November. You are not my friend.
For two years I told anyone who would listen that a wolf was at my door. I couldn’t name the wolf, or recognize it if it knocked, yet I felt its presence, pressing forward, getting bolder and drawing closer with each passing day. I knew he was leaning in for the kill. Until 5PM on Wednesday Nov. 9, 2005, it was just another ordinary day of being a mom to my 12-year-old son, a wife of the local attorney, and manager of the cool, hip, young dental practice in town. Just a routine, average day in a routine, average life. The wolf was now standing with his paws pressed against my front door, poised to knock; I could almost hear it.
Although my husband Rob and I only worked two miles apart, we rarely saw each other during our busy workdays. We usually spoke briefly by phone 2-3 times a day, quick chats, keeping each other abreast of how our day was going. When I tried repeatedly to reach his cell phone when I left my office that day, it occurred to me that I had not heard from him at all the entire day; that was unusual. His cell just rang and rang, never going to his voice mail. This was strange, but didn’t yet set off alarm bells. I picked up my son at his grandmother’s, where he went every day after school. When we passed his Dad’s office, I saw that his car wasn’t there and no lights were on; we decided he must have beaten us home for once. When we pulled into the driveway, the house was completely dark and his car wasn’t there. The first flutter of fear beat in my chest.
I drove the half block to the home of my husband’s paralegal only to discover that he had not seen Rob all day, nor was he aware of what his agenda was for that day. He did say that he had missed a court date that morning and failed to show for a 2PM meeting with a client. Suddenly, standing in the tiny living room of his paralegal, the wolf was on top of me, huge, furry, smelly, dangerous, feral. I became hysterical to a degree that the circumstances did not warrant. THIS WAS IT. This was what I had been sensing, fearing, smelling for months. It was upon us.
My husband’s law office straddled two counties, so without any leads from the paralegal, I didn’t know whether to start searching to the east or to the west; both held towns with courthouses where my husband often conducted business. I reached out to my neighbor, who was conveniently the mayor of our tiny hamlet. He swiftly mobilized our local police and state troopers to begin searching for my husband’s vehicle. Fearing the night was about to take a sharp turn in a bad direction, I sent my son to stay with a friend on Emerald Isle, a decision I regret to this day.
Unable to sit patiently by and wait for word, I decided to drive to his office and check his calender to see if it might yield any clues as to his whereabouts. I was shocked to discover my key would not work. I had the paralegal meet me at the office and open the door. We discovered the door to his private office was also locked, and the paralegal didn’t have a key for that. Dead end. At 9PM I received a call from a state trooper who said he had located my husband’s car. He had been involved in a strange, single-vehicle accident on an extremely dangerous road earlier that day and the car had been hidden from the view of passers by. My husband, the trooper said, was acting strangely and exhibiting odd behavior, but insisted he was unhurt and refused to be taken to the hospital. I spoke briefly with Rob, who asked if I would pick him up at the body shop where his car would be towed.
When I got there, my emotions boomeranged all over the place. Relief that he was OK, anger that he had an accident, which would require a substantial deductible to be paid. I felt irritation and impatience with his bizarre, disconnected, zombie-like demeanor. He was moving and speaking, but yet not there, not present. Disturbed, I went to bed.
The next morning it was agreed that I would drive him to my Mom’s house, where he would borrow her car in order to keep his appointments for the day. At the end of our work day, we would drive to a nearby city and pick up a rental car for the duration. We decided to make the best of the situation and planned to take the kid out for Mexican food and a movie while we were in town. It was a Thursday, which was always the start of my 3-day weekend, as most dental practices close on Fridays. It looked to be a promising start to the weekend.
At 5PM that day, while putting the office to bed for the weekend, I was on a lengthy phone call with a patient, trying to sort out an insurance problem they were encountering. I was vaguely aware of a brown sheriff’s car pulling into our driveway and remember thinking, “Oh crap, that’s just great. One of our finest just cracked a tooth, and we will need to see him on an emergency basis before we can close.” This was on a night when I really needed to get out of there on time, as the car rental agency was only open until 6PM. Still focused on the phone conversation with our patient, I was only dimly aware of a man speaking very quietly, but urgently, to our receptionist. I was quite surprised when she walked around my desk and escorted the man into the staff lounge, even more surprised when, minutes later, several of our employees began darting down the corridor in tears. I had to get this patient off the phone, STAT. Something had clearly happened to one of our staff, and it had to be connected to the stranger in the lounge. While only half listening to the patient prattle on and on, my mind cast over possibilities. Did someone’s husband or child have an accident? Did someone’s parent pass away unexpectedly? I did a mental countdown of our employees’ families, and none were sick or hospitalized. Finally able to disconnect from the patient, I discovered the receptionist standing beside my desk, sobbing hysterically. “You have to come with me into the lounge right now.” Woodenly, I followed her, wondering what in the hell to expect. Managing this office was always full of surprises; God only knew what this one might be.
Entering the lounge, I noticed all my coworkers and boss were red-eyed from crying. This was really odd, as we still had two patients in operatories, waiting to be seen. The stranger spoke. “Mrs. H., I need you to sit down; I have some very bad news to share with you.” He was quite a frightening looking individual, even in the best of circumstances, which these certainly were not. He had a cadaverous, hollowed out face, with icy, pale blue eyes, giving him the look of a space alien. I tried hard to focus on his words and not his features as he informed me that my husband had been found shot to death that afternoon, just outside a nearby shooting range. “Our preliminary investigation leads us to believe the gun shot that killed your husband was self-inflicted, but there was no suicide note, and we have witnesses who believe he and a young woman were seen earlier in the day struggling over a briefcase we found in his possession, so we can’t rule out homicide at this time. I and my department would like to extend condolences to you and your family in this terrible time. We have arranged for some of these nice ladies to drive you and your vehicle to your Mom’s house, where you will pick her and your son up. At that time, they will drive you to your home, where we will be in touch.”
to be continued…
Featured image courtesy of randombuzzers.com