I will be temporarily posting a few chapters of my next book Chapel Street over the next couple of weeks. I hope you enjoy them.
“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against
the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers
over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of
evil in the heavenly places.”
My name is Rick Bakos and my story really began on September 27, 2011.
I arrived home at Rueckert Avenue right around midnight. The drafty five-bedroom Victorian house was nearly a hundred years old. It sat on the second highest hill in northeast Baltimore sheltered by oak trees. You could see every thing from the skyscrapers in the Inner Harbor to the smokestacks of the steel mills at distant Sparrows Point from the upstairs windows. We moved into the house when I was three years old. It was a considerable upgrade from my maternal grandparents’ basement. To me, it was a veritable castle with plenty of nooks and crannies to explore. Now, however, its size seemed to mock the diminished state of our family.
Lights still illuminated my mother’s front bedroom as I pulled into the driveway. No voice greeted me when I stepped inside, but I could hear her television playing. I called to her, but she didn’t answer. I went to the door and gently knocked. Once again, no response.
I announced myself before quietly opening the door. I didn’t want to wake her up if she was already asleep. In that case, I would just turn off her lights and television as I frequently did. Her doctors proscribed her a dizzying array of drugs since her battle with lymphoma began a couple of months earlier. Her nighttime dosage often sent her on a peaceful night’s sleep, provided her television didn’t wake her back up.
As expected I saw my mother, Alice Bakos, lying in bed. Her head was cocked toward her nightstand. Her eyes were open. I assumed she was awake.
“Hi,” I said.
No response. Nothing. She didn’t even turn to me. Now I was worried.
I crept forward. A thick comforter and more blankets than the mild fall night demanded covered her. Her head and shoulders were exposed. She wore red plaid flannel pajamas. One of her arms hung stiffly off the side of the bed. It was motionless. In fact, there was no motion anywhere. The blankets were not rising and falling with her breath. Nothing was.
I turned to her brown eyes as I walked forward. They were wide open, and appeared dry. Sticky, even. They didn’t blink. Not once. A little pinpoint somewhere deep in my mind registered the truth: She was dead. The rest of me couldn’t accept it. My mother was fighting a losing battle against lymphoma with chemo. I knew that much, but the doctors assured me she still had months to live. She couldn’t be dead. Not now.
Her mouth was wide open, too. Crookedly. There was a dry, white substance around her lips. It wasn’t vomit. It was like she had been foaming at her mouth in her last moments.
Now I was close enough to touch her. Her neck was exposed. I reached out to check for a pulse, but I couldn’t bring myself to touch her white skin. I had a sudden, overpowering thought that it would be deathly cold, and that the cold would never leave my fingers. I hated myself as I pulled back my hand.
What if she was still alive? What if she was just unconscious?
What could I do anyway? I wasn’t a doctor.
I had to call nine-one-one.
I took out my cellphone. As I dialed, my eyes went to the nightstand. All of her yellow pill bottles were on their sides. My first thought was that she knocked them over while she was dying, but where were the pills? They should have spilled all over the place, but I didn’t see a single one. Some the bottles should have been full. I refilled two of the prescriptions on my way home from work that very evening.
The truth flooded into my brain: She killed herself.
I dropped my phone as I staggered backwards out of her bedroom. I couldn’t believe she actually did it. My older brother Lenny killed himself a year earlier by jumping off a sixth floor balcony at a hotel in the resort town of Ocean City, Maryland. His death was not a surprise. He suffered from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia for nearly his entire adult life. Still, his suicide crushed our family emotionally. My mother most of all. She was never the same afterwards.
And now she decided to inflict the same pain on us again herself.
How could she?
I couldn’t go back into her bedroom and retrieve my cellphone. I went downstairs and called nine-one-one on the ground line in the kitchen. Afraid they wouldn’t consider it an emergency if I reported her dead, I told them I thought she was in a coma. Then I called my kid sister Janet and gave her the news. I dreaded that call. Janet and I were not close. I resented her decision to escape to college in California, leaving my mother and me to deal with Lenny. Still, there was no one else left to call her. It was my responsibility. When I got her, I told Janet that Mom was dead but I didn’t mention suicide. I didn’t want to freak her out completely. She was always the emotional one in the family, and I couldn’t handle that now. Not alone.
Next I called my girlfriend Gina Holt. She rushed over from her comfy downtown apartment, where I had spent the evening. She arrived after the ambulance, but thankfully before my sister. Gina was perfect. She stayed glued to my side the entire time, always keeping a supportive hand on my shoulder, back or arm. Gina seemed genuinely upset about my mother’s death, despite the fact that my mom had tried every trick in her considerable playbook to ruin our relationship.
My sister arrived right before the paramedics came downstairs to give us the bad news. They also noticed the bottles. Apparently, when a person dies of natural causes, the paramedics have you call the funeral home to remove the body. However, since they now suspected suicide, they were taking my mother to the hospital for an autopsy. Just as I feared, Janet became hysterical, alternating almost equally between mournful moaning and angry rants. After they removed my mother’s body, the three of us sat up all night and drank every ounce of alcohol in the house. Janet left at dawn. I left, too. I couldn’t stay at the house. I went back with Gina to her apartment.
I took the week off from work to take care of the funeral arrangements. Gina took off the week, too. For the next month I rarely returned to the family home. For the first time in our nearly five-year relationship, Gina and I actually lived together. I assumed it was a preamble to the marriage both Gina and I wanted, but, from the beginning, our life together was marred by vivid nightmares. Each night, I imagined waking up to find Gina dead beside me. Sometimes, it was present day. Sometimes, it was in the distant future. It didn’t matter when. The truth was undeniable. If Gina and I stayed together, the day would come when one of us would awaken to find the other one dead.
I couldn’t face that prospect. Claiming I needed space to mourn, I moved out of her apartment and got my own place in a high-rise in Towson. The dreams stopped, but with them the relationship. I was heartbroken, but I let it happen anyway. Call me a coward, but I knew if I stayed alone I could limit my future pain.
Gina deserved better.
Ironically, my mother won. The sight of her dead in bed ultimately shattered the relationship she had long desired to destroy.
Prologue - My Mother
Chapter 1 - RestingPlace.com
Chapter 2 - Elisabetta
Chapter 3 - The Upload
Chapter 4 - The Kobayashi Maru
Chapter 5 - Gina
Chapter 6 - Tombstone Teri
Chapter 7 - The Holy Redeemer Lonely Hearts Club
Chapter 8 - A Mourner
Chapter 9 - War Is Declared
Chapter 10 - The Motorcycle
Chapter 11 - Suspended
Chapter 12 - The Harbor
Chapter 13 - Bad News Betty
Learn more about the book Here.
While you're waiting for the next chapter of Chapel Street, feel free to read my memoir:
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