The Last Dance
an original short story by Amber Lea Easton
copyright Amber Lea Easton 2015
(a story about what ifs, longing and regret.)
Too bad it was a fucking holiday weekend…if this were any other Monday, I'd file for divorce as soon as humanly possible. I only needed one more day…one more day until I could end this roller-coaster hell ride we called a marriage. One more day. We were all out of second-chances.
I ripped a napkin to shreds as I watched Marshall unload luggage from the back of the SUV. Despite the anger I felt, the sight of him still took my breath away. And therein dwelt the fundamental problem: I knew that I would always love him, divorced or not. Marshall defined the term 'handsome devil'.
“Dad said we can plant trees this afternoon,” Sam said with a grin on his 7-year old face. “I already have some places picked out in the yard.”
“Good, sweetie,” I answered, mind swirling with decisions yet to be made.
“Mommy, can I keep my braids in until school starts again?” Vanessa asked, her blonde head streaming with Caribbean braids that dance along her shoulders as she bounced around the kitchen.
I tried to grin back at him when he walked into the house carrying our bags. I tried…but from the look in his eyes, he knew I faked it. Our trip to the Bahamas had been awkward, to say the least. So much for trying to save our family at an all-inclusive beach resort.
“Can you help me with these?” he asked, blue eyes full of sadness.
I hated seeing him so sad all of the time. It didn't matter what I did, what I said, how I looked, how the kids behaved, how much money he made…sadness clung to him and sucked the energy from every room he entered. I hated the sadness and resented him for not snapping out of it.
I grabbed a bag and followed him to the laundry room. God, he’s handsome. The width of his shoulders, the long legs, the blond hair, the way he walked…he oozed sexiness. Yet we hadn’t kissed…hadn’t really kissed in months. I missed being kissed until I couldn't breathe, missed feeling safe in his arms, missed knowing what the hell was going inside his head.
He dropped the bags in front of the dryer. I leaned against the doorframe, effectively blocking him from exiting.
“You didn’t say much on the plane ride home,” I said.
“There’s not much more to say, is there?” Blue eyes met mine. “I love you, Alyssa…but I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
And I melted like I always did when he looked at me like a lost puppy needing rescue. I wanted to reach out and hold him but…been there done that too many times with no result. Just more sorrow. I was so tired of trying to fix him. Ten years of in and out of rehab, of him falling down and me picking him up, of walking on egg shells, of loving him so desperately I no longer knew who I'd been before meeting him.
“You need help, Marshall.” I busied myself with unloading the kids’ bags, laundry falling around my feet, grains of white sand mixed in to the bundles. I ignored the shaking of my hands.
“I know I do. I need you.”
His hands were on my shoulders.
His breath caressed the back of my head.
I want…I wish…
“You need professional help, Marshall.” I didn't give in. I didn't lean back.
Good for me. I'm strong. Immune.
“C’mon…I love you so much.” And there it was, the knowledge that he loved me as best as he knew how. I understood that, but it wasn't good enough. “I'm sorry. Just tell me that there's hope. I need to know there's hope.”
“I can’t tell you that.” I moved away form his touch. Some things are simply too difficult to bear.
I know what I need to do. Laundry, lunch…
“I need you to know how much I love you.” He turned me in his arms and held me.
And then we danced like we used to dance. We moved in a circle to no music. Our feet tangled in discarded swim suits and shorts that still smelled like the ocean. I held him because I liked holding him, relished feeling small against his chest, enjoyed the hardness of him beneath my cheek. I wanted to keep dancing like this. It was easier to pretend that we were happy when we were dancing, especially when we danced to no music at all.
“Our wedding day was the happiest day of my life,” he whispered against the top of my head. “I know I haven’t been the best husband. I know I've screwed up with all the lying and the drinking. I have my priorities straight now. I know what I need to do to make your life and the kids’ lives better.”
“No, just listen to me.” He held me tighter. “I need you to listen to me.”
“I’ve heard this all before.” Tears burned my eyes, but I fought against them. There had been too many tears.
I can’t do this anymore.
“You need to know how much I love you. Tell me that you know how much I love you.”
He sounded desperate. He knew how oddly he acted on our vacation with the disappearing acts, the pacing on the beach, the refusing to dive, the sleeping all day instead of playing with the kids, the erratic moods.
“I know you love me, Marshall. How many chances do I give you? How many times do we need to have the same discussion? Nothing ever changes. I love you, too, will always love you.” I moved my hands over his chest. I loved the way he felt. Solid. Warm. “I just can’t be married to you anymore, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love you.”
He nodded and stepped away. His blond head bent, he leaned his hip against the dryer.
I struggled against the urge to touch his hair. I fisted my hands at my sides.
I can't touch him. He breaks my heart over and over and over again.
“Here.” He handed me a crumpled note from the back pocket of his long shorts. “I need you to read this. I wrote it on the plane home.”
I didn't want to read it. I stared at it suspended from his shaking fingers. “What is it?”
“Just read it. If you read that and still want me to go, then I’ll go.”
We stared at each other in the small space. A decade worth of hurt filled the void between us. A decade worth of love whispered in my heart.
I took the note, but I didn't really understand what he wanted to say. He wrote of losing his way, of being confused, of loving the kids and me with all his heart, of wanting us to have a happy life, of feeling like a failure, of knowing how the lies have destroyed my trust, of wanting to turn it around, of needing serenity, of being tired of fighting, of wondering if heaven looks like the clouds outside the plane window. He promises to do whatever it takes to make us happy. He wrote...God, grant me the serenity…
I've heard all of this before. Maybe not these exact words, but some version of them over the course of time.
“A note is supposed to fix everything?” I asked. “We spent ten days in the Bahamas trying to communicate and you write this on the plane ride home? Just this morning at the airport you were flirting with that woman while the kids stood right there—"
“I'm not denying it.” He braced his hands on the top of the dryer. “I'm an ass.”
“You got that right.” I twisted the note into a ball and tossed it at him. “What did you tell me just an hour ago? That you owe how much money to Joe? Why? For what? Have you graduated from booze to drugs? That would explain the mood swings on our trip…you looked like a man going through withdrawal.”
“You don’t want to know.”
“I do want to know.” I poked him in the chest. “Damn it, Marshall, you’re standing here asking me for another chance---again---but you're still not telling me the truth. Tell me what the hell is wrong with you.”
“I can’t.” He pushed my hand away. “I can never tell you. I know I have really messed us up financially—"
“And I want to know why, where has the money gone? And why did I just find out about it this morning after a luxury vacation?” Anger rolled through me so fast I didn't know how to stop it from overtaking me. “Is there another woman or is it drugs? Thousands of dollars, Marshall…thousands of unexplained, unaccounted for dollars. Tell me. You are standing here wanting me to give you the benefit of the doubt—"
“I know I've messed up. I know it.” He shoved his hands through his hair. “What more do you need? Just tell me that there is hope. That’s all I need to know.”
“I need the truth.”
“I can never tell you the truth, don’t you see?” He grabbed my wrists and pulled me toward him. “If I tell you the truth, I know that will be the end of us.”
“But, Marshall, without the truth there is no saving us.” Oh God, the pain in his eyes…I had never seen such sorrow. I looked anywhere except his face.
“Don’t say that."
“You’ve been scaring the hell out of us for the past six months.” I broke free and tossed laundry into the washing machine. “I wake up in the middle of the night with you standing over the bed watching me. You come home from work and sit in the dark. You talk about things that don’t make sense…trucks being flipped over on construction sites, people following you.” I smacked my palms against my forehead. “Damn it, Marshall, what am I supposed to do? What am I supposed to think? I have kids to protect, damn it.”
“Don’t you think I see how the kids are scared of me? Do you have any idea how much that kills me to see them flinch away from me? And I have never hurt any of you—"
“Maybe not physically, no.” I wiped tears away with the back of my hand. “I'm so sick of crying over you, Marshall Bryant. So damn tired of all these tears and all of these arguments and of never knowing if the man I married is walking through the door or if it’s some altered version."
“I know I’m out of control, don’t you hear me? I hate that my wife and kids are scared of me in our own home.”
“Then do something about it.” Love, anger, hate, frustration, fear and regret swirled through me like a tornado. “Be a man and do something about it.”
He pushed past me, but stopped in the doorway. Again, I fought the urge to reach out, hold him and beg him to do whatever he needs to do to get better. I've done that so many times in the past and we always end up in this same place. The cycle needed to end.
“So what you’re telling me is that there is no hope?” he asked without turning around.
“That’s what I’m telling you. I need to do what’s best for the kids.”
He looked at me over his shoulder, those blue eyes of his full of regret. “And you know how much I love you? Will you give me that much?”
“I know how much you love me,” I said even though I doubted it. I doubted most things these days.
“Then I’ll go.” He nodded and grinned at me. “Tell me to go and I’ll go.”
“I need you to go.”
“Then I'll go.” His grin faded. “I don’t want to leave you, but I’ll go if that’s what you really want.”
“That’s what I want. You just need to go.” Defeat torpedoed my heart.
We stared at each other, both tan from our vacation, both full of regret, both wanting impossible things.
“Mommy, can you make us something to eat?” Vanessa stood in the hallway and I wonderd how much she heard.
All talked out, I said nothing as I moved past him.
“Why is daddy so sad?” she asked.
I didn't have an answer so I said nothing.
In the kitchen, I made sandwiches while chatting absentmindedly with the kids about our vacation. Sam dumped his shell collection on the counter.
I'm struck by the absolute peace in the house. Calm.
“Sam, can you find daddy and tell him I have some sandwiches ready?”
He hopped from the counter and walked toward the hallway before stopping and shaking his head no.
“C’mon, Sammy, help out mommy. Go tell daddy that we have sandwiches for him.” Exhaustion weighted down my bones.
I sank into the deep cushions of the sofa and toyed with Vanessa’s braids. Absolute silence permeated the house. A breeze caressed my bare feet through the open deck door, but made no sound. It was as if even the birds stopped singing.
“Mommy,” confusion twisted Sam’s face, “there’s something wrong with daddy. He needs help.”
I moved Vanessa from my lap and followed Sam to the master bedroom. One thing after another with this guy…I wonder what kind of bullshit he’s pulling now. He said he'd go…he promised he'd make things better…he…
My mind can't register what it's seeing. He's kneeling in the corner of our walk-in closet, my sweater-coat covering his face. Weird.
I flicked on the light.
“Marshall, what the hell are you doing? You’re scaring the kids.”
I could almost hear my ribs cracking from the intense thumping in my chest.
“Go in the hallway,” I told the kids as I walked toward him. “Marshall, what're you doing? This is stupid.”
I pushed his shoulder. His body swayed.
I noticed everything at once. Not kneeling, his feet skimmed the floor. I pulled the sweater from his face. Tongue stuck out sideways, blue eyes glazed over—not the same eyes at all. Nylon cord cut into his neck.
“Oh my God, Marshall, what the hell have you done?” I lifted him up, trying to slacken the cord. “Vanessa, get me a phone, call 9-1-1,” I screamed as I held him up, pushing my leg beneath his hip as my fingers struggle with the cord.
Oh my God, oh my God, this can’t be happening. This can’t be real.
Vanessa rushed in with the phone asI yell at her to stay out of the closet, not to look at her daddy. One arm around Marshall, I struggled to hold the phone.
“My husband…he tried to kill himself…he’s hanging…I don’t know what to do…yes, he’s hanging…no, I don’t know what to do…”
“Is he breathing?” the 9-1-1 operator asks.
“I don’t know.”
“Is he conscious?”
God, his face. Nothing in my life has prepared me to see his face like this…like a contorted mockery of life, all twisted and grotesque.
“He’s warm,” I said.
. “You need to get the cord from his neck and give him CPR.”
I never felt so stupid in all of my life. CPR. I should know this. I should know what to do, but I can’t think. None of this seemed real. I dropped my head against his chest as I kept holding him up.
He isn’t dead. He feels solid and warm. I smell his soap on his skin.
“He’s hanging,” I said again to the 9-1-1 operator. “We need help. I don’t know what to do.”
“He’s still hanging?”
“I’m holding him,” I said.
“Cut him down. Give him CPR.”
Cut him down…of course. Stupid, stupid, stupid….I dropped the phone, let him go, ran down the hall, grabbed a knife, told the kids to stay in the hallway.
“Save daddy, mommy,” they cried. “Save daddy.”
But I can’t save daddy. I never could.
I slashed the knife through the cord he'd tied around a beam in our closet. His body fell onto the floor beneath the hems of my dresses, his head against a pile of my shoes. Shaking, I grabbed the phone and followed the instructions of the 9-1-1 operator.
Hands in his hair, I tilted his head back and pressed my lips to his. My breath choked on a sob. I wanted him to live. I wanted him to cough and be okay. Breathe, damn it, breathe. My hands pushed on his chest.
“Don’t you leave me, you son of a bitch,” I said. “Please, don’t leave me. You can’t leave us, stay with me.”
There are hands on my shoulders, lifting me from him. A sheriff leaned over him, then a paramedic.
“Mommy, save daddy,” Vanessa screamed at me from where she stood at the closet door. “Save him, mommy.”
“He’s alive,” I told the paramedic who looked up at me. “You can bring him back. He can’t leave us. He can’t leave us.”
“I’m sorry, ma’am, we need room to work.” A sheriff guided me from the closet.
I kept my eyes on Marshall, on his long body lying awkwardly on the closet floor with strangers hovering above him.
“He needs to stay with us.” Hand against my mouth, I struggled to think. “He can’t be dead. We were dancing in the laundry room, we were in the Bahamas this morning, he was going to plant trees, he promised to make it better, he promised…”
“I'm sorry, ma’am, we need you to calm the kids down.”
I moved like a robot. Kids in Vanessa’s room, movie on while my house floods with people in uniform. I told the story repeatedly to one officer after another…unloaded the truck, bags in the laundry room, made lunch, hanging in the closet with a sweater-coat over his face, tried to save him. Over and over I said the same words, but all I saw were those eyes of his…those blue eyes of his devoid of life…that twisted face…the cord cutting into his neck…his body on the closet floor…
“Ma’am, I’m sorry. He’s gone. We couldn’t bring him back.”
I wanted to vomit.
I rocked on the sofa where just an hour ago I'd been playing with my daughter’s braids and thinking about how quiet it had been. I rocked. I couldn't stop rocking, couldn't stop moving.
I pictured him as he'd been only a day ago, in the sun, on the beach, blond hair wet with salt water and tanned skin glowing in the sunlight.
None of this can be real. I can't believe what they're saying to me.
“We need to know if there is a note,” a man said to me.
A note. I shook my head, the repetitious story of the day coming out of my mouth. And then, as if walking through water, I'm in the laundry room. I had tossed that back at him, had told him that I'd heard it all…I retrieved the note he'd written on the airplane from the floor.
“He wrote this on the way home this morning. I didn’t think it had any significance,” I heard myself say.
Didn’t think it had any significance.
Suddenly, every word shared had significance; every word carried the weight of his existence.
“I told him to go,” I whispered. “I didn’t think….I didn’t know...I told him to go.”
I sank onto the floor and hugged my knees to my chest. I told him to go. I covered my ears with my hands, but I'm not sure I'll ever stop hearing the kids begging me to save daddy.
I want a do-over. I want one more day. I want one more chance. I want another dance.
Dedicated to Sean Michael Easton, 11-6-70 to 5-29-2005
There's a saying that goes, "If a writer loves you, you will never die."
About the author...
Amber Lea Easton is a multi-published author of both fiction and nonfiction. Her memoir, Free Fall, about surviving the suicide of her husband and parenting through grief has been named 4th on the "10 Most Inspiring True Stories Everyone Must Read" list and has also reached international best seller status. She currently resides in the Colorado Rocky Mountains where she gives thanks daily for the view outside her window and the two amazing young adults she's been privileged to raise. Find a listing of all of her books at http://www.amberleaeaston.com