I passed by a restaurant called Croaker’s Spot today and it triggered a Charles memory I had forgotten.
My husband and I were dining at this popular Southern eatery when we got a call from Charles.
He was lost. That was not a shock. Charles had a lousy sense of direction and he couldn’t find his way out of a cardboard box with a GPS. The trouble was, he could not tell us exactly where he was and he texted us the wrong address and we ended up in a parking lot searching for him. We called and called. No answer. Where was he?
We sat there confused and worried.
Finally, he answered the phone. It was pouring– raining so hard the rain drops banged against the windshield like rocks and there was little visibility. We were still trying to discern where he was and his location was not clear but finally he identified Huguenot High School and we told him to pull into the driveway in front. Bingo. Finally.
We made the twenty minute drive from the west end school where we thought he was to the Southside school where he sat in the car waiting in the rain in the car. By the time we got there, the rain drops were falling so hard and slanted I got soaked going the five feet from the passenger side of my husband’s car to Charles’ car even with a rain coat. I expressed how relieved I was to find him and resisted giving him grief for giving us the runaround for an hour. What good would that do? For some reason I had been hyper alarmed.
He took off like a rocket which made me gasp. And he chastised me for it. That’s when I noticed how moody he was. His driving was erratic and I was to trying to give him directions since he was not familiar with that part of town. He would yell and I strained to maintain calm and thought my life depended on me staying that way. And it did.
We merged onto the highway and I noticed he was hardly better at merge lanes than when he took driving lessons years before. And Charles had driving lessons three times, two of which were private.
I was wondering what was the matter. He was overly anxious and his driving was so frightening I hugged the passenger side door afraid to say anything and upset him more. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Was it the weather? The fact he’d spent an hour lost?
The weather was bad and it was scary but he was riding so close to the shoulder of the road like a fifteen year old who’d never been behind the wheel of a car. The painted stripes and even the few reflectors on the road were not visible and we would hit the speed bumps on the edge of the road meant to wake up drivers who fell asleep when veering off. The zrrooom sound of the bumps on the shoulder unnerved me so it was hard to suppress my reacting to it. I was in fear of triggering his anger further.
Randy must have gotten home by now and he called. Charles could hear so I didn’t want to sound distressed but I wanted to shout, “Call 911.” Only no one was hurt yet but I was sure I was going to die, that this was my last car ride ever and the rain was falling so hard it was almost impossible to see the bridge over the reservoir and I was sure we were just going to drive into the water.
I was so terrified both by Charles’ odd behavior and the storm drowning out the road. But to be honest, it was my son’s anger and hyper anxiety that had me locked in my own prison of terror as I struggled to maintain a calm exterior which was hardly demonstrated by my holding onto the car door like a life raft. I was not convincing anyone least of all Charles.
Somehow we got home alive and I leapt from the car and ran inside like I was running from a crazed gunman. He was none of that. But seeing my child in such an altered state, the likes of which I could not identify, turned my innocent date night out with my husband into a horror show.
As soon as I got in I told Randy about it. Charles was still erratic but had calmed down. I wanted to avoid him. I wanted to wrap myself in a huge blanket of denial and bury myself under the covers. No questions were asked and I just went to bed.
It was only much later after his suicide that I put the pieces together. Charles had been down at the studio recording his album. But he had left there and I assume he went to score heroin before coming home. His habit had been to text the dealer to deliver to our driveway. On this occasion, he must have picked up his heroin like you would a hamburger at a fast food restaurant. This was before we knew he was addicted. I think he took the hit (he snorted it) and then got lost driving back. This was months before we’d find out he was addicted. I wonder how many times we dismissed obvious signs. One because we didn’t know the signs and two because we didn’t want to know.
That would explain his wild eyed stare, erratic behavior.
No one was killed that night. No one else on the road died that night because of us. I am grateful for that. I had buried that memory but it snapped back today like a rubber band and hit me in the heart.