Sometime after the death and the funeral but before the insurance money came and the estate was settled, she called me on the phone. I was away at school pretending like everything was Okay and she was working with a lawyer to figure out selling his personal affects and settling the debt to his credit card accounts.

I was very interested in the money. All my life I had been interested in money, and overly practical with it, but after the divorce this fixation had only grown. I was constantly asking her if there was enough — to feed us, to keep the house, to help with school — and she was always demuring, telling me not to worry about it. Which was not an answer. And I wanted to be there, to understand, and even to help in some sophomoric way, so I kept asking, but she never told.

Now I was 18 and away at college and in line to inherit whatever of my dad’s feeble estate was left, so I was finally privy to details and figures.

She was explaining the process, and saying something about the death certificate finally coming in. I had demanded that we get an autopsy, though my mother and uncle had been uninterested. I’d said it was important for me to know. That it affected me. I couched it in the language of having a medical history to inform and guide me. So they called for an autopsy and we waited months for the death certificate to come in.

“It was the diabetes,” she said with a tired finality. We all knew that’s what it was. She didn’t elaborate, and clearly didn’t want to. Diabetic coma? Was his blood sugar too low, or too high? How does that even kill you? I wanted to know but I didn’t want to make her say.

“Do you ever…feel guilty?” I said, rude as hell.

“No,” she replied immediately. And then, sharper: “…Do you think that I should?”

“No, no no,” I corrected myself, “No, I was just wondering. Just wondering if you were ever…feeling that way.”

I did feel guilty, so I was probably only projecting. Sure, divorce set him on a path of outright self-destruction, but he’d been headed that way for a long time anyway. His health could not be her responsibility. Whether divorce sped up the inevitable was not the point.

But I had divorced him, too — by changing my name, by cutting him off, by acting like he wasn’t mine. And when he got the news of that, he cried and buried his head in his hands and sent my sister out of the car.

There is blood on my hands. That’s how I came to think of it. Those words echoed in my mind like a memorized song lyric or a prayer. There is blood on my hands. I killed someone. I killed someone.

I know better now, but just barely.

And if I really knew better, I wouldn’t have written about this 183 times already.

— — –

The first 100 Ohio Portraits are now available for $2.99, forKobo, Nook, Kindle, and all other ebook formats.

Originally published at

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