Monday morning, in the wee hours, my husband took his own life inside his car, parked across the entrance to the driveway of the house we shared before our separation.
I remember the first hour in minute detail. After that hour, my memory went back to it's usual spotty and out of order recollections, but the first hour . . .
Aubri found him first. Aubri had gone outside to water the garden while is was still cool and dark outside, and there was this car parked across the entrance to our driveway, blocking us all in. He went up to the car and in the dim light of the streetlamp two houses away, he simply could not believe that the object in the driver's seat was a person or a body. No matter how carefully he looked, he could not see anything but a pile of laundry. And yet he knew it had to be something else. He came to find me.
5:20 a.m. He said to me, someone parked a car across the driveway, blocking us all in, and there's something inside – I can't tell what. My first thought was perhaps the something inside was a bomb, but I dismissed that thought immediately because Jim was not the bomb-making type. I knew Jim had to be involved somehow. I think I asked Aubri, “is it a Honda? Is it silver?” Or perhaps I only thought that question. Certainly I was convinced, before I even left the security of my living room, that it was Jim's car out there and the unidentified object in the car was probably him. But I asked questions as if I didn't already know. I went out there to look, as if I didn't already know.
Shrubs block the house's of the street, so I had to go all the way to the driveway to see it. It was silver; it was a sedan. It seemed to have a Mylar balloon floating above the steering wheel. I stepped just a little closer, perhaps I was only ten feet away from the car, and I looked again. No, not a Mylar balloon, but a clear plastic bag, shining in the streetlight and blown up like a balloon from the final exhalation. He was facing away from me, and his arms were thrown wide, one of them over the dash and one draped over the head-rest.
I turned on my heel and almost collided with Aubri. “that's not a balloon” I think I said. “Is it what we think it is?” I think he asked. “Yes.” I think I responded. “Then we need to call the police.” he said. "Yes."
I wasted what felt like ten minutes, but was probably only thirty seconds, looking for my phone before I remembered it was in my pocket. I called 911. As one does. I sat in my living-room, in the chair that is farthest from the driveway, and spoke as calmly as I could manage. The very nice operator asked me logical questions, such as, 'is he breathing?' I don't know, and no power in the universe can make me go out there and check. 'do you know who it is?' It is probably my estranged husband. I supposed there is a slight probability that some other man would die in my driveway in a silver sedan, but I can't imagine who or why. No, it's probably Jim. Once again she asked, “Is he breathing?” I wanted to say, are you shitting me? But I restrained myself and instead yelled at Aubri to go check the car again. Is there movement? No movement . . .
Somewhere in this process, I felt really annoyed. I have things to do, you know, and this was not on my list.
The firemen arrived first, and then an ambulance. I went out to stand in my driveway and look like I imagine a new widow ought to look when she has just discovered her husband dead in the driveway in his car. I wasn't crushed with sadness, you understand, but I was thinking that THIS situation was only the second-to-last thing I needed in my life. The LAST thing would be a murder investigation. So I stood there and tried not to look like someone who might have murdered her husband and staged it to look like suicide.
It's really not that hard to look suitably grief-stricken, when slow tears are sliding down your face all the time. But in my head, you see, I felt angry that he had done this thing . . . but also relieved that I could finally stop waiting around for him to “not be depressed” so I could ask him for a divorce without accidentally triggering him to, well, you know, commit suicide. The new fact of his death pretty much solved my divorce dilemma once and for all. And it wasn't as if the man had not given me twelve years advanced warning that he would die by his own hand someday. So I was not really surprised or anything.
I didn't know why I was crying, I was actually fine.
All this was going through my head in a decidedly not-grieving sort of a way right until they shined the flashlight through the window and I saw his hair. And then I sort of lost it. It was HIS HAIR. HIS. Hair. My Jim. My sweetienookums. In that car, dead.
That son of a bitch.
He used a plastic bag on purpose because he knew I hated the whole thought of suffocation. He parked across my driveway for equally obvious reasons. I mean, how much more of a fuck-you can you deliver to your ex without a gun?
Assorted paramedics approached me to ask questions, such as my name, his name, his date of birth, and so on and so forth. I maintained my analytical stance that I could not swear in a court of law who exactly was in that car, but if it is Jim then his date of birth is . . . One of them told me, the car is locked and no one can get in, but they pronounced him anyway. Hours later, the medical examiner would tell me they found a car key in the street next to the car, but it was the ignition key and not the door key. They had to break a window to get to him. “He tried to leave a key?” I said, “How thoughtful.”
We have a department called Victim's Services, and they will send a Grief counselor here to talk to you, if you want to talk to someone? Oh hell yes, I said, that would be fantastic.
They went away for a few minutes, and I called Jim's therapist, who also used to treat me. In times of crisis, I naturally think of my former therapist. “Call me back. Jim has . . . . he . . . . . . please call me.” I could not make the words leave. I knew they were true, but could not form them.
Police arrived and asked the same questions. And apologized for asking the same questions, and told me that there would be a lot more of that during the morning. I wanted to say, “duh, I've seen Law and Order,” but there is, in fact, a limit to my ability to smart off to authority figures. I just nodded and said, “I understand.” They asked me not to call his housemates, but to wait until they sent an officer to the house to look around. Probably looking for a note, or a bomb.
I went indoors and found Sophie was making coffee and Aubri was cleaning the kitchen. He told me he had called Gwenneth and she was on the way. Any minute now, I thought, casseroles are going to show up as if by magic. People always make coffee and clean your kitchen when there's a death in the family. If we had been church members, someone would be volunteering to do the laundry for me.
Armed with a cup of coffee, I went back outside to the driveway. I had to see what was happening. Crime Scene tape had appeared magically around my garden, and the street. There was at least a twenty feet long buffer-zone between The Car and any innocent bystanders who might wander by.
There are children all over this street, I thought. Thank the gods we found him before the school buses started running. Bastard. We used to have Rules for suicide. Because that's what you do when you are married to a Bipolar person. You make up Rules for when to call a doctor, Rules for when to go to the mental hospital and Rules for how to commit suicide if you absolutely can't do anything else. One of the rules was “not in my house” and another rule was “not where children can find you.” He had violated that rule. I suppose he kept the first one. I mean, in the driveway is definitely not in the house. I should have made that rule a little more inclusive.
The grief counselor was named Diana. She asked me if this was a wholly unexpected event? No, I said, he's been depressed for more than 20 years, if not his whole life. And I know of at least four suicidal episodes since I met him in 1999. I am not surprised he took his life, but I am surprised he did it in my driveway. To her other questions, No, I don't know if TODAY is significant or he just ran out of days in general.
I gave her the whole history. Even the unflattering bits where I had an affair, PTSD, and kicked my suffering husband out of the house. She said what everyone says, you saved your own life when you detached from him. Yes, I know, and I mostly believe that most of the time, but I still wish things had gone differently. I can feel like my actions contributed to his pain without feeling guilt for my actions. It's a careful balance, but I've had a few years to practice it.
Gwenneth and Avery arrived, outside the crime scene tape, and gave their names to the officers, who came to find me and let me know my friends were there. Diana and I walked around the crime scene to meet them in my neighbor's driveway. The neighbors were not awake yet, apparently . . . thankfully. Gwenneth held a bag of breakfast tacos out to me like an offering the to gods. Avery announced that as the fat Jewish man, he was there to make sure I didn't starve. Diana laughed, and said she could see I had a support system. The four of us talked, more. I don't remember what about, but it was probably Jim.
Things are fuzzier in my memory after that time.
At some point, a crime scene unit, a homicide detective, and a medical examiner arrived to join the festivities. As a fan of crime-fiction TV shows, I am amazed that I only noted their presence as a way to mark the time. As in, “oh good, the ME is here. That means the standing around in the driveway is almost over.” I suppose it's always better if fiction remains fiction. That's one reason I never took a better look inside the car. In fact, once the sun was up, I studiously avoided looking in that direction altogether. I had never seen a dead body outside of TV and funeral services. I wanted to keep it that way. All I ever really saw was a silhouette, and some hair.
The social worker left when she was sure I had someone to stay with me all day (I never had less that six friends around me the rest of the day). At some point my friends and I went into the house and sat in the livingroom talking. Trixie arrived and told us that the suicide not have been sent to her husband, Paul, via email. Apparently, he sent one note at 3:30 a.m. He was still alive then, I guess. And another not was timed to auto-send at 5:30, just about the time we happened to find him. The first note was straightforward: I'm tired of fighting the depression and I'm sorry. The second note, they said, was very hostile and blamed me for all his pain. He did not send either note to me.
I made phone calls to my mother, brother, dad, and cousin.
I went outside again and they were lifting helium tanks out of his trunk. I was kindof relieved to see them. They say helium is a painless method, so I am relieved about that. The police shooed me back inside again; they were ready to move him out of the car.
The medical examiner came inside and told me he had positively identified Jim. He took down the names of other family members, and told me the procedure for having a body released for burial. Aren't I glad I now know how to do that? Such a useful life lesson. Did he want Jim's parents address to notify them? No, he said, as his wife and legal next of kin, as long as I have been notified (oh, was I ever notified) that's all the police really do. Other relatives, it's up to me to contact them.
Some of his best friends, I can't even remember their last names.
One the police and firemen and paramedics and crime-scene tape all left the area, my friends took me out to see the Avengers. It was a great movie, and Jim would have loved it. I only thought of him a few times, and after the first fight scene it was easier to just sit there and enjoy the movie. And, since we saw the movie at the drafthouse, I also sat back and enjoyed two pints of Crispin Cider, a plate of mozzerella sticks, and a basket of potato-skins.
Then we all went back to the house and got really sloshed. We also decided that cracking morbid jokes was not only allowed, but encouraged. When more people began to arrive, Avery would meet them at the door and demand a morbid joke before letting them in.
Gretchen said: We should all watch MASH together.
Me: because “Suicide is painless?”
Susan: You bring casseroles to a funeral, but if it was suicide do you just bring the ingredients?
My brother Kit (via text message): Yes, and you overcook it and toss it in the trash. (the ashes get to the ocean eventually).
Aubri: why is there a Ron Paul flyer on the kitchen table?
Me: It was mixed in with the rest of the mail.
Aubri: Get rid of it! We can't have crazy nut jobs in our kitchen?
Me: Why the hell not? One of them killed himself in our driveway?
Avery: Yes, but he didn't make it into the house!