I was at work, sitting in the middle of the room of the call center.
My children were at the babysitter’s house, all except my oldest who was in kindergarten.
A male co-worker sitting in the next cubicle got an incoming call. “Christine, I’ve got a call from someone looking for you, some guy in Louisiana. Do you want me to transfer it over?”
Things just got weird.
I asked who it was.
I noticed the commotion while he inquired who was calling me. A personal call at work rarely happened, especially placed directly into the call center.
My supervisor came rushing through the door at the other end of the room. I saw her running my way.
Nobody ever ran in the call center.
Things were getting weirder.
She was waving her hands high in the air. She was yelling, “Wait! Don’t transfer that call!”
Nobody knew who she was talking to.
I noticed her though.
I heard her.
It just didn’t register.
Things were getting blurry.
The call was transferred before she made it to my desk. She was still running toward me.
I wasn’t scared. It was my ex’s father.
I liked his father. I had just seen him over Christmas, less than a month prior, when they had come to visit our children.
He never even said hello.
I had absolutely no idea what he was saying.
“Eric’s gone Baby.”
“Gone where? Where did he go?”
You see, my ex, Eric, and I had separated for the final time about seven months prior.
I had only seen him once during those seven months. He showed up unexpectedly one afternoon after work and it was the last time I’d seen him.
He asked me for money and forgiveness.
I gave him what I could—it wasn’t much.
When I’d left him the final time, he didn’t cope well. I knew this.
He lived in a camper for a while, in the parking lot of his work.
One night, he crashed his car into the building. He lost his job.
Eric ran when he got scared.
He ran that night.
He ran to Pennsylvania.
I never knew that he was in Pennsylvania, until I got a copy of his cashed out 401k.
He was running.
I sighed and I wondered, but I let him run.
“Eric’s gone baby.”
I stood up. My supervisor was almost to my cubicle. Things were starting to blur. I didn’t understand.
“I don’t understand! Where did he go?”
“He’s dead” his father said, as he broke down.
I screamed that day in the office.
I remember screaming. I think I dropped the phone then.
Everyone in the office stood up over their cubicles and stared at me. They were all blurry, but I saw them all.
My scream turned into sobbing.
My knees bent.
My supervisor was now standing over me. I felt her hand on me. I was on the floor.
I couldn’t think.
I couldn’t process this.
I don’t remember how the phone call ended. Someone else must have ended that call.
An old friend from high school worked at the call center with me. She was there that day.
She drove me home.
I never said a word.
I looked out the window.
I was trying to process this:
What did this mean? How did this happen? This wasn’t fair.
Oh my God, how do I tell our children?
Oh my God—our children.
She drove me all the way to my apartment. She called my best friend.
Together, they found suitcases. They packed. They made phone calls.
I don’t know who all was called.
It was blurry.
One of them drove me to pick up the children.
They were so excited that I was early.
I was heartbroken. They were going to be heartbroken.
I knew that I didn’t have the answers. How in the world was I going to explain this when I couldn’t even understand it?
I went into auto-pilot.
I knew how to auto-pilot.
Auto-pilot is a place where I box up my emotions to get through. There are times in life, when auto-pilot felt like my only option of survival. It is one foot in front of the other. Keep walking. Don’t look around. Do something. Anything. Don’t feel it yet. Can’t feel it yet. Can’t do it yet. It is auto-pilot. Auto-pilot always ends, eventually. It hurts coming out of auto-pilot.
Eric had been in Louisiana. He had gone down there to return to diving. He was a commercial deep-sea diver.
This made things 100% more challenging.
How was I going to get the kids on a plane, headed for Louisiana without telling them what happened? I knew that if I told them we were going to Louisiana, they would get excited.
I could not let them get excited.
How do I avoid this?
God, I hated this! I am not strong enough for this.
I did not ask for this. I did not want this. This is unfair.
Eric had hurt me, but he did not deserve to die. He deserved time. He deserved time to learn, to grow, to heal. I believe everyone deserves that.
Life was so unfair.
I wanted to kick life in the teeth. I felt like a punching bag. I wanted to hit back. I wanted to scream, kick and just fight. I was so tired of all of the unfairness.
Whoever made up that stupid saying, “God only gives you what you can handle.” is an idiot.
I was not strong enough for the words.
Some probably wondered how I got them on the plane. And wonder what words I used.
I did the best I could at the time.
After we picked the kids up, I sat them in the living room. It was our first “family meeting.” (We’ve had many throughout the years, though this was their first.)
I didn’t cry. I met them where they were. I sat on the floor with them in the living room. I looked at their faces, all four of them.
I told them that there was an emergency and we had to go on a trip. We were going to the airport. I told them we would talk about it when we got there.
I had no idea what to say. I needed help and no one could help me with this one. No one knew what to say.
It was the first plane ride for three of them.
We boarded the plane a few hours later. I never slept that night. I think we got to Houston around 4:00 a.m. I was still trying to figure out what to say.
They slept some on the plane, once their excitement wore off. I just couldn’t keep that from happening. They were happy kids most of the time. They were funny kids. They talked to strangers on the plane. They played games. They colored.
Eric’s parents picked us up. They knew I hadn’t told the kids yet. I respected that they let me do it—no matter how long it took me. It was my place. It rested on my shoulders, though I didn’t want the job. Looking back, I’m glad they waited and let me do it. Honestly, I don’t think they knew the words to say either. It’s not something we really “know” how to do.
Houston was a few hours from my in-law’s house. It was the longest 24 hours of my life. Actually, it was kind of a long week that moved in slow motion. I couldn’t speed it up, no matter how hard I tried.
When we got to the house, the kids went back to bed for a few hours. I did not sleep. I was still trying to figure out what to say.
I got another phone call that morning.
I wasn’t a fan of random phone calls anymore. A few hours before had changed my perspective on random calls. I felt like I was waiting for the next shoe to drop?
That phone call was a miracle.
I believe this.
It was the school counselor from my oldest son’s school.
I don’t know how it happened or what made her call, but she saved me.
I felt like I was drowning then. I knew I couldn’t procrastinate any longer. I had to tell them.
She threw me a life saver, a flotation device. It didn’t take me out of the water, but it kept me from drowning.
When she said my name, I lost it.
And yet, I knew she would help.
She helped me figure out what to say. She stayed on the phone with me for as long as I needed. She didn’t tell me that this would be easy. She told me this would be hard, but she also gave me tools for the toolbox. She helped me find the words. I could never repay her for what she gave me that day.
I’m will try to describe in words what she gave me.
She gave me all of these things and more.
She helped me pull myself out of auto-pilot. I had to. In order to connect to my children, there could not be any auto-pilot. I knew this. She knew this too. She helped me more than she knew, probably more than she will ever know.
There is something else.
Do you believe in grace?
Do you know what grace is?
A lot of people don’t. Some do, but I think I have different ideas of what grace is.
Grace has sustained me.
Through many of my challenges in life, there has always been grace. I didn’t always recognize it. Grace helped me a lot.
Eric rarely called the children or me during that separation. He was fighting demons. He was trying to figure it out. I cut him slack. I knew all of this. I was trying to figure out stuff too.
And yet, three days before he was killed suddenly, he had called.
This is grace.
There is no explanation.
I don’t know why.
I don’t care why.
I just know I will never forget that call.
I wish my kids could remember.
The phone call lasted a long time, maybe two hours?
Our youngest was a baby. I believe she was 18 months old. She couldn’t really carry on a conversation like the rest.
Do you know what he did?
He sang to her.
I remember she sat there with the phone to her ear and sang along with him.
I will never forget this.
I will always be thankful for this.
He spoke to the boys too. For a long time he talked to them, each one individually.
Then he talked to me.
I remember his words.
“I know I’ve made mistakes. I know I’ve hurt you. If it takes the rest of my life to make it up to you. If it takes the rest of my life, I’m going to do it. I’ll show you. I’ll prove it to you.”
That was hard!
His words were hard at the time.
They were even harder three days later, when I got the call.
Author: Christine Titus
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock
Photo: flickr/Fe Ilya