I run my fingers across raised lettering printed on the business card as I whisper the case number written on the back. This number will trace me to Ben’s body at the Orange County Medical Examiner’s Office. This card is the only tangible evidence I have that our nightmare is real.

Memories of last night come back to me in bits and pieces, but I don’t recall getting the card. The social worker must have left it on the table near our front door. It’s hard to remember anything after hearing, “I’m sorry; your son has died.”

But I remember enough. I remember confusion and feeling as if Ben had duped us again. It’s an odd thought after tragic news, but I’ve come to learn thoughts aren’t always appropriate to the situation. I felt Ben had tricked us. We thought he was sober; we thought his world had turned around.

Ben had just been with us the day before his fatal overdose. We chatted about young men his dad and I both knew from his most recent sober living house and Ben shared stories about his job at the taco shop. Things seemed to be going well, but this morning – knowing that he died – I see the warning signs.

“Do you like where you live?” I asked Ben.

“I love it!” he replied.

Ben had never loved sober living houses. I should have followed up that surprising answer with, “Where exactly do you live?”

Another sign was the pinch mark in the crook of his right arm; I noticed it the day of his visit but dismissed it as just another bump or bruise. Ben was always getting banged up.

Even though he was carrying deep secrets, Ben was at ease and joked around with his dad as they worked together spreading 80 pound bags of mulch around our yard. His work hours had been cut so he needed to earn extra money for rent…another missed warning sign.

At the end of the day and while I was out with friends, Dave and Ben grabbed some KFC. I was upset because I had made chicken and rice for dinner.

“Why do I even bother to cook?” I asked while Dave and I were getting into bed.

While staring at an invisible spot on the floor, Dave said, “I wasn’t supposed to tell you about KFC.”

After a pause he added, “Ben said I was a great man.”

“What?” I couldn’t follow any of this.

“I don’t know why you cook, Joni. But we were hungry so we got more chicken. We cracked jokes, ate chicken and at one point Ben reached over, squeezed my shoulder and said, ‘Dad, you are a great man.’”

Maybe that was a warning sign. Maybe that comment was a clarion call. Maybe that was good-bye.




Joni Norby

Joni M. Norby retired from California State University, Fullerton where she served as Associate Dean and Lecturer for Business Communications. She earned her MBA from Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, Texas and has studied creative nonfiction and poetry as part of Stanford University's Online Writing Series and at The Loft Literary Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Along with writing, Joni owns and operates a vineyard in California's Central Valley along with her husband, Dave.

More Articles Written by Joni