August 12, 2011

It was Friday. 3:00 pm.

My desk phone rang. The HR director asked if I was in the office.

     “Ok,” she said. “Um. Ok. I’ll call you back.”

 That was odd. Why was she so flustered?

I recently changed jobs and was settling in at this new firm. The people were lovely, the commute was shorter, and I carried none of the old baggage with me. No one knew about Michael. As far as they understood, I was a typical thirty-something woman, marketing manager with two small children and my husband was travelling for business. In reality, he completed a month of rehab and was spending three and a half months in a halfway house more than 300 miles away. 

Five minutes later, the HR director called again and told me to go to the training room on the 12th floor. My boss would be there waiting and needed to talk to me.

How the hell am I getting fired? I just started this job two months ago and it’s going great. I had just had a long conversation with my boss that morning and we were talking about all the great things ahead. My mind was swirling.

I walked off the elevator into the hallway. I opened the door to the office suite, it was dark inside. I saw a faint light coming from the training room. I called out – Hello? Hello?

    My boss called back, “I’m in here.”

I walked through the doorway to find my boss and the office manager sitting at separate tables. As soon as they saw me they stood. Their faces looked - - - pained. My bosses eyes were red and I could see her searching for words.

An urgency moved through me and prodded me to speak first.

    “What is going on?”

My boss began to speak…I heard what she said but my mind didn’t keep up.

    “An investigator called the main switchboard. Michael died this morning”, she said.

My eyes searched hers and pleaded with her at the same time…my mind could not keep up with the information it was receiving. I was trying to interpret the sounds and sensations. Warmth poured over my face and rushed down my throat, through my stomach and then I slumped over the table.

    ”What happened to my Mikey, what happened, what happened?”

My boss held me. 

Her touch brought me back to the moment. I turned to face her.

    “What happened?” I cried.

She began to tell me that an investigator had been trying to get in touch with me all day. Yes of course, shit! The one day I left my cell phone at home. The police figured out where I worked and called the main office number. Good detective work.

The office manager spoke up and said she had the telephone number of the investigator on the case and they wanted to speak with me. I rushed to the phone in a corner of the room and dialed. How? I have no clue. As the phone rang the police station, my mind whirled and my head throbbed.   

Was he in a car accident?  Did he have a heart attack? That sometimes happens to people in their thirties, right?. Had he been murdered? I knew some of the people he met in rehab were shady, I knew some of the people at the halfway house were bad news, but they were all working on themselves. And Michael was helping them. That’s what he promised.

In fact, on my recent visit to see him he’d told me he wanted to dedicate himself to this work when he finished his halfway house stay. He wanted to invest in properties for sober living houses.  He talked excitedly about what kind of properties we would buy and how we would furnish the houses. We even went to some Open Houses around town and he walked from room to room, saying things like:

    “We could have AA meetings here. And look at this deck, baby. This would be perfect for early morning sunrise groups.”

Miraculously, the call went through and the operator at the police station patched me through to the investigator.

He began with an apology. I cut him off.

    “What happened?” I pleaded.

    “At 10:00 a.m., a woman called 911 and when emergency personnel arrived on the scene, the gentleman she identified as Michael Jurado was dead. She –“ 

    "She. S H E? Who the fuck is SHEEEEEEEEE?", I demanded.

The investigator lowered his voice.

    “Ma’am, I am sorry…your husband was with a woman. When she woke up she found Michael wasn’t breathing.”

STOP.

I was enraged. I pressed the detective further. Much of that conversation is a blur, but I did find out that my husband apparently died of an overdose in the bed of another woman. I cut the conversation. That was all that I could handle at that moment.

I frantically called Michael’s mentor from the half-way house. He answered cautiously and solemnly. Through tears he told me Michael was dead.

    “YES, I am aware…what the hell was going on?”

He assured me that there was nothing with Michael and the woman. He had been “helping” her.

I hung up. 

The first person I called was my dad and so began my duty of delivering life-altering news. His confusion matched mine. His questions stung. He insisted that he would come get me at work. I insisted I was fine to drive and I would meet everyone at my parents’ house. It just so happened that my sister and her husband were driving up from Austin and hitting Dallas within minutes. So we kind of compromised and decided to meet at my office and then my sister would ride North with me.

My boss went to gather my things. We walked out of the training room and into the hallway. I was in a daze, in a vacuum. It was now around 3:45 pm. People were spilling out of offices on every floor to leave for the weekend and I did not have a care to even concern myself with what I looked like. In the elevator ride down to the main floor I felt like I was outside of my body. I was clearly in shock.  

In the lobby, my boss asked for my car keys and said she would go to the garage and drive my car through the labyrinth, delivering it to me in front of our building.

I sat on the front steps weeping. People passed. They looked and kept going. I did not care, I could not talk to anyone. And yet I wondered at that moment, if I were to walk by a woman weeping on the steps of an office building could I simply keep walking?

I needed a cigarette.           

I had only one mission. I needed to know what happened in that small town.

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Recounting these moments still catches my breath. It's brutal. The images my mind created after learning these details haunted me for a long time and whisked me into deep darkness.

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Photo Credit: Oliver Hihn