That first photo is the guitar pik that I found while cleaning my shelves in the livingroom a week after Ken died. It was my last gift from him. He never had thechance to give it to me along with theguitar he had bought me for my birthday.
That photo of Ken and I…….This was the photo they used in the newspaper article. The one detailing the last day of my best friend & fiancés life. The one I was interviewed for over the phone while on my cell while I was attempting to shop for the necessary items I would need to make the 18 hour bus trip from NC to OH for the funeral. I say attempted because I really didn’t accomplish much of anything. I wandered aimlessly up and down aisles of the small dollar store I had shoppd in a million times before. But this time it was like I was in a foreign land. Nothing was familiar. I couldn’t even remember how money worked. The man on the phone kept asking questions, the most basic, simple questions. Things I should know. I tried desperately to come up with responses that would encapsulate Kens life, his role in our family, what he meant to myself and my boys. (OUR boys, as he had come to call them in the course of our 2 year relationship.) My words felt watery and shallow to my ears. When the article came out, a couple of days later, it was kind and respectful and I wrote the journalist a heartfelt letter of thanks on his FB page. Because it was one of the rare moments of respect regarding his death for many months.
To make a very long story short I will simply say Ken had a drinking problem. It was something that ran in his family, and it was a demon that he battled with for many years. He was never a violent drunk. He drank because he was ashamed. Of the drinking. Which led to this awful cycle. He was his own worst enemy as far as self-love. He would try so very hard to stop and would do wonderfully for awhile but then it would get the better of him and he would take off, stay gone for a few days at a friends house and stay drunk. Anyone who met Ken, who knew him, knew he always had a huge smile on his face and was always the first to help a person out, to speak a word of kindness. I fell in love with him because he made me laugh.
The man I was with before Ken was abusive. Ken made me feel safe. He fast became my closest friend. I cant explain our connection. We simply GOT eachother. I am trepidatious to use the word soulmate as it seems so cliché.
So many times I begged him to quit drinking. He tried. He really did. But unless you have struggled with addiction you cannot imagine how tight the bonds are that tie you to the devil when you begin to dance with him. Pretty much every single friend and family member told me to leave him. But I couldn’t. I told him once I couldn’t imagine existing without him, surely I would cease to exist if he died before me. I was unaware at that time of the strength within myself.
He was a good Dad to my boys. Truly. He loved them all and called them his but he forged a special bond with my youngest, who was only a couple of months old when we began our relationship. They were inseperable. Drezdyn would not sleep unless he was nestled on Kens chest. He lit up with smiles so bright when they played together. Everyone simply assumed it was his son. And for all intents and purposes he was. Ken died 9 days after Drezdyn turned two. And to this day, my now 4-year-old can tell you what they used to play and what song it was Ken used to dance with him to.
On January 29th,an officer showed up at my door. I swear for a few seconds it didn’t even phase me because it happened to be the officer who attended our church with his wife and was in our sunday school class. I assumed he was there on church business. And yes, there was the pastor right behind them. But there was another office….one I didn’t recognize. I naivly smiled at them and said hello. They ushered me outside, off my porch, to the walkway. I closed the door on my 5 sons who were watching a movie whilethe chocolate chip cookies we had just made were baking in the oven.And that was the very last moment of my old life. The cookie batter in a bowl on the counter, my boys blissfully innocent of loss.
“We have some bad news, Tonia……Ken passed away last night.”
Two things happened at the same time. One, I dropped top my knees and sobbed. I don’t cry in front of others. I get very self conscious normally and tell myself to toughen up. BUt I simply dropped and keened in on myself. Not even tears. Just some strange guttural sound from within myself, my arms wrapped tightly around myself as if I was afraid of splitting open and falling apart right there. The second thing, was this other smaller portion of myself which immediately disconnected from me and thought “I thought they only said it like that in the movies.”
Those two separate parts existed separately for a few days. The broken aching part was very very numb, very very scared and very very alone. The other part tried her best to get things done. I began by calling Kens mom. The officer was attempting to ask me question after question. I tried teling him answers. I found out my texts to him, and his back to me, were the very last human contact he had with any person on this earth. Which means his last words to me were “I love you” and my last words to him were the same. I am eternally grateful for that. I called his mother. Right there, in the midst of the officer trying to talk to me I told him I hadto do something. Because it dawned on me that this woman, this woman I hadn’t even had the honor of meeting yet because she lived in Ohio, was going to get a mothers nightmare of a phone call from some cop. I couldn’t have that happen. So, I called her. Told her. Listened to the heart broken sobs of a mother. That sound will be seared into my memory for the rest of my life. To have to tell a mother that her 42 year old son is gone……Its something I never wanted to do but I knew I needed to. There was no wussing out on any of this. Same went for telling my sons. Trying to answer their questions about death and God and heaven…..
Ken had been walking the Greenway. Its a paved pathway that runs along a river. He stopped at one point on his way home to sit and rest on a bench just a couple of feet from the riverbank. (We didn’t have a car at that time.) He sat and texted back and forth with me awhile. It was late by then, about 10 pm. Dark. He had been sober almost two months at that point and had just told me a few days earlier that it was the happiest and healthiest he had ever felt. In his pocket was a wedding ring and engagement ring he had just bought me that day. Maybe it was nerves he wanted to settle before proposing. Maybe it was simply temptation. But he drank that day. Too much. Maybe it was the alcohol. (though I doubt it because he was never thefall-down drunk type.) Maybe it was the simple fact it was dark and the damn bench was too close to the steep drop down to the river. Maybe someone pushed him. I honestly don’t know. The cops chalked it up to an accident. Many people, myself included believe there is something suspicious in it. But in this small town things get covered up, swept under rugs. When I began to dig for details I got warnings. Subtle but clear warnings. But nonetheless, Ken fell in the river. Drowned. Died. A lady and her daughter found his body the following morning. While I was washing dishes, playing football with my boys, changing my youngest sons diaper, they were painstakingly pulling his body out of the river. I always assumed I would SENSE if someone I loved died. But the world kept spinning.
I went to the Greenway the next day with my mom, walked every damn inch of it obsessively. I wanted to know where it happened. How it happened. Why it happened. God bless my mother, she walked with me for hours. Im sure I looked on the verge of a breakdown. I was someplace else. I wanted every detail. The following day an officer took me to the site. It was right where I had guessed it had happened. He asked what I wanted to know.I said “Everything.” So he told me. Told me how his body was floating in the water, face down, arms splayed, still holding the shopping bags from his shopping that day. He gave me Kens belongings. A soggy shoe box with one brand new hiking boot.(they never found the other.) His wallet and phone. Both muddy. Photos of myself and the boys in his wallet coated in river mud. A pack of gum. Loose change. And then the box. The tiny black ring box. I took it wordlessly, stoicly. Stepped outside, walked around to the side of the building where no one could see me and cracked it open. Two beautiful rings sparkled beneath a layer of mud. I wiped them clean and slid them on and cried. I told Ken they were beautiful. Cried more.
The bus trip to Ohio was hell. I hadn’t slept in three days. But everytime I began to drift asleep on the bus I would see Ken drowning, reaching for me, begging me to save him……I met his family for the first time and they were lovely and so kind.
I saw his body. My very first dead body. I broke down and sobbed, kissed his cold lips like I was kissing a stone. I placed myhand on his hands and it was the same…the same hand I had held a million times before. But not. It felt like velvet and ice. Soft and cold with an unfamiliar hardness underneath. I remember thinking it really didn’t LOOK like him, more like a wax figure replica. There was makeup on his face and his hair was nothing like he styled it. He hair had been his obsession and I remember going outside and calling my mom, telling her I wanted to go buy a brush and fix his damn hair. It bothered me so strongly.
His funeral the next day. I spoke. I read a poem aloud. I kissed him one last time. I watched his father, usually so stoic and strong, fall apart and throw himself over his son in the casket, sobbing loudly. Another memory seared into my mind.
I went home. Life went on. I didn’t really have much of a choice with 5 young sons to raise. We fumbled our way through the days and months, helping to hold each other up, each coming to terms with God in our own way. A year after Kens death I took out the box with his possessions in it, the stuff that made me sad, the things from his last day, the stuff that only reminded me of his death and not his life.I took that box and emptied it out. Dumped it into my firepit after the kids were in bed. Sat and talked to Ken for awhile. And then I burned those things. Because I didn’t want to live my life in grief. I wanted to move on. To honor his memory by my life.
I try my best to do so everyday.
He once told me how proud he was of me, how strong he thought me to be, how impressed he was by my spirit, my tenacity. I didn’t really see it in myself. But he helped me with that. I am forever thankful for that.
All I am doing from this point on is because of who he helped me become. Who I am today is due in great part to a man I only had for 2 years, but who filled my heart with a lifetime of memories.
Rest in peace, Kenneth Wayne Kubit. And thank you. ❤