Bill woke, hardly remembering where he was. A soft white glow edging the window suggested that snow had fallen overnight. He lifted his head and instinctively reached for a bottle of water next to the bed. He was pleased that it was there, but disappointed to find it empty. It was very quiet. Not even the sound of cars passing.
The thought of April came to him slowly. First, her name spilling into his consciousness like warm rain. Then, her face softened by the glow of this early December morning. Finally, her voice, sweet against the silence. He paused and let the sadness that had become so familiar from her absence rise up in him. There was no stopping these feelings: he had come to terms with this. It had been over a year now and with each holiday or anniversary he thought he might cope with the loss better, but he only coped as well as he could. That was what the books on grieving and the monthly newsletter he received from the Visiting Nurses had said. Grieving was a process. He knew about processes.
He could hear cars going by on the damp road now. It must be earlier than he thought. His phone was by the bed, but he didn’t want to look at it just yet. He wanted to hold off the day for as long as possible and stay with the memory of April.
Just as he was falling back to sleep curled up in a thought of their trip to Italy, his phone began to vibrate on the night stand. It would be Ted calling to see if they were still meeting this morning. He thought about letting it ring. He could say later that he had been in the shower, or already on a call - a call that would force him to postpone their meeting. Ted had another idea, he was sure of it. Ted had many ideas. Unhappy with his construction work, he was wracking his brain to come up with something that he could do to make money that didn’t eat away at his life. The term soul-crushing crossed Bill’s mind. Someone, maybe it was Katie, Ted’s wife, used the expression a lot. Bill thought selfishly that none of these folks knew what it really meant to have their soul crushed until they’d lost the love of their lives. He grabbed the phone on its last ring.
“Yeah, Ted. Morning.”
“You don’t sound so good buddy. Did I wake you?”
“You know the answer to that question already.”
“I suppose I do, are we still on?”
“See you there.”
The coffee shop was crowded. Familiar faces in line. Everyone staring into their phones. Bill checked his balance, ordered the usual and paid with a beep. Standing waiting for the barista to call his name he flipped through the New York Times. Without his glasses he couldn’t really read, but it deflected his gaze from those standing around him. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Ted come in through the side door and get in line. Bill took his usual seat at the end of the bar. Redirecting his gaze to his phone he could see that there was an email from his son Danny and a text message from Danny’s mom, Caroline. He and Caroline had been in touch frequently since April had passed. Danny was struggling with school and he and Caroline were both trying to be supportive.
“Have you heard from our son this morning…?” the text read.
“Just got an email, but haven’t read it yet, what’s going on?” he typed. The barista handed Bill his coffee. The orange cup warm in his hands. He smiled at her. Her name was Summer. The name fit her - she was young and pretty and warm.
“I’ll get right back to you,” he typed and hit send. Outside it had begun to snow again. Ted sat down next to Bill, laying his iPhone on the counter.
“Hey. What’s going on?”
“I was up half the night hammering out schedules to get this job at Moody’s done. The guys are giving me a hard time and of course Moody wanted this done by Thanksgiving.”
Bill remembered suddenly that Christmas was just a couple of weeks away. The holidays didn’t seem to have much meaning since April passed. He knew this was a “wrong thought,” as his therapist liked to point out. “You shouldn’t negate the holidays, but remember them fondly.” It made him think about “keeping the spirit of Christmas in your heart all year long. What was that from?” Like so many things lately he couldn’t remember, and wouldn’t be bothered to try.
“You guys must be close to finished, right?” Bill said, taking that first long sip of his coffee - a moment he actually longed for.
“Just about, but it’s finish work and Terry’s a flake.”
Terry Dugan was an old friend who’d seen his own share of hard times lately. Though, Bill tended to think Terry brought it on himself. He drank too much and smoked way too much weed for someone in their mid-thirties. “Ding” - It was a text from Caroline - “He seems depressed. I think he and Chelsea broke up…again.” This could wait.
“I’m sure he’ll come around. Terry always does,” Bill said, putting his phone face down on the counter.
“Yeah, but why does it have to be such a hassle all the time? These guys should be grateful they have a job.”
“I suppose. That’s easy for you to say. You don’t have to make sure they show up, keep them focused and deal with their bullshit.”
Bill had to admit that was true. He had no direct reports and he was glad of it.
“Anyway, what else is going on?”
As Ted talked details of the finish work, Bill watched the baristas. It was a sort of choreography, making multiple drinks at the same time. It made him think of the plate spinners on those variety shows when he was kid. White dinner plates balanced spinning on long skinny poles. It’s nice how these young minds can multi-task, keeping the drinks coming, each with their long names. Summer remembered each customer’s name. Bill thought how to Summer, he was just a Grande Quad Ristretto Americano. Ted was looking at him.
“It sounds like you know what needs to be done.” Bill added quickly.
“Yeah, it’ll all be fine I suppose.” Ted said gathering his phone and coffee. “Let’s just hope Terry shows up.”
“Catch you later. Hey, wasn’t there something specific you wanted to talk about?” Bill said, suddenly remembering that this was an official meeting.
“Yeah, but it can wait. Besides, you seem a little distracted this morning.”
“Oh, sorry about that, Caroline’s texting, something about Danny and…”
“Don’t worry about it, we’ll talk.”
Bill appreciated Ted’s friendship for what they didn’t say. Waiving to his friend, he turned back to his phone.
The email from Danny was brief. Caroline was right. He and his girlfriend had some sort of huge blow out, and right before finals. Unfortunately, Danny reminded Bill of himself. A little too emotional, a tad reckless, particularly in the face of love. Still, it didn’t seem so earth shattering - Danny just needed to focus on what’s important, wrapping up the semester and getting good final grades. Of course that was the problem. He texted Caroline confirming her assumption and left the coffee shop. Summer didn’t look up as he said good-bye and headed for the door.
Bill spent the morning catching up on mail, terrestrial and otherwise. His home office looked out on an empty field that tapered down to a stream that he could see clearly through the barren trees. The sun was a pale dot in the clouded sky. Just before noon his phone rang.
“Dad, I’m in trouble. I need your help.”
“Son, if this is about Chelsea I can’t imagine there’s much I can do.”
“No, Dad, listen it’s worse than that,” Danny paused, Bill heard his son take a deep breath. “Chelsea’s dead.”
“What? What the hell happened? How?”
“We had an argument,” another pause. This time Bill could here a long exhale and what sounded like a sob. “We argued last night and then she went back to her room. When I went to check on her this morning there was no answer. I tried her phone but it went right into voicemail. The RA opened the door. She overdosed.”
At this point Danny was struggling to breathe through his tears. Bill realized suddenly that he was holding the phone tightly to his head. His hand ached. He pulled the phone away and looked at his son’s name, he noticed that the call had been only 29 seconds so far and yet in that time everything had changed.
“Son, I’m so sorry. I can leave here within the hour. I’ll be there within two. Danny, have you spoken with Chelsea’s folks?”
“The school contacted them. They’ll be here as soon as they can.” Chelsea's parents were in Colorado. They’d have to fly into Boston, maybe Providence, if they can get a direct flight and then rent a car for the drive into North Kingstown. Danny had stopped crying. “Son, you said you’re in trouble. Is there something else?”
“It’s all my fault, that’s all.”
“Look Dan, people argue, they say things out of anger, things they don’t mean, I’m sure this wasn’t the outcome you intended.”
“No, Dad, you don’t understand. The drugs she took were mine.”
“What are you talking about? Are you saying she overdosed on Zoloft or Adderoll?,” Bill said, thinking that it might be possible.
“No Dad, heroin.”
If you missed the previous installment of Success Through Failure click here: