“Martha died,” my son-in-law barely said over the phone. His crying almost brought me to tears.
“How’s Dawn doing?” I asked, concerned about my oldest child.
“She won’t let go of her,” he cried, followed by incomprehensible words. Obviously he was in distress; so I let him go.
Days later the sight of Martha lying in her casket made me sad. Although our marriage ended twenty-six-years prior to her death, I still had feelings for her. While knelling beside her I glanced at her face and whispered, "I love ya!" That might have been the first time I said those words - to anyone.
Martha looked terrible. Years of prescription drugs and cigarette smoking had taken its toll on her sixty-one-year-old body. If someone said, “She looked good!” he would have been lying.
Her husband didn’t look too good either. The little old bald guy was weeping like a baby. I wanted to cheer him up by singing, “Cheer up, she’s gone to a place down below, sing it high, sing it low.” Instead I offered him my condolences.
My two sons were taking it well. My daughter was still visibly upset. I whispered a few words in her ear as I gave her a hug. I just shook my boys’ hands and we exchanged sad expressions. I came from a family of non-huggers.
Martha’s brother, Bill, sat in the front row. He was nice enough to fly up from Atlanta. I’m sure Martha would be very pleased. She was hurt when he didn’t come up for our daughter’s wedding ten years earlier. I was disturbed too - after all our friendship started in nineteen sixy. About six years later I started to date his sister.
I used to visit Bill yearly up until nineteen ninety three. I stopped visiting after he became a multi-millionaire and president of some brokerage company. I felt his personality changed after he became filthy rich. Besides he only visited my home in Connecticut once.
While I was shaking Bill’s hand, one of his sisters was babbling about how good I looked. I turned toward her, not sure who she was until she spoke to me. “I think you look better now than you ever did before.”
I pointed at her and smiled. “You must be Kathy!”
Kathy sat between her two sisters, they both laughed, knowing what I was implying. Kathy used to go out of her way to make people feel uncomfortable. And she was a notorious trouble maker.
Bill said, in a condescending manner, “She was giving you a compliment.”
I ignored Bill and offered Martha’s five sisters my condolences, one at a time. Two of them, Bev and Shirley, had punched Martha in the face for swearing just prior to our divorce. Both times Martha was drunk and could just about stand-up.
After the wake, I took my children, their spouses, and the widower, George, out to eat. I learned that George was spending a thousand dollars a month on prescription drugs and Martha’s month supply was usually gone in two weeks. During those two weeks she would walk around in a daze, refused to eat or leave the house. She was just two days into her latest supply when she passed out on the floor. She had mumbled something that sounded like ‘sayonara’ before her legs gave out.
The doctor at the hospital told him, “She had a cardiac arrest while we were inducing vomit. I’m sorry!”
The funeral was not a very sad one for me. First I was classified as a friend rather than a family member. When asked after I drove into the funeral home parking lot, ‘Family or friend’? I responded with, “I’m the father of the three children and the first and only husband of the dearly departed according to the Catholic Church.”
That mistake put me at the end of a line of cars that had to be a mile long. My brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews were considered family and I wasn’t. Their only connection to Martha was through me.
George, the widower, isn’t a Catholic but the priest kept referring to him as Martha’s husband under the eyes of God. But I shouldn’t complain. My long time (over twenty-two years) Catholic girlfriend knew I couldn’t marry her in church because I was still considered married to Martha per the Catholic religion. She wanted to pay a priest to get my marriage annulled: that would make my children bastards and would be unfair to them.
Of course legally, thanks to a lawyer and a judge, I wasn’t married to Martha. It amazes me that a judge can grant a restraining order without cause because he thinks that might be best for all concerned. Amazing!
And they dug the wrong hole. George let the priest know in the middle of his ceremony.
“The hole is next to my first wife’s grave. That’s my spot! I'm going to be buried between them.”
The priest assured George things will be taken care of later and he went on doing his thing. I noticed my daughter and granddaughter were crying, nobody else - not even George. I guess he was still concerned about his eternal resting space.
The reception was okay. I talked to a lot of old friends and relatives. Martha wasn’t mentioned in any of those conversations. I was up for sharing some fond memories of Martha. There were many, but it was apparent nobody wanted to talk about Martha: a person I once loved, very much. Still do!
After the reception, Bill, Ray, an ex-brother-in-law and his son, Scott, and I ended up in a bar we used to hang out in many years ago. We shot pool, shared stories and talked about the old days: when we were young. Not a word was spoken about Martha.
Bill commented about the class reunion I failed to attend. “If I was married to any one of them, I’d shoot myself. Sandra Perry was a good-looking broad back in sixty-five, now she’s a beast.”
Bill’s current wife is fifty but looks about thirty. When I commented that she must have a special doctor, he responded with, “Let’s say she’s well kept.”
Back in my retirement home in Florida I made a three minute picture video in tribute of Martha for my kids. I had pictures of her when she was ten until shortly before our divorce. She was a beautiful girl. The more I viewed the video the sadder I got. The memories of our great times together kept going through my mind. Instead of feeling happy over those fond recollections, I felt depressed. For the first time I realized I had spent very little time with that gorgeous person after the birth of our first child. Maybe if I had, she wouldn’t have almost died from a drug overdose many years ago.
That’s one day I’ll never forget. The children, ages seven, eigth and nine back then, were in the living room watching ‘The Jetsons’ on television. The two boys were on the floor and Dawn was on the sofa. I arrived home from work, said hi to the kids and walked into the kitchen. Martha was standing in front of a counter. Her eyes were almost closed and she looked drunk. “I love you,” she whispered before collapsing. On the counter behind her were five empty drug containers.
Immediately, I grabbed the plastic containers and placed them in my pocket. Then I slung Martha across a shoulder and ran into the living room. “Get in the car,” I yelled to the kids.
The children reacted quickly and ran to the car. Only Dawn appeared to be very upset.
I placed Martha on the front seat while the kids got in the back. As we drove away Dawn asked, “Is mommy going to die?”
“No, she’s going to be okay.”
Within ten minutes, I, carrying Martha across my shoulder, was running into the emergency room. Our children followed close behind. Two hospital attendants took Martha from me and placed her on a gurney. They wheeled her behind a long white curtain. Through an opening we could see them trying to induce vomiting.
I handed the empty containers to an attendant who directed us to the waiting room. Dawn was still extremely upset. While carrying her, I tried to convince her everything would be alright. Her sniffling didn’t stop until long after we made it to the waiting area.
The waiting was a nerve-wracking experience. After a doctor beckoned me out of the room, I felt worse. “Your wife’s condition is very serious. Please don’t leave the
hospital until we tell you to.”
“How is she?”
“She’s still comatose.”
“She’s going be all right, isn’t she?”
“It’s too early to tell. She could die.” The doctor’s emotionless delivery made me feel weak. I had great difficulty standing and making it back to my chair.
During our two hour wait, I had nothing but negative thoughts. One involved my three children kneeling in front of her casket. They were crying. I could feel tears run down my cheeks. Fearful that the kids might notice, I discreetly brushed them away.
Martha survived that ordeal. She agreed to hospital confinement in their drug rehab wing. Her new psychiatrist was weird. His bushy moustache and full beard were unkempt. He wore bright plaid shirts and faded striped pants all the time. He refused to discuss Martha with me. Every time I confronted him, he would run away without giving me an explanation. My main concern was drugs when she was released. I knew she wouldn’t take them as prescribed. If she had to be on some, I wanted the doctor to make it imperative that I would oversee the distribution or he wouldn’t prescribe any medication.
That quack never spoke to me. Not at all! The final straw came when I had tickets to see John Lithgow and Richard Dreyfuse perform at the Long Wharf Theater. Martha was allowed to leave the hospital with me several times before. The night of the play Dr. Hopeless decided she couldn’t go. When Martha gave me the objectionable news, I embraced her and whispered in her air. “Nobody can stop you from going. All they can do is release you.”
I couldn’t persuade her to go. So I tried to contact Dr. Strangeman. When his receptionist said, “The doctor has nothing to say to you,” I went ballistic.
My rage ended after I told a woman at the front desk, “If my wife’s condition is none of my concern, don’t expect any money from me or my insurance provider after today.”
Martha was released from the hospital the next morning. Her incarceration: approximately six weeks. It took just five to get her hands on a new supply of drugs and a local dealer. At first the drugs were okay but when she started to wash them down with Vodka and orange juice, she became scary. “I’m gonna cut your balls off when you go to sleep.”
I believed her. So I locked our bedroom door when I went to bed, alone, and I made an appointment with another psychiatrist the next day. It didn’t even take an hour for him to make his evaluation. “You’re wasting your time and money. I can’t help you,” he said to me while Martha sat by my side. “It’s like this guy who had a beautiful white horse, but every time he mounted it, he was thrown into the mud. Sooner or later he smartens-up and never gets on that horse again. I recommend a divorce.”
I made it clear to him that I took my wedding vows very seriously and I was convinced that the drugs were responsible for her actions. She was fine when she wasn’t on them. Instead of helping, that guy made matters worse. He notified the DCYS, a government agency, and stated that the children were in danger. He feared that Martha might harm our children.
An obese woman in her forties came to our house and ordered that I’m not to leave a child alone with their mother: not even for a minute.
“What do you suggest?”
“That’s your problem. If you leave them alone with her, we’re going to court.”
Martha, carrying a drink, walked into the room. “We’ll see you in court, Fatso. Get out of my house before I throw you out.”
The next day I met with an attorney. I was concerned that alcohol could interact dangerously with Phenobarbital, one of the drugs she was on. Except for one siezure she claimed she had in ‘76, there was no evidence that she was epileptic. In fact the tests taken during her hospital stay showed that she wasn’t. And it was after she was on that drug for a couple of years, she started to have serious mental problems.
The lawyer said, “All you can do is file for a divorce. When we get in front of a judge, I can request a thirty day mental evaluation.”
I informed Martha of the upcoming divorce papers and why. She countered with, “When you’re asleep, I’m gonna cut your balls and dick off.”
Naturally I locked the bedroom door again and Martha slept on the couch. The next afternoon, upon returning home from work, the sheriff served me a temporary restraining order. Not only was I ordered out of my house, all my assets were frozen. I couldn’t get any money to rent an apartment: forcing me to live with my mother and travel sixty miles to work, one way.
Two weeks later I was in court opposing the restraining order. Martha looked pretty good sitting on the stand. Her lawyer asked, “Since nineteen-seventy-eight have you had various
problems related to drugs?”
“Yes, I have.”
“Are you now addicted to drugs?”
“Okay. Now, we’re here today to tell His Honor about the reason you want
exclusive possession of the family residence. What, if anything, took place that has sought you to seek to have your husband removed from the house?”
“Well, now that I’m off all the drugs, I just got fed up with the way my
husband has been treating me. He says he’s going to take my kids and leave me.”
“Okay. Now, has your husband made any other threats to you?”
“Yes, he threatened that if I ever get custody of the kids, he’d kill me.”
“Your husband goes off to work and leaves you to care for the children, correct?”
My attorney clearly established that I never threatened to kill her and she was still taking Phenobarbital dailey with an occasional alcoholic beverage. I was stunned when the judge said, “The Court feels a separation might be best for all concerned and that the wife should continue to be the primary caretaker of the children. Therefore, the Court will order the exclusive possession of the residence be given to the wife subject to the right of the defendant to visit the residence in order to exercise a reasonable right of visitation.”
I convinced Martha to move from Connecticut to Rhode Island, to be near her family. It was there we got a divorce, and I got custody of the kids. That was accomplished by the only way I thought possible: I gave Martha a lot of money.
When we left the Providence courthouse, I felt great. Martha wept. That must be a woman thing. Get what you want and cry about it.
For years after our divorce she had drug problems. It was after a long stay in a New Hampshire drug rehab and a different physiatrist she overcame her serious drug problem.
Martha met George. Shortly later they married and opened a convenience store in New Hampshire. I saw her on occasion at our daughter’s house. And once in awhile she would telephone me. We would talk for about an hour before I told her, “I have to go.”
She was enjoying life until a drunk driver crashed through the window of her store, pinning her to a wall behind the counter. None of her injuries were life threatening but some required serious medication. Why she was put on Phenobarbital again is mind boggling to me.
The accident happened in two-thousand-eight when she weighed a hundred and ten pounds. By October of two-thousand-ten she was down to seventy pounds and looking like Hell.
One of Martha’s sister’s believes she died of COPD. I think otherwise. A drug pusher with a PHD killed Martha. Of course my close family members and I are the only ones who believe that.
After viewing my three minute video of Martha, several of her nieces and one sister commented on how beautiful she was. Finally, some nice comments, about her, that should have been made to me at her wake. And my sister said, “I watched the video three times and cried every time. That’s the way I remember Martha. What a wonderful video. You must still love her very much. I offer you my condolences.”
My sister’s words chocked me up. Maybe I still love her deep down in my heart. That’s why I can’t stop thinking of her, the way she was many, many years ago. Back when I swore to take Martha as my wife, for better or worse, in sickness and heath, to love until death do we part.