Dining Alone

I don’t linger too long or dig my heels into those memories of him.  I stop by for a visit most nights but can’t stay long.  I’ve created so many playlists for this dead person, but mostly for me.    This is how I conjure the catharsis of tears and smeared mascara.  And if I’m especially down then I pull at my hair and beat the floor with my fists.  Angry about everything with nobody to blame.

Currently flowing out of the speaker: “That’s How Strong My Love Is” (Rolling Stones version).  He played this song incessantly in the days before he left.  I don’t know why but he’d do that with a song…just play it non-stop.  Maybe this time he knew something I didn’t.  “I’ll be the moon when the sun goes down, just to let you know that I’m still around.”  But are you?

It’s becoming harder to imagine a life of ours, us, and we.  Table for one; it’ll just be me.


Technical Knockout

The funeral director called wanting to know how they should trim Jason’s facial hair.  I had spent the evening before compiling over 50 photos of Jason spanning the 31 years he had spent on this planet, and of course his style had changed throughout the years.  In some pictures he had a goatee. A few featured a 5 o’clock shadow.  But in most of his photos he was squeaky clean.   Between 2008 and 2014 his personal grooming routine had shifted back and forth from exceptionally well-tamed to intentionally rugged with slightly messy hair and a whiskery chin.  I think he was trying for that “not trying” look.

The funeral director’s question had caught me off guard that morning.  I was aware that hair continued to grow even after breath ceased to be, but I had never collided with this scientific fact head on.

I suppose my pause before answering the question lasted long enough to warrant input from the mortician, who explained that it would be much easier if they could shave his face since they would need to fill in the large gash on his chin and apply makeup.  “What gash on his chin?” I asked.  Apparently Jason had made no attempt to stop or brace himself as he fell forward at the crest of Boylan Avenue; mile 11.  His chin had taken the brunt of the impact, splitting open upon contact with the pavement.  I was told some of his teeth had also been broken.  He was born with a perfect smile, worthy of starring in a Crest commercial.

This injury was a detail I had failed to notice at the hospital.  A bulky plastic brace encircled his neck and a large blue tube, secured by surgical tape, fed into his mouth to keep him artificially breathing.   They were planning to “harvest” his lungs, and whatever else they could pick and carve from him like pitiless scavengers.  They had wiped away all of the blood from his face.  Although his death had been sudden, there was most certainly an element of violence in those final seconds.

I was unsettled by this new knowledge.  My mind went back to that morning.

The police escort drove me from mile 9 to the hospital where I was greeted by a social worker.   I, still in my sweaty running clothes, was handed a box of cheap tissues and quickly tucked away in a windowless room while I awaited my (his, our) fate.   My heart already knew but my head needed to hear a doctor say it.  Out loud.

I could hear the family of the other newly deceased runner screaming between hysteric sobs in the room next to me.  “What are the chances?” I thought.   The chances of dying during a marathon are thought to be 1 in 259,000.  I sat completely still and silent, wondering what I was supposed to do next.

The memory of the nurse pulling back the curtain and guiding me to where Jason was waiting to say goodbye is branded into every corner of my mind.  A sensation of weakness filled my body as the undeniable truth now lay before me.  I had seen him roughly 5 hours earlier at 6am, hurdling towards the front of the pack to await the sound of the horn signaling the start of the marathon.  He was in the first group: elite runners.  I was in the last group: average walkers.

I leaned over him as I studied his face hoping in vain that my mere presence might coax him back into this world.  His eyes were closed but there was a slight gap beneath his handsomely long lashes.  I studied this space too, as if looking at a closed door to a room where someone had forgotten to turn off the light.  I was searching for a warm glow around the edges but I only saw a small sliver of white, absent of illumination.  I realized at that moment that I would never look into his eyes again.  Had I known this the morning of the race, then perhaps I would have stared straight into him absorbing every last drop of his essence knowing time was about to run out.   But we were running so late that morning.  I hurriedly wished him luck with a casual pat on the butt and said “see you at the finish line.”  The finish line.  Such an ominous and foreboding farewell in hindsight.

I approached the bed slowly and with caution, afraid to touch him.    The 6’1” man in the bed looked so fragile and delicate.  How could this be my athletic and svelte Jason?  It took me several minutes to process the fact that I could inflict no further damage…he was already broken.  I traced my fingers across his warm sticky forehead.  I raked my fingers through his sweaty wet hair.  It wasn’t until I finally reached out for his right hand that I realized just how cold he was.  He had been dead for at least two hours and yet his chest still moved up and down in harmony with the beeps and sighs of the machines surrounding him.  I gave his hand a slight squeeze hoping he’d squeeze back.  Nothing.

My eyes moved back up to his face and lingered on the mole above his right eyebrow.  This was the mole I affectionately referred to as his “power on” button.   I was an early riser and always woke up hungry and impatient.  I would shift around in the bed and make noises willing him to wake up for huevos rancheros and a Bloody Mary.  Most of the time my subtleties failed and that’s when I would resort to pressing on his mole…provoking the bear.  This obnoxious but effective tactic would bring him to life on Saturday mornings.  I scanned the room.  Nobody was watching me so I thought “fuck it, it’s worth a try!”  I gently pressed.  But still nothing.

Feeling unsteady and bewildered, I lowered myself into the chair next to his bed.  My body slumped forward with exhaustion.  A bruised and battered boxer retreating to the corner of the ring, acknowledging my defeat.

4/13/14 at 9:59AM

The date and time on his death certificate.

In less than 48 hours I will have powered through my 3rd year of widowhood.  I have been a widow longer than I was a wife and this is my anniversary now.  Just mine.  Is it okay to call it that in this context?  Anniversary sounds like glittery greeting cards, deliveries to your workplace from florists, expensive dinners and special gifts marking each year.  Traditionally leather is given for the 3rd anniversary but the modern theme is crystal or glass.  Will drinking whiskey directly from a crystal decanter be considered appropriate?  I have no means of drinking it out of leather.

Why do unfortunate circumstances have to forever ruin particular dates for each of us?  Can’t we all just have our own personal calendars absent of the dates we don’t like?  I never did anything to April 13th but now he shows up every single year and assaults my memory, forcing me to replay and relive the specifics of that morning.  What an asshole.


He Smelled Blood in the Water

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.