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How To Save A Life
It was an early, gray, foggy day in a small city in Colorado. Jeanette was brushing her hair away from her face; away from the bruise on her face, her self-destructive husband, Michael, had given her the night before. Her beautiful forest green eyes became swollen with tears just waiting to release themselves; exemplifying her vulnerability, just this once. The touch of his big black jacket she wore whenever he went on his drunken tirades. Which were beginning to happen a bit too often after he was laid off from his job, was starting to weigh her shoulders down, lower and lower every time. That’s when she saw their children standing at the door through her vanity mirror.
A small boy with brown hair and his father’s grey eyes, the innocence of his 6 year old mind beamed from his tiny face. His sister, who was always by her brother, a 4 year old with shoulder length blonde hair and her mother’s forest green eyes, her naivety showed itself brilliantly through her wide grin.
“Addie, Dakota,” Jeanette said turning to her left, the bruise turned away from her children, “Why aren’t you at you the Vanderin’s house?”
“They said it was okay to come back,” Addie said playing with the hem of her Disney princess nightgown.
“Momma why was it not okay,” Dakota questioned his mother. He had always tried acting like an adult; “Mama” needed it. However, his stature and voice kept him from being intimidating from any harm that came.
“Momma and Daddy just had a little argument, now go brush your teeth and change clothes, I’ll make some breakfast for you both,” Jeanette said trying to make light of the situation. A situation that was heavier than a steamboat on land.
It worked successfully as Addie belted out, “Hooray pancakes,” as she grabbed her older brother’s hand and they raced to their bathroom.
Jeannette got up and slowly walked to her and Michael’s bedroom’s door. She quietly closed the door and locked it. The jacket now too much to bear she let it slide off her shoulders, as if in slow motion. Down her arms, and her last chance to catch it finally past as the jacket fell limp on the beige carpet, followed by two of her tears she’d held back for the three months. Her husband was slowly transforming into a stranger she didn’t know. Into a stranger who came in to their house every night drunk; a stranger who now only once a week slept with the woman he proposed to 9 years ago.
She sat back down in front of her mirror and began putting powder on the black and purple reminder. She looked back at the mirror and sighed, “Where did I go wrong?” With that last thought she rose to her tired feet yet again grabbed a bath robe to put over the white tank top and black shorts she had worn last night after she cleaned up the mess he made.
She walked out into the rest of the small one story house. Only a few more strides would allow her to enter the living room. She looked to her right and there it was the place where his whiskey binge had induced the latest abuse. Jeanette began wondering if the few small blood stains were even visible after all the scrubbing she did. Her feet began to move closer to the beige colored couch but then turned away. Knowing that if she were to go near that space, tears would uncover her brave mas she would forever plaster on her face in front of her sweet, ignorantly blissful children.
She pulled out the cast iron skillet and the rest of the supplies she used to make her dinner plate sized blueberry pancakes.
Jeanette closed her eyes tight letting her salty tears hit the skillet and sizzle, along with the fifth pancake. That’s when she felt a pair of small hands on her leg. She wiped her tears quickly and looked down at the beaming grin of her daughter.
“Can I help mommy,” Addie said still oblivious to the fact her mother was crying.
“No Addie, you just go get your brother since I’m almost finished,” she said sniffling a bit and flipping the last pancake.
“Ok, mommy,” Addie said as she sped off to her older brother’s room. Jeanette quickly setup the table when she heard someone at the door. She walked quickly to the door and looked out the peephole. It was Michael, hung over and sick-looking.
She opened the door a little, “What do you want?” Michael’s foot immediately wedged itself between the door and its frame.
“Jeanie, honey, look, I’m sorry. I’ll try ta do better, I promise baby,” he pushed the door a bit, but Jeanette stood firm. How could she after last night? “Jeanette please I jus’ wanna ta talk ta ya.”
“Michael, I will only let you in if you don’t say a d*mn word to our children,” she said still pressing on the door with all her weight.
“Fine Jeanette, jus’ let me in I’m freezing and my head hurts,” with that Jeanette opened the door. The cold November air rushing in almost as fast as her husband had, reminding her of the day she dropped out of college to start a family with the real Michael. He came in and sat on the couch, comfortably, right above the place he had beat her last night.
Jeanette sauntered past him with a glance of pure disgust. She began setting up the table yet again. That’s when the sound of Addie and Dakota racing yet again echoed through the house as they ran into the kitchen.
“Thank you Mommy,” shouted Addie as they both sat at the small square wooden table in the kitchen; Addie and Dakota fully dressed ready for their neighbors to take them to school began vigorously ate their breakfast.
“Don’t forget to wash your hands,” Jeanette said hoping her children would just ignore their father.
“We already did that,” Dakota held up his hands.
Michael stood and walked to the bedroom head hung down. Seeing his children was too much for him. Knowing that he was hung over and had two children who loved him was too much for him. It was like he was living a lie.
Jeanette sat on the couch and waited for the neighbor to ring the doorbell and take them away from this mad house. The one place she wanted them to feel safe, was just a prison to her.
Ring, Ring, Ring, she jumped up and grabbed the kids’ backpacks. Opening the door she acted as if everything was alright and shooed them out.
“They gone yet,” Michael asked leaning on the wall. Jeanette jumped a bit thinking he was still in the bedroom. “Look Jeanie, I know I’ve done wrong. I wanna change but it’s jus’ too hard right now.”
“Well Michael it shouldn’t be this hard,” she sat upon the couch, “Do you even know what happened last night?”
His head bowed in shame, and pouted his dry lips as he mumbled, “No I don’t.”
“Well let me refresh your memory,” Jeanette began with venom in her voice, “I was just drying my last load of clothes, that’s all! Then I hear your dumba** break the screen door! Again! Seems to be the warning sign of a drunk, lying, cheating b****rd incoming of lately.”
Michael mumbled, “I don’t want to hear anymore.”
“No d*mn it you’re going to hear what you did,” Jeanette felt a little guilty for yelling at him, but he deserved it and she knew this. “You came in howling at the lamp like a crazed fool! I knew you were drunk, I could smell the whiskey and smokes from the laundry room. I dropped the green basket full of clothes and ran in. I was right there when Dakota and Addie started laughing at their drunk excuse of a father.
“Please, no more,” Michael quietly pleaded.
She couldn’t stop now, the story flowed from her lips, “That’s when you got up, looked at me with those glazed over grey eyes of yours, moved your gross, unwashed, greasy black hair back and smirked. Then you looked at my own daughter and told her, ‘You sure are pretty, just like your mother. Too bad you’ll be a wh*re like her.”
“Jeanette baby please, I don’t want to hear no more,” Michael begged a little louder.
Jeanette was unreachable now, “My children did not need to hear that! I was right to make them pack their stuff and ask the neighbors to come and get them!” Jeanette got quieter, “That’s when we were all alone. Just you and I, and when I came near you and tried to convince you that you were just tired, you refused. Instead, you grabbed my arm and threw me against the lamp. I got up and tried to run from you but you weren’t done. You had grabbed me and pinned me to the floor. I only remember looking at a monster and…”
“That’s enough,” Michael interrupted by shouting as loud as he could, “I said I don’t want to hear no more d*mn it!”
“And I want my husband back,” She said standing to her feet. Silence fell over them, not an awkward one but one of regret from both of them. Michael then sighed and walked over to her. He reached his still cold bare hands out to her, and she flinched.
He looked to her with surprise, “Jeanette.” She said nothing back, tears welled up in his eyes as he gently touched her cheek, “I’m sorry and I love you.” His feet carried him out the door in a hypnotized state, while Jeanette stood still in the same state of mind. The touch of his cold, pale hand was the most love she received from her husband in months.
Later that night, Jeanette had sent the children to stay a couple of nights with the neighbors. Hoping she could work things out with their father; she sat on the couch and waited for him to arrive after leaving that morning.
Abruptly the phone from the kitchen began to ring. Ring, Ring.
She rushed to the kitchen her long thin legs taking her only a few strides to reach the phone, “Hello?”
“Hi, is this Mrs. Willhelm,” responded the voice of a woman.
“Yes, this is she, who is this,” Jeanette questioned back playing with the cord of the phone.
“This is the Colorado Hospital and I am Dr. Kahn. We have Mr. Willhelm checked into our hospital,” Jeannette’s face became paler than usual and her heart sank.
“Well ma’am, your husband was found overdosed on Vicodin ES, in a motel room.”
“He tried to kill himself,” Jeanette tried to be brave or at least sound as if she was but, oh, how terrified she actually sounded.
“Yes Ma’am, I’m sorry. If you would like you can come and bring him home.”
“Okay thank you, I’ll be right over there to pick him up,” Jeanette said her eyes racing for where the pickup truck car keys were.
“You’re welcome Ma’am we’ll be expecting you,” said the doctor Jeanette hung up the phone and made a mad dash to the truck after grabbing the keys.
The next day Michael walked through into the living room and sat on the couch. Jeanette shortly followed him wearing the extra large black jacket again, weighing down her thin frame.
She looked down into his grey eyes, for once not glazed over by alcohol. She said to him, “We need to talk.” Immediately he tensed up his black hair fell over his face as he sighed and looked down. He knew this talk was going to happen when he saw her standing over him in the hospital. She walked over and sat on the couch with him, “It’s just a talk.” He smiled politely at her and she grinned politely back at him. She began pouring out how she felt about what had occurred over the past months. While he tried to be a man and not cry, he defended himself by saying she doesn’t understand.
She kept on with this argument; his feelings weren’t the ones that mattered anymore it was the children.
They both stood beginning to yell, she threw her hands in the air asking him, “Where did my husband go?” He sat down again and let a few tears out, unable to answer her question; she sat with him and apologized.
She said, “I know you don’t think it’ll get better but I promise it will. I know it will.” He looked at her with those sorry grey eyes into her eyes. He knew she was right, she always had been. She begged him, “Michael, for the love of God I promise you, you’re not a mistake.”
He stood again slowly this time, “Where did I go wrong? I feel like I’ve lost you and myself. Was it somewhere along in the bitterness?”
She replied, “Michael if I have to stay up with you all night I will. I just want to help you.”
He looked at her for a while and then began, “You can’t help me. You’ve already tried before. D*mn it Jeanette, you just can’t do it!”
She replied softly, “I’m trying Michael. I just want our children to have a good life and father at least till they’re both in high school.”
He was angered by this last comment, “What the h*ll’s that supposed to mean?” He knew it was referring to his suicide attempt but he just wanted to forget. He was hoping she was referring to something else.
“Get sober or leave,” she said softer her head bowed. He snapped and his open palm swiftly left five red fingers across her face and her on the ground crying. She hysterically yelled while her brown luxurious hair in front of her face, “You aren’t the man I married! Get out I don’t know who you are but get the h*ll out of my house!”
“I didn’t change! I’ve always been the problem!”
“That’s because you’re making yourself the problem! You need to learn how to focus on someone other than yourself because we are parents, Michael, parents; we have two children!”
He angrily grabbed the keys and stormed out to the white pickup truck.
That was the last time Jeanette saw her self-destructive husband alive. Now at his funeral, sitting front row with Dakota and Addie both crying, not knowing why their father died.
Jeanette was then asked to speak. She stood made her way to the podium in front of the small congregation within the town church. She took her black handkerchief, which matched her whole outfit and wiped her mascara stained face. She looked back up to his family, hers, their friends, and finally their children, “He wanted this. Even though we didn’t want this to happen, he did,” she paused wiping her eyes again and looked at the man in the casket, “Michael, I’m not going to lie and say I know you’re in heaven, but what I do know is that you loved me and your children even though it didn’t seem like it. I just wish you knew that we loved you too and any of us would have done anything to help you.”