Forty-Two Minutes

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Chapter Twenty -One

RICHARD

Her coffee cup is the only way I've known she's still alive.

Every few days I will find it, along with dirty dishes, in the sink. I've counted on her routine, no matter how dysfunctional it is, to let me know she's survived her latest binge.

I've only seen her twice since Lexy left. She walks right past me as if I don't exist. I don't even think she does anymore. She's a thin, frail ghost of herself. Pale, withdrawn, invisible. I can see straight through her. Her eyes are blank and dull, and I feel her accusing me even though she never says a word.

She won't look at me, talk to me, acknowledge me at all as she shuffles in and out of reality and then locks herself back up away from the world. I'm still being punished for giving Lexy the letters, for letting her leave and not trying to get her back. For believing our daughter needs to be saved from her own mother.

I think she thought Lexy would come home by now. It's almost been a month since she left. As the time and distance stretches out from days into weeks, Victoria has become more agitated, angry, panicked, and fearful. Paranoid. I've heard her up nights pacing and rambling manically, inside the four walls of her room, like a madwoman. She's hanging on to sanity by a thin thread.

I've even heard her singing. She hasn't in years, and at first, I thought she had the television on and was watching one of those competition shows. The sound of her is still clear and rich and ethereal, which is a surprise to me. Even with the addiction ravaging every part of her, the purity of voice still breaks through. Her undeniable talent hasn't died or burned out, even though she slowly is.

I've missed hearing her. She was so passionate about music and used to have so many dreams. I don't know the song, and the words are slurred and jumbled, but I recognize her, the beautiful, fiercely determined girl I had met all those years ago at the diner. She's still in there somewhere, under all the layers and residue and years of abuse. I fell for her instantly, had never met anyone so gorgeously on fire, and haven't ever recovered. I'm still hooked and strung out on her.

When is enough finally enough, I wonder? Something has to change, break, give. She's never going to stop on her own. I don't know how I ever thought she could. She's beyond the point where she can. The beast is too strong and has its claws too deeply imbedded into her.

We can't go on like this anymore. I know I'm pathetically too late, but I can't keep living with the guilt of what I'm allowing her to do to herself, our daughter, our lives. I have to be the one to finally draw the line and have decided I'm going to make her go into rehab and get help. I'm forcing an intervention. I've made some calls and am going to tell her she has to go.

I know the fallout will be messy and violent and hysterical, and she may go through with her threats to kill herself. But, I have to try, for all of us. Lexy is safe and far enough away from any collateral damage. As soon as the arrangements are finalized, I'm getting her into treatment. I'll drag her there if I have to.

I didn't sleep well and have a headache, the pain nagging at the base of my skull. I thought I heard her laughing, or maybe I dreamt it, the sound eerie and deranged in the dark. A loud noise had startled me awake and I shot up in bed, trying to figure out what was going on. It sounded like something falling or being dropped in Victoria's room.

Ever since Lexy has been gone, I've obsessively listened and checked and watched for her, worried about her going over the edge. It's a little after three and still dark out. Something feels off but I can't figure out what it is.

I don't like the silence. It feels different. Stale and stagnant and unused. Abandoned and deserted somehow. The air is too still. The laughing stopped. I don't know how to explain the uneasiness in the pit of my stomach. I can't shake it. This isn't normal, whatever that is in our house.

I get out of bed and go down the hall and have the surreal feeling of walking into the twilight zone. The walls feel as if they are expanding and breathing, warning me. The floor seems to narrow and get longer with every step I take like I'm walking in slow motion.

I knock, already knowing she won't let me in. But, I try anyway, hoping for a miracle. Something is wrong. It was only a matter of time before she broke under the pressure of losing control. There's no answer. I can't figure out what the noise was that jolted me awake. I'm worried she fell or hit her head. I rattle the knob. "Victoria!" I call out. "Please open the door!” Nothing. No sound on the other side. I uselessly bang on the door, louder this time, but still no response.

I don't even have to imagine the worst. It's a reality I live with every day of my life. I have to get inside. A smell is wafting out into the hall, like food spoiling or rotting.

I throw myself up against the door, heaving the whole left side of my body into it. Pain radiates through my shoulder, my hip, knocks the wind out of me, but I can't feel anything through the panic. The force jars it, but it doesn't open.

I shove and lunge against it again and again with an unnatural strength that only comes with terror until I'm sweating through my clothes and my shoulder is throbbing and about to fracture and then the wood finally splits around the frame.

Stumbling forward, I frantically push the door open and get inside. Her bedroom light is still on. The aroma of vomit and urine hit me and I throw up my hand to block it, trying to find fresh air. But there isn't any. The stench is a film on the walls as if the whole room has been sealed up tight. The windows are never open, the blinds closed to the outside.

Gagging, I run towards the bed. My foot kicks the vodka bottle that had fallen and it bounces and spins across the floor. I realize that must have been the sound I heard.

I know she's not sleeping. Her body is at too awkward of an angle, like a puppet whose strings have been clumsily been dropped. It's then that I see the empty bottle of Xanax laying next to her hand.

"Oh, God." It's half prayer, half cry for help, half curse, as I move her hair away from her face searching for any sign of life. Her skin is still warm. Had she just taken the pills? Mucus and saliva and vomit are drooling from her mouth, streaked along her skin, and there's a pool of fluid on the bed under her cheek. Had she choked? How long has she been under?

I lean close to her to see if I can feel air coming through her nose, her lips, but there's nothing. I don't know what to do. Do I perform CPR? Does that help if she's already dead? Am I supposed to move her? Everything I've ever been taught and told to do in a disaster completely blanks out of my mind. I thought I'd be more prepared. I've known this day has been coming for years.

"Please don't die. Please don't die." I'm begging, whispering, crying. "Please stay with me. I'm so sorry." This wasn't an accident. This was deliberate. She wanted to end her life, and I'm suddenly irrationally and intensely furious, which I know isn't fair. But nothing about this ever has been, for any of us. Maybe she thought she could live without me, but I know I can't survive without her. I'm angry that she wants to leave us, that she's so selfish to take herself away.

And there's another sick part of me that is secretly relieved to have the nightmare over, that I won't have to constantly worry about her anymore, but I quickly shut down the thought. It makes me feel like a monster. It's a horrible, exquisite agony loving her. I know the weight of the blame is all mine. I'm the one who made her think she had no other choice. How am I going to tell our daughter?

I need help. I want to yell, but there's no one here. I'm alone. Lexy is gone. And I'm the one who sent her away. This overdose is my stinging, harsh reminder of why I'm in this situation. I caused it.

I clumsily pull my cell phone out of my pants pocket. My hands are shaking so violently I can barely press 911 and misdial and drop the call and have to hang up twice. I growl and shake the phone in frustration and swear under my breath. Why are three numbers so hard?

I finally get through and the operator answers, her voice slow and a little bored as if she's tired of having to deal with all of us and our problems. "Do you have an emergency?"

I almost laugh at the absurdity of the question. Why else would I be calling? I've always had one. I've been living in a war zone for decades.

"Yes," I manage. I don't take my eyes from Victoria, silently pleading with her to wake up, to breathe. An eyelash to flutter. Anything. "I think my wife is dead." I'm surprised it's taken me this long to have to say those words.

"Try to stay calm, sir. Can you tell me what happened?" She still sounds dismissive and she says it like she's talking to a five-year-old. I don't think she believes me, as if I'm overreacting or being dramatic. I want to strangle her through the line.

I don't have time for this, I think, as impatience surges and makes my entire body tense and hot. We're wasting precious minutes we need to save Victoria. My breathing is coming in short, shallow puffs. I feel lightheaded. I'm holding Victoria's limp hand in mine. I don't want to let go, as if hanging onto her will keep her from being gone. Is that a pulse? Or am I in total shock and denial?

"She's not breathing. She overdosed on Xanax and vodka." I'll have to find the bottle that was kicked across the room, I remind myself, feeling dazed. The paramedics might need to see it.

"What is your address?" She asks, and I can tell she's realized how urgent the situation is. Her voice sounds higher and more alert, and she's no longer telling me to try and calm down. I don't know why it scares me more.

I give her the information and she says the ambulance is on the way and I weakly drop my phone onto the bed. I'm still holding Victoria's hand, my fingers closed at her wrist, and feel the faint blip of her pulse again. I'm not imagining it. She's still alive. "Victoria! Can you hear me?" Hope fills me and I jump up, and carefully roll her over.

Tilting her head back, I press my mouth to hers, trying not to think about the vile smell and taste of vomit, and breathe into her. Her chest rises. I check her airway again, listen for her heartbeat, but still nothing. She doesn't exhale. It occurs to me that Lexy has been the one breathing for her all this time. She's been her oxygen. But she's far away, and without the life support, Victoria finally ran out of air.

Straddling her, I start the compressions, praying I'm not doing it wrong and accidentally break her ribs. I cringe at how alive she feels beneath me as if she's going to open her eyes any second and ask what I'm doing. Those plastic dummies do nothing to prepare you for the real thing. It's a much different experience when it's an actual person. Your own wife. Nausea backs up in my throat, along with the hysteria. I can't lose her. I want to break down and sob, but there's no time. Was that a moan? I swear I'm hearing things. I go back and forth between breathing for her and trying desperately to get her heart to beat.

Somewhere off in a detached place in my mind, I hear the distant sound of sirens, indicating help has finally arrived. As I pump my locked fists into Victoria's chest, I can't help thinking they are years too late.
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