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It Scares Me In A Way

I see the elderly woman approaching us from across the mall. She is looking past me and at my children with that smile. My kids are at the perfect age to attract these smiles. They are just at the dawn of human interaction. Their speech is still garbled; their language and actions both aped from adults. They, in their search for the right phrase or movement, are often accidentally adorable.

Children at this age still act as if nobody is watching, and adults love them for it.  We are drawn to this innocence, I think, for the same reason we are interested in the behaviors of chimps or sleepwalkers.  We want to see what it is that people do when they don’t realize they have an audience.  We want to see what we would do if we didn’t think so much.

She walks carefully and slowly over to accept the imaginary ice cream cone my son offers up and wins my heart by pretending to eat it.  Taking the interaction a step further, she asks him which flavor it was.  He tells her it’s chock-lick and her smile deepens with amusement. I am scanning her face, watching her the same way I watch the face of every stranger who approaches my children. I am waiting for the clues that all humans throw off.

I’m waiting to see why she’s doing this.

And so it is that I observe her lined face slip gradually from delight to despair.  A line grows deeper across her forehead and her milky eyes fill with tears.  Her painted smile is the last to go, proof in my mind that she didn’t even see the sadness coming until it was already written on the rest of her face.  I realize that I am moving closer to her as her expression shifts, so that when the tears start to roll down her cheeks I am all but cradling her.  She leans against me, frail yet adult-sized.  I am not in the habit, anymore, of being needed by people who are not my children.  It takes me a minute.  I don’t know why she is crying.  I only know what she needs.  And I have it to give.  So I hold her.

She wipes the tears away and catches her breath.  “My husband of 49 years passed away 7 months ago.  Seeing your children makes it hurt more.  Even though they are beautiful.  The holidays make it hurt more.  Even though I love them.”  I hold her tightly, softly offering my condolences.  My son asks me why the old woman is crying, and I stumble for a second.  I don’t lie to my children, but I don’t throw around words like “death” either.  I tell him simply that this woman will not be able to celebrate Christmas with someone she loves.

And that it makes her sad.

As I say the words, my voice shakes and my own eyes fill unexpectedly.  I close my eyes against the tears, while granting myself one full minute to be overwhelmed with this unforeseen grief.  The woman catches me with my emotions and apologizes for making me sad.  I shake my head: clearing it, emptying it. “The holidays can be hard,” is what I say as I help her right herself.

They told me back then that I needed to grieve my brother as though he were dead, but to expect the process to take longer, since he is not, in fact, dead.  And although I am the type of person to tear at her flesh in hopes of getting the pain on the outside, in order to move past it, I am shocked to find that some days it is as if time has not moved at all for me.

The woman shuffles off in one direction as we continue in another.  We meet up later, at the fountain, as I am explaining to my children the concept of wishing on thrown pennies.  I have a wallet full of potential wishes, and so I do not need to accept those that the woman offers us.  But I do accept because I sense that it will give her something to be able to give to us.  I bend down, tuck my children in close.  The woman steps in, and we all throw our pennies at the count of three.

You can’t wish for people to come back.  It doesn’t work that way.  Pennies can’t move mountains.  A wish is only a goal, a direction in which to focus your thoughts.  In my world, you can only reasonably wish for the things that you have some control over.  So I toss my penny in and I hope, for all of us, that the future brings fewer and fewer moments when we are brought to our knees by our pain.  We will carry it with us forever, and we should, because it makes us who we are and it honors where we’re from.  But more and more we will be able to live with it.

The holidays can be hard.  I have always known this.  I push myself off my knees, smile at the old woman and grasp her hand for a minute before exchanging it for my daughter’s. We walk out into the cold air and breathe in the last few breaths of 2010. Soon there is chatter and laughter and bickering and sunshine against the cold.  I rub my hands together for warmth, raising my face to the sun.

And it is enough.

It is more than enough.

Reminiscence

Child abuse lasts long after a child has grown.

This is his story:

It’s the type of thing you hope you can forget someday…then spend half your life thinking about it. It’s always in the back of your mind – like a song that stays with you after you turn off the radio; no matter what, the song repeats itself in a loop in the back of your mind.

Recently, I was asked a question, and while thinking about the answer, I was suddenly overtaken by the memory of that day. It came upon me like a hungry tiger tearing me to shreds and leaving me a disemboweled lump of myself where only moments before I was a thinking, feeling, functioning man.

Cotton candy.

The smell of it floating through the air, sweetening each breath. This, in no small part, is making the day better. What else could I ask for? Not only did I get to ride The Bullet this year (a big kid ride if there ever was one), but I also got to walk in the parade, too!

I am eight years old, and my father and a group of his “friends”(other men who lived their lives in the bottom of a bottle) are members of a Veterans group for people who saw combat in Viet Nam. They have been asked to bring their families to walk in this year’s parade during the regional Franco-American festival.

We have known about this for weeks so I hardly slept last night. We each have on a little t-shirt with the logo of the Veteran’s group on the front. I couldn’t be more proud. Some of us have little flags while others pass out bumper stickers, but we’re are all having fun. There is something about everyone looking at me, waving, and just generally having a good time that puts a smile on my soul.

Next, I’ll run for Senate and become an Astronaut. I am on top of the world.

Now, we are being addressed by the Governor of Maine. He is speaking of things I can’t and have no interest in understanding. I have better things to think about at my age: baseball cards, my next birthday, how to stop that stupid girl at school from pulling my hair everyday. I start to imagine pushing her down the next time she does. My imagination runs wild while the speech continues.

I wish Knight Rider would come out next.

That would make this day complete.

In the middle of my fanciful daydreaming, my father taps me on the shoulder and says, “Let’s go.” I don’t know where we are going and I have little time to ask before he starts walking.

Walking with him is always hard. He walks with fast, long strides that eat up the ground in front of him in big gulps. Today is especially hard because there are people everywhere, milling lazily around looking at the trinkets being sold by the vendors and watching the children on the Merry-Go-Round. I am small and not exactly built to push my way through a crowd.

We walk only a few short blocks when we come to this house. It looks like every other apartment house in Lewiston. Run down and begging for paint; sheets in more of the windows than the shades that are popular now. There are huge chunks of the asbestos siding gone to the years of harsh winters with bitter cold. There is a bicycle chained in front that is missing both tires, and the chain has discolored the concrete of the sidewalk from years of sitting there rusting. The body of the house is yellow with a dark brown on the windows and one door that once had glass in the top third of it. A condemned sign wouldn’t look out of place here.

My father knocks on the first door we come to after entering the building. We enter after a yell from inside. I know already what is in store for the rest of the day. I can smell the distinct odor of old beer that has been sitting in the can and getting hot and stale, a smell I loathe.

I see that the room holds the men from the Veterans’ group, and I can also tell within moments that few, if any, had stayed as long as we did after the parade. The slurring of their words, apparent in their voices, says that they have had a few drinks already. Five, maybe six, men and a woman who must be one of their wives. They are sitting around a glass-topped table with legs made of what looks like bent pipe – four separate pieces, connected, shaped like a large squarish C. The walls are dirty from years of cigarette smoke and not being cleaned, making what should be white look as though it were river mud; yellowish brown with hints of green.

In the adjoining room there are two other kids, so my brother and I know that these are our friends for the day, and we run off to see what games are currently afoot. This room is the same color, but much smaller, containing a couch which I am sure has come from the side of the road. The smell of cigarette smoke and body odor lingers everywhere, and I know it is safest not being seen or heard for the next few hours if we can help it.

The afternoon progresses like most of this nature; there are beer runs and arguments, the voices get louder as the hours pass by, and the thoughts get less coherent. I have been in this situation as often as I have been in a room with a window, so I am playing and not really paying attention when it happens.

Why? To what end? Have I looked too much like I am having fun? Was there an instant where I looked too much like my mother? I do not know. What I do know is there isn’t a warning – no loud crash or even an instant where I can feel the malevolence building. One second, I am playing happily, waiting for word to get ready for the few miles home with my father weaving on the sidewalk, and the next there is a hand on the back of my neck and it is squeezing. Hard.

I instinctively try to duck and run, but it’s too late. I have been caught unawares, and the fear grips me like a blanket wrapped around me in a restless sleep, getting tighter with each attempt at escape.

“Come ‘ere, I wan-na show you summten.”

His breath hits me in the face, and my stomach turns, making the terror that has settled in me even worse. It smells of cheap beer, Marlboro reds, and the not-unfamiliar stench of hate. It’s a seething anger that I know well; he had it rough, and I was ungrateful for all his sacrifices. I am just a spoiled little brat that doesn’t know how to be a good little boy – stupid and too much of a sissy-boy for his tastes, in need of a little mettle in my blood.

As I am being dragged across the floor, trying to wrestle myself from his grip, and getting nowhere, nobody seems to notice. There is no apparent lull in conversation. No people crying out for my father to release me; nothing out of the ordinary going on here at all.

“If you don’t quit squirming you little mother fucker…” the threat left open, allowing me poetic license to finish as I see fit. The things that my brain offer are no less frightening than anything he would have managed.

Where, I don’t know, but from somewhere there appears a set of handcuffs. The metal ones, not exactly police issue, but not the cheap ones with a lever that will unlock them if you can manage to get your finger on it. He reaches down, seizes me by the wrist, and clicks the first bracelet on me before I see what he has. The other people in the room have stopped talking. They have all noticed that something is happening and are transfixed by the spectacle of a man dragging his son across the room. They watch, fascinated as it unfolds; rubber-neckers to the car wreck that is in front of them.

Before he clicks the other bracelet in place, he runs it under the leg of the table so my wrists are together with the three inch chain under a leg of the table. Had he been compassionate and put the other bracelet around the leg, I would have had some movement. He is desperate to blame someone or something for the ruin that is his existence, and it is my turn.

Again.

My struggles to free myself prove fruitless very quickly, and I start to cry. Not a whining wail or a screech – just tears, silent and accusing, dripping from my chin, streaming down my face and washing streaks of red into the pale color of my face.

“Whassamatter, crybaby?” he asks, bringing laughter from the other men in the room.

I am too young to tell if this is uncomfortable laughter or if the hate has spread to the others through osmosis.

I get tired fast, and my struggles start to come in spurts. I sit and try to find a comfortable way to position myself in order to rest between attempts to free myself. I try everything. Picking up the table. Pulling helplessly against the pipe. I am just too small and weak to get anything accomplished. My father insults me and pushes me down with his foot while the other men laugh at his words and even a chuckle or two at my tears.

It always makes these type of men feel better to see someone suffer and writhe in pain. It makes them forget that they are miserable human beings, each lost in their own tragedy.

After I have been sufficiently humiliated and defeated, I become boring, and they lose interest. They resume the conversation as though I am not even here. The woman that is here waits until it is obvious that she will suffer no ill will for doing so and gets up to find the keys. I have been under this glass table for almost an hour, and the men are no longer even glancing through the glass to get a look at the kid trapped down there. The woman comes back with a bobby pin, because there are no keys in evidence, and says something about how mean they are. This is greeted with some vulgarity and a warning to mind her business lest she finds herself locked there in my stead.

My wrists are hurting from all the pulling and moving about, red and scraped from the cheap metal of the handcuffs. My shoulders are burning from the struggle with my father as well as the exercise of trying to lift the table.

The woman manages to free one hand and looks at me with what little compassion a woman resigned to such a life can muster and whispers, “Go in the other room, sweetie, and I’ll try to get the other one.”

I run into the living room where I was playing so quietly only an hour before. There will be no more playing for me. Not today. Not for a few days. Once again, I have been reminded of my station in life and the reality of it all.

The woman comes in behind me and eventually does release me from the other bracelet of the cuffs. It takes her a few minutes, and the men start calling to her to forget it, get it later. Eventually, she tires of their remarks and risks their wrath by saying something back. I do not hear it against the thunder in my eardrums that is my heartbeat. I internally beg her to stop. Scared that her mouth will make this day worse for me.

I watch as she walks away after freeing me from the second bracelet. She sets the handcuffs on the table and grabs the beer she left there to help me. She sits down and tries to steer the conversation away from herself by saying something light and funny.

I sit on the couch, scared to move for fear of being noticed again. The tears are slowing, now but a trickle down my face as if they’re not sure I am finished needing them. Each one releases more of the emotions I have paralyzing me where I sit – washing away the pity and the anger that consumes me.

This time when it happens, I hear his chair. It drags across the floor ever so briefly. It sounds like nails on a chalkboard – not fingernails, but nails. I am afraid to hope he is going to the bathroom. Too frightened to turn my whole head and watch him, I try to use my peripherals to see, but the question is answered when I hear the clink of the handcuffs as he picks them up. I try to make myself smaller. Try to climb into the couch as if I were really the cockroach he makes me feel like.

The tears start afresh as his shadow comes near me. This time the sobs over take me. They are so powerful and deep, the world swims around the edges from oxygen deficiency. I do not fight him this time. Years of life with him taught me to know that I am better off not resisting him too often. It doesn’t matter, though; his grip is a vice around my wrist and the nape of my neck.

He is saying something that I can’t hear. The anxiety and fear have deafened me to anything other than my thoughts. I wonder why he hates me; why his love always hurts. What I do hear is the click of those handcuffs as he starts putting them on me again. Snatching me around like a doll to put me under the table once again. This time he puts them on so tight I think they are cutting into me.

I don’t hear the second one click. I hear my innocence being severed from my eight-year old soul. I hear my sanity as it grips the edge of the cliff and struggles not to fall into the darkness that awaits it. I hear the sobs of the little boy that I once was as I enter a maturity I won’t catch up with for almost twenty years. One I still struggle to keep in front of me.

When I think about it now, I can’t remember how long I was locked there the second time or how I got out. I can’t remember going home or if my father tried to be nice to me later. I can’t remember anything after the snap. If you ever ask me what I once wanted to be when I grew up, you will see me think about it, but I won’t remember. I can’t. I don’t remember ever wanting to grow up. I can’t remember anything about that child – who he was or what he dreamed about. He is a far away little boy that couldn’t be invisible.

Couldn’t not look like his mother. Couldn’t find love in a world he never asked for and never wanted.

That little boy is still handcuffed to that table. Still struggles to free himself. Still hasn’t hated himself. Still doesn’t think of death when he wakes up in the morning. He still hasn’t found the release of drugs and alcohol. He will never be mean to someone because he thinks that is how to deal with disappointment. He will never love anyone, ever again. That little boy still sobs in my heart late at night as I try to fall asleep and reminds me that I deserve what I got coming.

That little boy will never hurt anyone because that little boy is trapped in a room somewhere in Lewiston, Maine.

Sam’s Fight Against Triple Negative Metaplastic Breast Cancer

Cancer care is expensive.

Fortunately, my daughter Sam, who has ben recently diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer, has medical insurance through her employer.

As long as she can keep her job during all of her treatment, it covers a fair amount of some of her costs.  At least after her catastrophic cap was met for the year (didn’t take too long to reach it).

We all consider the deductibles and copays, and prescription copays in our lives, but be sure to check your policy on investigative drugs. Medical trials. Travel and time off work. Did you know that many insurances do not cover care if the “Standard of Care” doesn’t work? Some don’t cover food unless it’s eating out instead of buying a loaf of bread and lunch meat. Some only will cover hotel rates available to AAA members in the 1950s. Some will pay a portion of their “idea” of what your gas should cost, but only on the DATE of your appointment, even if you’ve had to drive out of state the day before or after.

Pray you never need to know the intricacies of your health insurance.  Even if you mange to jump though the right hoops and snag every receipt, it would take a team of dedicated government trained legal assistants to maneuver through the paperwork. Oh, and then you can wait for over a year for any reimbursement.

Moral of the story.

EVERYONE.

Including your 20-something year old child should have some type of additional policies, because my 20-something had never been sick in her  life. She had to use her insurance for the first time and we learned a very hard lesson: chronic health issues and cancer do NOT care about your age, your gender,  your race, your educational level, or your income bracket. Buy that add-on policy you pray you never have to use. I mean, yeah, it’s going to crimp on picking up that name brand mayonnaise, skip a few cups of designer coffee or don’t upgrade your phone to get it, because you don’t know how important it can be.

Pray you never need it, never have to walk this walk or fight this fight while being financially sucker punched at every turn.

MD Anderson Infusion Therapy

Traveling 400 miles for treatment in Houston, TX, at MD Anderson alone adds up. Lodging is expensive. On her third trip out of state, she and I were in Houston away from home and family for several weeks straight. After that, we’ve got weekly visits for treatment and tests will go on for the foreseeable future.

Imagine you are just finishing college. You’ve invested all these years into student loans and grades and worked from the bottom up in a field helping others, so you’d be all set in your field after just one more test. You’re 20-something, but you’re invincible; you’ve never been sick.

You’ve got all your ducks in a row and have considered every possible decision.

You have spent your entire life on college student budget working your own way through school, accumulating debt, but going into a field where you are guaranteed to be a super star. Soon, you are going to kick open the doors and rock the world.

You dream of the vacations you didn’t take because you had to write papers and pay for copies and laundry, and you begin to plan them in your head. You go to sleep, dreaming of how great it’s all going to be now that you’re done. Once that last test is passed, you can consider your future. You have dreamy conversations with your parents about how one day not only will you buy a house, but this will have a little retirement cottage in the back for them, and they won’t have to worry about anything.

You tell your baby brother to keep up his grades, you bribe him and tell him to work his way to and through college, but you will be there for him if there are any hiccups along the way.

Your phone rings on a Friday afternoon as you’re in a store looking for a pink bow tie for your little brother’s prom coming up this weekend. It’s the doctor you saw, and out of nowhere, he says you have cancer and he will see you again next week. Just like that.

You’re alone. All alone.

You’re holding a bow tie for the baby brother you adore and have dressed his entire life.  Your life just changed. The air is sucked out of the room, and nothing moves.  You walk over to the dress shirts and begin looking for his size, but now you can’t remember for sure if he has that adorable little boy neck or of he has now grown into a lumberjack.

You call your mom to check, but instead, “I have cancer” falls out of your mouth.

Everyone’s life just changed and it all hits you.

Imagine dropping everything to live in a city far away for a month while still having to pay rent, utilities, and a car payment. Leaving your bed, pets, plants, and family behind. Being afraid of checking the mail or answering the phone: there will be bills in there with numbers that look like jackpots for the PowerBall.

Seeing things you never wanted to see. Learning a language you didn’t want to learn (Cancer Speak).  Realizing you aren’t in invincible 20-something with the world at your feet, that you now must depend on the kindness of strangers when you don’t even recognize yourself in the mirror.

In the meantime, you travel every week to Texas, three states away, sleep, eat, get prescriptions, anything else you might need. Make sure you keep your job so you can keep your insurance and have a life when this is all over. Oh, also, you’re fighting cancer, so we are going to dump some of the most horrible chemical combinations known to mankind into your body and you are going to be sicker than you could ever possibly imagine.

That is Sam’s life now.

The simple fact is,  WE ARE LUCKY.

Lucky that our family is tight. We pull together we pull through. All of my kids have sacrificed what they have and the course of their futures for family members and this is no exception. WE ARE LUCKY.

Samantha’s cancer is rare, which means she’s interesting to the scientific world, which opens us up to the option of seeing the Most Genius Medical people on the planet who study her type of Cancer. WE ARE LUCKY that we were able to get together the resources to get her to the people who could try to help her in the first 3 months.

WE ARE LUCKY that friends, family, and strangers have taken it upon themselves to raise money, cook dinner, open their homes, offer a ride, send a card, give a hug, and pray for us.

We don’t feel lucky at times. 

We are simply terrified, we know the first chemo regimen and treatment plan failed. We see the doctors and nurses faces when they hear her diagnosis. We realize what it means to be in trials, research programs, and testing studies. We know that we can only get the only hope kind of help out of state. We don’t feel very lucky because we know as a family that as the expenses, bills, costs pile up, the income has gone down on several fronts.  Things like car repairs, broken air conditioners and power going out don’t stop because of cancer.

We don’t feel lucky because there’s interest on the credit cards and interest on the payments, and we are paddling like a herd of ducks in a hurricane just to get thru every day. We don’t feel lucky because it’s unnatural, it’s unnatural and soul-emptying to be a parent whose child has cancer. We don’t feel lucky that ”she’s grown up.”

We are her parents and she will always be our child. We don’t feel lucky that “at least she doesn’t have kids,” because she loves children and wanted to be a foster mom, because that’s who she is.

We don’t feel lucky because no one who has cancer is lucky.

WE DO FEEL loved, humbled, grateful, and blessed.

Ask The Band: Baby Girl Is 2,581 Miles Away

When I was 15, I accidentally fell in love with a 20-year old, Jeff*.

I know, that sounds ridiculous, but it’s true. I didn’t know how old he was, I just knew he had saved me once, and then he stuck around.

I spent the next six years of my life bouncing back and forth between loving him and hating him. I gave him more of my energy than was responsible by any stretch of the imagination.

When I was 17, he cheated on me… kind of.

We were fighting and said we were over, but we both knew it wasn’t going to last. I forgave him. We found out later that the girl he’d slept with was pregnant. She also got hooked on drugs.

By some miracle, she carried that baby to term and delivered a healthy baby girl. That baby girl came home with us. Her mother’s rights were terminated by the court, and Jeff was all she had. I was Mommy to that baby girl. Jeff proposed shortly after we brought her home, when I turned 18.

Unfortunately, things didn’t work out so well once I left for college. Despite promises from Jeff that he’d move closer to my university and we’d stay together, it never happened. We went from living together to a long-distance relationship. Then, we went from a long-distance relationship to nothing.

Despite the end of our romantic relationship, he still allowed me to be a part of baby girl’s life – I was the only “mom” she even knew. When he realized the toll our separation was taking on her, he started bringing her to visit every week. She’d stay the night with me, and he’d have nights to be the 23-year old guy he wanted to be.

This arrangement has been working out pretty well for the last three years. We’ve toyed with the idea of getting back together, but we know we shouldn’t. The idea of being married to him is great; the reality is scary. He has a long and scary history of breaking my heart. He broke my heart again four weeks ago.

See, Jeff is from Washington state and it’s been his dream to go back. A month ago, he was offered a great job in his hometown. When he called to tell me about it, he sounded like a little kid on Christmas. I couldn’t have been happier for him. It struck us at the same time what moving meant, though. He’d be taking his daughter all the way across the country – away from me.

We had until May 7th to find a solution. That was his deadline to accept or decline the offer. On the 2nd, we were still fighting for an answer. I was laying in bed when I realized that the answer was simple: he needed to go. He needed to worry about himself and his daughter, and not me. I knew from his voice during that first phone call that nothing other than going to Seattle was going to make him happy. He needed to go for it and let the pieces fall together. He will not be without support, family, money, or love. Neither will our girl.

When I told him this, he cried. He felt like he was making a mistake for not finding a solution that included me. I told him that if this life move was meant to include me, it would find some way to, but right now, I’m staying put.

They started their road trip on Wednesday. Jeff planned a crazy six day adventure with all kinds of fun cities in the middle. Every couple hours, my phone rings, and I get a travel update from the best three-year old travel reporter in the world. I spend some time crying after each call. They’re in Portland tonight and will be at their new home tomorrow morning. It’s taking everything I have not to get on the next plane and meet them there. I don’t really know why I wrote this here, The Band.

Am I wrong for feeling this way about a little girl who isn’t even mine? Am I being ridiculous?

*Names changed to protect privacy.

There Have Been Days Like This

It was with a loud crash that she hit the floor, her knees gone weak with fear. “Help,” she cried, to no one in particular, a sort of mangled prayer to a god she never once believed in.

“Help me,” she whispered, hoping to see someone there, yet there was nothing but vast darkness, her hands clenched tightly.

There was a hollowness in her soul, an icy chill that ran through her veins when she hit this point. The bottom, again, a place she promised to stay away from, spun so quickly up to greet her. “Help me,” again she whispered, desperate.

The cold steel seemed to awaken in her hand. It was so strong, so faithful, and so delicate. She closed her eyes, tears falling hot and fast, such opposition to the cold running through her heart. One line, then another, cutting across her flesh.

Help,” she whispered, partially to her ever trusty blade, partially to the blood now trickling down. It was warm like her tears, and safe, a reminder that she was real.

Exhausted, she wept.

This was never how it was supposed to be.

The Choice

I was in kindergarten and kissed a pudgy little boy beside me on the playground. My little friends pointed and laughed. I wanted to die. I did not, because I made a choice.

I was in the fifth grade and my classmates noticed I had boobs. My friends pointed and laughed. I wanted to die. I did not, because I made a choice.

I was in high school and suffered through the angst of a breakup. His friends pointed and laughed. I wanted to die. I did not, because I made a choice.

I had a huge fight with my parents and disappointed them. I wanted to die. I did not, because I made a choice.
The choice? Tomorrow would be a better day if I lived.

My husband of twelve years stuck a gun in his mouth and made a different choice. He left behind three daughters under five years of age. He died because, to him, there was no other choice.

We were finally ending a long divorce – a divorce spawned from years of domestic abuse due to his mental illness. For almost 12 years – 365 days and nights of tears, I woke up and thought tomorrow would be a better day if I lived.

Often times, I felt it was his “grace” that allowed me to live. Every now and then, in the grips of pain from a fist or a kick, I wanted to die. Still, I always made a choice to live.

For weeks after he left this earth, I asked, “Why?”

I needed an explanation – a resolution – for his choice.

Most of us have had those moments in which we think we don’t want to live through the day. We think for a split-second, “What would it matter if I was gone?”

We think we don’t matter. We wonder if we’d be missed. I wish that, before he ended his life, I could’ve answered these questions for him.

Since I cannot, I will do it here:

“What would it matter if I was gone?”

Regardless of our marital state, you helped me create three daughters.

Before the first one goes to school, I will have to explain that her father is dead. Before she learns to write her name, she will understand what a grave is.

The two youngest daughters will not have a decent memory of their father to carry through their adult lives. They will look back and only know your face because there is a picture. They will only know stories – not through their own recollection – but because I will fill in the blanks.

They will never be able to take their father to a “Daddy/Daughter” dance. They will not have the man who helped give them life give them away on their wedding days. Father’s Day will always leave their hearts heavy. They will, one day, know that you didn’t consider living for them, loving them, that they were not enough for you.

“Would I be missed?”

A few days after your death, I had to sit down on the bed and explain to the children that their father would never come back. Ever. The day has not come yet that they haven’t cried for you in some fashion. The oldest has a picture of you in her room on her nightstand. She talks to you when she has something important to say. She tells you about her birthday, her missing tooth, her new puppy, and when Mommy has made her mad. When she is frightened, she screams for you to help her, because Daddies are big and strong.

The man who didn’t feel like he had a choice went into a rage that day. He broke things, he screamed, and he broke down. He walked into the room filled with all the children’s things and did not see any of them. All he saw was that he didn’t have another choice, that he didn’t matter, that he wouldn’t be missed.

In front of a rack of his children’s clothes, ranging from size 18 months to 5T, standing before a toddler bed and dozens of smiling stuffed animals on the floor, he thought that the only thing that mattered was taking himself out of everyone’s life.

Ceasing to exist.

Becoming a memory and nothing more.

Later, I stood in a funeral home to pick out a casket for my husband. I wanted to die. I did not.

I made a choice to live. Sitting in the living room looking at the Christmas tree, stockings lined up bearing the children’s names and a dozen smiling stuffed animals on the floor, I see the only thing that matters: making memories and so much more.

Tomorrow will be a better day because I live.

I make that choice.