They were keeping him artificially “alive” so they could harvest his organs. That’s another fucked up story and made me think twice about organ donation.
This “good samaritan” and I ended up becoming fast friends and emailed and texted daily in the weeks following April 13th. I still had questions about that morning, and he was still giving me the answers I needed to hear. He became the last connection to my husband. He was just a few years older than Jason and one year younger than me. He had a wife and two children. He lived in Raleigh. He seemed like a genuinely good human. My friends told me there was something odd about him but I didn’t see it because I have a tendency to miss those glaring faults, and I was in a place when I wanted to trust everyone because I was so lost and clinging to anything and everything I could.
He sent me a box with 50 individual snack-sized bags of Cheetos’ because that is all I could eat for weeks, and he sent me flowers on my birthday, he checked in with me every single day to see how I was doing, and sometimes he would drive from Raleigh to Greensboro just to take me to lunch. I kept asking about his wife and his kids but he didn’t want to talk about that. I asked to meet his family and he didn’t want to do that either. He wasn’t lying about being married, and I don’t think he was lying about being there with Jason, but now I have to question every fucking thing he told me. His intentions were not clean I later discovered.
His emails and texts started getting a little too intimate, and he would call me from work or on his way home…basically whenever he was away from his family. And he started telling his wife he was attending AA meetings when in reality he was spending time with me. I didn’t know he was lying to his wife, and I didn’t see the attack coming either. He smelled the blood in the water and preyed on the distress of a wounded animal. Asshole.
We were getting coffee one evening and sitting outside. It began to rain and rather than go inside he suggested we go to his car so we could talk more privately. The coffee shop was crowded so it made sense at the time. I should have known better because I could feel my heartbeat in my ears and my body tensed up, like when you know someone is following you home from the bar at 1am and the street is completely dark. But I went along with it anyway because surely this person I had bonded with wouldn’t do something so fucked up considering how our lives came to intersect. Right?
While we were sitting in his car waiting for the rain to stop he said he had developed feelings for me and didn’t love his wife anymore. I didn’t know what to say so I just stared straight ahead quietly reliving in my mind all of the things we had talked about and realized how stupid I had been, trusting this asshole. How did everyone else see it but I didn’t?
I started to open the passenger side door but he grabbed my arm and pleaded for me not to leave and to just hear him out. He played “All of Me” by John Legend and told me to just listen to the lyrics. So I stayed despite hating that song. And then he kissed me and started kissing my neck and telling me he loved me. I let him because I was so lonely and missed the feeling of someone’s breath against my skin, and honestly I was thrown off guard too so I was a possum playing dead. But I knew this situation was really fucked up and needed to end. So I ended it that night and told him we could no longer be friends or speak to one another. He continued to call me, email me and text me. I finally blocked him on my phone and marked his emails as spam. But then he started calling me at work and even drove to my house one night. Normally this would scare me but I was too tired to be afraid of him. I kept wondering if I should tell his wife but I just couldn’t. I knew how it felt to lose a husband, granted Jason’s departure wasn’t a choice.
This was the first person I felt like I could talk to and then he destroyed it. And this was just the beginning. There were several more to follow and I’ll get to every single one of them before April 13th because these secrets have weighed me down far too long.
And to you my “dear friend” who betrayed my trust, just know that I hate you…and I know you’ll get this message because you read my blog.