It’s August 24, 2009. Nearing the end of our enchanted summer, so many big dreams coming up on the horizon.
The salon, the sort of albatross around our neck, was under contract to be sold. We were set to close next week.
Two weeks before that, we had had a frank conversation that finally led to us agreeing that it was time to have a baby. Me finally making him understand that the reason I wanted a baby so badly was so much about him. About me loving him. About wanting to have something that was half him and half me. That I wanted to have a chance to have a family to somehow right some of the wrongs in how he had been raised. Give him the chance to be the father that he never had. We had set the goal for “pulling the goalie” September 1st. I had been making phone calls to get insurance changed. Called my doctor to find out if I had my IUD removed how long we could expect to wait before being able to get pregnant, and then waiting to make the appointment until I heard from insurance.
Sawan got up early for school that Monday. He had started real estate school a week earlier. This was the beginning of week two. He had a big test that he had been studying for. He was finally excited about a new career. This was something that he was passionate about, something that we both thought that he would be good at. We loved walking through neighborhoods, looking at old construction versus new construction, who had done it right, who had done it wrong. We obsessively watched HGTV. Just last night he told me, as we were watching “design star” “I fuckin’ love being married to you.” We just did dumb stuff like that together and totally enjoyed it. We were such nerds and didn’t care. We just loved each other.
It was my day off, technically, but I had a big day planned, and was expecting to hear from my mom at any point that my Grandfather, Papa Howard, had died. So there was no sleeping after he woke me up when he was getting ready for school. I got up to be with him a little bit before he left for school. I made the coffee. I was standing in the kitchen in my too-big t-shirt that I put on after I got up to walk around the house in and was still wearing my mouth guard that I need for TMJ. He scolded me…”Baby, what are you doing up?” I told him that I needed to get started. I had acupuncture, a haircut with Dani, and I was going to have to get to the shop to move clients around to deal with going to the funeral and also that I would probably have to go find something to wear to the funeral because none of my clothes fit me. “Ok, baby. Have a good day. I’ll call you later about the game.” We were supposed to go to the Rockies game that night. He was still feeling under the weather, though (he had had a low grade fever all weekend) so we weren’t sure it was going to happen. I told him good luck on his test that morning.
He kissed me goodbye. He never kissed me well when he was sick, always afraid that he would get me sick and so they were chaste little pecks. I still had my mouthgaurd in anyway, so it was a funny, sort of sad little kiss goodbye, love you baby, have a great day, see you later.
I got ready for my day, took a shower and got dressed. I put on my denim capris and my black old navy puffed sleeved t-shirt that I never realized I was putting on for the last time. How I’d never be able to stand to see those clothes ever again.
I got the call from my mom as I was leaving the house. I was just pulling out onto Colorado Blvd. She told me that Papa had died at about 3 in the morning. She had been with him all night. She knew that the time was coming and so she had just gotten to stay with him, singing to him and holding his hand. It was so beautiful to hear the story.
I called Sawan to tell him the news. I relayed her story and he said that it was so amazing that they got to have that time together. What a gift. For anyone to get to die that way.
I told him I was going to go to my appointments and then try to start making arrangements. He was going to finish up at school and then see if there was anything he could do to help.
He finished school around noon and we had just texted back and forth a bit. I actually talked to him about 2 and he said he was feeling pretty bad, did we still want to try to go to the Rockies game that night? I said that I was feeling pretty stressed out with everything that I had to get done and maybe we could just skip it? He liked that idea. He told me to just take all the time I needed, he was feeling pretty bad and was going to just rest.
I made all the phone calls I needed to move my clients around after booking my ticket, then set off to buy something to wear for the funeral. I was making pretty good time, it was only about 5:30. I called him and we talked about my haircut. He hated it when I tried something new. He hated it when it was short. So I warned him. He said that as long as I liked it he would like it, too, which I knew wasn’t true but was sweet of him to say. He said he was so sorry but he just didn’t feel good enough to get something together for dinner. I told him it was no big deal, I should be taking care of him and I was so sorry that I wasn’t home doing that. I would come home and bring him dinner just as soon as I could. I had one more stop after this and then I’d call him on my way to Target and see what he wanted for dinner from the store. He said not to worry about me not taking care of him. He was a big boy, and he and Arthur, our little dog, were going to lay down and take a nap.
Made my quick stop, headed to Target and picked up the prescriptions, but when I called him to see what he wanted for dinner he didn’t answer. I figured he was still sleeping. I didn’t worry about it, but I slowed my pace a bit. I picked out chicken soup, the good kind from the deli. Then I got stuff for his lunches for the rest of the week, since he wasn’t feeling well I figured he hadn’t gotten that done today. I bought him lunchmeat and bread and chips and string cheese. I bought coffee.
Then I headed home with my groceries in my recyclable bags.
I made the illegal turn at 11th. Not sure why I did it that way that day but it always sticks in my head.
I pulled into my parking spot, grabbed my groceries, and headed upstairs, so glad that this never-ending day was finally over and I could just focus on my poor, sick little husband and maybe have him hold me and comfort me over the sadness of losing my papa today.
I open the door to the condo and Arthur is freaking out. He always freaks out when I walk in. Jumps up, is excited to see me, but in hindsight, this was a different kind of freak-out. He was barking a shrill, high-pitched bark that I had never heard before.
I greet the dog, put down the groceries, and with all the commotion that the dog and I have made, expect to see some stirring from naptime at one of the napping locations. I look first on the living room couch. That’s spot number one for napping alone. I glance over in the evening light and don’t see him. I’m calling him at this point. “Baby?”
I look in our bedroom, but the bed is empty. Baby? I call again. Now I’m starting to panic. I turn on the hall light, calling for him, “Baby?” and I walk toward the guest bedroom. The office. We use the computer in there but the bed is really a catchall for dirty clothes and fishing gear. But I see him lying there. Relief spreads over me. Oh, there he is. Instantly, the relief is gone as I process that he hasn’t responded to me calling to him. I walk into the dark room, lit only by the hall light, and call to him again. “Baby?” I feel his leg. Stiff. Oh, God, Baby. I say. I turn on the light and go back and look at him and realize that he’s not breathing. I run into the other room to find my purse with my phone and then I’m that hysterical woman on the 911 call that you see on TV. I told them that I didn’t think my husband was breathing. She got my address and information, and remarkably, I knew it. She asked if I knew how to do CPR. I didn’t. She said she’d tell me how. She asked if he was on a bed and if I thought I could move him to the floor. I didn’t think I could. Ok, we’ll just try from there.
Then I lost connection with the 911 operator and had to do the whole thing over again. She starts explaining how to do cpr to me, and I start doing compressions. When I first press on his chest a breath comes out but it sounds all rattly. His eyes look like they’re wrinkled. His mouth is open and his tongue looks pruny like fingers look when they’ve been in the bathtub too long. My mind already knows what my heart doesn’t believe yet. I get about 15 sets of compressions done before the paramedics get there. They were really fast.
I’ve watched enough ER to know to stay out of their way, so I go out in the hallway to call my dad. I can’t get service. I knock on every door to try to borrow a phone and no one is home. Finally, I get a signal and make the call to my dad. Mom is in Oklahoma City still dealing with the stuff with her dad. I tell dad what’s happened and ask him to come over. He tells me to call 911. Yeah, dad, the paramedics are already here, I just need you to come be with me. So he’s on his way.
The dog keeps going into the room, though, and I can’t go in there to get him, so I call Dani, one of my best girlfriends and also a downstairs neighbor to just come up and get Arthur. She arrives seconds later but won’t leave. She thinks she needs to just be with me.
Next thing I know the paramedics are coming in and telling me that they can’t get a rhythm. They’ve tried. They can take him to a hospital but it will only cost more money and they’ll tell me the same thing there that they’re telling me here. I have to ask her, “So you’re telling me that he’s dead, then.” And she says, “Yes.” I hit the floor. Aren’t they supposed to tell you that stuff sitting down? In that moment, I felt that I saw my future. I saw myself on the lonely nights, waking up freaking out about being in bed alone. I saw myself in so much pain with arms empty of man and baby. I saw myself trying to learn to live without him and knew how long and painful the rest of my life was going to be. I knew that this was the beginning of life number two for me. That the charmed life number one was officially over.
Suddenly we were in decision mode. Organs. Could they be donated if they took him to the hospital? No, because there was never a rhythm and they don’t know what’s wrong with him. Police show up. Because of his age they want to have homicide come take a look. Ok, whatever. I think back on it later, realizing that the wife is always the first suspect and think about how weird it would have been had they actually shown up. I was such a mess. Dad shows up and he’s the first one I have to tell. I just shake my head and dad hugs me. We both just sobbed. I think it’s this point that the realization comes to me and I say it out loud…”Oh my God, dad, I’m a widow.” And the policewoman doesn’t want to let him see the body. I was furious. It may be weird, but this is still my house and he is still my husband and if my dad wants to see him, he can.
Then the phone calls. All the people that had to be called. Siblings. I sat down and made a list. I called Karen, my co-worker first. I needed her to handle stuff at the shop. I have no idea what I said to her, how coherent I was. She told me to just get off the phone and she would handle everything. Proof positive that Sawan was right. If there ever was a candidate for cloning it would be Karen. Next I called Ellie. I didn’t prep her at all, just blurted it out. She puked while I was on the phone with her. After I hung up, Dad and I talked for a minute. He gave me a little coaching on how to share that news. Next I tried Cori, but she was in England and she didn’t answer. So I called Gabe. He said he’d start working on flights to get out there tomorrow, but we had to call the Red Cross. All kinds of hoops had to be jumped through to get special leave for military guys. Dad took care of that. Next I called Sawan’s sisters. I don’t remember whom I called first. I was so sad to have to make those phone calls. To have lost their mom so early in their lives and then to lose a brother so early in his is just more than one person should have to deal with. To have to be the bearer of that news was really, really hard. Next I tried Cori again. This time she answered. I remember this call more clearly than any of the others. I told her that she needed to prepare herself because I had some really bad news. I had come home and found Sawan not breathing, and had called 911, but even with me doing cpr and them trying, they were unable to save him. Cori asked me, “Noey, are you saying that Sawan is dead?” and she tells me that I just sucked in air for what seemed like an eternity, and then I said “Yes.” And she just said “Oh, baby, baby baby.” Over and over again. When I think back on that memory, I think, and she just held me. Which is impossible, because she was in England and I was in Denver, but that’s how it felt.
After all the phone calls were made, Dad convinced me that I needed to come to his house to “sleep” for the night. I couldn’t leave the house in the shape that it was, with Sawan’s cereal bowls still on the coffee table and cans of half-drunk Fresca littering my living room.
So I went in and stripped the bed that he had just died in. I carried the sheets straight down to the dumpster. I took a big black garbage bag and threw away all of the groceries that I had just bought him. Then I threw away all of the trash that had any marking of him on it. Dad did the dishes. I just couldn’t wash out his cereal one last time, so dad stood at the sink and sobbed as he loaded the dishwasher for me.
When we finally left my condo, dad drove me to his house in his car, Arthur on my lap, shock on my face. We headed down 8th avenue, and when we turned onto York, a fox ran across the road. Dad pointed it out.
My whole adult life, the fox has been a spiritual thing to me. Like a physical reminder of a spiritual presence in my life. It was God telling me, “This sucks. But I love you, and I’m still here. I’m for you. Don’t forget.”