I was twenty years old in March of 1998, and life was about to take a serious turn down a road I never played out in my head. The year started off pretty good. Major league baseball teams held tryouts for their farm systems and I was giving it a shot. I don’t know if they still do it, but it was a great experience. I was exercising, eating better, and trying to do the right things, with the fitness knowledge that I had at the time. I drank a little bit socially, but nothing too serious. At that point, my problems hadn’t surfaced yet. My mom was sick. She had pancreatitis from years of alcohol abuse, but overall seemed to be doing okay. I didn’t know anything about the disease except that it was painful and made her miserable. I pretended that her health was fine or though that it was just temporary, because that’s what I did, I took a major life situation and swept it under the rug for later consumption. I didn’t know any better.
One of the teams that liked me was the Pirates. They thought enough of me to invite me down to Jupiter, Florida for a second call back. I was supposed to drive down there on March 5th, but plans changed. On the night of the 4th, I went home to gather some things together and I was going to take off in the morning. My mom was a Boxer breeder and had five or six puppies along with four grown dogs at the time, so she was keeping herself busy. When I got there that night, she wasn’t doing so hot, but I had seen this before. She had morphine pump implanted in her body to ease the pain, but also had plenty of medication to do the same. She had quit drinking by then, but looking back, I don’t know if it mattered. I walked into the house and saw her sitting on the floor kind of rocking and crying. I figured that she had taken too much medication again to ease the pain and was out of it because of that. I was pissed. I was leaving the next day to hopefully start a baseball career and didn’t want to leave her alone like that with all those dogs in the house. I had learned how to show that I was pissed off from her. She was the queen. I kept yelling at her looking for some type of response, but all I got was a crying slur, “I’m sorry! I didn’t do it!”. There was no way I was going to believe her because it had happened so many times before. It was a one-sided argument, and I eventually calmed down. I had asked her a few times if I should call an ambulance, but we never agreed to. So, I brought her upstairs, so she could lie down and sleep it off. I told her that I’d be back in the morning to check on her before I went to Florida. Unfortunately, this was a normal occurrence, so I didn’t think much of it.
As I was leaving, I was walking down the stairs and heard, “Neil? Can you please get me some water?” The balls on her, I thought. “F*ck you! Get your own water!” I felt bad saying it but thought that I had to show tough love, and ‘fuck you’ was how we did it in my family. So off I went to spend the night at my girlfriend’s house, I wanted to spend some time with her before I left. She was a great person, and I’m sure still is. She supported me in everything I did. Maybe one day I’ll be brave enough to tell the story of how I screwed that one up, but not today. The next morning, I hopped into my truck and headed home, with my girl by my side, I was feeling excited about the new venture I was about to go on, and even if I didn’t make it, I knew that it would be a great experience. I don’t remember exactly why she was with me when I went back to the house because she wasn’t coming with me to Florida, but either way, she was there.
When I got there, I went inside and heard water dripping. I figured that I’d get my stuff and investigate later. I called for my mom, but didn’t she didn’t answer, and I really didn’t think anything of it. I went down to the basement and saw water dripping down on my bed, and all over the floor. I had weird feeling in my gut, so I hurried up and got my stuff together. I went upstairs and saw the water leaking from the ceiling and into the living room. Oh shit. She left the bathtub on all night. This was going to throw a giant wrench in my plans, so I ran up to the second floor to turn the bathtub off. It was weird, the dogs hadn’t come to greet me yet, but they were probably just hanging with mom or the puppies. I glanced in the room and saw my mom before I went to turn the bathtub off. I was trying to have a conversation with her to make sure it was okay that I left, but no there was no response. “Mom. What’s wrong with you? Can’t you hear me?” but still nothing. I turned the water off and went into her room, and something wasn’t right. When the dogs jumped on the bed, she just kinda flowed with it and my heart sank. “Mom!” I said so many times. “Are you okay?” She wasn’t moving. I walked over to the bed, picked up her arm, and it was ice cold. She was dead.
After a few dozen “Oh my God’s” I ran downstairs like a crazy person yelling “she’s dead” over and over again. I remember seeing at my girlfriend’s face. It was a combination of never ending love and the pain she felt because she knew what happened. Her lips were quivering, and she was shaking, but I just ran away. I didn’t know what to do. I think I blacked out for a minute because I ended up down the street, on my back, and on the ground crying. When she finally had the courage to come get me, I’ll never forget the love mixed with pain in her eyes… it made it all real. I was noticing someone else’s pain for me for the very first time, it was confusing. I stopped crying and sucked it up because, all of a sudden, I felt that I had to be strong for her. It was a way to bury my feelings, and hide my emotions, and I took it.
When I finally got some time to myself, after the ambulance took my mom away, a couple things sunk in. My mom was dead, and my last words to her were “f*ck you, get your own water.” What? Does that feeling go away? How in the world could those be my last words to my own mother? How am I going to live with that? At the time it was the darkest place that I had ever been. We didn’t always see eye to eye, but by the time she died, the dynamic of our relationship was actually pretty good. We were learning from each other, and we had respect for each other, even though it didn’t show the night before. Or maybe she just respected me more than she had in the past. Either way, it didn’t matter now. She was gone.
They did an autopsy, and found that the cause of death was sepsis, which caused the mental confusion that made me think that she had taken too much medication. The other thing is that, if I had called an ambulance the night before, she could have been treated and possibly saved. Take a wild guess where I put those emotions. Right at the bottom of every bottle I saw, that’s where. That spring and summer was rough on my mind and my body. I got stupid. I did more stupid shit than I ever imagined possible. Thank God that my girlfriend was who she was because, if it weren’t for her, I don’t think I would’ve made it through that summer. Or was she enabling me without knowing it?
Why am I telling you this story? Because, there are a lot of lessons to be learned from what I went through that year and an awful lot more story to tell… which is exactly what I’m going to do in part 2 of this article. But for now, just know that I got through it, and even though it took me almost twenty years, I found the tools in myself to come to terms with and accept what happened. This has allowed me to grow as a person, be able to talk about it, and hopefully, pass on those tools to others that may find them beneficial.