Every single word written here is an extraordinary exaggeration of events that have played out in my head... based on the stories I have heard from people I have met in jail or while I was dealing with my own stupidity and carelessness, resulting from my own addiction to alcohol and drugs. This is in no way a glamorization of drug use, but a tool to lend some humanity to a subculture that has been demonized and written off as a hopeless and worthless part of our human family. I do not condone or promote any of the behavior or activities herein.
I heard the first cop approaching minutes before I saw the cloud of dust ballooning into the air around the squad and trailing off behind him like exhaust from the rocket boosters of the space shuttle. I had originally been waiting at the bottom of the stairs in back, but had since convinced myself that I could still smell the stale, sour, yeasty smell of Rhonda’s piss soaked clothing from there, so I walked out towards the road. The squad was still in the distance, but now I heard more sirens. A minute later he slid the sleek, white, county sheriff’s car to a dramatic stop on the gravel road in front of me.
He reached one hand up to his shoulder and bent his neck to say something into the radio attached there. He was wearing sunglasses, but I could tell he was looking at me while his mouth barely moved as he delivered what I assumed was the announcement of his arrival on the scene with the expertise of a veteran ventriloquist. He dropped his hand from the radio on his shoulder and sat in the car for a moment, staring at me before raising his chest and releasing a deep, silent sigh from within the contained comfort of his squad. He opened the door and stepped out of his car into the afternoon sun. His head was shaved clean, although I could tell he had a decent hairline. He removed his sunglasses and poked one metal arm into the front pocket of his uniform. When he closed the door, finalizing his arrival into the wicked world I had invited him into, he looked at me curiously before a determined seriousness invaded his pale blue eyes.
“Did you make the call to 911?” he asked.
“Yes deputy…” I responded while raising the tone of my voice on the final syllable inquisitively.
“Morden. Who are you?”
“Jameson? Fuck… I grew up my whole life two doors down from your wife. I’m real sorry,” he offered, letting a bit of the seriousness ease away under the pressure of what appeared to be genuine sympathy.
I nodded to him, but in all honesty the memory of my wife’s death was just too much to add to the day’s events. There was a dead body in the building behind me, for Christ’s sake.
“Dispatch said you reported finding a dead body?” He asked while seriousness crept back into his eyes.
“Yeah… upstairs,” I replied softly.
“Anybody else around?” he asked before adding, “Walk with me a minute.”
“Not that I’ve seen, no,” I replied as we walked. The sirens were getting closer.
“Well, do you know who it is? Is it the gal who lives here?” he asked.
“Yeah, Rhonda… This is her place,” I replied.
“Where’d you find her?”
“In her chair… In the living room,” I replied.
“Okay, I’ll go have a look. Stay put. You know that there will be some more questions… and I’m pretty sure there’s a missing person’s report been filed on you.” He said vacantly as he ascended the stairs, taking two steps at a time. He reached up to his shoulder and talked into his radio during his ascent, and then disappeared into the apartment. Less than a minute later he walked back outside and came down the stairs. I heard gravel beneath tires and the siren that had been growing louder finally ceased. I watched an ambulance arrive.
“Well… what do you think happened up there, Jayson?” he asked while curiosity returned to his eyes.
“Are you really asking me that question?” I replied.
“Yes indeed,” he replied.
“Well, if I didn’t know any better, I’d say she OD’d,” I offered brazenly.
“Kinda looks that way to me too,” he shook his head and continued, “but you weren’t here for that though, right?”
“No Deputy, I borrowed her car to take my friend up to NewLife this morning,” I quickly responded. “I have his release paperwork and extradition waiver from Littleton County Jail in Rhonda’s car. You can call NewLife to verify what time I dropped him off. I drove straight back here and 20 minutes later… here we are,” I finished.
“Who’d you take to NewLife?” he asked.
“Bull Gunville?!?” he exclaimed. “So, you’re friends with Gunville… and this was what? A friend of yours upstairs?” He was knocking on mockery’s door now.
“Gunville’s cousin,” I replied quietly.
“You and her weren’t friends?”
“Sure, we were friends… kinda… but I needed her car to take Gunville to rehab, and that’s the only reason you and I are talking at the moment,” I answered.
“So none of your DNA is gonna show up in any of those needles on the floor up there?” He peered at me through squinted eyes.
I held out my arms while responding, “No Deputy, I’m telling you the truth.”
A pair of EMT’s walked up to where we were. Deputy Morden turned his focus to them and held up his pointer finger to display the universal symbol for just one minute.
“Jameson, go wait by my car, and when the state boys get here I’ve got other business with you,” he instructed me. “Get that paperwork out of her car.”
He took the EMT’s upstairs while I did as he asked. I waited by his car as the scene in front of Rhonda’s apartment turned into a circus. City and county cops were on hand, as well as the county coroner, and then finally the state police showed up with what looked like a CSI dweeb.
Finally the deputy reappeared walking towards me.
“C’mon, you just gave me a pass on all this,” he said while he approached. “I don’t have to pat you down, do I?”
“No,” I replied.
“Good, then you can ride shotgun,” he smiled as he put his sunglasses back on his face. “Get in.”
I opened the squad car door and sat down. He sat down next to me, put the car in drive, and navigated a path leading us away from Rhonda’s. He fumbled for a pack of smokes and offered me one, which I took, before lighting his own and tossing the lighter into my lap. We were both smoking when he started talking.
“Okay Jameson, where the fuck have you been and why doesn’t your wife’s family know where that is?” he inquired bluntly.
“You mean her sister?” I corrected him.
“No… I mostly mean that little girl of yours who hasn’t said a word except to ask where you’ve been,” he replied, pausing only to continue, “seems she's the only family besides you’re wife’s sister who’s worth a damn… in my humble opinion anyways.”
“Sure, I guess... If that's what you call her,” he answered and kept talking. “Listen Jayson, she just lost her fucking mother and now she probably believes she’s lost the only man she ever had the opportunity to watch her mother love,” he dragged on his cigarette and dropped it into an ashtray in the cup holder. “Whatever you think you’re going through, and regardless of how much it fucking hurts, right now you need to be the man her mother loved. You need to grieve like a man, and allow her to share it with you. Daughters inevitably learn how to have relationships with men by watching how their mothers love the men in their life while being loved back. Does that make sense?” He stopped at a stop sign, but didn’t give me time to answer him. The asphalt highway stretched out to our left and right. “Do you want that child to go through the rest of her life without a solid idea of why her mom loved you so much?”
“No,” I whispered as I struggled with my emotions.
“Good. Because girls without a good idea of what to expect from a real man can spend a lot of years dancing around a pole.”
“Where is she?” I asked. A tear rolled down my cheek.
“With your sister-in-law,” he replied. “Is that where we’re going?”
“Please,” I answered.
He turned out onto the road and accelerated quickly. I looked over and smiled as the speedometer crept past 70. He caught me smiling and joined me.
“Cop cars are cool,” he said.
“Sure… from in here they are… and only if you’re in the front,” I managed a laugh. “Have you ever buried the needle?”
“I’m gonna be a fucking hero when that kid sees you, Jameson... to her anyways,” he said proudly while ignoring my question.
“S-curves coming up, Deputy Hero,” I nodded out through the windshield.
“Ain’t a curve in this county that I haven’t taken at this speed, relax… nobody’s gonna pull us over,” he grinned.
We took the first curve without a hitch. We were heading into the second when I saw the green monstrosity of a tractor with wheels that must have been twelve feet tall pulling onto the highway from the field on my side of the road.
There was nothing that could be done.
Uttering a faint expletive, he turned hard to avoid the tractor and we veered across the double yellow line. We barely avoided a catastrophic collision with the hapless tractor. Unfortunately, neither of us had time to feel relief. My mouth opened into a silent scream. In a nano-second it was big... BIGGER... HUGE... twisted screaming metal, tinkling glass, the lift-up of impact, the fall back of momentum stopped for force... grease... gasoline… shards… smoke as the squad car collided head-on with a late model pick-up truck.
The last thing I remembered was feeling a paralyzing fear and hearing the sound of unearthly violence dissipating to a feeling of serenity and a peaceful silence. It felt as though an unendurable chaos had suddenly been tamed by an ethereal symphony of sensations where the conductor’s wand had brought the tranquility of a breeze whispering through tall grass into harmony with the cacophony of vehicles colliding at high speed and the faint ping of shattered glass falling to the ground.
When I opened my eyes… which seemed an odd struggle, there was nothing but road stretching out to the horizon behind me as well as in front of me. I quickly checked myself for injuries -- as out of some fleshly habit -- but suddenly I couldn’t remember why in creation I even I felt the need to do a thing like that. I felt fine… just fine.
Even so I quickly moved from the center of the road and began walking aimlessly on the gravelly shoulder with the sun at my back. Behind me I heard the quiet sound of a car’s engine and the steady hum of tires making contact with the finely-maintained asphalt of the road. The sound was flawless, crisp, and inexplicably inviting.
I smiled and thought about the ethereal symphony.Before I had the chance to turn around, the horn began honking for my attention. As my body pivoted, my ears heard the sound of tires slowing accompanied by the sweetest sound I would ever know.
“Well… hey there!!” she exclaimed. “What brings you to this side of eternity?” The woman who had been my wife was smiling widely and laughing giddily. She was delighted… like we were sharing a really good joke.
“I… don’t… I don’t remember,” I said through a grin. I was considering her question; it seemed so serendipitous. Regardless, as I approached the vehicle like we'd have once only dreamed about in our wildest imaginings, I could barely contain my joy. I began weeping and laughing simultaneously.
“Oh Baby, just get in the car,” my wife demanded playfully. Her hair was braided like it was at our wedding.
“Okay… but where are we going to go?” I asked still trying to align myself with what felt overwhelmingly like a miraculous and most unexpected reunion.
“Well… we should probably go visit your Lil’ Step, don’t you think?” she offered coyly.
“Oh man…” I stopped laughing and wiped tears off of my face. I vaguely remembered, “I was just on my way to do that, I think… yeah. I was going to get Lil’ Step and bring her home...” I trailed off.
“Hurry up and get in. We’ll go together,” she reached across the passenger seat and opened the door for me. She gave another playfully coy glance. "Don’t think so hard. You'll adjust, baby. This spirit living is something that doesn't take much getting used to. You'll like your new capabilities as well… I promise,” she said and patted her hand on the passenger seat beckoning me to sit. “And time? Time is very different here too," she explained. "But Lil' Step will know it's us… being there for her. Always...."
“Okay, but then what?” I asked as I sat down next to her. I recognized the music coming from the speakers in the car. I felt joy as Ani Difranco sang ‘As Is’. It was our wedding song.
“Who cares? We’ve got forever to figure it all out,” she replied. I shut the car door as she accelerated smoothly. I looked out at the scenery passing by and suddenly recognized it as my wife’s father’s property. A field of corn stood between the road and his pond. “Look!” my wife pointed through the corn and we both saw Lil’ Step standing on an old tree stump near the pond. She had her hand over her eyebrows to block the sun as she stared in our direction. “Close your eyes and imagine you’re standing over there!” she exclaimed. “Go!” she cried gleefully and laughed as I closed my eyes and thought about that old tree stump.
When I opened my eyes again, there I was, standing next to Lil’ Step. I reached into her jacket and tickled her ribs lightly. Then I closed my eyes again and thought about sitting in the car next to my wife. I opened them and found myself in the passenger seat of the car. She was laughing. “I did it…” I told her.
“I know!” she cried. We both laughed.
“I missed you,” I told her.
“I missed you...” she responded. “And I know how much you’ve missed me too. But now we’re together again. And time?” she asked and giggled. “I think it’s time to give me… a kiss.”
This work is the intellectual property of Jerome J. Panozzo