When I think of hard times, of those really gut-wrenching, soul-damaging, just flat-out painful times…I can’t help but think of my late husband.
Like a lot of marriages, we had our ups and downs. Neither of us were particularly great to the other, especially after our first couple of years. And it really is so hard to talk about him. Even now. Still…
He passed away in December of 2007. It was a Wednesday afternoon. A week before Christmas.
The last time I saw him, he’d come by my house to drop off our daughter, who’d been spending the day with him. I opened the door, and ushered our daughter inside. He said he wanted to speak with me in private, so I stepped outside, leaving the door cracked so that we could have some privacy, but so I could still hear my little girl if she needed me.
We talked about the fun that our daughter had during the basketball game that he’d taken her to, with his friend who he worked with, and who was now waiting in the car. I glanced over at the friend who stared straight ahead. I asked him what his plans were for the holidays, and whether or not he was still planning to take our daughter for New Year’s Eve. He said he didn’t know, and that he would get back to me soon to let me know.
Then he asked me to wait while he brought something over from the car. I stood on the top step of my porch, the light dim as it needed to be changed soon. He walked up the path toward where I stood, and laid a large square box at my feet.
And while I don’t recall the exact wording, it went something like this;
“What is that?” I asked.
“It’s her gift.” He answered.
“Ok. Why don’t you just give it to her yourself?”
“I want her to have it on Christmas day.”
“Ok, well. You can see her on Christmas if you want.”
“Can you just give it to her, please?”
At that point I’m fairly certain I sighed, rolled my eyes, and muttered something about having to put whatever was in the box together. But I agreed.
It was a Strawberry Shortcake Big Wheel. It was much like the one that I’d had when I was a kid, and here was one for our daughter, one of her very own.
I opened the garage so that he could put the box inside, without letting our daughter see it, so as to not ruin the surprise.
When he left, I noticed something.
For the first time in months, we hadn’t argued. Hadn’t exchanged anything but calm words about the holidays. We were civil. And it was…nice. I remember thinking that this was how it could be between us…that we could quite possibly learn to work together to be great co-parents.
That was the last time I spoke to him.
On Wednesday, around 6:30 pm, my phone rang. I was pulling my car into my driveway, and my daughter was strapped into the backseat, examining a new book. We’d been at the bookstore, perusing through the $5 book racks, and this book in her hands was one she’d picked out on her own. She was in a happy place, and so was I.
I grabbed my phone and held it against my ear with my shoulder as I put the car in park.
“There’s been an accident. With your husband.”
“What do you mean? Is he okay?”
“No. He’s…he died.”
It was about this time that my head began to swim, my vision went blurry, and I stepped out of the car. Sasha was still in the backseat, although now she was looking at me with an odd expression. She was possibly wondering why all of a sudden her happy Mommy had gone from smiling and trying to grab her toes in the backseat, to screaming “No!” and crying.
I walked to the spot where I’d last stood with him, where I felt hope that we might be able to work this whole separation and co-parenting thing out. I stood there, stunned. And then I fell.
The steps were cold, hard.
I stood up, and walked to the car, where Sasha sat in the backseat. This usually chatty girl was not saying a word. I opened the car door, and unstrapped her car seat. I carried her inside, burying my face against the softness of her curls. Her clothes felt chilly, but her skin was warm. I brought her inside the house, put her down, and called my Mom.
That night, I couldn’t sleep. Images of our last conversation welled in my brain, followed by so many questions, followed by pain. I couldn’t stop to think about it, because when I would stop, I would cry this deep and painful wail that I didn’t want my daughter to see.
The next morning, in a haze, I dressed my daughter and brought her to daycare. I called my boss, who told me that I could take time off, approximately three days, as was standard ‘manual’ procedure. Since this was Thursday, I was grateful that I could have the weekend to try to get my shit back together before heading back to work. Actually, since it was the Thursday before the Christmas break, that meant I had the Thursday and Friday before Christmas, then the weekend, and then an additional day on Monday, with Christmas on Tuesday being a holiday. So at least my husband had planned it well.
If you’re a fan of sarcasm, I invite you to read those last few sentences again.
The Christmas of 2007 was spent at a friend’s house, a guy I was dating at the time, where I proceeded to get drunk on Bloody Mary’s and sleep in an inflatable SpongeBob bounce house, that I had blown up and placed in the middle of the living room. Not one to be left out of the ‘fun’, my daughter pulled blankets and pillows into the bounce house, building a make-shift fort for us to enjoy. It wasn’t the joyous holiday that I’d envisioned, to say the least. I cried a lot that day, and my typically rambunctious toddler, traveled a line between patting my head and saying ‘Poor Mommy’ to terrorizing my boyfriend and his dog. I wish I remembered more from that holiday, but I don’t. I was so sad. So drunk. So not myself.
I can’t recall the exact timing of when I told our daughter about the death. But, seeing as how she was a toddler, just because she had received an answer before, didn’t mean she wouldn’t ask again.
One week after his passing, our daughter started asking for him on a daily basis. Would he be coming back?
One month after his passing…I realized, I was raising this little girl, completely.
Three years later…I found the Strawberry Shortcake Big Wheel as I was preparing to move. My friend had tucked it away, at my request shortly after Christmas. I couldn’t at the time bring myself to see it, to watch her on it, to explain to her why Daddy hadn’t given it to her. That, I realize now, was very selfish on my part. And trust me when I say this…I wish I’d given it to her.
One day, I’ll have to explain to her what happened. And even now, it’s so incredibly difficult to come out and say how he died.
But, there is one thing that I really need my beautiful little girl to know. And that is this.
Daddy. He LOVES you. He loved you, and he loves you still. You were so precious to him. If you want to doubt anything in this world, and you will doubt many things in this world…don’t for a second doubt the fact that your Daddy thought the world of you.
One day, this will all make sense. One day, you and I will sit down and have a long conversation about life and death, and hard times. But today, just know, that you are not in this alone. I’m here. And I will do everything I possibly can, to protect you, to love you, and to give you the most incredible and blessed life I possibly can.
And, just one more thing. I’m sorry that I didn’t give you the Big Wheel. I was wrong in doing that. I honestly didn’t know how to give you that gift.
I hope you can forgive me.