My testimony at the inquest was brief. He had staggered to his feet at the table, lost his balance, grabbed the table for support, lurched into me, slipped, and fallen. He had hit his head. He was bleeding. I tried to stop it. The police and ambulance came. A neighbor had called them. He had come home late and very drunk, and yes, was probably still drunk when he felt his way downstairs for breakfast.
I truly did not know there could be so much blood from a head wound.
He lay there, on the kitchen floor, not breathing. The stink of his drunkenness hung in the kitchen, overshadowing the breakfast odors – toast, bacon, eggs, his standard when coming off a bender. And it had been a magnificent bender.
He had come home last night after not showing up for two days, his pockets empty and his gullet full. I had cleaned up the broken lamp and the vomit, righted the Christmas tree and repaired the wrapped presents as best I could, and helped him into bed, where he lay lifeless for hours. He woke earlier than usual, awakened by the Christmas Day church bells, and demanded his breakfast, although it was closer to lunch.
As he sat at the kitchen table, I kept the coffee cup full, strong and black, just the way he liked it. I could barely stand the stench of being near him, he must have pissed himself at some point, but was too numb to notice. But I, I couldn’t avoid it. I busied myself at the stove, finishing the bacon, buttering the toast.
I poured more coffee. Sat the plate on the table with the toast and transferred the bacon and eggs to it. He took one wavering look at it and slurred, “Bitch. You just can’t get it right, can you.” His arm shot out as he swept the plate off the table, egg yolk spreading in a spatter across the floor. He flung the coffee cup to the wall, and shoved me hard, into the door. Grease flew everywhere as I dropped the frying pan and spatula. This was going to be yet another of his messes to clean up. And this was not the first time he had erupted in drunken anger.
At that moment, my hatred rose to my throat, and I screeched through my pain and breathlessness, “You drunken bastard! Those were the last eggs in the house! You drank up the rest, and you can go to Hell!” He stood violently, and lurched towards me, swatting aimlessly at me. I ran around the table to escape, but he followed, pulling the tablecloth and silverware with him. Suddenly, he fell. Blood was seeping from a cut on his head, then became a stream.
I grabbed a hand towel, panicking, and pressed it hard to his head, trying to stop the bleeding. His fingers twitched, spastically, as I applied pressure. A great deal of pressure. I called his name, like his mother used to, saying, “it’s ok, Johnny, relax, just relax. This won’t take long.”
The twitching slowed, and his breathing eased. I looked around, knowing there was a massive mess of blood, grease, egg, food to clean up. I knew I had to get help, but the shock of what had happened numbed me. I finally reached the phone and called the ambulance. They were already on their way, quickly followed by the police. A neighbor had heard the shouting and crashing, and had called them, thinking I was being beaten again.
The police were kind, but thorough. I recognized one of the officers, he had been here several times before. I gave them my statement, and they arranged for me to get to the hospital. Somehow there was a bad burn on my hand from the skillet, but the x-rays showed no broken bones, although my back was badly bruised. Sally, my neighbor who had called the police, came over to help me clean up when I got back from the hospital. She was a godsend, since I was still in shock from the pain and the meds the doctor had given me. The nurses had cleaned up some of the blood, but I still had crusted egg yolk and blood on my dress and apron from kneeling by my poor Johnny. Sally, bless her, fixed me a cup of tea and started on the walls. She said, “with that nasty burn on your poor hand, you need to keep it clean and dry so it heals up good. Let me do this for you, please, honest, it’s no trouble.” I pulled a couple of old ice packs out of the freezer and sat, nursing my hurts and letting her take care of me.
Johnny was dead. The coroner’s inquest showed a fractured skull and a massive amount of alcohol in his system. The medical examiner said there was enough alcohol to kill a horse, and he didn’t know how poor Johnny had survived long enough to even get home the night before. At the inquest, witnesses told them about his problems with anger, his drunkenness, his love of the ponies. Although my bruises were fading, my neighbor who had called the police that night, told the court he was in the habit of taking his rage and frustration out on me.
I never mentioned it, either to the police or at the inquest. I had just simply been holding the cast iron frying pan when Johnny walked right into it.