Home > I'm Fine and Neither Are You(9)

I'm Fine and Neither Are You(9)
Author: Camille Pagán

“Mommy would have told me that,” she insisted. “I want her to come get me. Right. Now.”

My throat tightened. My mother used to go missing for hours at a time, until one night she disappeared for good. But while I had certainly watched Cecily for a day at a time in the past, Jenny had always informed her daughter of her plans beforehand.

I swallowed hard, searching for the same courage I’d had to summon when telling Nick not to worry, that our mother wasn’t there but everything would still be okay. Like then, I didn’t buy what I was trying to sell. But acting like I did with every fiber of my being was the only way to get through this night and let Matt be the one to break the news to Cecily.

“Sweetie,” I said, turning toward the backseat, “I don’t blame you for being angry. But your daddy asked if you could hang out with us for a little longer. Let’s try to make the most of this, okay?”

Cecily’s eyes were narrowed, but she nodded. “Okay,” she said quietly.

Sanjay turned on a television show for them when we got home. As soon as it was over, he announced it was time to hit the hay.

After I tucked Cecily into Stevie’s bed (which I had been permitted to do only after allowing Stevie to pass out in our bed), and then fought with Miles for two minutes before giving in and letting him pass out beside his sister, I poured myself a glass of wine. Then I sat at the kitchen table, waiting to finally shed the tears I had been holding back for most of the night.

But my eyes stayed dry.

What I had believed to be true—that my best friend was dead—just an hour earlier now felt like a terrible tale I had spun of cobwebs from the darkest corners of my imagination. After all, if Jenny had the kind of problem that killed a person, I would have known.

Wouldn’t I?

“I can’t believe it,” I said to Sanjay after I finished telling him about my brief conversation with Matt. Gone were thoughts of Russ and George Blatner; camp and lunches and the rest of my scroll-length to-do list were already a distant memory.

“Me neither,” he said. He was sitting across from me drinking a beer. For once, his phone was nowhere in sight.

“What do you think he meant by ‘serious problems’?” I said, almost whispering.

Sanjay’s eyes met mine. “I’m afraid to guess.”

“But it wasn’t a heart attack or an aneurism,” I said. “And I know she had endometriosis, but that couldn’t possibly have been life threatening.”

He shook his head. “No.”

“Maybe it was a mistake,” I said lamely. “Maybe she slipped into a coma.”

Sanjay looked down at his beer. That alone should have told me everything I needed to know. But I couldn’t imagine the next day, let alone my life , without Jenny.

And somehow—even though I had seen her limp body with my own two eyes—being unable to envision a Jenny-less future made it feel almost as though her death couldn’t possibly be real.

We couldn’t have sat at the table for more than an hour, but it felt like days. Years, even. Finally, Matt knocked on our door.

I let him into the house. He had clearly been crying; he still was a little. Seeing him like that was a shot of reality I must have been waiting for, because my eyes immediately flooded.

Matt wiped his nose on the sleeve of his button-down. “Where is she?” he said.

“In Stevie’s room.”

“Sleeping?”

I nodded.

“Good.” He glanced at Sanjay, who was hanging back in the living room.

“Hey,” said Sanjay.

Matt nodded in his direction. “I’m going to take her home. Hopefully she’ll go back to sleep easily. And then tomorrow . . .”

And then tomorrow he would tell her that her mother was dead. A sob bubbled up from deep within me. I pressed my hand to my mouth. “I’m sorry,” I said after I had composed myself.

“I am, too.” Matt’s voice was hoarse. “She . . . they think she had already been gone for up to an hour when I got home. If I had gotten there sooner . . .”

If either of us had gotten there sooner, we might have saved her.

“I’m so sorry, Matt. How long will it take until they know—” I could not bring myself to say cause of death . “Until they figure out what happened?”

He stared at me.

I stared back, waiting for him to explain what he had meant earlier. I knew Jenny had suffered from anxiety when she was in her teens and early twenties, and that the issue had resurfaced after Cecily’s birth. She had taken antianxiety medication for a while, but that was years ago now.

Jenny had been prone to overthinking things—just like me, and really most of the women I knew—but over the past year or two she seemed to have taken a turn for the better. Cruel comments on her blog posts, which once rattled her for days at a time, rolled right off her. I assumed her increased focus on gratitude, coupled with life experience, had given her the ability to put minor crises in perspective.

No, other than endometriosis, I couldn’t think of any issues Jenny had faced.

Could it have been suicide? I wondered suddenly.

The idea was an arrow through my heart, but it was gone as fast as it had come. It seemed highly unlikely that a woman who talked about being there for her daughter’s wedding and caring for her grandchildren would abruptly bring an end to her own life. Not without having shown at least some sign of depression.

The generic jingle of an overpriced cell phone broke through my thoughts. Matt pulled his phone from his pocket. “It’s Jenny’s mom,” he said. “I’m going to step outside.”

“Should I not have asked?” I whispered to Sanjay.

Sanjay looked like he’d been awake for days. I probably did, too. He ran his hand over his head. “I don’t know. Maybe it was a little soon.”

“She’s my closest friend.” Was, I told myself. Was. Was. Was.

“He probably doesn’t know much more than you do, though,” said Sanjay. “Try to stay calm. Breathe deep if you can.” This was our old routine—him calming me when I was ready to climb up a tree. At least, it had been before I started calling Jenny whenever I needed to talk something out. “The how doesn’t really matter, does it?”

I wanted to agree with my husband—what was done was done. Except I didn’t think that at all. There was some self-protective part of me that needed to know exactly what had happened (Now! I wanted to yell. Right this very minute! ), so I could process this terrible thing and start to grieve.

So I could prepare myself to help Cecily. Because I knew all too well that life without a mother would be the opposite of easy, even for a child who otherwise had the world at her fingertips.

So I could immediately begin taking steps to avoid the same fate—or at least assure myself I was in the clear on this particular issue. Because that was part of it, wasn’t it? It was not unlike learning a friend was sick. Breast cancer? Time to schedule a mammogram. Lung cancer? Whew—thank God you never smoked.

I shook my head to clear the last thought. Shock or not, that was not what I wanted rattling around in my mind at a time like this.

Matt had let himself back inside. “I’d like to get Cecily now. Can you take me to her?”

“Of course.” I led him to Stevie’s room, where Cecily was in a ball at the foot of the bed. Matt scooped her up as if she were no heavier than a doll and kissed her forehead. In the dim glow of the lamp Cecily had asked me to leave on, I could see he was struggling not to sob.

“Daddy,” said Cecily groggily, and then closed her eyes again and fell back asleep.

“I’ll be around tomorrow,” I said quietly as I opened the front door for Matt. “Or this week . . . or whenever. Please don’t hesitate to let us know how we can help.” In an instant, I had transitioned back to planning mode. Matt and Cecily would need support. A lot of it. A funeral or memorial service would need to be planned. (Would she be buried? We had never had that conversation.) I could help make arrangements for anyone who was flying in. Friends and close connections would need to be told this terrible news. Eventually there would be a stream of emails and social media posts to respond to.

He had just stepped on the stoop when I added, “Matt? What did you mean by ‘serious problems’?”

He turned to me, Cecily still nestled in his arms. “You really don’t know?”

I shook my head.

“It was an overdose.”

“Pardon?” My mind was right back in the direction it had just come from. Had she killed herself? No—still impossible. Did she go back on anxiety medication?

Matt held up a finger. Then he walked Cecily to the car, buckled her into her seat, and quietly closed the door. Beneath the glow of the street lamp, I could see Cecily slumped sideways, still blissfully asleep.

Matt jammed his hands into his pockets and hunched his shoulders as he walked back to me. But then he raised his head, looked at me head-on, and said, “Jenny overdosed on painkillers.”

I stumbled backward like he had just hit me. “She wasn’t taking painkillers.”

“She was,” he said. “They were for her endometriosis. And she took way too many.”

“I don’t understand. I thought—I thought that hormone she was taking had been working. She said she was feeling better.”

He shook his head slowly. “Not better enough. Or maybe she was just trying to block out another kind of pain.”

The ground swayed beneath me. “What do you mean?”

Matt squeezed his eyes closed. When he opened them again, he was wincing. “Then she didn’t tell you that, either.”

“No,” I whispered.

Matt looked up at the sky, which was dark and cloudy. “Our marriage was a disaster. It had been for years, but Jenny wouldn’t admit it, let alone address it. And I—instead of telling her we needed to get real and deal with our problems, I just stayed away.” He let out an awful choked sound. “Now she’s dead.”

   
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