I wrote this 10 years ago… the story itself is 20 years old… March 26, 1996. Still remember it as if it were yesterday. Still miss you Johnny.
Ode to an Angel
I knew he was gone when the phone rang. It was a girl I worked with, calling to tell me that John had been found dead in his apartment. He had died of a single gunshot to the head. His gun was on the floor next to an empty whisky bottle and a note to his wife. The phone was on the table.
They estimated the time of death to be about 4:30 am. That would have been just after I had hung up. I tried to talk him out of it. The last thing he had said to me was, “Don’t worry. It will be okay. I love you.”
I had finished my shift in a daze. I had to get home to take the girls to school or I would have gone by his place first. I think he planned it that way. On and off for a week I would try his number and never get any answer. I drove by the apartment and his truck was there. Once I stopped, but as I rounded the corner a woman was coming out his door. She looked at me. I turned and ran. I didn’t try to go back.
I wish I could have said something to save him. The one thing he wanted to hear I couldn’t say. I couldn’t say I would leave my life and my girls for him. I couldn’t say I would run off to Arizona and live with him at his sister’s place. I couldn’t say I loved him.
I don’t regret the time we had together. Even though that time cost me the trust in my marriage. Ultimately, that time nearly killed my husband and has killed the marriage. No, it wasn’t only the affair. We had other issues or I would never have fallen for him the way I did.
It was a shift like any other shift. We had two new guys starting. They both had trained on days so it was going to be a long night for them. I came into the aisle for the nightly shift meeting. Nice looking guys. Ernest introduced them and then we went to work. I was working in a different part of the fab, so didn’t really talk to them much at first.
About 3 am, my cranky old machine decided it was done for the night. I went into the fab and sat down at the inspection table. There was a pile of lots on the table, so I got to work. Both new guys were on machines nearby so we joked back and forth for a while.
At the end of the shift, we all walked out together. It is strange to change out of the clean room gear and get first glimpses of people.
Robert was more my type. He was really upbeat and fun to be around. John was more moody and quiet. It took me a while to get to know them because of my work location. Once they had finished training, however, we all ended up on the same break schedule.
Breaks were a blast. The three of us were the only ones from our department on that break schedule. We got in the habit of loading into John’s truck and going over to the casino for the all-you-can-eat-heartburn-special at 2 am. After eating, we would drive around or sit in the parking lot with the tunes cranked on the radio.
In December, I was moved into the main part of the fab and John was sent back to train on my machine. I used to make a point of delivering lots to him and we would sit in the small, noisy room and talk. He was real depressed at that time because his wife had kicked him out of their house. Just packed his meager belongings and left them on the front porch. He had moved into a dingy little apartment in the “War Zone”, an area filled with gang activity and gut-wrenching poverty.
He told me about his time in the service. He had served 18 months in northern Iraq after the first Gulf War. He had been a munitions specialist. Unfortunately, he had developed a heart condition and had been given a medical discharge. When he got back stateside, his wife had taken his two kids to New Mexico and moved in with her parents. She wasn’t planning on letting him move back in with her, but they had gotten back together and bought a house. Now he was on his own in a town he didn’t know.
I talked about my messed up relationship. My husband was prone to depressions and wild, maniacal anger in which he would lash out at me, at the whole world. I had taken the job at the fab in order to get away.
One night we spent the whole night making sexual innuendos and telling dirty jokes. Someone told a joke about blowjobs and he looked at me and said, “I’d give my truck up for a chance of that.”
We would talk for hours in that little room, in the Village Inn after work, on the phone when we both should have been sleeping. We jumped at the chance to go home early on the last day of work before the holiday shutdown. I didn’t really want to go home, so I went back to his apartment to watch movies. No one would expect me home until 6 am anyway.
We talked and watched something…don’t remember what now. We had made a conscious decision to be friends, not lovers. However, it didn’t work out that way. I was in a really obnoxious mood that night and kept kicking his feet off the table. He finally told me if I didn’t stop he was going to come over there and make me stop. Of course, being a pain-in-the-ass, I kicked his foot again just to see what he would do.
He came over and sat next to me and proceeded to tickle my ribs, eventually getting my hands over my head. I don’t know who kissed first, but once we started we couldn’t stop. After a while, he muttered that we weren’t supposed to be doing that, that we were going to be just friends. We fumbled out of our clothes and into the bedroom. It was all very urgent, two needy souls colliding in the night.
Later, as we lay together, he looked at me and said that it would have been worth losing his truck. He just stroked my hair for a long time after that. I fell asleep for a little while and had to rush to get home before everyone started waking up.
For a couple of weeks, we managed to move back into the realm of friends. We were able to continue working together without anyone realizing what had happened between us. I kind of think Robert might have known because he watched us when we were out. Robert had a new girlfriend, one he ended up marrying, so maybe he was just distracted.
In January, we had a team party. We all met at a local Mexican restaurant for dinner and drinks. John sat next to me. All through dinner he kept rubbing his hand across my thigh. I knew I wasn’t going straight home after dinner. We left and I followed him back to his place. We didn’t even pretend to be just friends this time.
From then on, whenever I could get away I went to see him. Sometimes I would go home with him after the last shift of the week and spend a couple of hours with him.
Soon afterward, I found out I was pregnant. It wasn’t his; it was my husband’s. He knew that but was as excited as if it had been his. He actually announced my pregnancy to the team during a shift meeting. He was funny about making sure I was eating and getting enough rest and not carrying too many boxes. It was all very sweet. By this time, I think most of the crew knew something was going on, but no one said anything.
He applied for a job at another plant in town, claiming that he needed more money. They were going to hire him as a tech instead of an operator. He was thrilled when they called and offered him the job pending the background check and drug testing.
He had started drinking fairly heavily. I knew he was missing his wife and family. He missed a few days of work after giving his notice. I would call him and talk to him on my breaks. He seemed down but wouldn’t admit that anything was wrong.
The week before he was scheduled to leave, he suddenly changed his mind and said he was staying. We were scheduled to take a class together that weekend. He showed up for the first day, but skipped the other two days. He told the boss that he was sick. I could tell he was slipping away, but didn’t know how to help him.
He didn’t show up for work the first day of the shift the next week. I heard from a friend of his that he had been turned down for the other job because of a DWI charge that he had gotten before coming to work with us.
I called him on break. He was in tears. His wife had a boyfriend. He had seen them at the bar earlier that night. We talked until my break was over. I was working on the old machine in the small room. I called him from there. We talked for a couple of hours. He said he was thinking about killing himself or leaving town. His sister had a place in Arizona and she had offered to let him stay with her. I had to stop talking to get a little work done and then was going on my second break. I called from the break room. Robert was sitting at the table where we usually sat. He kept looking at me, concerned at how upset I seemed. John told me he loved me that he never would have let our relationship go as far as it did otherwise. He wanted me to move to Arizona with him. He wanted me to say I loved him back. Something kept me from saying it. I doubt it would have made any difference, maybe I realized he was doomed. I hung up and went to the table. I told Robert that a friend was threatening suicide, but didn’t tell him who.
I don’t remember much of the rest of the shift. I started crying on the drive home, I don’t know why, but I had to pull over until I could see again. I was exhausted and slept until just before it was time to go back to work. I didn’t try to call Johnny during work the rest of the week.
On Monday, he was supposed to show up to finish the class he missed. He didn’t show. They tried his apartment with no luck. On Tuesday, I got the call from work telling me he had been found. Ernest had called his wife. She told him what had happened. She had gone to see him, to make sure he was taking seeing her and her friend out the night before. When he wouldn’t open the door, she got the landlord to open it for her. She wanted to talk to me, because I had left messages for him during the week.
The first week back was hell. I hadn’t talked to anyone since the first call. They were all very protective of me at work that night. The one thing I remember is Robert putting his hand on the back of my head and just standing there. He did tell me he wished I had told him whom I was talking to. Then he changed his mind and said he was glad he didn’t know.
I lost a lot of weight in the weeks after John’s death. The doctor was getting concerned and told me if I didn’t start gaining weight that I might have to stop working. I tried to eat, but it didn’t taste at all. I wasn’t sleeping well either. I know my husband suspected something from the drastic reaction I had to my coworker’s death.
One day, in April I was driving home. It was a beautiful sunny morning. I was driving through my neighborhood and had to stop the car. It was all so stunning. I just looked at the trees and flowers and said to myself, “It’s okay now. Everything will be fine.” I think that maybe John was telling me to get on with my life.
I miss you, Johnny.