Looking back, I should have seen the signs. He was drinking more. He wasn’t sleeping. When he was, he crashed in the other room.
Just before Thanksgiving in the year 2000, M’s father told me he wouldn’t be coming with us to my cousin’s house, where we’d planned to spend the holiday. Instead, he wanted to stay in Manhattan with his sisters on Thanksgiving, something he hadn’t done for more than a decade. Looking back now, he was probably planning his big exit. He was probably mapping out the details to catch a plane.
We’d been having a rough time together –I was your classic codependent living with an alcoholic. I’d thought that a couple of days apart would do us good.
The morning before Thanksgiving, Eric took the baby and me to Penn Station, as planned. He walked us to the train, gave us each a quick peck on the cheek, and stepped away just as the doors were closing.
That was the last time we saw him.
From my cousin’s home, I’d called our apartment. There was no answer. As I left a message, giving him our arrival time, I had a bad feeling. During the three-hour train ride back to NYC, my bad feeling got worse.
When we got off the train, he wasn’t there. I called Eric’s sister, and she told me he hadn’t shown up for Thanksgiving. My head started to throb. Something was wrong.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “I’ll call Joseph and tell him to come and get you.”
Joseph was Eric’s older brother, the dependable one in their family. Though I’d met him only a handful of times, he had always been interested in how Eric, M, and I were doing. And I suspect he knew that things were not going well. He arrived within a half hour, embracing M with one hand and patting me on the shoulder with the other. He scooped up M’s car seat and our suitcase and said, “C’mon girls, let’s go.”
When we arrived at our apartment, I was certain Eric would be there. With M on my hip, I rushed from room to room, looking for a clue, a note, anything that said why he wasn’t there. All of his clothes were gone. But he’d left the photos of M and him. He’d left his carpentry
tools, too. This meant he was coming back, right?
It would take a year for it to finally sink in: he wasn’t coming home.
Traditionally, Thanksgiving has been tough for me. I feel endlessly grateful for M — and for my family and friends.
But I wonder: how do you remember a life toss-up like this one? I certainly don’t feel sorry for myself. But it’s not like I find myself celebrating, either. Maybe I should?
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