I heard them before I saw them. A murmured, “Dad, there’s Denise.” It didn’t register. I continued to stare blankly at a rack of men’s crewneck sweatshirts. I was in Target, and my youngest son was shopping. He’d been trying on knitted hats in there for the better part of two decades, maybe three, I don’t know. I’d lost track of time. So. Many. Hats. I felt desolate, saw only darkness. Would’ve shot off a flare if I’d had one handy. It was a bleak and humorless existence. I had to pee, and my feet had swelled from standing so long. I was cursing myself for having never gotten into the habit of sporting a hip flask. Every hat looked the same; I could’ve sworn he was fucking with me. Just as I felt myself slip further into the maw of boredom, I heard them calling my name. Repeatedly. Pulling me back from the point of no return. Dazed, I looked up.
There they were, CAF’s family. It was a shock, and I gasped. Loudly. Embarrassingly. The kind of gasp you see a heroine in a shitty movie do. Oh, why don’t I carry a flask? CAF’s widower and her eldest child were smiling broadly at me. It felt like old times, kind of… Yet, what was this? There, hidden just slightly out of view, was her youngest. There was the boy who was too young to remember the catastrophic Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection in CAF – the event that began the end of her life. This had not been my first time seeing the family. At the end of August, CAF’s widower and her eldest son showed up at a memorial service for a family member of my husband’s. It was kind of them to come, but as I hadn’t expected them nor seen them in years, and as I was at a memorial service, it became too much. I burst into tears and ran outside. My sons were quickly behind me, making sure all was well. It wasn’t, and I felt fragile, like my heart, badly tied up with string, just had its knot come undone.
This time was different. It was friendlier, happier, and because her youngest boy was there. He didn’t remember me, and most likely no longer remembers his mother – but oh! how darling he was! His face, so like hers – only in miniature. I asked if I could hug him. His father said yes; the boy remained quiet but gave me a gentle squeeze back – more out of politeness than anything else. He was painfully shy, as anyone would be who’s lived through what he has. He didn’t look at me accusatorially, none of them did. I suppose it’s just me. All I felt was guilt; the self-whispers of “murderer” and “killer” going round in my head. Her children never denounced me – never pointed at me and asked, “WHY DID YOU KILL OUR MOTHER?! WHY?!”
I’m sure it was later explained to the wee one that I was his mother’s closest friend. That I was the there the day she passed, the one who held her hand as she died. Hopefully it was not explained that I had to be the one to convince his father to pull life support…
Seeing CAF’s husband is getting easier, and I’m glad her eldest boy remembered me. I still haven’t seen her daughter, who supposedly looks and acts just like CAF. I don’t know whether she’d remember me. They are a beautiful family, and I’m glad to see them happy. I hope at some point to put this all behind me, but for now, it’s just pain and self-recrimination. Whether my part in this all was “merciful” or not, it left its mark – one I’ll never heal from.
Last night as I decorated the interior of my house for the holidays, I came across several Christmas pieces CAF had given me over the years. Strangely, 3 of them are angels. I cry every year…
Ho, ho, fucking ho.