And then the Spell was Broken

cracked_rose_colored_glasses

 

I called C.

I told him what had happened that morning. He had been in his dingy hideout.

“Oh babe, oh my gosh, I’m so sorry. My mother had no right to do that. You’re right. It’s too hard all of us living together. You know, I really want to help them, but…I tried. I did my best and sometimes things just don’t work out. This will be better babe. I’ll find a job closer to San Diego. We can get a place over there. It’ll work out, babe. Don’t worry. I’ll pack your things and the boys things and I’ll drive to your mom’s house. I’m so sorry babe.”

My doubts over the relationship grew daily. What do I do? I had been so hopeful about it. It all seemed like it would work out so well. This was going to be my happily ever after. How did it all go so pear-shaped? I don’t know. God help me please? Is this man supposed to be in my life? Lord, if this man isn’t supposed to be in my life, please show me. Show me God.

I had started talking to God a little bit again. I wasn’t ready to fully let him in, but I knew that I needed guidance. I was making a mess of everything.

His whispers still followed me.

C came to my mom’s with our things.

“We can stay here babe. I’ll set up my computer here and I’ll start looking for jobs first thing tomorrow.” More promises. My confidence was waning.

We set up beds for the boys in my little brothers room. My mom still had two children at home. My half siblings, Gaetano and Izzabella.

There was a small family room just off from the living room. We put a blow up mattress on the floor in there for me to stay in, and C when he was there as well.

What a day. I welcomed sleep, but I tossed and turned. Battling my demons. The memories. Dean. Chasing me. Running after me. Me, terrified, running away. I knew it would never end. I knew he would never die. 

Christmas was a few days away.

“Babe, there are some excellent job opportunities in Texas. I mean the economy in Austin is just booming. I have filled out some applications, but I really think I should make a trip down there to interview for some of these jobs in person.”

Texas? Am I supposed to move to Texas with this man? 

“Um, like now? Before Christmas?”

“Yeah, babe, if I leave tomorrow then I can be gone and come back before christmas. I can stay with my friends in Austin. I just need money for gas.”

“Oh. How much do you need?”
“I don’t know, probably $800 should be enough.”

All I had was $800. I didn’t know what to do. So I gave it to him. “Okay. Yeah. Alright.”

That night we decorated the Christmas tree at my mother’s house. I still hadn’t spoken to my dad, my step mom, or my sister. It had been months. It was agony. My family torn apart. Dean dead. I’m sleeping on an air mattress. God help me. This is bad.

We were all spending time together doing Christmas-y stuff. C was no where to be found. I went and found him playing video games in the bedroom.

“You should come out, we’re having fun. We’re decorating and watching movies.”

“Not right now babe.” He was in an alternate reality where he was saving the planet from certain destruction.

What? This man doesn’t even want to spend time with me? Does he even love me? Does he even love himself?

All night he stayed in that room. All alone. Captivated by a screen.

This is not what I want.

The next day he left for Texas.

Anxiety was my constant companion.  Nausea came with her. Heart beat. Heart beat. Pause. BOOM. Flood. It felt like a drug. I need some wine.

I skyped with Sue and Karen. It was so lovely to see them. They seemed a million miles away. It felt like years since I’d seen them. I tried to keep my composure, but my efforts failed. “I’m trying…I’m trying to do the right thing. I don’t know. We might move to Texas. I’m not sure. I really want to do the right thing.” I was fighting a losing battle against tears.

Karen did most of the talking. They were emotional as well.

“Cassi, we just want you to know. We are so happy that Dean married you. We have no expectation of you at all. We just love you.”

Her words were honey from heaven. Love. I feel loved. They really love me. In spite of everything. Wow. The tears streamed. Karen showed me the love of Jesus. Thank you Jesus. You don’t judge me. You aren’t mad at me. You love me, Lord. You love me. All I could do was cry tears of awe of the profound love of God. I had been feeling so much shame and condemnation over my decisions. So judged by people. By Christians. By people who I thought were my friends. Other’s thoughts, opinions and labels as bags that I’d willingly chosen to carry. Karen’s words were that of unconditional love. This unconditional and undeserved love gave me wings. And cleared my mind.  They gave me wisdom to know what to do and the strength to actually do it. This love. This love empowered me. Love and grace gave me power over my sin. I felt strength flood my heart. Not like the ferocious waves of grief. This was different. This was a river of life flowing into my parched soul.

My mom sat down with me.

“Cassi, are you giving him money?”

I squirmed in my seat. Well, yes I am giving him money, but…well, how do I excuse that?

“Uh…yeah.”

“Listen to me. That stops NOW. If this man is for real and he wants to take care of you, then you sit back and see if he can do that. You don’t give him one more cent.”

She looked intently into my eyes.

“Cassi. Not one more cent, you hear me? You watch how fast this relationship comes to an end when you stop. You just watch.”

I felt good about that decision. It seemed right. It was put to the test sooner than I thought. He called that afternoon.

“Babe, I need some money.”

“Oh, you do? What do you need money for?” He blew through that fast.

“For gas, to get back to California.”

“Oh. What happened to the $800 I gave you?”

“That’s all gone babe. I just need it okay? Can you put a deposit into my account?”

I paused. Courage. Be strong, Cassi. “Um, no. No I can’t.”

“What?” He sounded hurt. “Why? How am I supposed to get back?”

“I’m sorry, I can’t do that. I don’t know. I guess you’ll have to figure that out.”

I hung up. I smiled. Wow. That actually felt really good. I can be strong. Being strong feels good. 

C got back Christmas morning. He was looking less and less appealing. He looked dark. Empty. Angry. What was he so angry about? God, please help me. Show me what to do God. Show me, Lord. 

A couple of days after New Years, I woke up. C was asleep next to me. We were on the air mattress in my mother’s house. As I stirred, he woke up.

“Good morning.” I smiled at him.

“Morning.” He yawned. He looked bored.

“I’m gonna go have a shower. Do you wanna come?”

“No babe. You go. I think I’ll try to go back to sleep.”

I walked down the hall into the bathroom trying not to be disappointed. The house was empty. Mom must have taken the kids to the park or something.

I didn’t turn on the light. The light coming in from under the door was just enough. I ran the hot water and breathed in the steam. I got in. Finding therapy in the heat and sound. I hung my head under the water. Jesus. Help me, Jesus. The tears came. God I need you. God help me. I pray for this man, Lord. Show me what to do. If this is not the man you have for me, then show me what to do. Help God. I leaned me forehead against the tiles. The hot water gliding down the nape of my neck and down my back. I soaked in the moment. The quiet. The hot. The dark. The solace. God I need you. Help me Jesus. After a long time adrift in a sea of thought and prayer, I turned the water off. Grabbed my towel, and dried off. I wrapped my hair in one towel, and wrapped another around me. Opened the door and walked down the hall. I went into the family room that was my ‘bedroom’ with the air mattress and C’s computer. He was sitting at the computer. I looked up at him sitting there. He didn’t look back. Not noticing I had walked in. His computer screen caught my attention. What are those pictures of? It looked like something odd. He was scrolling down. Slowly. Carefully. Studying the images. What is that? Intense panic surged through me.

He clicked on one and a video started. It filled up the screen. A woman got up. My heart was pounding so hard it was jolting my whole body. She had no clothes on. C pulled down his shorts and started to play with himself. Oh my God. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t speak. I was horrified. Mortified. I can’t watch anymore. Lord. Oh my Lord. I took a step forward and touched his shoulder. My stomach, sick.

He swung around, shocked and startled. He got up.

“Cassi! Oh shit!” He started mumbling. He started apologizing and excusing. I felt like I was going to throw up. I couldn’t look at him. He reached out to touch me and I shuddered. I finally saw him. I finally saw him for the man he really was. Depraved. Perverted. Disgusting. Completely given over to evil. What’s worse is he preferred that image on a screen to a woman in the flesh. Me. I wasn’t satisfactory. I felt complete betrayal.

And then, the spell was broken. In that instant. Any love I thought I had for him was gone. The illusion was shattered.

I sat down numbly.

He was looking at me. Grabbing my shoulders. Shaking me. Making promises. Making vows. Giving excuses, saying sorry. Talking. Talk, talk, talk, talk, talk. In fact, I think that’s all he ever really did, was talk. And look at porn. And drink. And smoke weed. How could I be so stupid? How could I be so blind? I was amazed at my own naïveté. How could I possibly think I could change this man? How could I love this man? How could I want him to be a father figure to my children? He’s not a role model. He’s weak. He’s a sick, weak, pathetic man. My dad was right. Everyone was right. He was nothing compared to Dean. He wasn’t half the man Dean was. He wasn’t a shadow of the man Dean was.

 

Swimming to Shore

1

 

We moved in. C, his parents, me and the boys. The boys shared a room. C and I had a room and his parents had a room. The house was quite lovely inside. This will be good. We can settle here. We can make memories here.

“Cassi, you have to be very strong.” C’s mother would speak to me in her thick accent. Offering her advice on all areas of life. I mostly enjoyed our conversations. She was a fiery Hispanic woman. Her face was lovely, but weary with lines of battle fatigue. We talked for hours about love, life, men, and housework. She was pedantic about housework. Not long after I moved in, I realized most of my days would be spent cleaning.

“If you use the oven, you must clean it.”

“The benches must be wiped and cleared at all times.”

“The floors must be swept.”

“The banisters must be wiped and dusted individually.”

“The bathrooms must be immaculate. No drops. No drops of water.”

“The toilets must sparkle.”

The washing. The windows. Emphatically she went through every area of the house with me, showing me how it was to be cleaned. If there was a drop of water left on a bench or the bathroom sink, she would call me over to wipe it down. It was “unacceptable.” I tried to embrace it as good training. But over the days and weeks I became a slave in my own house. She made all the rules, while I was still paying the majority of the bills. Rent, utilities, groceries, etc. I walked on egg shells trying to do everything right. Trying to keep the house up to her immaculate standards.

C came to church with the boys and I. I hoped that something said would penetrate his hardened heart. I silently prayed for God’s intervention. I noticed that He was texting on his phone quite a lot during the service. I was wrapped up in emotion, he looked bored. “We’ve got to make a stop on the way home, babe. Do you have fifty bucks?”

We stopped at a quaint neighborhood nearby where he exchanged the money for drugs in a mailbox. God, I can’t do this. 

Most of my family was estranged at this point. My mother and her husband, Brian, were the only ones I was really in touch with. I felt forsaken by almost everyone. Where were all the people that supposedly cared about me? Or the boys? Why didn’t anyone care? Why didn’t they reach out? There were only two friends I kept in contact with. They were life to my veins.

C would spend all day in his “office” looking for a job. I had to knock and be invited in before entering.

“C?” I knocked.

Nothing. What is he doing in there? 

“C?” A little louder this time.

“Come in. What is it babe? I’m working.” His tone was short. As though he were inconvenienced by my visit.

He would be in a pair of basketball shorts, no shirt. Sitting in his office chair in the dark. The only light coming from his computer screen. A haze of smoke encompassing his desk. Half empty bottle of whiskey on the left. Small bong sitting on the right. The smell of marijuana hung hot in the air. An open bag of sunflower seeds next to the mouse. Its shells scattered across the desk and floor. His leg was shaking. He always had a nervous, shaking leg. What was that about? He looked up at me with a dazed, vacant, somewhat annoyed expression. “What do you want babe? I’m working.”

You’re working? I wanted to be supportive. I was spending hours cleaning every micro millimeter of the house. My back was sore, my hands were dry.

“How are you going with finding a job?”

“It’s hard babe. The economy isn’t very good. I’ve put my resume out to every job offer that comes up on Craig’s list. I’m doing my best babe, it’s gonna take some time.”

My patience was wearing. “Well I can’t keep spending my savings paying for rent. One more month. That’s it. I’m done.”

“Fine.” He said flatly. With a tone that said he didn’t believe me.

I stood there looking at him. Was he even hearing me? Was he actually looking for jobs? Is he an alcoholic? What does he do in here all day? Why doesn’t he want to spend time with me? Why does he look so empty? Even through this pathetic exterior, I could see a glimpse of the ambitious and playful young man that I had grown so fond of in my young years. I had so hoped that my unyielding respect and affection would make an impact. Make a change. Why hadn’t it? 

New York. He let her ruin him. He gave in to every carnal desire. Every fleshly appetite. He didn’t deny himself any of her indulgences. He partook of all her snares. All her seductive vices. And now here he was. Bound. Chained. Chewed up, spat out. Cynical. Skeptical. Addicted. Empty. A shell. It had cost him his soul.

God, what am I going to do? God show me what to do.

Thanksgiving came around. I came down stairs, smiling. Wearing one of my favorite dresses. It was something that I felt pretty in. Determined to find gratitude where I was. I was met by the disapproving eyes of C’s mother.

Shaking her head. “Go change, honey. You don’t want to wear that. You don’t want to show all of that. Go put on something appropriate.” Dejected, I walked up the stairs. Slow tears stinging. Any joy I had was gone. I can’t even wear what I want. Heckled by her words of shame, I sat on the floor of my closet. Cried into my hands. Hurting. Alone. Lost. Broken. God. God. Help. God what do I do? Crushing weights pulling my heart down. Down into an abyss.

Weeks went by. Fighting became a normal part of life. C’s parents would start shouting at each other in Spanish. I had no idea what it was about. C and his mom fought too. Screaming in each other’s faces. I had my fair share of disagreements with mine, but never had I seen family look at each other with such hateful disdain. Sometimes I tried to mediate. I soon realized they didn’t want to stop fighting. The angry binge put a venom in their veins and they loved the high.

I found joy in my children as I always had. In their innocence and playfulness. There could be darkness all around and they would find the light. Dance in it. And they would lead me to it. I hate yelling. I hate shouting. I despise it. It makes me sick. Nauseous. When the shouting would ensue, I would take the boys into their room and play with them. I would play music and talk to them, trying to distract them. Forced to retreat to a sequestered corner for safety. Hiding in our home. The home we paid for.

“Mom, why are they yelling? Why are they fighting?” Asher was looking at me with those big brown eyes. Pools of innocence where there is no gauge for hatred between family members.
Oh my love. My love I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry we’re here in this house with these people. I don’t even know what we’re doing here. Jesus help me. God help me. What do I do? I don’t even know what to do.

“Sweetie, sometimes grownups disagree on things and it makes them mad and they yell. Let’s build some train tracks. Why don’t you show me how?”

Panic flooded my body. My heart on the roller coaster. Skipping a beat. Pause. THUMP. Rush of adrenalin. This became my normal. Incessant. Over and over. The roller coaster. Dozens of times per day.

At nights I looked forward to being held. C had his many faults, but at least I had someone. Someone to love. Someone to lay with. Lie next to. Enjoy. We watched a movie together one night and I showed interest. I craved touch. Affection.

He was preparing to go “work” in his “office.”

“Don’t go,” I gave him my cute pleading face. “Stay here with me.” I tried to pull him onto the bed by his arm.

He shook free. “I’ve got to work.” His tone was indifferent. He wasn’t even trying to be insensitive or hurtful. He didn’t have to try. He just was.

And he left the room. All I had done. All I was putting up with. Was so that I could have companionship. Affection. And after all I’d given. Forsaken. And spent. Still, I had it not.

Tension mushroomed in the house. C hadn’t found a job yet. My patience with his mother was waning. Her intentions may have been good, but I felt like her slave. Cooking. Cleaning. Constant. I was spending money like water. Paying all of the bills. Money that was supposed to be for me and the boys. I knew I had to put a cap on it before it was all gone. C’s drug and drinking habits were getting to me. There was something dark about him. I was getting glimpses of it. Suspicion grew in me. It was a sensation I hadn’t felt before.

One morning, in usual fashion, an argument broke out amongst C’s parents. The boys got caught in the crossfire. I was in another room. I overheard something and went to see the boys. They were in their room. They told me that C’s mom had yelled at them and sent them to their room.

That’s it. As far as I am concerned, these boys are paying for this house, and no fiery, Latina woman is going to yell at them and shove them in a bedroom. I put the boys in the car and drove to McDonald’s up the street.

I was in tears. Almost hysterics. No matter how much I run from Conflict, he corners me. Is there any escape from this drama? Drama after drama. 

I called my mother. The one link to my family that I still had. I recounted the events of the morning to her. She could tell how upset I was.

“Cassi, you get you and the boys in your car and you drive straight here, you hear me? Don’t even go back to that house. You come straight here.” She had that firm, “mom” tone.

So I did. I got the boys in the car and drove the hour to her house in Cardiff.

 

On the Road and on the Run

run

 

I arrived in New York in the early hours of the morning. I met Cazador and we walked along the streets of Manhattan at dawn. He looked different. His eyes weren’t those pools of young hope and spark. They were tired. His face was puffy. His brow was furrowed. He was only 25 but looked ten years older. How odd. What has aged him so? We did a few hours of site seeing and then packed the rest of his things and loaded up the Uhaul. We left for California and arrived four days later.

I greeted the boys happily on my return. They hugged and kissed me. Their love, unconditional.

But everything had changed. When I saw my family, something was different. Everyone seemed on edge. Some were avoiding me. Not wanting to talk or look at me. There was a rift. A rift in my family. And I felt like an outsider.

Once C came into my house, it became impossible to get him out. I tried to make him go home to his parents house at night.

“Babe it’s fine. I’ll just sleep here on the couch. You want me to get in an accident? Can’t you see how tired I am? Stop acting like a child.” Was I being a child? My insides quaked. Anxiety riddled and coursed through me. Why doesn’t this feel like the sweet romance I was promised? 

It was still so engrained in me to take care of everyone. Keep quiet. Make everyone happy. Keep the peace. Avoid conflict. I was still scarred. It was so raw. I was trying to create the reality I wanted. I was trying to fill the void in my heart and my life.

I could see that Cazador had some pretty serious character flaws I was unaware of. He smoked marijuana regularly. He was a pretty heavy drinker. He seemed to have a fairly short fuse. This all became fairly evident in the first week or so. I needed time. I needed time to sort out what I thought of him. Time to figure out who he was and what to do.

Tensions grew as my parents were not happy with C and that he had pretty much moved into my house. He had not yet found a job. It all came to a head as emails began to circulate within the family. I don’t know exactly what they said. Everyone giving their opinion. Disapproval, approval. Drawing their lines in the sand. Taking sides. Slinging insults. I only read parts of them. My world was spinning. And I felt lost. And very misunderstood. A whirlwind of Anxiety and uncertainty. I wanted to be ok. I wanted to be happy. I wanted to do the right thing. I wanted to have fun. But all around me, problems formed and swarmed. The upheaval and chaos going on in my heart and mind made me incapable of facing conflict. Any turmoil without only heightened and strengthened the quakes and tremors within. Made the avalanche thunder louder. I could feel the crumbling snow hit the backs of my legs. Run. Run. Run. Hide. Run. Hide. Get away. Get safe.

I clung to C like a life raft. I had put all hope into this relationship. This was my happily ever after. This was my Promise Land. Why is it all unraveling? Why is it falling apart? I curled up against the wall and put my head in my hands. I can’t do this. I can’t do this. Why is everyone mad at me? I just want to be happy. I just want to have fun. I just want the nightmares to stop. The adrenalin coursing through my veins. Nauseous. I need some wine. I need some sleep. I don’t know what I need. I’m so tired. I don’t want to think about Dean. His frail body. His yellow face. His yellow eyes. His broken bones. I don’t want to think about it anymore. I just want to move on. I just want a normal life.

I couldn’t settle. Couldn’t find Peace. I begged for her. I begged her please come. Sit with me. Push Anxiety away. Tell insomnia to leave. But she evaded me. I grasped for her, but she was out of reach.

Things came to a head. My dad and C got in an argument. Their faces contorted with anger. The yelling. The awful yelling.

I couldn’t face it. Couldn’t cope with the conflict. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know how to fix it or make it better.

So I ran.

I packed a bag for me and one for the boys. We left the apartment my parents had set up for us. We went and stayed at a cheap hotel a couple of towns over. C came with us.

Peace. I want Peace. 

“Fuck ‘em babe. They don’t want to support you or let you live your own life. That’s what family is supposed to do. We’ll get a place. You, me, the boys, and my parents. We’ll get a house together. You can live with me. It’ll be great. We’ll find a great school for the boys to go to. Don’t worry babe. It’s going to be fine.”

His words were supposed to be reassuring but all I felt was dread. It sounded nice. A house. A nice school. I could cook and clean. That’s what I knew how to do. I knew how to be a wife and a mom. I don’t know how to be a single, working mother. I don’t want that. I looked at C. If I just love him enough. If I show him what real love looks like, he’ll change. My family will eventually learn to like him, I’m sure. It’ll blow over. It’s just going to take some time. 

I put a deposit on a nice four-bedroom, two-story rental not far from my parents’. The neighborhood had that sterile, track home, Stepford wives thing happening. Pretty but eerie. Lacking in character. Color. Warmth. There was a school a few blocks away. It lacked personality but had that fresh look of a newly built school. I thought of Australia with her turquoise sea and red dirt. A pang of sorrow followed.

 

The Buoy Boy

masked-man

Cazador. I hadn’t seen him in ten years. As I remembered him, he had jet black hair, considerate eyes, and playful freckles that contrasted his sharp attire. He was a hard worker with big aspirations and the drive and intelligence to see them fulfilled. I had always admired him, and despite being older than him, I looked up to him. We had worked together as teenagers, we were friends and dated briefly.  Not long after I returned to California, we reconnected on Facebook.

He was someone completely outside of my world, my situation. Someone who knew me before the chaos and the carnage. Before the scars. I could relay the ups and downs of the journey I was on. Everything that had happened over the years. I could talk. And he heard me. And I very much needed to feel heard.

He was charming and clever. He gave me compliments. He made me smile. It felt it had been such a long time since I smiled. He made me laugh. He made me blush. It was so incredibly delightful. And I relished every moment of the attention. I let him into my heart. I told him everything. Someone that I hadn’t seen in years. My thoughts. Fears. My hopes for the future. My concerns for the boys. I trusted him.

He told me that I needed someone. I needed someone to take care of me and the boys. Yes. I do. I need someone. After all these years of hardship and pain and difficulty. To just have a normal life. A healthy husband. A whole family. Someone to share life with. Someone that could love me and appreciate me. Someone who was well enough to actually be a husband to me. Not a patient, but a real husband. The idea was magnetic. And I pined for it. Sure it was soon after Dean was gone, I knew that people would have their opinions. They always did.

The phone conversations got longer and more frequent. I grew more and more attached to him. The idea of seeing him. The romance of it all. He started talking about moving to California.

He was a buoy.  Where I was treading water in an ocean of pain that threatened to drag me to its darkest depths. How could I know? That buoy I was grabbing would become a lead weight.

He hinted that he was low on cash. That he just needed to be floated some money while he was waiting for a check. I was happy to help, what harm could it do? It was just for a couple of weeks. Although, I couldn’t explain the twinge of uncertainty I felt.

At night I would dream about Dean. He is yellow and sick. He is chasing me. He catches up to me. He grabs my arm. I knew it, I knew it would never end. I knew he would never die. I would wake up breathless. Terrified. Tormented by the memories of his last weeks. His falls. His deterioration. His smile. His frailty. The unfairness of it all. The memories would hit me all at once. Each one, a brick. Smashing me. A tidal wave of grief. On the ground, I would bury my face in the carpet. Sobs. Hitting the floor with my fist. Screaming into a pillow.

Crash.

It should have been you. 

Crash.

It’s your fault, you gave up on him. 

Crash.

Everyone wishes that he was the one who lived. He was a better person than you. 

Crash.

He would’ve handled it better.

I could see him. Images of him looking at me. Talking to me. On his crutches. In bed. Those eyes. Those blue eyes looking into me.

Crash. Smash. Wave after wave. Until I was spent. Squeezed of every last tear. Purged of every last sob. Head throbbing. Limbs limp.
Exhausted from the high seas of grief. The relentless watery struggle. The current that threatened to take me.

Cazador needed me to come to New York. He wanted to rent a moving truck to drive to California, but didn’t have a valid driver’s license to do it.

“C’mon babe. It’ll be great. Drive across the country together. We’ll be able to talk the whole way. What a great thing to get to do together. You can spend a day here in New York. I’ll take you around to see some of the sights. You’ll love it. I need you babe. I really need you to do this.”

My heart and head seemed said two different things, but spontaneity won out.

I left the boys with my mom and her husband. I got on a plane. I went to New York.

And it set me on a course of events that would be devastating.

 

Transported

sun-rays

 

When I went back into our bedroom after the funeral, I was overcome with the urge to pack all of Dean’s things away. I didn’t want to wear my ring. I didn’t want to see his clothes. I didn’t want to see his shoes or his watch or his bible. I wanted all of his things to disappear. I found the feeling odd. When the hospital chaplain called to check in on me, I asked her about it.

“That’s because you’re not ready to deal with you’re grief.”

That’s not what I wanted to hear. I’ve been grieving. I’ve grieved. I’ve been crying my eyes out for years. I’m so sick of being sad! I’m so sick of crying! I’m 27 years old. I want to live my life without being sad all the time. I don’t want to grieve anymore. I’m done grieving. 

There was certainly a finality with burying Dean’s body. Everything had changed. My tie to Australia was broken. I was free to leave. Free to find a future for me and the boys. My parents and I decided it would be better if I were to fly back to the states with them, rather than hanging around Australia for a few weeks or months. At least this way they would be with me on the flight and could help.

I had organized a leaving party for me and my friends. I was saying goodbye to some of the best friends I’d ever had. Friends who had seen me through the worst times of my life. I wanted to go out and have fun. I really wanted to have fun. I’d done so much crying, so much grieving, so much taking care of everybody else. I wanted to have FUN. I felt torn though, as I knew it wouldn’t be “perceived” well. “Oh, Cassi’s only just buried Dean and now she’s at the pub.” I could hear them say. The Gossip Tree flourished in Esperance. And many frequented her branches to eat her fruit of destruction and spread her nectar of poison.

One of the pastors in town, John Bayly, came to visit me. He had been a constant source of love and encouragement over these past years. Tonight was no exception.

“Cassi, there’s going to be a lot of people trying to tell you how to feel and what to do. Dean’s not suffering anymore. He’s in heaven, having a party. You go out tonight and have a good time with your friends. And don’t feel bad about it.” I loved his radiant face and the unwavering love that shone from it.

Sweet freedom. They were just the words I needed. Permission to have fun. And not be judged for it.

I did go to the pub that night. We did karaoke and danced the night away. I had a blast. I was so glad I did it. Life is for the living. And I wanted to live.

Over the next days my parents helped me pack and handle the logistics of leaving the country. Passports. Bank accounts. Etc. As emotionally drained and mentally scattered as I was, completing tasks wasn’t easy.

We said our goodbyes to Dean’s family and as many friends as we could. Everyone was still grappling with Dean’s death. It was a hard. I was so ready to leave. I couldn’t ever imagine wanting to come back to this place.

This place where my dreams and love had died.

 

After a couple days in Perth, it was time to fly home. Where was home? I guess it was going to be California. We were boarding the plane. Waiting in line. There was a man in front of us. Asher struck up a conversation with him as he often does with strangers. The man was in his 30’s and had a shaved bald head.

“You have a bald head.” Asher stated in his blunt fashion.

The man was warm and friendly, “Yes I do.” As he flashed a big smile.

“How old are you?”

“I’m 32.” He seemed intrigued by this inquisitive young boy.

“My dad had a bald head.”

“Oh really, how old is your dad?”

“My dad’s dead.”

The poor man didn’t know what to say. Hearing my little boy say those words triggered something. They rang in my ears. My dad’s dead. My dad’s dead. I was trying desperately to hold the tears back. I couldn’t. The lump in my throat felt like an apple. The tears started pouring onto my cheeks and down my neck. Not now, Cassi. Not here. Not now. I tried to keep my composure. To put on my brave face. It was too much. I’m leaving Australia. I’m leaving without Dean. I’m leaving him behind. Oh my God, Dean’s buried in a hole and I’m leaving the country. Away from my beloved. I’m leaving without him. Oh God. Oh God. He’s dead. He’s dead. I shuffled down the aisle to my seat and put my bags in the overhead compartment. I kept sniffling and wiping the tears away, praying that they would stop. But the wave had come. It was only just building. There was no stopping it. Alcohol. I need alcohol. I sat down in my seat and one of the stewards came over.

“Miss are you okay?” His sincerity and friendly demeanor was disarming and made it even harder to keep the torrent of tears from rushing.

I struggled. What do I say? I’m not okay. I’m so not okay. I was struggling to catch my breath to keep from sobbing.

“Miss may I ask, are you leaving someone behind?”

How does he know? 

I managed to nod my head yes.

“My husband. My husband died two weeks ago.” I could hardly get the words out. I could hardly believe them myself.

He gave a look filled with disbelief and compassion.

“Is there anything I can get for you?”

Alcohol. “Um, Can I have a rum and coke please?” I was a mess. Tear streaked, mascara running everywhere, red, and flushed.

“I can’t get that for you right now, but as soon as we get in the air I’ll get that for you, okay?” He was so nice. I nodded.

The anxiety that I’d been living with for months was peaking out now. Flying had become increasingly more challenging for me. Increasingly unbearable. Anxiety and Fear would culminate in a frenzy of torture over me. The airplane their chosen scene for crimes against me. Are we going to make it? I hate to fly. I hate flying. This is it. This is the last jaunt to my new future. My new life. Far away from death and pain and everything that’s going to remind me of the hell I’ve been living. 

I’d been drinking steadily through the flight, but hadn’t managed to get to sleep. About half way through we hit some turbulence, as you always do on that flight going over the equator. Anxiety was getting more intense than anything I’d felt before. All I could picture was the plane crashing into the ocean. My palms sweating. A feeling like ice started in my chest and started running down my arms. A sharp pain in my chest. What happens now? I feel like I’m going to explode, or implode, or something. Am I having a panic attack? I can’t breath. Oh God, I can’t breath. I pressed the button for the steward. The same gentleman that had been waiting on me came over.

“Are you okay miss?”

Tears were still streaming down my face. “Um, I’m sorry…I feel like I can’t breath.”

“Okay luv, why don’t you come with me.”

Praise God the boys were asleep and my parents were nearby in case they woke up. He lead me down the back of the plane and sat me down. He put an oxygen mask on me.

I looked into his eyes, Fear permeating my mind,

“Are we going to make it?”

He gave me a look full of empathy. Like he could see the desperate turmoil of my soul. He wrapped a blanket around me. Another stewardess came over. She was so pretty. She looked like an angel. She was an angel to me at that moment. She asked me about where I was traveling to and about my boys and things. She brought me some gourmet chocolates. I had to assume they were from first class. She rubbed my back and continued to ask me how I was feeling. She told me that everything was going to be okay. I still felt the threat of disaster, but I welcomed the distraction of conversation. My chest pains eased slightly. I don’t know how long I was back there for. Every hour felt like a day. Eventually I came back to my seat. I thought of every bible verse I could that might bring me some solace or comfort. You have me in the palm of your hand, Lord. You have me in your hands. Peace Lord, I need your peace. But adrenalin and panic coursed through my veins, prompted with each tick and tock.

When our plane landed, I felt like I’d been given my life back again. I was completely drained and exhausted, but I was alive and on land. And that made me smile. I bid farewell to the stewards that helped me. Thank you God for those people.

We got in the car. Summer. I was transported. California in early July. Warm. Beautiful. Familiar smells. Familiar sights. Such a contrast to the Esperance winter I had just come from. Home. The driving. The honking. The speeding. The crowds. The pace. Culture shock. Even though it had only been six months since I’d been here, it felt like ages. I took a deep breath. And then there was that. The smell of home. Everything is going to be okay. I’m home. Thank you Jesus. You brought me home. I’m a mess. I’m broken. But I’m home. 

I thought the worst was over.

I was wrong.