The following is part of the Share Your Story series.
Thank you xxx for sharing your story with us.
It’s funny how you can be reminded at different times how irregular and quirky the house you live in can be. Those irregularities make it your home, a portal; a slice of what you are as a family. The idiosyncrasies of what makes our home is that our staircase is architecturally backwards, inevitably it will fool you in that you want to go down but you’re looking at going up. I suppose it’s not unlike driving on the left side of the road in some foreign countries. Even after 12 years living here I watch as people assume while navigating our floor plan, being surprised that the stairs are reversed, the pause that ensues, the look of confusion as if it’s some kind of joke. I did it myself the very night I had to direct strange, lumbering men in armored, oversized jackets.
Maggie is a sprite and an entertainer, a verbal virtuoso from a very young age. Most of my daughter, Anna’s friends were entertainers and she had known Maggie since grade school. Both of them resembled a kind of mutt and Jeff parody as Anna towered over Maggie with her awkwardness and Maggie answered with buxom, wry; precocious ness. This particular night Maggie was sporting a pair of dinosaur slippers that engulfed a small foot on an equally small body. She made casual conversation as she positioned herself on the couch crossing her legs, swinging an over sized dino with goofy teeth back and forth with the tap of her foot. She knew how adorable she was and if I could have bottled her at that moment I would have. It was like this most times with this woman child and I would at moments wonder how old she really was by warrant of her acute observations and intellect. Anna adored her, as they would both banter the idiocies of what was fad versus true art in terms of teen culture. This was their congregational moment on Wednesday evenings where they would catch up on the various mean girl antics going on at their perspective schools. The notion that the “popular girls” were never liked always caused me ponder. They were also enraptured by the show they came to view that portrays model wanna- bes and the quest for the almighty Ford Modeling contract and cover of Seventeen magazine. This Wednesday night routine was getting very comfortable watching America’s Next Top Model, even for me as it gave way to our mean girl, voyeuristic tendencies. I was making popcorn and baking cookies instead of going to my Parent Association meeting. I was as hooked as the girls on the show, we all had favorites and bets on who was going to get the “boot” this week. My husband, Trey was fussing around the kitchen getting ready to try a trick that a pal taught him on how to repair a sunglass frame that had broken while on a ski trip. As was his tendency, he mutters how he can never find anything, in this case super glue that probably is in his huge stockpile of “necessities” that will never be found as it is housed in a huge room in the basement deemed “Daddy’s room”. This place was in essence an internal garage that most men who would visit us would lust over. Nothing like a place that holds everything unsightly that are treasures to the fix it type man, a man who covets, a box of string to short to use or light fixtures, toilets that we might just need someday. Trey wandered down the stairs. I was going to make another call to Jon’s phone but had decided against it. I knew I was going to get the same blaring, metal music that implied he was not picking up and found it snubbing even though I knew that if he could answer it he would. Even when it was deemed uncool to reply in an immediate fashion to a mothers phone call he always did. He was always good that way, as he has known me to get uptight if that pattern went askew. After his time in rehab he became that much more conscientious of connecting with me as to assuage any fears I may have had of relapse. Both he and Anna for as much as they loved their phones for fun and games would recognize it as a tool, a locator beacon and the older they got the better they understood to answer the call.
Jon had started a new job at the local Safeway grocery and was either finishing his second day or transitioning into a regular routine of attending an AA meeting. Because his biological time of day started at 1:00 in the afternoon and ended at around 2 or 3 in the morning we rarely coincided and so assumptions were made and usually verified by habits of routine. I knew Jon’s day would start, sluggishly groomed with tufts of hair smelling like his musky, caved sleep and wearing a red bunting robe. He would belly a grunt, head to the coffee machine, pour it black and head out to the porch with a cigarette. We as parents had long acquiesced to the nicotine habit as that was a part of keeping him in active, narcotic recovery and an unfortunate norm for many underage smokers who were drug addicts. That we as his parents had to supply him with this vice seemed so hypocritical but as was suggested by his older cronies at his local AA meetings it was better to focus on staying clean and alive than to try and tackle the cigarettes. It was with heavy head and heart the night that Trey walked his seventeen year old son to the local 7 Eleven to buy him a pack of cigarettes.
I was not privy to the routine of work on Jon’s first day of work as he now left at a different time missing a possible discourse. That I wanted to know how the job went first day and how the second half of his GED test went was the very reason I wanted to connect with him. I was also going to read him the riot act on not answering his phone during that day. I actually had opportunity to visit the super store where Jon was training to give him a mother’s first day visit. Just having the slice of a moment, fresh in my mind with him in uniform and hairnet would give me great ammo for future ribbing. The store had just been remodeled and the height of the ceiling seemed massive and the floor was shiny in contrast. It echoed my steps as it was an empty space and seemed odd in its quiet. The gal behind the deli case asked if she could help me, I inquired about their new hire. She thought a moment and said that they were probably upstairs training on the computers. I smiled and said, “Will you tell Jon his mommy came to see him.” She smiled back and nodded. I used to walk in and watch Jon when he work at the neighborhood video store and marveled at his professionalism. You don’t ever expect them to grow up in the ways you’d hope and even though he was scary to look at with inked scars and saucer like holes in his ears he had a way with his clientele, especially vetoing films inappropriate for young viewers. The parents would say later how they appreciated that about him and that certain TV series were now favorites because of his urging. When I’d watch him I would try to be unobserved so I could study who this man-child was in the broader world and it pleased me. When he’d catch sight of me he’d smile broadly and come around the counter, arms outstretched a great hug he gave. I could always tell how proud he was of his work and he’d primp around me like a pseudo adult with professional bravado.
I had just sat down with popcorn bowl in hand when Maggie said, “what’s that sound?” I sat to anticipate but heard nothing, then I did. I don’t know what I heard but it got me up and to the top of the basement stairs. Trey was draped at the bottom in a position that spoke nausea and he said, “don’t come down” like a bull with a red flag waving I raced down the stairs loosing a shoe along the way “where is he?” …. my eyes became third person, a view from a narrowed lens, intensely focused to search and to find. From room to room, my voice kept getting more persistent and louder with the same question, no answer. I was seemingly alone and on a quest… where is he? I opened the laundry room door, went down the hall into his bathroom “WHERE IS HE” louder I got with no answer. I went into his room, pigsty, musky, smell of boy, dark, bedclothes, game boy handsets from days before late night with a friend. My heart was drumming, the blood flowing near my ears, hot, flushed and fearful. He has to be in the workroom. I’ve exhausted all rooms, move with hesitancy yet the same urgency, anticipating an answer I may not want. The workroom is open, I look in. The workbench light silhouettes my boy Jon and he stands there, for a split second I feel relief why have I allowed myself to get so upset? He’s standing, suspended by a rope. There’s a sound that comes from me I do not recognize between “No” and “Why?” it comes from my belly, deep and it can’t be contained I hear it and I wonder what is that? They say keening is primal and I heard it, it came from me. It allowed this shear venomous mix of sorrow and loss to escape, untapped by the ugliness before me. I sink to my knees covering my face as Trey leans his frame against the opposite wall, mouth open, breathing with intense staccato. We were two separate islands buffeted by a tumultuous sea. Anna could see us in the reflection of the mirror placed at the bottom of the stairs where she froze not wanting to come further “should I tell Maggie to go?” “Yes, Maggie should go” Trey gasped. It was as if Anna couldn’t control her voice and tenor and she yelled up behind her “Maggie get out!” It was then that I couldn’t ignore Jon any longer and went to him, hugging his body, seeing only the tautness of the rope that hugged too tightly the angle of his jaw. He has a long neck pocked with the acne of youth, I choose not see more. I wanted to hug him, love him back. He was cold, a body an organic shell. I am pulled away by my husband, I am aware of Anna crying from the outside, I am brought into the light of the hallway, they grab me as we all crumble our legs weakened by our unification of grief “why did you go in there?” Anna cries . I glimpse a past memory: of this perfect being who had one hell of a time entering this new world encased in a clear basinet box with round fists pressed to swollen eyes, gleaming with an eye ointment given to protect against the diseases of the life they start, not quite ready for the light, what a wonder to behold, “He’s my baby boy”. My husband entreats Anna to call 911. We went above ground; to the white kitchen we spent most of our lives in. There were ropes of snot and tears that could not be contained by Kleenex, so I resorted to the harshness of paper towels. I answered the door, they came in en mass saying little, looking for him. There was a fire truck and an aid car, I was calm and directed them. There was a sentry officer who kept the pathway to the basement clear. My husband went with them, pleading for Jon to be cut down, although it was against procedures to do this before the law arrived they were moved by his tears and did so. Anna was hysterical in the TV room dialing for friends, another island separated by storming seas, she was alone in her agony it was now business for her mother and father, there were strangers in their house. Work was done unforeseen to me although later I would search for the answers to questions I had as to what they were doing below in his place, and in that room. The Medical Examiner looked young, hip with a pierced ear, not much older than Jon. He was kind but professional and suggested we may want to retire ourselves to another room when they remove the body. The body…I had always walked guests and visitors to the door after they’d visited, expected my children to do the same by warrant of respect. So, we walked these men too, who’d been there for an hour and a half as they carried a body bag, in it our son.
That I forgot or didn’t hear the timer was no surprise there were no takers for burnt cookies