Trigger warning: Strong emotional content and suicide method mentioned.
Charles, who suffered from anxiety and depression and ultimately addiction had been from detox to rehab to a sober house. After rehab he looked great. I call this “Saturday Charles.” He then went to the sober house but relapsed the next morning by walking downtown and buying heroin. We can only imagine he got money from his room at home on the way to the recovery house. The policy at the sober house was that if you went to detox for three days, you could then come back. But once Charles checked in at detox, he saw a friend and left. For two weeks we didn’t know where he was. Communication was spotty during that time.
It’s Thursday, June 4th and I am at a board retreat. I feel awful all day. I try to get involved to keep my mind off Charles where he might be–or is he close to asking for help. Nobody here knows how tortured and isolated I feel.
What was that phone conversation yesterday about? Why can’t I figure it out? Should I leave and call him back? Is Randy right and he’s hitting rock bottom and we can go get him this weekend and take him back to detox? I want to believe that. But it doesn’t feel right. I’m uncomfortable even itchy. I leave after the retreat but early.
As I get in my car, I call Charles. It’s 4 pm. No answer. This is not unusual. But this time, I feel like I want to throw up. I stare at the phone in shock. Something is not right and my mouth goes dry and panic seizes my heart and my senses.
I calm myself. I have to go home and take the dog out. Randy is out of town and likely to be home late. I don’t know who to call or what to do. I am confused, lonely and teary. And panicked. Something isn’t right.
I arrive home and while looking out the back door over the deck and I feel something move through my body and something tight on my shoulders particularly on the left side and I think, “Oh my God, Charles is here!” I turn around and see nothing. Fright fills my lungs. This is so strange. No one is there except the dog who is freaking out.
I immediately search the house. I am sure he is here or was here but there is no sign of that. He has not been here after all. Am I losing it? Will I be able to hold it together until Randy comes home from his business trip?
Then all of a sudden my husband walks through the door earlier than expected and I feel momentary relief from this foreboding feeling.
We decide to go eat at Brio at StonyPoint. My insides are like a washrag being rung out. I don’t even know if I will be able to eat. Worried, my mouth goes dry again and that sense of rising panic makes my nerves feel rigid and electrified.
We arrive at Brio and order our food. We talk about Charles and discuss the next move. We’re both very tense and then Randy gets a call on his cell phone.
Real fear grips me and my breath is suspended. This phone call can’t be good and as soon as he hangs up there is a nagging feeling that something is about to change. Randy tells me that it’s the Richmond Police and they are at our house and want to talk to us.
Randy says he thinks Charles is in trouble again. I buy that for a second and relief allows me to breathe again. My mind starts to work. Why would Richmond Police come visit our home in Chesterfield if they arrested Charles? He’s 20 so they’d just throw him in jail and not call us. Randy says they are coming to meet us in the Brio parking lot.
I freeze and go completely cold, my skin goes prickly and my mind floats. The overwhelming sense of dread and fear grips me so hard it slows my movements. My brain is floating and untethered.
I touch Randy’s elbow and I say, “You don’t think…” and he says, “I think so.” Randy then rejects that scenario. He talks up other scenarios it could be. But I already know. Randy leaves to go to the bathroom. He’s pacing when he comes back.
I am silent. They are coming to tell me my child is dead.
I sit there in disbelief. The bartender comes up and asks us if we want our food to go and I say yes. I pay. Randy gets the phone call they are there and he makes it out there so much faster than me. I am moving in slow motion.
I see the car from the side–one plainclothes officer in the car, the other standing by the back door. The one standing by the back door opens the door of an unmarked police vehicle for me. I am shaking and I yell out, “You’ve come to tell me that my child is dead!”
I don’t want to go over there. If I don’t go, maybe it won’t be true.
But I cross the street and get in the car. The officer who opened the door for me doesn’t get in, leaving us with the one officer in the driver’s seat. My worst ever nightmare can’t have come true. It can’t! My first wail of agony escapes and I die inside.
I quiet myself.
I am shaking and my brain is begging for him to be in the hospital and not dead. Then I’m quaking and looking at this officer turned sideways, my heart praying he is alive. He starts talking, “I have some sad news to share. Your son, Charles, has been found dead this morning on Monument Avenue.”
Nooooooooo! We both scream agonizing wails of agony. My whole world crashes around me and I feel like I’m having an out of body experience. This can’t be me sitting there hearing this. He talks to us some more and I can’t quite remember what it was or what order it was in. I am crumbling.
Then Randy asks, “How did he die?” I am prepared to hear, “overdose.” But then the policeman says, “He hung himself,” and Randy starts banging his fists on the glove compartment and I stare in shock sure I have not heard him correctly. I just stare at my husband’s emotional explosion.
“What?” That statement won’t wedge itself into my head. Did he say a hanging? Like a suicide? I feel this extra cruel twist of a knife in my heart that burns it hurts so bad. Physically.
Then I wail so loud I’m sure everyone in the area can hear me. Of course, I don’t think or care about that. I’m trying to pull it together to ask questions but my mouth is bone dry, everything hurts and my head is pounding. My brain can’t form the questions. We both scream and wail.
I want to escape this pain. Anything– but it’s everywhere, I can’t escape. It surrounds me and I go numb.
The officer in the vehicle is trying to hold himself together. He’s gentle, empathetic and soft-spoken. He tells us he has a 20-year-old son, too and he can’t imagine hearing this news. He says that it’s an apartment where a lot of addicts come and go. He tells us that addiction is a horrible illness and he’s never seen an epidemic like this. He is so sorry to deliver such devastating news. And he hands us a card with his phone number.
At random I think about Charles’ curly locks. I’ll never see him again. Then I realize, it was him today at the house only it wasn’t the physical Charles I was used to. It was his spirit passing through me, hugging me, telling me goodbye, the dog running in circles confused and dazed.
We tell the officers we want to drive home. We have to convince them. We don’t want anyone with us right now, naked in our pain. I feel so raw. We pull it together long enough to make the 20-minute drive home. Longest. Drive. Ever. I’m whimpering but not wailing.
I need to hold it together for my husband’s sake since he’s behind the wheel. What do we do? I don’t know what to do. I have a list. Really? I do. I remember the list–just a 1, 2, 3 that says what I should do if Charles dies.
When did I do this? February? I figured if I made this list to quiet that nagging premonition, it was like carrying an umbrella. If you have that umbrella, it won’t rain. But it did rain. He did die.
We come home and collapse on the floor. The dog panics. He knows we are in despair. I remember that last call from Charles just yesterday. He was calling for help and I missed it! I missed it! Damn it he was suicidal. I heard despair and I didn’t fathom suicide. It was never a scenario in my mind. It just wasn’t. Nobody ever talks about suicide! Never a mention.
This is the worst night of my life. My vision blurs and I feel like someone else is inhabiting my body because none of this seems real. I tell myself that as bad as this is, nothing will be worse than hearing the news. That part is over, right?
I ache. I am so thirsty. Charles’ girlfriend calls me. I try to pull it together. I ask her to pull over and she screams, “tell me.” But she does pull over. Her wails and pain sear through me. I swear I feel her pain, too. I hear this poor girl blaming herself. I beg her to call her Dad and I lose it again. It can’t be real.
Then I think, “Who found him? When did they find him?” That last text that said, “I have to tell you something.” But he didn’t tell me anything. Why not? I remember I told him I loved him. Thank God. I did tell him that. I get the overwhelming feeling that my life will never be the same.
How will I ever live with this?
I just will. I just will. I have to.
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