Chapter III: Life After Mr. Wonderful: Reflecting on What I Couldn’t Make Up For (His Parents)

It’s been over seven months. My Mr. Wonderful exited this world on November 7, 2017 and I have been in a semi-productive, semi-coherent, semi-realistic state since. I wish I could explain my thought process and where I’m at in my grief, but I really just can’t. I simply exist.

I remember. I continue. I grieve.

Almost nothing about my life since my husband killed himself is the same. There are moments, moments when I recognize my actions as those uniquely mine, when I remember who I was before I met him. And there are moments when I reflect upon who I’ve become, who is very different from the person I was when he and I first met.

I like to think, and believe it to be true, that the person Rob fell in love with back in 2004 is more closely aligned with who I am today, more so than the person I was after we met and up until his death. This truth makes me sad and proud at the same time because it reminds me of what I’m capable of but also what I lost for so many years.

I am and always have been comfortable with the idea that my situation is largely dependent upon me. I never could and would not rely on someone else to make my future. Hence, when I was a single mother at 24 I went back to college and busted my ass to make sure that a) I met my own criteria for success and b) my young son saw me do it.

After college I had a great career, one I earned with hard work and brain power. I had moved away from my hometown, which allowed me to earn my reputation (good or bad) on  my own merit instead of my family name. In my new surroundings and in my position I had risen to a role many would envy. It was at this point I decided that I was ready to meet my match.

And within a month I met Rob.

“From 35,000 feet I see a woman who  made her own way and is raising a great kid,” I remember Rob saying soon after we met. Full of confidence, I knew he was right. And I knew I was worthy of him.

And then life happened. I married him. I loved him without end. He traveled. I wanted to prove that his needs were paramount (something not easy when raising a son who deserved everything I had to give), and I made it work. When my son spent every other weekend at his dad’s house, I devoted my time to my husband, who traveled for work almost exclusively. Eventually I left my job, because (and I remember saying this time and again to friends who were curious), “When it comes to my career or my marriage, I choose my marriage.”

Conversely, I remember my mother reminding me that my future was my responsibility. “Take care of yourself, honey,” she said, “Make sure you’re protected.” I scoffed. “His future is my future,” I remember thinking.

Aside from my undying love and devotion, I felt like I could give Rob a sense of family, which was something he never had. His mother had lost her parents early and she didn’t get along with her mother-in-law. Their relationship was so contentious that Rob didn’t see his father’s mother for many years preceding her death in 2003. As a matter of fact, Rob nor Rob’s mother attended the funeral. This rift was fallout from Rob’s parents’ split and eventual reconciliation. His father’s mother was critical of his mother and when his parents got back together, she was out. Rob assumed it was a condition of their reconciliation. His father was an alcoholic and his mother put her foot down on many things. She’s been in charge ever since and God help us all for it.

So Rob never had the warm and cuddly grandmother figure that I was blessed with. And he never grew up with the understanding that family, even when they make you insanely crazy with hurt, are always there. At least in my case, I could always count on them, even if I was a giant shit (which I was on occasion). When he and I got together, I thought I could provide this kind of love and acceptance to Rob, but what I didn’t understand was that because of how he was raised, and by the people he was raised by, he wasn’t equipped to understand that level of love and understanding. In his world, if someone, even family, hurt you or made you uncomfortable, you excised them.

It always perplexed me, how Rob was so great at loving me and being an unconditional support for me, but he was unable to accept my family in the same way. This doesn’t apply to my son; Rob was so proud of him and never let an opportunity pass to brag about him. I loved him for that. But beyond my son and me (and our dogs), Rob couldn’t conceive of unconditional love.

Sadly enough, he never felt like he had that from his own parents.

I tried to discuss this with them on Rob’s and my last visit to their home a year before he died. They would hear nothing of it.

As a matter of fact, Rob’s mother used my emotional/teary state during that conversation as a means to berate me some time later. “Oh yeah, boo hoo,” she said, remembering my attempt at a conversation gone awry. I guess she thought my emotions relative to her son’s pain was a reason she could make fun of me. It broke my heart many times over. Her poor son.

In reviewing just what I’ve laid out here I am reminded of what allowing negativity into your life can do to even the most grateful soul. It stings. It infects. It remains.

I love my husband. I always will. But when I think about the negativity his parents brought into our lives, even from thousands of miles away, I am grateful to never have to see or hear from their sad and bitter asses again. Rob would be happy for me. He knew his parents were shitty people; we discussed it more times than either of us would have cared to admit. He tried so hard to distance himself but felt a sense of responsibility to continue trying to be the son they wanted. It was never going to happen.

When his parents told him, just weeks before he killed himself, that they wanted him to move “home” with them and that he wouldn’t ever have to work again or have any responsibilities BUT NOT IF HE CONTINUED TO BE MARRIED TO ME, it broke him to his core. He cried like I’ve never seen him cry before.

And we only ever loved each other. Without measure.

Never, in a million years, did I ever expect that when I found the love of my life – my first and only love at 34 years old – that his parents would hate me so completely and mercilessly. Why? When I only ever loved their son?

Did they expect me to fix him?

 

Chapter III: Life Beyond Mr. Wonderful – Ground Zero AKA “AR00”

I share the following details not because I think people are interested in them. Rather, I need to document this day for my own sanity. When I started writing today, I had planned on a completely different focus. But this is where my mind ended up. So we’ll just let it ride.

The day the unspeakable happened, I was running a few minutes late in getting out of work. My boss and I had a meeting that butted right up to the end of my work day. At 4:29 pm I sent a text to my husband, expecting that he was already waiting for my exit from the building. “Few mins” was my message. No reply was needed but not receiving one was not the usual. I didn’t think too much of it. At 4:41 I walked out of my building and Rob was not in his usual pick-up spot, right up front. A few more messages went out with nary a reply.

I kept it cool at first. It wasn’t until I learned that he hadn’t shown up for work that day that I panicked.

Upon learning this, I called my mother, 10 miles up the road, and she was in her car and headed towards me within seconds. We both knew something was horribly, horribly wrong. I paced outside in the 35-degree cold until she got to me. She picked me up in a whirlwind and we made a beeline to my home, where Rob’s and my shared truck was parked out front. Before mom even put her car in park, I jumped out and ran towards the house. Finding the door unlocked, I hurried in yelling for Rob.

From room to room I went, more frightened after discovering each one empty. After searching the entire house, I finally sat down in his desk chair and toggled his computer’s mouse. A document appeared before me where the words were incomprehensible but the meaning was clear.

Rob was preparing me for his exit. The phrase at the end that I recognized through the dread told me he was gone: “inevitable outcome.” It was then that I called the police.

While waiting for them, I called my son across the state, Rob’s parents in Florida, my dad 60 miles away, and several close friends scattered throughout the US. “I don’t know where he is but he’s done something,” I repeated again and again, “He could have stepped in front of a train for all I know.” The news was met with horror and surprise. How could this be happening?

After 20 or 30 minutes, I called the police department again. They said someone was on their way.

Sgt. Smithmeier showed up and asked the usual questions: When was the last time I saw him? Had he ever done anything like this before? What makes me think he’s done something drastic? Did he leave a note? – All easy questions. The hard one was: “Where is he?”

He walked throughout the house with me and after a few more casual questions asked me if I had a shed out back. Unbeknownst to me, my mother had mouthed that question to him behind my back, as she knew it was the only place I hadn’t looked on the property. According to her, she had been hopeful that I wouldn’t go look out there; she panicked at every door I flung open as it was. But back to the question. “Um, yes,” I remember barely saying aloud, “there’s a shed.” “Is there a lock and key or would it be open?” Sgt. Smithmeier asked. “Huh? Oh, yeah…,” I said as I moved toward my grandmother’s oak buffet, “there’s a key to the lock in here.” I opened the top left drawer and looked in the front of the right side, where the shed key, attached to one of those cheap aluminum bottle openers, was always found. But the key wasn’t there. “Oh,” I said dreamily, “it’s usually right here…” And I tried to play it cool. But I knew.

Sgt. Smithmeier headed out the back door, suggesting politely but firmly that I stay behind. I stayed seated in my living room. I couldn’t see him as he approached the back door again, but I could see my mother’s face, at first hopeful and then crestfallen. Sgt. Smithmeier came in, not meeting my gaze, and asked me what clothing Rob would have been wearing. “Gosh, ummm,” I recalled, “Something dark, a dark t-shirt and dark sweatpants maybe, maybe his leather coat?”

And the news followed from out of the mouth of Sgt. Smithmeier: “Then I am so sorry to have to inform you, but your husband is deceased. He’s out there.” I don’t remember the exact words he spoke. I just knew that my Mr. Wonderful was gone forever. And I remember nodding as I stared at Sgt. Smithmeier’s mouth speaking the words to me. Somehow that made it easier to focus on what he was saying? I don’t know…

At this point, my mother and I got on our phones and called family and friends. My son was driving on the highway when I told him that Rob had killed himself. I had to tell him to pull over; I was afraid he was going to get in a wreck. I’ve never heard him cry like that. He and his girlfriend were quickly on the way from St. Louis. They would arrive four hours later.

I had called Rob’s parents when he was missing but when my mother offered to call them with the news of his death, I agreed. They had recently placed an ultimatum before Rob: their help and their money or me, so at the very moment I learned of his death I had no intention of speaking to them ever again. Their actions suggest that they agree with that plan, but that’s a story for another day.

Several more police officers filtered through the house in the coming hours, and by that time my dad had arrived. I sat somewhat catatonic throughout further questioning from the Coroner’s office, answering but kind of floating above everything mentally. I stayed in that floaty state for several weeks.

To be continued…