I was working in the Daycare at the local Job Corps Center. I’ve never been a person that was all googly-eyed about kids. I treated them as small but intelligent human beings, spoke straight with them, hugged them when they needed it, reprimanded them when they needed it and never talked down to them.
Tonia called me about a week after I saw her at the Dugout. She’d been drinking; she was angry at Larry. Sean and Larry had reconnected. Larry came and visited Sean a few times and whenever he was in town he’d try to see Tonia and me. I refused. He hadn’t made it to any weddings. Sometimes he had Lynne with him. He hadn’t been my father for a long time. But Tonia kept trying to get something out of him, an apology, some remorse, or even just admitting he’d hurt her. Some of the love or acceptance she’d always wanted from him.
But he was never going to admit even to himself that he’d done anything wrong. These visits did nothing good for Tonia’s state of mind. She was just angrier after he left. And she couldn’t let go. After every Larry visit, it was like Tonia had more bitterness and disappointment to add to her collection. So when she called me, Tonia hadn’t seen Larry for a while, but she was upset about him all the same.
Tonia wanted me to remember all the things Larry and Lynne had done. But I didn’t and it made her angrier. She couldn’t believe I didn’t remember the worst day of her life. She started asking me if I remembered any of the other things that had happened to her: Mike’s accident, Faith’s death, getting her arm broken in high school–did I think so little of her that I forgot all about her bad life?
Trying to talk over Tonia when she was having one of these episodes was impossible. I started saying to her over and over: “The past is the past; let it go. The past is the past; let it go.” Which is terrible advice; the past was obviously eating her alive. But the only way I kept going was to put it behind me. Which will come back to bite you in the end, but it was all I had.
Tonia had also started calling people when she was drunk and in a bad way, making us worry until someone would go over to check on her to make sure she didn’t hurt herself. It was exhausting. Since she was dating a guy who owned a bar, she drank for free and she drank often. Then would come the calls and the accusations and recriminations. If you suggested she needed to go get help she’d insist she didn’t need help; she just needed a friend or her mother or her sister or whoever.
Bell wanted to sell his bars in Minot and move to Las Vegas. He and Tonia took a trip out there to look for houses to buy. When they got back to Minot, he told Tonia he wasn’t taking her with him; he was moving to Vegas without her. She didn’t call me. She called Bonnie, but it was the middle of the night and Bonnie’s machine picked up. She called Joyce; Joyce told Tonia it was the middle of the night and she didn’t want to deal with this right now. She called Sean; his machine picked up too.
I was at the supervisor/reception station at the daycare center when Sean walked down the hall, looking like a rockstar. I didn’t recognize him at first; he looked so out of place. I stepped out of the supervisor station into the hall to meet him. Sean put his hand under my elbow and told me Tonia was dead; she’d killed herself the night before. I felt like someone had detonated a bomb in my heart. My chest lit up with sharp, painful heat; it felt like my head left my body. I took a step toward Sean and said, “But why? It was finally starting to get good.” And then I stumbled into my brother’s arms. Sean caught me and held me up. We stood there in the hall holding on to each other for a moment. I could hear kids laughing and playing. My boss came up behind me and put her hand on my shoulder. “Go.” Sean supported me as we walked out of the building to his car.