A Sugar Coated Suicide, Part Six: Accidents Happen
Trigger warning: suicide.
Johnny left to pick up Bailey and Mars at 3:30. I knew he’d probably stop by the band room while he was there, just to check on things. Gracie’s bus pulled up in front of the house fifteen minutes later. She ran up the hill with her backpack slipping off her arms, a crumpled piece of artwork in her hand, and a smile on that adorable face. I hugged her a little too hard, breathing in the faint smell of dirt and cookies. She leaned back and put her hand on my forehead.
Gracie imitated her Dada, as she furrowed her brow and said, “You don’t feel sick.” He would do the same thing to them any time they had an ailment.
She asked one hundred and eleventy questions about all manner of things while I made her a snack from the leftovers in the fridge. None of those questions were about the hospital. I was grateful her quick assessment in the yard was proof enough that I was well. Neatly stacked in vintage Tupperware containers, I found bat wings, mummy dogs, Jello brains, and dirt cake. I went with a mummy dog and some brains.
Gracie didn’t expect answers to her questions, thank God, because honestly, I couldn’t keep up with her. I agreed that oranges tasted like sunshine, but couldn’t explain why some people snore. I didn’t know her best friend’s neighbor’s favorite color. I sat down behind her on the couch and saw her light brown hair all done up in a French braid courtesy of Tasha’s mom. Gracie’s dimples flashed as she told me about how Kevin found a baby bird on the playground. “He accidentally dropped it and Mrs. Folger told him to leave that bird alone and then, he accidentally stepped on it.”
We both scrunched up our noses. Gracie’s face was a tiny version of my own. I asked her if the bird survived its unfortunate run in with Kevin. She leaned back and said, “Mama, it wasn’t like a cartoon bird.” The death of a baby bird should have been a terrible thing, but Gracie had a way of saying things that made our whole family laugh and her laughter was a precious gift to all of us, infectious and filled with light. After everything I’d experienced in the last twenty-four hours, my daughter’s sound of it made me feel whole.
By the time Johnny got home with the older kids, Gracie had finished her homework. I about had a stir fry ready by then too. The smell of peppers, onions, and soy sauce met them at the door. Steam rose from the pot of rice on the stove. I was supposed to be on the couch. Now that Johnny knew the truth, I didn’t know what to do with myself. Fixing supper seemed better than laying there, dwelling on whatever it was Grandmom Amison asked me last night. I didn’t want to think about living or dying anymore. What I wanted was to hug my kids.
The dogs started barking when Bailey opened the front door. She tossed her black hair back from where it perpetually hid half of a delightfully elven face. She been out of braces for nearly two years, but I thought of them every time she smiled. Those nice, straight teeth were gorgeous. The sprinkle of brown freckles across her cheeks and nose were darker after months of being the drum major in her dada’s high school marching band. I couldn’t get over how such a tiny person could fill a room, let alone a whole football stadium.
Gracie tried to tackle her them as soon as they walked in the door. Bailey was a little more gracious with her youngest sister’s enthusiastic greeting. She bent down and hugged Gracie. Mars, who looked like a perfect mixture of Johnny and me, sidestepped the lovefest at the front door and headed straight for me. “Mama, I thought you were going to die last night!” he cried, as he wrapped his little arms around me as best he could.
Everyone stopped. Bailey and Gracie froze at the beginning what would have been an epic tickle fight. Johnny stayed at the door with the mail in his hand, but he was ready to swoop in and explain, intervene, protect his children. I stood, wide eyed, with my middle child in my arms, embracing both his fear and mine.
Gracie said, “Aw, Mama needed to poop. You know, a good poop makes you feel better.” With those words of wisdom, Gracie broke the spell that momentarily held us all prisoner. Her laughter healed all of us.
Johnny didn’t fuss too much about how I’d fixed supper while we gathered around the table. The girls made plates and, even though I didn’t feel much like eating for once, I accepted the mountain of rice Gracie handed me with a smile. Five glasses of sweet tea hit the table, sloshing over the rims. Mars looked at me with fear in his eyes. Would I laugh or yell? They could never tell what might set me off.
“Accidents happen,” I whispered.
We ate supper and engaged in our nightly, nonstop smack talking game of Uno. A coughing fit interrupted the shenanigans. Bailey leaned toward me and asked, “Mama, are you alright? You sound terrible!”
I was always shocked when Bailey showed concern for me. Of my children, she’d been on the receiving end of my madness the most. Aside from the normal teen angst, she seemed to bounce back any time I snapped. At least, I hoped she did. Johnny rubbed my back. I knew he wanted to tell me to get in bed. He wouldn’t though. I think he sensed I needed them all around me right then. Johnny told our children, “Your mama sounds like a wheezing old man, doesn’t she?”
Mars, who often found our unruly Uno banter unsettling, pushed his glasses up on his nose, threw down a wild draw four card, and yelled, “Sorry, not sorry!” Johnny took four cards from the top of the deck and promised him, as soon as a reverse card showed up, he’d be sorry alright. Gracie squealed with delight.
“Mars, turn the color to yellow! Turn it to yellow!” she begged. That kid thrived on the chaotic, beautiful energy our family generated. I had moments when I knew my contribution to that energy was positive, wanted, and adored. This was one of them.
I wouldn’t cry or rant tonight. They could see I didn’t have it in me. They’d have the sweet mama they loved for a while, even if I was in pain. My kids understood the physical manifestation of an illness better than my mental illness. That’s what scared them, kept them on edge, wondering when I’d cry for no good reason, stay in bed for days, or snap at them as if they were enemies instead of my children. An illness that gave warning, like a cough, was better than the sickness that permeated nearly every aspect of our lives.
Supper ended when Gracie slapped down her last card and desperately tried to snap her fingers in the air around the table like I did when I won a game. I said, “It doesn’t matter who wins. We all had a good time.” We never meant it when we said that. We weren’t gracious winners or losers.
As Bailey and Mars cleared the dishes and began their nightly squabble over whose turn it was to clean the kitchen, Johnny went to start Gracie’s bath water. I said, “Y’all, please. Don’t bicker tonight.” They continued in hushed tones.
Bailey hissed, “You didn’t have to clean the kitchen last night!”
“So what,” Mars whispered back. “Tonight’s your turn!”
From the sound of it, Mars had won the battle in the kitchen. Bailey was grumbling and handling the dishes like she was mad at them and not her brother. “Siblings fight,” I reminded myself silently, “but Hallmans don’t hit.” That was the rule in our family. I left enough emotional scars on my precious children with the Jekyll and Hyde routine. Hitting my kids wasn’t an option even in my craziest of moments. Johnny agreed with me on parenting sans physical punishment.
I pulled the curtain back that hid our little makeshift bedroom behind the bookcases. Big enough for our queen size bed, this space was a sanctuary, a hidey hole. I picked up the book I’d been reading, the latest by George R. R. Martin, noting the empty chip bag I’d folded up and used as a bookmark. I saw a corner of the empty box of oatmeal pies underneath my pillows. The urge to binge was overwhelming. I was scared, but I couldn’t fit under my bed anymore. I couldn’t fit anywhere. Bailey was still mad at the dishes. I heard them crash against the counter. I stood right there in my own house, but some part of me slipped through a crack in the ice and I plunged into the dark, freezing waters of my childhood.
Part Seven: Drowning