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A Ghost From Christmas Past

At one point in my life I thought it’d be therapeutic to write a book about my nightmare in shining armor AKA my husband. Had it not been for the crimes he committed -- eventually convicted of -- I probably would’ve never found myself knowing a Jefferson Area Drug Enforcement Task Force Officer.

The case had absolutely nothing to do with drugs and I was originally given the impression that the detective who was assigned to it was acting in his official capacity as an Anti-Terrorist Officer. Actually I was initially misled to believe the man was an FBI agent. Anyway, the case had absolutely nothing to do with terrorism either, and, as a matter of fact, the investigator had never in his career worked the kind of case it was. I suppose I’m never going to understand why he was chosen and why our lives collided.

Getting back on track, I thought I’d put up a teeny portion of the unfinished manuscript here since it relates to a JADE member and coincides with the season. Twenty imperishably-branded-in-my-memory minutes of my life from Christmastime one year ago…


“Merry Christmas” came a cheery masculine voice from the other end of the line.

There were a few seconds of quiet as I debated whether to make this a nice conversation or a nasty one. Let’s shoot for nice. “Same to you, Mr. O’Donnell.”

“Don’t tell me you’re Jewish” he said, chuckling before I could respond. He was obviously pleased with his little joke.

“Very funny” I answered. He can be so lame. I waited for him to tell me why he’d been trying to reach me lately.

“Have you looked at PACER?”

“Not recently, no.”

“Spoken to Veronica? Bill?”

“I speak to Veronica often.” I’d just talked to both people only a few days earlier. No telling whether Mr. O’Donnell knew that. I didn’t feel like asking to find out.

Finally he got to the point. “The trial has been changed to a guilty plea hearing.” I let the news sink in for a moment. Strange I found my thoughts focusing more on Mr. O’Donnell than on the outcome of my husband and his crimes.

“So, I guess this means we’re done?” I asked, fishing for where this would leave him and me.

“Yes, we’re done” he replied matter-of-factly.

I don’t think Mr. O’Donnell grasped the context under which I had posed my question. Suddenly faced with the inevitable, the quite permanent loss of him from my life, melancholy crept its way through me. I fought for simplistic words and crossed my fingers I’d be able to get them out without choking up. “I guess this is it.”

Because I was in a somber haze, I didn’t quite catch the next thing he said. Something about keeping in touch? Had I heard that? I was somewhat in disbelief that this man, who had witnessed every emotion except three come out of me, after every awful way I’d treated him, would continue to communicate with me if he didn’t have to. I tried to conceal my befuddlement under sarcasm. “But this is your big chance to be free of me. You’ll never have to speak to me again. I would think you’d be thrilled.”

Mr. O’Donnell laughed. “We can still talk. You might want to tell me things.”

It was my turn to laugh. He knew perfectly well I’d do no such thing and said as much. “I don’t think you would, but, you never know.” He then brought up the manuscript he knew I was working on. It reminded me that two days earlier he’d left a message on my voice mail that began with “How’s the book coming along?”

“Why would you be interested in that?” I asked him. He made some sort of flippant comment. I ignored it. “Seriously. Why would you be interested in what I’m writing?”

“I spent a year and a half of my life on this case!” he erupted. The outburst was strong, surprising. I was tempted to analyze it, but resisted. He was rarely in such a good mood, I didn’t want to spoil it.

I shifted the conversation away from the book by asking him some innocuous case-related questions I’d thought of over the course of the call. He answered most of them. He said we’d likely talk again before the hearing date. My mind drifted to pieces of different discussions I’d had with Mr. O’Donnell over the past fifteen months. The sound of his voice growing gruff in my ear pulled me back to our present one. “…and answer the phone when I call you. Stop screening my calls” he demanded.

“Why? Do you think you’re important?”

I think I’m important. I don’t know what other people think. Don’t screen my calls” he repeated sternly.

“Oh like you don’t screen my calls” I retorted. True to form, we’d reverted to the kind of antagonistic banter we usually had with each other.

Our conversation was drawing to a close. I attempted to express some genuine gratitude. “Thank you for letting me know about the hearing. It was nice of you. To do that. I’m surprised.” I realized, regrettably, how that sounded. So did he.

“I’m not the demon you make me out to be” he said.

Oddly enough I’d recently seen The Golden Compass, a movie in which the character’s souls appeared as animals and were called demons. An amusing notion of Mr. O’Donnell being my demon flickered in my brain. I had a feeling the secret humor wouldn’t be funny to him.

“You’re a jerk! You don’t even deny that you’re a jerk --” I admonished sharply.

“No, I don’t deny it” he interjected to agree.

“But I do not make you out to be a demon” I finished.

The ensuing forty seconds of silence was the loudest I’d ever heard.

The call ultimately ended as politely as it had begun. We bid each other well for the approaching holiday and said good-bye. I snapped my cell phone shut, plugged it into its charger, and used my fingertips to brush away the lone teardrop from my cheek.