We made it to the house we’ve rented in The Keys. I listen to the excited voices of Ray and our friends. I feel nothing except lost. It’s been one month and eleven days since you left. My life has become a before and after movie. I replay the scenes over and over in my mind. Searching for that missing piece. Still not able to believe you are gone. Life before you died was full of hope. Full of promises and joy. Dreams of your future, a wedding and grandchildren washed away with the outgoing tide. Life now is unbearable. This pain is constant, crushing my shattered heart.
The house is beautiful. The perfect location. I find myself going through the motions of living. I find my mask and secure it to my face. Trying desperately to hide my grief. I listen to Ray and our friends. Smiles and plans of sunshine filled days. Kayaking and biking. Everything I once loved to do in this beautiful place brings no joy. I am numb. The walking dead.
Sleep continues to elude me. I toss and turn listening to the sounds of the sea. I lay in the dark silently crying. I wonder where you are. I wonder if you know that you’re gone. I wonder how I will every survive the rest of my life.
Days are spent pretending I’m ok. I find myself drawn to the back of the house. The turquoise sea surrounds me. The sun kisses my cold skin with warmth. Nothing can penetrate the ice surrounding my soul. I stare out at the beautiful water and remember your smiling face. I look for signs of your presence. I think of this trip. The planning. The joy. The excitement I would feel at seeing you again. I close my eyes and see us walking together by the sea as we’ve done so many times before. I feel like I’m trapped in a nightmare. This did not happen. You could not be gone. My mind has become an enemy. Never quiet. Always replaying the scenes from our journey. Forcing me to relive every moment. Every decision, every fight. I constantly rethink every little thing. Hindsight continues to slap my face. I beg for a redo. I beg to wake up. I beg for this to be a horrible mistake.
I sit in the warmth of the sun thinking of how things should be. You should be spending the day at the beach enjoying your new life and I should be the happiest mom on earth. You told me how blessed you were to be living by the sea. I felt that blessing spread to me thinking you found your peace and I could finally take a breath. Try to pray. There is nothing left to pray for. My years of prayers went unanswered. I feel abandoned by God.
I’m surrounded by beauty but all I can think of is you. I stare out at the sea and remember the words. Those words that pierced my soul spoken by the man I trusted to keep you safe. “People die here everyday”. Those words run through my head like hot lava spitting from a volcano. Smoldering and destroying everything in its way. Were you not a human being? A wonderful man with a horrible disease. A loving son and brother or were you just a meal ticket for this man who tossed you away? The more I remember those words, his I could care less attitude, his I’m too busy to talk about Matt when he finally returned my call, the more I want to scream.
I feel my grief changing. I feel the hopelessness starting to fade. An ember has started and a raging fire has erupted in my soul. Who the hell does J think he is? How can the state of Florida think that running sober living homes like he obviously does is acceptable? What happened to you will never be right with me. Florida, you pissed off the wrong mom.
My first call is to the Florida Office of the Attorney General. I filed my complaint on the website but that is not enough for me. I want to talk to this woman. I want her to know what is going on in her state. I want her to know that parasites are making a living off addicts. I want her to know that your mother is outraged and won’t accept your death quietly.
My next call is to The Department of Health and Human Services. Next the Governor’s Office. Your story is being told. Tears and sobs escape with each phone call. They are listening. I feel a strength come over my being. Like you are here rooting me on. I owe this to you. I let you down. I live with regret everyday. I had no idea you were flying into a death trap when I bought your ticket to Florida. Now you are gone and I’m left behind. The lone wingman. The one Musketeer. You and I had a bond like none other. A bond that even your death cannot sever. Memories of you flood my mind and break my heart. Your laugh, your smile forever tucked safely away in my heart.
My ringing phone brings me back to reality. Your story found it’s way to FARR. Florida Association of Recovery Residences. They have begun the battle against the J’s. Those who prey on the people coming to Florida for help. We plan to keep in touch.
Our time here is over and I’m torn. I want to go home and I want to stay. A piece of my heart will remain in Florida. Because of you I have a permanent bond with this state. There is so much left for me to do. I feel your spirit. Your energy by the sea. I close my eyes and see you standing on the beach you loved. One of your last pictures before you died. Joy radiating from your face. Happiness finally found you only to be brutally ripped away. You deserved so much more.
Its cold and grey when we land in Philly. The weather mimics my soul. We pull into the garage. The house is silent. There are no wet noses or wagging tales. No “Hey Mom, Welcome Home”. Just a dead silence that takes my breath away. I drop my bags on the floor. The memories of another homecoming flood my brain. You were there. The dogs on your heels. Hugs and kisses. Barking and wagging. You were so proud of how you cleaned the house. I remember your beaming smile, “Mom, everything’s done”. “No dishes or dog hair”. I remember your laugh. “Bet your surprised”.
The cold slap of reality brings me back. I am home and you are gone.