We stood watching on my front deck as the second ambulance arrived across the street. My erratic neighbor shouted up to me, “IT LOOKS LIKE YOUR HUSBAND!”
No one ever believes anything he says but then I realized I had not seen Mike since he left the beach about 45 minutes ago. We had been having a lovely conversation with an older woman who thought we were a Friday evening senior citizen group. He was charming and engaged her with questions about the winters that she spends in Key West in an RV. I had left them to help my friend take a panoramic photo of the awe inspiring simultaneous sunset and full moon rise.
When I returned back to my dusk ladened circle of friends, Mike had left. The rest of us packed up the chairs, towels and coolers and headed back to my second floor front deck before the gnats got too hungry on the beach.
While this neighbor may not be that reliable, I quickly left the deck and ran to find Mike. He must be in the den watching T.V. in his favorite green chair. When he wasn’t there I skipped steps up to our bedroom where my bed was eerily still made. It wasn’t unusual for him to make an “Irish exit” and head off to bed without telling anyone, but there was no sign of him.
By the time I got back to the deck the first ambulance was leaving and the DJ had started playing music again for the people at the party across the street. Doug and Karen, my next door neighbors who were still on my deck, told me to get in their car. Off we sped to the hospital.
Karen held my hand and attempted to reassure me as I squeezed her fingers. We rushed into the ER and gave reception the name of our beach community house where the ambulance had come from. They directed us to a room and I told Doug to go in first while Karen and I held onto each other.
I recognized the doctor who had been in the ambulance. I had taught his son kindergarten 15 years ago. I asked “what happened?” He stopped, shocked to recognize me. He replied, “we couldn’t get his heart started”. Then he walked away.
Doug came out of the room and nodded to us. We all walked in together, the 2 of them supporting me. I saw my husband laying on the table. He was still barefoot and in his bathing suit. He had his faded blue t-shirt on and it was definitely his face with the scruffy gray, been vacationing for 2 weeks, bearded look. As I walked closer I was relieved to see that his eyes were open. I thought he must be OK. But as I touched his arm, and felt that reassuring bicep muscle that always made me feel safe, I noticed his eyes were open, but he wasn’t really there.
Why was he not moving? Why was there a big bump on his head and bloody scrapes on his knees? This could not be happening, I yelled, “WAKE UP!”
Late that evening, after I had left the hospital and my family had gathered around me, I was confused to hear more details of that evening. The police had met us at the hospital and told us they would be coming by my house later. An investigation had begun outside the party house by the beach. Witnesses were being questioned. It was going to be a long night.
Once home I made the most difficult phone call of my life. My 18 year old son was away at college – far away in another state. He had only been there for one week.
When I called, his phone had died so I went to voice mail. I called the dorm. I asked the R.A. to have him call me as soon as he got home. When he called back I told him that his father had died. It was cardiac arrest.
We just had not understood why his heart had stopped, until the next day.
Video evidence later would show that 2 men attacked my husband at this party. He had gone over to use the bathroom at the beach community house. Apparently he walked through the party area where food was being served and these men had pushed him out. An altercation ensued and the 2 men were taped sitting on my husband.
When he stopped moving, they had left him, lying on the ground next to a group of 16 year olds eating dinner. No one helped him. Twenty minutes later 911 was called and responded to the party. Although efforts were made, the EMTs could not get his heart started. His time of death was recorded in the hospital.
Rumors arose that the 2 men who attacked my husband were connected somehow with the local police. No arrests were made. The next day it was as if nothing had happened.
Mike’s brother and I pursued a wrongful death lawsuit against the 2 men. The civil suit took almost 3 years. I had to relive that night over and over again. In the end I was awarded some money. Having 2 sons in college and now running my household on only one income was challenging. I am glad that we went through the process. We won. But it was difficult.
Five years later I still suffer from unexpected grief triggers, especially when it comes to reports of police brutality and corruption.
You can runaway for a while, but it still hits you like a knockout punch at times. Grief may never go away. We just can’t live in it.
Sometimes we just need to remember the ones we’ve lost.