This has been a rough week. I’ve been working on a couple of posts for this series and Thursday hit me like a ton of bricks. Please keep reading as this post is really more about the legacy of my mother than a lost love story.
When I was 19, I was engaged to a young man. We were, or I thought we were, madly in love. From the perspective of age, however, I suspect, through my untrusting suspicious aging cynical lens, he wanted me because of my steady work ethic. Not that he was taking advantage or knew he was, because I was only making minimum wage as a hairdresser at a beauty salon (that’s what we called them then), but it was more than he made, working under the table at an illicit (read: porno) movie house. He had serious issues with drugs that I didn’t fully realize the extent of at the time and it was a temporary job as he often had trouble finding jobs and keeping them. Sometimes “love” is like that.
When I met him he was married and separated and I tried to distance myself because I don’t go with and never went with married men, out of respect for their women. The same way I’d want to be treated. We hung with the same circles though, and I kept running into him.
His wife overdosed and died. The news went around our mutual circles of friends. He began calling. I began answering. When he had troubling dealing with her death (I was not much support for him, I was only 19 and barely knew what to do with myself)) he decided to go to his parents home in California to get his act back together. I was devastated and sure it was the last I’d see of him, so I went on with my life. I got a little one bedroom apartment on a bus line so I could easily get to my job without supporting a car.
He wrote to me at my Mom’s address and Mom gave me the letter. I responded. One day in the spring when I got home from work there he was on my doorstep. And he moved into my home and my heart.
It didn’t last long. As I said he had drug problems and because I was inexperienced I didn’t recognize them until it was too late. I didn’t join in with his use, he kept most of it hidden from me. And I had a commitment to a work schedule and hangovers from drinking or the challenges of other drugs didn’t accommodate work schedules. But he would often stay up all night and sleep all day, a sleep he could hardly be awakened from.
One day, he had a work schedule to meet and felt he had to go to sleep first. He’d been up for a couple days and didn’t trust himself to get up so he set the radio alarm to maximum volume and asked me to call him from work. I called and called and no answer. I was sure he’d died in his sleep. When I arrived home the radio was blaring, the whole neighborhood could hear it. As I tried to insert the key in the door my hand was shaking so hard it was like those nightmares where you can’t get in the door or away from the monster. I was so relieved to find him in bed and shake him awake. It was the first time I remember thinking his problem was more serious than I could handle. I was naïve enough to think the love of a good woman (me) could help him. I was young enough to not know yet you can only change yourself.
A few weeks later, the 4th of July came around and because it was our first 4th together I insisted we go see fireworks together. He was feeling sick but we went anyway. He was feverish and had a headache.
The next day, he was barely coherent and I hauled him off to my doctor. He was immediately placed in the hospital. He never came home again. He fell into a coma the next day and was put into intensive care.
He was in the hospital seven days. I took time off work to be with him every day. I didn’t know he would die. I thought the doctors would be able to repair him. Until that last day when they finally told me there really was nothing they could do, no surgery or medicine could fix the assault on his body
He died of a brain abscess. It’s like a pimple on the inside of the body but the brain does not repair itself from this kind of insult. It can happen from bacteria entering through the body from such things as a scratch, picking one’s nose, picking or pushing pimples, or using dirty hypodermic needles. I can give you my best guess as which one he picked up the bacteria from.
I don’t remember calling my mother, but I must have. Mom showed up at the hospital every day. This was in the days before cell phones; she didn’t call me, she just showed up and sat there with me every day. I don’t remember what we talked about, but she was there. She must have have taken time off work. I wonder now what she told her employers, that she had to be with her daughter whose live-in boyfriend was dying from drug abuse? 40 years ago it was still shameful to live together without being married and you didn’t tell people that’s what your daughter was doing. Let alone that the boyfriend was a drug abuser. She must have known.
Regardless of how she felt about my circumstances, Mom was there for me. She set her personal judgments about my choices aside and supported me through the process of his death and the process of grieving.
Mom was with me during the hour of his death. With me when the hospital said they needed to call his parents as they were next of kin and not me who had helped him die. With me when the hospital would not let me see him again. With me while I cried and wondered what to do next. With me while I talked to his parents and his sister who lived here in town and would be able to make arrangements for his body. With me as I spent time with his sister at her home in the woods trying to exorcise my grief. With me when I lost my job because I could not pull myself out of the morass of grief and get back to work. With me when I could no longer afford my apartment and she let me move back into her home.
Mom is always with me. She is in my blood, the blood she gave me. I will give her a proper memorial in a later post.
The full story of my young man is the stuff of another post also, as he was born disabled, was physically abused by his father, and succumbed to drug use. Still, like us all, he was a human being who deserved a chance at a good life. So in honor of his memory, as few who knew him are still alive or care, and to keep his memory alive, rest in peace Alan Gerald Estep.