Matt. The day is finally here. The day I looked forward to for months. The day I’d be able to hug you again. To visit your new life. To see your handsome face and see that famous grin. I counted down the days for months. The tickets were bought before you left me behind. This trip we planned and I looked so forward to now filled with agony and despair.
Counting down the days until February 10th. You remember. Ray and I were flying down to Boca to spend the week with you before heading to The Keys. You and I would walk on your beach. I planned on stocking you up before we left. Going to the grocery store and buying all your favorites. Plans forming in my mind. Lunches and dinners together. Seeing where you called home. Meeting your friends. You were going to take us to meet your boss. You were going to show us around Boca. I felt like a kid on Christmas morning. Anticipating how I would feel seeing you in person after six long months.
Now, I’m dreading this trip. I will be going to Boca, but not to see you. This trip has turned into a nightmare. You are no longer there. Your cold body flew home on a snowy January night. Your urn sits on my mantel along with every picture I could copy off your Facebook page. My joy shattered. My original plans blown away on that cold January day.
Ray and I head to the airport. The silence is deafening. There are no words. Nothing can be said to erase this ache in my heart. Tears flow as I try to tell myself to be strong. I need to do this for you. One final act of love. I must retrace your steps. I must hear your story. I must bring home whatever you left behind. It’s all I have left of you. The remnants of your life cut short by the disease that killed us both.
The airport is crowded with smiling faces. Families waiting to fly off to warmer climates. I watch and have to fight the screams trying to escape my soul. My brain replaying your flight home. The cancelations, the delays, the endless wait to see if that body was really you. Denial was my savior until I saw you with my own eyes. Your still, cold body. Until I touched your face and ran my fingers through your hair my fantasy of a mistake allowed me to function.
Our flight is called. We stand in line waiting to board. I feel like I’m being led to a slaughter. People rush past. I’m struggling through the quicksand that surrounds my body. Fighting to put one foot in front of the other to board the flight into the nightmare that has become my life.
We are seated. I’m struggling for air. Ray senses my distress and grabs my hand. In my mind I’m running up the aisle. Screaming to be let off this flight. This is not the way things were supposed to be. Suddenly we are airborne. My throat is closing. My heart is racing. Ray adjusts the air above my head. Sobs are escaping. Racking my body. I dream of disappearing.
Landing in Ft. Lauderdale we are met by friends. They supported you on your journey and were the first ones who came running when the news of your death spread. A cloudless, blue sky greets us. The day is sunny and warm. My body is freezing. My swollen eyes are hidden behind dark glasses. Even the warmth of the sun can not penetrate the ice that surrounds my soul.
Foolishly, I allow myself the fantasy. You are waiting for us. I imagine how you would look. I scan the crowd for you. I imagine your face, your smile, the sound of your voice. I crave being wrapped in your hug. Oh God, please help me walk through this hell that has become my life. Tears run down my face as the over whelming waves of reality hit me in my gut. You are not here.
The Boca Raton Police Station is located in the heart of Boca. We pull into the parking lot. I feel the grief grabbing my throat. I am silently being strangled. I am telling myself to get out of the car. My legs have turned to rubber as I struggle to move toward the door. The door that will lead me to the truth. The door that contains the information that will yield the final blow to my heart.
We are met by the detective assigned to your case. I find it hard to make eye contact. His eyes are full of pity. His eyes were the last ones to see your lifeless body. His eyes and hands touched you before I knew you were gone. I want to reach out and touch his hand to my face. I want to connect to this man who covered your handsome face in that hotel room.
He shares the facts of your last hours on earth. He tells of your relapse. Your distress. Your being dumped at a hotel by the man who cashed my checks and lied to me about keeping you safe. I sit there listening and feel a power come into my being. The more I hear, the more I want to know. Grief is replaced with anger. I want to hear the ugly, dirty details of how you were tossed away like a piece of garbage. How instead of getting you to safety, this man disregarded your distress and left you to die. I feel you there. Giving me strength. Pointing me to this new journey. My wingman, now my angel guiding me along this unfamiliar, jagged, ugly path.
Your possessions are now brought into the room. Paper bags marked evidence hold the last of you. My hand shakes violently as I try to sign the release form. My signature unrecognizable and damp with my tears. There is nothing left to tell.
The sun blinds my swollen eyes. I get into the backseat and hug your clothing to my heart. Sobs come as my dam breaks. My anger replaced with overwhelming pain.
Our next stop is Deerfield Beach. Crossing the bridge from Boca to Deerfield, I hear your voice. You could not hide your excitement. “Mom, I found a job”. “I’m going to be welding”. “Got hired on the spot.” I could see your smile over the phone. The pride returning to your voice. Your excitement found it’s way to my heart. Oh God, thank you. My prayers answered.
The stopping car brings me back to reality. I take a deep breath and walk into the door of Precision Aluminum. We are greeted by your boss who’s face says it all. Still shocked that you are gone. He walks us through the shop and shows us where you spent your days. He tells us what a great guy you were. How you fit right in and felt like one of the family. He tells us how your death has deeply affected your co-workers. I am numb. I picture you sitting on your bench. You posted pics of you wearing your welding mask that proud smile spreading across your face. Your head wrapped in your trademark bandana. My fantasy interrupted by his voice. He takes us outside and shows us your car. He tells us he admired you riding your bike miles to get to work. After riding through several soaking rainstorms he offered you a car. I remember seeing your first post. You standing in front of this beautiful Camaro. You called her your baby. A sob escapes as I open the door and see your shirt hanging over the back seat. Your bandana tied around the mirror. I am no longer in control. The sobs of a wounded animal escape my soul. My brain losing the fight to keep me sane.
Ray leads me to the car. I am gone. I hold your bandana to my face. Steel and sweat fill my senses. Your smell finds its way to my shattered soul. Your scent so welcome, I clutch all I have left to my heart and try to silence my screams.
We head to the beach you loved. The one you told me so much about. Spending weekends hanging out with friends. Swimming in the warm surf. I picture you walking toward me as I walk alone. I need to be where you were. I need to feel the sand that you felt and walk into the surf where you played. I need to feel you. My grief, now as powerful as the surf begins to pound my brain and is slowly transforming into anger.
I google the address where you lived. I picture myself walking up to the man who tossed you away like a piece of trash. I want him to see my face. I want him to meet your mother in the flesh. The women who believed his lies and signed the checks. I want to dare him to say the ugly words he spoke as I sobbed. I want him to repeat what he told me when he finally had the balls to respond to my screaming messages. I want him to look at your broken mom and tell me that “People die here everyday”. Those words forever branded in my brain. People like you. Those he vowed to help. His so called clients not worthy of saving. I picture myself squeezing his throat. I want him to know how I feel everyday. I want him to experience the terror of not being able to catch your breath. I want to watch the color drain from his face. I want my face to be the last thing he sees as I say your name.
I am out of control. Ray has called ahead knowing that I am breaking. We are leaving Boca ahead of schedule. I can take no more.
We hit the seven mile bridge. I open my eyes. I’m surrounded by a turquoise sea. I hold tight to your shirt, roll down my window and drink in the sea air. I am physically broken, mentally spent. I look ahead at the vastness surrounding me and feel you with me. “Hey Mom, are we there yet?” You were always in such a hurry to reach our next destination. “Mom, how much longer?” I see you as a little boy always curious. Your little tow head in my rearview mirror. Oh Matt, I am so lost. I have no idea where I am going. Where my next journey will lead. Right now I need to learn to breath. To learn to accept the ending to your journey. I close my eyes and hear the gulls crying. I listen and hear your name.