The Day I Came Back to Life

Diana Hartman

Diana Hartman

Diana is a USMC (ret.) spouse and mother of three. She is back in the United States after 10 years in Germany. She is a contributing author to "Holiday Writes" and "Stories Around the Table: Laughter, Wisdom, and Strength in Military Life." She hates liver and loves science.

I’m not content to sit at home, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes all day, but it’s my life. I haven’t been able to go outside for years. I blame him. He told me to stay home even after the kids moved out.

I’d wanted to be an archaeologist. Mother detested the idea and father was dead. He fell off a cliff searching for fossils. I was eight years old to my brother's twelve. The stillness of my mother's grief silenced us.

Two years later a drunk driver killed my brother. Mother blamed me. He’d gone to the library to return books I’d borrowed. At his funeral she gripped my hand so hard it aches with every winter.

She was thrilled when I met my husband, someone willing to take the reins. She’d hoped he’d drive my dreams away with renewed fervor.

He was instead generous and indulgent. Then I became pregnant. Everything changed. He changed. Mother insisted on a civil ceremony, saying I’d lost the privilege of a wedding when I lost my virginity. I was married in a blur. Everything was done for me, to me. He didn't kiss the bride. I was exchanged.

I began to see how similar my mother and husband were. He’s the more unkind, but I can’t tell you why. He never hit us or yelled. There was just something about him that ate away at our lives with the slow, quiet terror of an acid drip. Whatever his poison, it defied naming. Mother called it love.

My sons and daughter live far away. It breaks my heart, but I can't begrudge them this. It was their only escape. Their visits and phone calls, already infrequent, stopped two years ago. They changed their numbers. Mother is the only one who calls, mostly to say she’s on her way over.

His lunch sits on the table for him as it does everyday. Salad and crackers. One time I used chips when we'd run out of crackers. He looked at the plate, got up from the table, and left without a sound. Mother brought a box of crackers later that day.

He opens the door as the clock chimes noon. His reliability is suffocating. He’s brought flowers again, but I never know why.

I haven't seen flowers in the ground since my youngest was born. I was weeks recovering from blood loss. He took her home even as she cried to nurse. I've spoken with a hoarse voice since, having screamed into my pillow every night she was without me. She was the first to move away and lives the furthest from me. It pains me when he speaks of her.

I light a cigarette. The clock chimes the half hour. He greets mother at the door on his way out. I stare at a yellow leaf that was green yesterday. My inattention catches mother's notice.

"You waste your thoughts on them." She pours out my coffee and fills the carafe with what she brought from home. “Who?” I ask. She dusts a clean cup from the dishwasher. "Your ungrateful children. They don't call or visit, or even send money." She insists her coffee into my hand. “Why would they send money?"

"To support you in your condition." Ignoring her doesn’t change her subject. “You were never a grateful child, either. Always in your father's books, digging holes, never helping me with chores."

She sees his lunch. "Look at this, all you can make is a salad plate.” She stares through me. “Your posture is atrocious." Her coffee makes my stomach churn, but it doesn’t make me stand up straight.

I close the window. She opens the door. "I'm going to the store so know what you need when I call." She hasn't bothered with lists since my husband bought her a cell phone. She thought his idea for her to peruse grocery aisles while I peruse the cupboards was a stroke of brilliance. Air presses against my ears as she closes the door behind her.

It’s a quarter past two. The yellow leaf has fallen. The phone rings.

“Yes, mom."

"Mom? Is it...you?"

My heart jumps at what I realize is my older son's voice. "Oh honey, I've not heard from you in so long!"

"Mom?"

Tears catch on my words. "Yes honey! How are you? Where are you? Oh, I'm full of questions. I'm just so glad to hear from you!"

"You're not..." His voice is soft like a child just waking from a nap. "You’re not dead."

"What? No, I’m not dead! Why would you think that?"

I can hear his disbelief. "Is this 412-67... "

"Of course it is! This is me!"

"I... I can't believe I’m talking to you." His voice cracks. "I... we’ve missed you so much."

"I’ve missed all of you! I’m so glad you've called!"

"Mom." He clears his throat. "The police called. They said we should call you... before it gets in the news. I told them you’d died, but they insisted..."

"Stop saying that! Why are you saying that? What news?"

"About dad."

"He’s at work. What's going on?"

"Mom, dad told us... he said you’d died."

"My god, son, I don't hear from you... Why are you saying this?"

"Mom, dad is... "

"He’ll be home soon, I told you!" I feel taken aback by my own reprimand.

"Mom, I talked to dad last night. He...he and grandma were here for dinner."

The room begins to spin. I lean into the counter.

"You’ve seen your dad? What... where is he?"

"Dad's dead."

"Oh my god! He's been in a wreck?" I fumble a cigarette from the pack. I light it and struggle to exhale slowly.

"No mom. A lady shot him and... " His silence pushes at me. "Mom, she shot grandma, too. They were... together."

My cigarette falls into the sink. "He’s cheating on me?"

He speaks slowly. "No, mom. They."

"They," I utter. “I don’t understand.”

I almost don’t hear him say, "Dad and grandma."

The phone falls to the floor. I follow it.

I awaken to the sound of far away voices. I’m not home. It’s someone’s home. I smell laundry and coffee. I open my eyes. It’s dark. I turn my head to the right. A hint of light sneaks around a curtain that moves with the illusion of a breeze, but I feel nothing.

The pull of craving a cigarette creeps into my jaw. I raise my head. I strain to roll over, reaching with my left hand for anything from a nightstand on my right. A tiny bit of light glances my wedding ring. I fall back onto the bed.

I pull the ring off as I start to remember what had happened before. Before today? Earlier? I’m not sure. I throw the ring. It hits a wall, then the floor. The distant voices stop. The door opens. I can’t see who it is.

The woman moving through the room looks burdened with too much weight or clothing. I can’t tell. She turns on a small lamp. She is a policewoman. Her burden is everything on her uniform.

She sets a cup of coffee on the nightstand. Her voice is deep and soothing. She pulls things from her pockets. "Your cigarettes and lighter are here, too."

She pulls a chair from the corner. I make an effort to sit up. She sits to my right, so close I would normally be uncomfortable.

Her smile is warm. "Your children are very happy to know you're alive."

She leans in takes my hand. She speaks slowly and deliberately. "Honey, your husband and your mother were having an affair.” She waits until my eyes tell her I might be ready for more. "They wanted you out of the way, to be accepted by your kids as a couple, so they told them you committed suicide two years ago." She looks away and stifles a chuckle. "But your husband had another mistress. She killed him and your mother."

I have so many questions, but nothing comes out. She lights a cigarette and hands it to me. I take several deep drags and put it out. I feel sick.

"Your ‘suicide note’ said you didn’t want a funeral, that you were to be cremated. Your children... never considered the possibility that you weren't really dead. Your son said you were depressed for a long time. Your daughter tells me you were... are agoraphobic?"

Angry tears stream down my face, some cold for the betrayal, more burning for the pain that has been caused my children. She hands me tissues. I wipe my eyes for nothing. The tears won't stop.

She stands and looks behind her. "I heard a sound before I came in. Did you drop something?" She sees the ring. She looks at my hand, then smiles at me.

"Okay babe, let’s get your kids in here."

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