Trigger Warning * Violence * Language
Like a toddler with a scraped knee, I wanted my mom to kiss away the boo-boo. I wanted her now more than ever before, just to hold me, to comfort me.
“What’s wrong?” she demanded when she answered the phone, because collect calls that come in the middle of the night are never good.
“Nate’s dead,” I cried, barely able to get the words out. Nate’s dead? No. This couldn’t be my reality. This couldn’t be the next chapter in my life.
“Oh God. I knew something like this would happen one day.”
I just cried.
“I’m on my way,” she said.
I hung up and laid my head on the table. The cool wood was soothing, but the chair was just uncomfortable enough not to allow me to slip away into the oblivious sleep I longed for. Mom would be here in eight hours and I would be ok then, but until she arrived, I was in this room, alone, the stark lights above making this nightmare all too real.
A flood of memories from all our years together hit me like a tidal wave. I took note of the date: December 7. Eight years to the day earlier, me and Nate racing around, trying to get all the right papers signed so we could get married, excited about our future.
“Angie, it’s your turn.”
I lifted my head and looked around. Christine’s interview was finished, and the detective was waiting to guide me back for my statement.
“We just have to understand what happened,” he said, flashing me a gentle smile to set me at ease. It didn’t work.
I nodded and followed.
The detectives were kind enough, but they had a job to do, and I knew any minute this kindness would end and I’d be in trouble again. I took a moment to collect my thoughts. I could see myself, only hours before, hiding in the back bedroom, holding my baby girl a little too tight. Stacey squirmed in my arms, seemingly oblivious to the shouts in the living room, the cries into the phone for help, and me, not moving a muscle.
The sound of the single gunshot rang in my ear as if it had just been fired.
“I walked into the living room, to the front door, and looked down the stairs. His body was turned away, not moving, not breathing. He didn’t make a sound. This is how it ends,” I said to the detectives as I looked up and remembered I was not alone. “That’s what I thought when I saw him there, dead.”
I don’t know how long I talked. How did I get here from where we started? How did we go from Nate loving me so much to him wanting to kill me?
My knees shook and my heart raced because I was sure I would say something wrong and then they’d know this was all somehow my fault because I stopped loving him. Was I even reacting the way a woman whose husband just died should? Did it matter that he hurt me? Would they think my steely gaze too cold, or that my tears were fake?
“Sounds to me like a classic case of ‘If I can’t have you, no one ever will,’” said one of the detectives when I finished.
“You’re lucky to be alive,” said the other.
Not my fault. Lucky to be alive. Tell that to Nate’s family.
There would be an investigation, of course, but we were all free to go. I called Nate’s dad to see if he was home and told him I’d be over soon. I didn’t want him to find out on the news or from anyone else. It was my responsibility to tell him.
They were waiting for me when I pulled into their driveway, Nate’s father and his most recent stepmother.
“What did you do?” Marge demanded.
I didn’t want to be there. This was a mistake. I should have let the cops do it.
Paul wiped tears from his eyes as I told him what happened, how Nate came after me, how Steve shot him in self-defense. For a moment, I couldn’t go on. I couldn’t stop staring into his eyes. They were Nate’s eyes. Our children’s eyes.
“Why’d he have to die? That bastard killed my son!”
“Your son was going to kill me.”
“That doesn’t matter. My son is dead.”
And the crazy thing is, this wasn’t just grief talking. He meant it.
“I’m so sorry!” I screamed. “I’m sorry your son is dead and I’m not. I’m sorry he didn’t kill me instead.”
The room went quiet. No one objected. I didn’t expect them to, either.
Marge broke the silence. “We’ll identify his…body.”
“I have to,” I said. “I’m his wife.”
“You were his wife. We’re going with you.”
It wasn’t a request. Nothing ever was. Not with them, and never with Nate.
He lay naked on the cold, stainless steel table. I’d never seen a dead body before. Not like this, anyway.
I stared for a minute, sure I wasn’t really standing in that room, that none of this was real.
On Friday, I told him I no longer loved him. By Sunday, he was dead.
The room was silent, all eyes on me. The pathologist waited for my answer. We all knew he was my husband; we merely needed to make it official.
I stared at the man who’d been in my life since I was thirteen, a thin sheet covering him from the waist down. His shoulder appeared as if it had been patched up by a kindergartener with Elmer’s Glue. But my eyes were drawn to the sewn-up ‘Y’ incision, the skin puckering from shoulder to shoulder and down below the sheet. I used to run my hands through the curls on his chest. Now I shivered at the idea.
They’d done a terrible job at cleaning him up, as his face still had specks of dried blood.
His face…lifeless, yet his eyes wide open, staring at me too. Would I ever get this image out of my head?
I nodded and whispered, “Yes, that’s him,” and I turned away.
The room seemed to come alive with questions then.
“The cause of death,” the pathologist explained, “is a gunshot wound to the shoulder. That’s what killed him.”
He went on but I wasn’t listening anymore. I wanted to turn around and smack him in the forehead. You think? Of course the gunshot wound to the shoulder is what killed him. Did they think I ran up to him afterwards and jumped up and down, stomping on him until his heart finally gave up?
The sterile smell of the morgue was almost too much. I wanted to run screaming, to hide from all the accusations, never see him or his family again, and yet there was still a funeral to go through. I didn’t know how much more I could take.
The pathologist handed me an envelope, explaining there was a ring inside that he’d found on Nate’s hand. It was a small diamond ring from the night before, when he’d begged me to take him back, to marry him again because he’d be different, he would change.
As I took it from this stranger, I thought about how his hands had examined Nate, cutting him open to determine how exactly he had died. It didn’t feel right at all.
I looked inside and pulled out the ring. I slipped it on my finger. I don’t know why. “Please marry me again,” he had said.
I stared at it. I didn’t regret my choice, but I also never wanted this. All I ever wanted was to love him, and for him to love me back.
About Angela Giles Klocke – I’m a Colorado-based speaker, writer, advocate, and princess! I am also a survivor of child abuse, sexual assault, domestic violence, and more. I would love to speak to your group, school, or organization. Catch my TEDx Colorado Springs Talk on abuse, violence, and talking about uncomfortable topics, coming soon. Contact me!