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.

 

 

Playing on Their Father’s Grave

drowning

 

They say grief comes in waves. Yes, grief does come in waves. It comes in giant, smashing waves. And just when you come up for air, you get smashed by another one. And you can’t tell which way is up. And you’re being pulled in every direction. Pushed and dragged at the same time. You can’t breathe. And a sort of panic comes over you as you struggle against the mighty, crushing water. Only to find that as you come up exhausted and shaking from the struggle, that you’re pummeled again. And again. And again.

That night I sat staring at photos of Dean and I together. I could hardly see them though because the tears wouldn’t stop coming. I sobbed so much I coughed and gagged. My stomach muscles strained against the gut wrenching sobs that went on for hours. I made inexplicable sounds. My body shook and writhed. I was completely exhausted and yet continued to cringe and wince and sob with the Agony. Unspeakable Agony that gripped me. The Grief pulled at every muscle, distorting my face. I was caught in the avalanche. I had fallen off the cliff. A tornado had come through. And it was all gone. Utterly ruined. Devastation. There I was. Surrounded by the broken pieces of my broken life. And I was trapped in the torrents of emotions, under siege by the carnage without and the turmoil within.

We started making arrangements for the funeral. I was feeling so many different emotions that it was difficult to distinguish them all. Let alone try to articulate them to anyone. Much less, actually understand them. I was fuming mad at Dean. I had so wanted to sit down with him and talk to him about what he wanted for his funeral. I wanted him to write letters to the boys. I wanted him to talk to the boys. He just couldn’t accept that he was leaving us. That didn’t help me though, I was so angry at him. Dammit Dean. Anxiety and the stomach knots were still compounding. Sickening. Oddly it felt like I couldn’t properly grieve until he was in the ground. Knowing that he was just laying on a table somewhere still gave me a great deal of uncertainty. As though he might just sit up again and come home. The idea haunted me. The life we’d been living was so tormenting. It wasn’t life, it was torture. My worst nightmare is that it would continue, unending.

I booked my tickets back to America only shortly after Dean’s passing. In the days that followed. It wasn’t even a decision I had to make, I knew I had to leave Esperance. As it was, whenever I left the house, I felt that I had no privacy. No room to navigate these emotions freely. I felt I was being watched and talked about. Living in a fishbowl. It’s not that people were being rude and judgmental, well, not all of them. They were genuinely concerned and I’m sure just wanted to know how I was coping. The last thing I wanted was an audience of onlookers with their opinions and suggestions. Well meaning as they may have been. I could not wait to leave.

Tensions still ran high between family members. It was all so raw. We were all in so much pain. We were all so sensitive. And all of us could only see things through our own point of view.

My computer became my bedtime companion. I would fall asleep next to my laptop, listening to music, looking at photos. Wake up next to it. It was warm. It didn’t judge me. It didn’t give me unimpressive backward glances or silent disapproval. It was impartial. And always there. And as such, it was a lifeline for me. And a place that I could communicate with the few people in my life that actually understood to some degree what I was feeling. People that I could be honest with. People that I could swear to. Tell them how angry I was at Dean. Tell them how sexually frustrated I was being married to a man with terminal illness. How judged I felt. How misunderstood. How much I wanted a new life. I could tell them how much I fucking hated fucking cancer. And the fucking hospital. And the fucking drugs. And just fucking all of it. I loved those that didn’t try to fix me. Preach at me. Give me a bible verse. Tell me that I shouldn’t swear so much. They just loved me. They listened. They were empathetic and compassionate. They made me laugh. They laughed at my dark humor. They were there. I knew they were for me. They helped put me at ease. I didn’t have many of these friends, but the ones I had became more precious than the rarest treasure. They kept me going. They kept me alive. They kept me sane.

I put together a garage sale. I sold most of our furniture and belongings for whatever price I could get for it. It felt good. It felt good to be packing and selling and doing something. Like at least I was moving forward in some sort of way with some sort of plan.

Anxiety continued to advance territory.

The day of the funeral came. It was drizzly and cold. It was fitting. Like Esperance itself was weeping for Dean. I wanted to get it over with. To do what had to be done. I was a broken pot trying to hold my shape. I couldn’t fall apart here. Not now. You’re almost there, Cassi. Almost there.

It was a full house and the service was long. We wanted to pay him proper tribute, and that took time. I was happy with how it all came together. I wasn’t at ease though. I can’t explain what it’s like sitting in a room with your husband in a coffin. It’s surreal. I was still falling off that cliff. Still mid air. I felt at any moment he would pop out of the coffin and the nightmare would go on and on and on.

You thought that this would end Cassi, but it won’t. You’ll never move on.

Haunted. These thoughts like bats swooped.

I gave my speech.

Dean Mack,

You changed my life. Before you… there was just me…I thought I had my plans, my path I had set before me. Then suddenly you were there; this amazing handsome rugged Australian man… full of life, laughter, and love. You had a way with people that’s hard to describe, you could win anyone over with your jesting, teasing, and charm. I could not pretend that you had no effect on me, because, truthfully, your eyes saw into the depths of my heart. And although I was young, and fickle, and against the advice of others… you took a chance on me… you reached for my hand and made me your wife. You challenged me, encouraged me, lead me, taught me … taught me patience, kindness, friendship, and compromise… taught me how to listen without judgement, how to love without fear, and live without worry. You taught me how to enjoy moments, make memories, and seize the day. You taught me faithfulness, loyalty, and strength. You are the strongest and most loving person I’ve ever known. I am so sorry, my love, that you suffered so much. I am so sorry that you had to leave the boys and I before you wanted to. Thank you for fighting so hard to stay here with us, as the doctor said, it is the ultimate act of love. I am so happy that you are free now. Healed. Restored. I’m going to miss you, your voice, your laugh, … you’ve been my everything for so long…

Until we meet again… Cass

There is a reason that grief comes in waves. If you experience the whole lot at once, it will kill you. Simply. If I were to feel all of the emotion of losing Dean on that day, they could have dug a hole for me as well.

I was relieved when the funeral service ended and they put the coffin into the hearse. I knew this day would come. God had been preparing me for this day for a long time. My dad, Ginny, the boys and I all went together in the car that followed behind. We drove in her shadow. As she carried my love to his early resting place. As she had been so eager to do for so long.

Maddox said, “Mommy, is God going to give us a new daddy?”

Tears filled my eyes and I turned away from him. I couldn’t answer. I hope one day my love, I hope one day.

We pulled into the cemetery. People were streaming in. Black jackets, boots, umbrellas, lots of familiar faces. The day was as dreary and bitterly cold as ever. We drove all the way in, following behind the hearse. God help me do this. This is where it ends. And something else begins.

It was odd burying Dean. Maybe it’s because I felt like I had lost him so long before that day. I had been grieving the man I had married, the fun, outgoing, healthy man I once knew, for a long time. Felt like he’d been gone for years. So the funeral…felt late.

They rested Dean’s coffin on wood planks above the fresh hole that had been dug for him. There was a large mound of sand next to it. There must have been some prayers or something said, I can’t remember. I just remember when the pole bearers started lowering him into the ground. Their faces strained by the agony of the mortal goodbye. Knowing that you’ll never see your loved one on this earth again. The dam of uncertainty that held my tears was nearly ready to give way. After Dean was lowered into the ground and they started putting handfuls of sand over the top of him, the dam could no longer contend with the pressure. Deep, heaving sobs surfaced. My dear friend, Cindy, hugged me as the reality sunk in. He’s gone, it’s over. He’s really gone. It’s really over. He’s not coming back. It’s done. Dean. My Dean. My lover. My husband. The father of my children. That body that I know so well. It’s lying lifeless in a hole. In a grave. My husband is in a grave. Oh my Lord. Dean is in a grave. He’s gone. He’s gone.  The claw of Anguish dug its nails in deeper and deeper.

People started to line up. They hugged me. One at a time. Offering their condolences. Is this what people do at funerals? I hadn’t been to very many. So much love from so many people. All with such sincerity. I could tell that they felt for me. It truly brought me comfort.

Praise God for the innocence of children. The boys were playing with their two cousins on the mound of sand next to the hole for Dean’s grave. My stomach kept doing flips looking at them. Afraid that one of them might fall in. They were just being children. They weren’t yoked with the burden of expectation. They didn’t know that you aren’t supposed to “play” at a graveside. You aren’t supposed to have “fun” and be “happy.” It gave me hope though. These children are playing on their father’s grave, there must be hope for our future.

Maddox came over to me, “Mommy, daddy’s not down there.” He pointed at the coffin in the hole. “He’s up there.” He pointed to the sky.

Praise the Lord. My son knows. He knows where his dad is. His daddy is in heaven. Not gone. Not lost. Just in another place. Another realm. A far better place. Far away from sickness and hospital walls. Where Invisible Beasts are not permitted. 

“That’s right, my love. That’s right.” I squeezed him. I have to keep going for my boys. They are my reason. My reason to keep going. For them. I’m all they have now. Oh Dean. How am I going to do this? Why did you leave me? Why did you have to go?

The mind tries to comprehend death, but it cannot. Our minds are not programmed to be able to understand it. We were never meant to endure it. This is Dean’s hometown? He was born here? He was here before? How is he gone now? How can he be gone?

I had known that he would be going for so long. I had seen it coming a long way off. And in the end, I ushered it in. I knew it was time. I knew it had to happen. But now that he was gone, I was left with all the questions.

God…why?