Leticia & Anthony (Part 2) - Transcript
This is a transcript of a “Terrible, Thanks for Asking” episode entitled, “Leticia & Anthony (Part 2).” The text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future for accuracy.
Listen to the episode here.
Before we start, a warning that this episode talks about suicide.
Leticia: Anthony says, “We did it, mom. We are happy.” And ... I was terrified. Like the fear I felt the day he was born just struck through me like a lightning bolt. Like ... this is too perfect. And this doesn't happen for us.
I’m Nora McInerny, and this is “Terrible, Thanks for Asking.”
And that was Leticia Ochoa Adams recalling an Easter Sunday with her family. When her son Anthony said “we did it,” he meant … they made it.
From the dysfunctional home where Leticia grew up in Amarillo, Texas — the home where she had Anthony at age 17.
From the apartment building in Houston where she and Anthony lived when he was a toddler and she was bartending and working late nights. When DJs and servers and regulars helped to keep an eye on little toddler Anthony while mama worked.
From the traumatic experiences of Anthony’s early life with Leticia’s first husband, whose issues with addiction became issues of abuse.
From the years where Leticia was a Single Mom Gone Wild and Anthony was trying to parent his youngest siblings.
They made it through generational trauma and poverty … to here. To a nice life in suburban Texas. They made it.
Nineteen years earlier, when Anthony was a tiny baby, Leticia hoped for this day. Dreamed for this day, while she feared it would never happen … she held her firstborn son, looked at him, and thought:
Leticia: I'm never going to keep this baby safe. Like, I am not capable of giving him a good life. I just remember all these thoughts of, like, he's going to die. That was my greatest fear his entire life. Like, I'm going to fail and he's going to die.
It’s now 2017. The last year of Anthony’s life, though nobody knows that yet. Anthony will die by suicide in March 2017.
But for now, Anthony is the father of two girls. He and his fiance, Arianna, live near Leticia, her husband Stacey, and Leticia’s three youngest children, who are now all teenagers.
And things are good. It’s not just the change of location. It’s that Leticia has made meaningful changes in her life. She has a healthy marriage. She’s in therapy to address her childhood trauma. She has found meaning and faith in becoming a Catholic.
They made it, yes, but it’s never really about “making it” anywhere. You move forward, you get to new places, but you’re never done until you’re done living.
And Leticia and her family are in a good place, but this is about to be a terrible year for all of them. First, Leticia’s uncle is really sick.
Leticia: He was like my father, he was like Anthony's father. Anthony spent every summer with him as a teenager. We're super close. Anthony called him “tio con queso” because he just thought that was just like, so funny, because they both loved to eat queso all the time. So I told Anthony, I said, “Tio Roy is very sick. You need to go see him, and you need to go say goodbye to him.” And my uncle had gone from kind of like not eating and not being able to really talk to, like, sitting up and drinking coffee and making jokes and blah, blah, blah. And so Anthony was like, “Mom, he's totally fine. Like you're overexaggerating. It's really crazy, but he's totally fine. He's drinking a cup of coffee. He's totally fine. I told him hi, told him I loved him. And then I went out with my friends.” Like they went to a bar, and he just left. He didn't say goodbye to him. And a week later, my uncle's on life support system.
And after Uncle Roy dies, his wife goes into a nursing home. It’s hard for her to leave the home she shared with her husband for all those years, but it’s also the right choice.
And this is all really, really hard for Anthony, too.
Leticia: And Anthony just fell apart. He couldn't get past the fact that he didn't say goodbye. He couldn't get past the fact that my uncle died. He couldn't get past the fact that we had to put my aunt in a nursing home and that his childhood home, where he could go any time he was sad or upset or hurting or needed to get away from us, was gone, because my uncle, my aunt didn't live in that house anymore. And it all just shifted for him.
Anthony — who has always been happy, funny, lighthearted — is starting to show signs that something is wrong. One night, there’s a physical altercation at his fiancee’s parents’ house. And just like when he was little, it’s Anthony who has to call the cops.
Leticia: So he calls 911, and the cops show up, and they take [redacted] away in handcuffs and they have Anthony sitting on the curb, and he calls me, and he's like, “I need you to get here right now because blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And the cops are coming and this and this and that.” And he hung up on me, and I was like, what the hell? So I head over there, and I see Anthony sitting on the curb. And again, he's ash white. But this time, I do recognize the face. And it's the look that he had any time he called the cops on me and Ben. And I told my husband, I said, “He's not OK. He's not OK. There's something really wrong.” He was triggered like, badly.
At first, it’s just small things with Anthony, things most people might not notice But they’re things that Leticia notices.
Leticia: I think the first time was when he said, “I saw Kanye on ‘Ellen,’ and people don't understand what he's saying, but I totally get everything that he's talking about. And he's so—” What did he say? “He's like such a higher frequency than the rest of us.” And like all of these words I understood, but the vibe he was saying them in was like, so off, you know? It's like if you know someone your whole life and suddenly they start speaking in a British accent, and you're like, “OK, all the words you're saying are right. And I understand them. And they're the vocabulary you would normally use. But it's like…”
Leticia: Yeah. It's off.
Anthony and his fiancee have problems, too. Their relationship is on and off, in large part because Anthony’s behavior has gotten more and more unpredictable. And then, Tio Con Queso’s wife, the one that Anthony was so upset to have in a nursing home, she takes a turn for the worse.
Leticia: She said, “I'm tired of being sick. I’m tired of being poked. I'm tired of people trying to figure out how to keep me alive. I put your tio in God's hands. Now I'm putting myself in his hands.” Right when she gets to like, where I know she's not going to be talking anymore, I ask her if she wants to call Anthony and she said yes. So she talks to Anthony and she tells him, like, “I love you. I want you to get help. I want you to think about me and your tio Roy and to be strong for your kids.” And Anthony just loses it. And he's just like, “I love you. Thank you so much for everything you did for me, and for all the times you made me peach cobbler.” And then he says to her, “I'll see you when I get there.” And I freaked the hell out. So I was like what does that mean?
There are little things … and then bigger things. Anthony starts telling people that his daughter is a reincarnated indigenous girl. He starts telling people that he sees demons, out and about, walking among us. Anthony goes to a music festival in Austin — a city whose motto is keep Austin weird — and he gets asked to leave for being too weird.
Leticia: And then he just quit his job. Moved out of the apartment. Started hanging out with some guy who was telling him that he was going to be a rapper, and he was like, “Mom, you don't understand. Like, I literally am talking to Kanye West on SoundCloud.” And I was like, I love you and I love all the effort you're putting into it, but you're just not a good rapper. And he was like, “You're just trying to squash my dreams.” And I was like, “I'm really not trying to squash your dreams. I just think you have a fiance and two children, and you just quit your job. And that's not like you. I am sitting here writing a blog for free. Do you think I'm going to sit here and squash your dreams of wanting to be a rapper? No. I just know this isn't like you.”
Anthony doesn’t want to hear that. Not from his fiancee, Arianna. Not from his mom.
Leticia: I'm like, “Anthony, please go see someone. Let's go talk to somebody.” And he's like, “OK, fine, if that will make y'all get off my case and understand that what I see is real.” And I was like, yeah, let's do that. So me and my husband take him to a psychiatric emergency room. And the doctor tells us that he's obviously having some kind of mental break, but he's still an adult, and he still gets to choose whether or not to be admitted for help. And I'm like, this is the stupidest shit I've ever heard. Like, you're telling me you see that he's delusional in his thinking, and someone with delusional thinking can still decide whether or not they need to be admitted. Like, what happens if he hurts somebody? What happens if he hurts himself?
The discharge papers said that he was having a mental breakdown of some kind, and it said, like all those things. He threw them away in the trash and told his friends and my mom and his grandparents, anyone who was concerned about him, he said, “My mom took me to the emergency room. The doctor said I'm fine. She's lying.” And these are all people who throughout my life have not listened to me about some form of abuse. Like, my ex in-laws didn't listen to me about Ben's abuse. My mother didn't listen to me about my childhood abuse. And so they are more than happy to be like, “Yeah, Leticia's over-exaggerating.”
By this point, I'm working at the Cheesecake Factory as a waitress. Daniel, my second oldest, is working there as a busser. We get Anthony a job as a dishwasher. And I'm giving him rides to work, picking him up, giving him rides home, like we're all trying to manage our schedules so that we can kind of like carpool. It wasn't carpool, because I'm the only one with the car. [laughs] But kidpool, I don't know what you’d call it.
And I'm like, losing my mind because I'm trying to work. I'm trying to help the kids get to work. I'm trying to like, you know, take his dog over to him at 4:00 in the morning. Like, all this stuff is happening. Like it's so crazy. Then he just doesn't show up for shifts. And the managers are calling me, because I'm his mom, and they're like, “Where's Anthony?” I’m like, I don't know, he should be at work. And then I call Arianna, and Arianna’s like, “I'm at work.” And I was like, “Where are the girls?” “They're with my mom.” And Anthony is nowhere to be found. We can't find him for hours and hours. And so Arianna's freaking out, I'm freaking out because we're like expecting the worst thing to happen.
Nora: What's the worst thing in your mind?
Leticia: You know, I honestly was terrified that he was going to hurt someone, because he was having such crazy delusions of seeing demons in other people. Not even in other people. He thought these people were demons.
We’re going to take a quick break.
We’re back, and Anthony’s mental health is deteriorating … quickly. And right now, he’s gone missing, and nobody knows where he is.
Leticia: Arianna's freaking out. I'm freaking out. I picked up Arianna from work, because he has the car, and no one knows where he is. And I'm thinking like, I don't know, he had my uncle’s shotgun in the trunk of his car, because my uncle gave it to him. And I'm like, this is going to be the worst thing ever. And I'm trying to get it back from him. But he keeps, like, getting away from me. Like I'm like, “Hey, I need to go in your car and look for this paper or something,” you know? And he was like, “No.” He knew what I was after. And so by then, he had lost his car, and he was in Arianna's car, but he still had the shotgun. So I was like, super concerned. And Arianna's at work. I go pick her up from work. We go look for Anthony. We stop at their apartment. He was asleep on the couch the whole time. Turned off his phone. Had left the car running with the keys locked in it. And to me, that whole thing seemed so weird, you know? And I told my husband, “There's something really wrong.” And my husband was like, “He's an adult. He has to figure out how to get himself to work. He's got to figure out his own life. You can't keep coddling him.” And I was like, I'm not coddling him. First of all, Anthony doesn't allow coddling. Like, if you're talking about Gabe, my son Gabe, my third kid. Yeah. I coddle that kid. I don't coddle Anthony, you know? Like, I know which kids I coddle. And there's only one. His name is Gabe.
And so I insisted on going back to the apartment, and we walked in, and I just started crying, and I was like, “Anthony, I'm so worried about you. Please get help. Please do something. I love you. Nothing can happen to you. If something happens to you, I'm going to die. Like, I can't handle anything happening to you.” And he was like, “Mom, I'm fine,” you know? And I just gave him the biggest hug ever, and he said, “I wish you would hug me more.” And I was like, “I wish I knew how to hug you more,” but I'm like such an awkward person. My mom didn't hug me. I didn't hug my kids. I was sexually abused as a child. Like, there's just so much in that request for the both of us, you know? And I'm in therapy at this point. So I go to my therapist like, “Why can't I hug my fucking kids?” She was like, “Leticia, like your physical boundaries were broken as a child. You don't know how to keep yourself safe other than keeping everyone out of your bubble.” People touching me without permission or without consent is traumatizing. And I was like, “I just feel like I'm a shitty mom.” She's like, “No. Do you love your kids? Have you worked really hard to pull yourself out of poverty?” Like she's listing all these things. And I was like, “Yeah.” And then, I felt like it was a snowball and it was just getting bigger and worse and bigger, and another thing was happening, and then another thing happened. Like it went: one thing happened this week. One thing happened this week. Now, two things are happening weekly now. One thing's happening two times a week. And we went through months of Anthony having delusional thinking. Anthony thought some guy at a wedding, that he could see in his eyes that he was thinking about hurting the girls. And so Arianna is at her friend's wedding. Anthony is having this episode, like we just started calling them episodes. And so she had to leave her friend's wedding early. Aaliyah's like, dancing on the dance floor, because she was a flower girl. And Anthony is like, “No, I know this … I know this motherfucker's going to hurt my kids.” You know, in like a wedding setting. And so Arianna's like, “We got to go.” He's like waking me up at 4:00 in the morning and he's like, “Mom, someone's trying to get into my apartment. They want to get to me. They want to get my kids. Can you bring me Whiskey?” His dog. “Can you bring me Whiskey?” So I'm like, driving to his apartment at 4:00 in the morning to take him his dog, because he thinks someone's trying to kidnap his kids.
I would get a call that he was missing shifts at work. I was getting a call that he was late for work. I was getting a call that he just walked out the back door at work and didn't come back. I was getting calls from Arianna that he was yelling. I was seeing videos on Instagram where he was smoking pot in a closet in the apartment where his children lived. And it's like, that's not OK. Like, why do you think that's OK? Aaliyah would be spending the night with me, and he'd call screaming and screeching that he wanted his daughter back. And I was like, “I didn't take your daughter. And she wants to spend the night with me.” And he's like, “No, I'm coming to get my kid.” And Anthony did not speak to me that way, you know? Then he was like, running to my mom's, barefooted to call Arianna for some reason, and dialed the wrong number. Some guy answered the phone, because he dialed the wrong number, and Anthony was like, “Why are you answering my girlfriend's phone?”
Anthony’s an adult. Leticia knows from trying to hospitalize him that there’s only so much she can do. But she’s also his mother, and she’s afraid for him. And she tells this — all of this — to her priest.
Leticia: And he was like, “The priority is getting him help, getting him counseling, getting him a psychiatrist, getting him medication if he needs it. Like, that's the priority.” Because at the time I was also trying to get him to baptize the girls, and my priest was like, “Stop all that. Get him help.” And I was like, that's what my instinct said, but I don't want to be a bad Catholic. So dumb.
The priest gave Leticia a number for a therapist with a sliding scale fee. It was a place that Anthony could afford. He started seeing that therapist regularly, but ... it didn't seem to help much. Eventually, Anthony and his fiancee, Arianna, ask the therapist for a psych evaluation, but they're told by the receptionist that Anthony may have to wait a week for that kind of help.
Leticia: Arianna said to her face, “We don't have ‘till next week.” And I asked her, “What did you mean by that?” She's like, “I don't know. I just knew we didn't have till next week.” Like, it needed to happen. He was agreeing to do it. She was saying she agreed to get it done. It needed to happen.
Arianna doesn’t know why she said that, just that it felt urgent. And it IS urgent. This is the last week of Anthony’s life.
Leticia: At this point, he has that pale face all the time. And so on March the 7th, he's at my house in the afternoon with Arianna. She's trying to do something with her phone in our office. He walks through the garage with his baby — Cameron, the second one. And I caught him, and he's just standing in the garage, and I was like, “Hey, what are you doing?” He was like, “Nothing. I'm waiting for Arianna. Blah, blah, blah.” And then he just kind of plays it off. My husband got the shotgun back from him at this point, and he doesn't have a car, so he's reliant completely on other people to give him rides. We're all watching him like, constantly. Like, he's never left alone.
And then I said, “You look so tired.” And he was like, “Yeah, that's an understatement.” But like, his answer wasn't like, “Yeah, that’s an understatement. I've been working really hard,” or “I'm working a lot of hours,” or “I work really late,” because he was a dishwasher. So, I mean, they didn't get out of there till three or four in the morning. Him and Arianna left, and then I'm sitting in the living room, just worried. Like, what am I going to do? How am I going to help Anthony? How is this going to end? Like I remember asking myself, how is this going to end?
He walked in the door and he was like, “I just can't do this anymore.” And I just felt like if I say anything, if I ask, “What are you talking about?” If I ask him what's happening, if I ask what happened with Arianna, if I ask any questions, he's just going to bolt right out of this door. And so I didn't say anything except for, “Hey, I'm about to make dinner. Are you hungry?” He was like, yeah. And I said, “OK, well just watch TV, and I'm going to go make dinner. Your brothers are upstairs.” Daniel and Gabriel. I guess while I was making dinner, he went into the kids’ rooms and ... he was in there with his emotions and his feelings and his delusional talk. And the kids were just like UGH, you know, like too much for me, get out of my room. And then we ate dinner, and his whole entire like ... energy was just ehh … like it was so much, you know? And I asked him, “Anthony, what's wrong?” And he just had like, his hand up against his head and he was like “Everything.” And he only ate half of his meatloaf, which was so not like Anthony, and also I'm never making meatloaf again in my entire life. Like people even say the word “meatloaf” and I'm like, I'm out of this whole conversation.
And there's just this whole entire vibe in the house where it's like this anxiety is like, in the air, and it's electric almost, like you can feel it, but you don't know how to fix it or like, what is the solution here? All I could do was just hold my breath, because I just didn't know. And then we all go to sleep. My dog just like, wakes up acting crazy and falls on the floor, just collapses on the floor. And I'm like, what the heck is wrong with my dog? And he starts walking crooked. And my husband's like, “What's the matter? What's going on?” And my husband is having this huge, horrible nightmare. So he wakes up. I'm like, “What's going on with Bourbon?” And Stace just like jumps out of bed and he's like, “We got to get Anthony.” I was like, what? And he was like, “We got to get Anthony, they're after Anthony, they're going to get Anthony.” And I was like “Stace, Stace, Stace!” And he was like in the middle of a nightmare. Which, Stace has nightmares, but he's never talked to me. Like he's never slept, walked or slept, yelled or whatever. I don't even know what the term, what happened was, you know?
It’s the next day, and Leticia is exhausted after a restless night with Stacey and the dog … after months of worrying about and fearing for her oldest son. She asks Anthony to drive Dan to work so she can go back to bed.
Leticia: So he's like, “OK, Dan, get in the car.” Him and Dan get in the car. I'm like, hey, it needs gas, go down the street to the gas station. And he tells Daniel, “You need to learn how to pump gas, because you need to learn how to help mom more,” and Dan's like, “Screw you!” You know? They're the two oldest. So it's like back and forth their whole life. This was the most normal thing that had happened in months, you know? So I'm laying in bed. All of a sudden I hear Anthony running up the stairs, and I know it's him because he goes two by two, and he's the only one who does that. Storms in my room. And he's like, “Mom, Dan just told me to go fuck myself.” [laughs] And I'm like, “What, are y'all four? Like, what is happening? Like, are you all kids again?” But I was so happy, because this was the most normal interaction these two had had in months. It was the most normal Anthony had been in months. You know?
So about 10:00 in the morning, Anthony knocks on my door and I'm like, God, I just want to go to sleep. And I'm not a very good tired person. I'm very cranky, snarky, like ... so he comes in my room, he sits in a chair and he starts talking to me and he's like, “Mom, I think you're right about everything you told me about the Catholic Church. And I want to marry Arianna in the church, and I want to take the classes. And I just want to know if I can live here while that's happening.” And I said, “Of course you can live here. You can't fight with Dan.” And honestly, I said, “Anthony, I think maybe going back to the church isn't your priority. I think you need to get some help, and you need to go to counseling and you need to tell them everything, tell them about the drug use, what drugs you're using. Be honest, you know? And they can help you and no one cares.” I told him, I was like, “I don't care. I don't care what drugs you're using. I love you. I don't care if you ever are Catholic. Like, my thing is, is for you to be OK, for you to be healthy, for you to be happy.” And he was like, “The thing that I've always appreciated about you, Mom, is that you've never caved on your values or your faith even to try to be my friend. And my friends' moms do do that, and then they end up in a lot of trouble, because the moms don't know how to just be moms.” And I was like, “It's because I love you, no matter what you do. You can be a Buddhist for an atheist or whatever you want to be, I don't care. I want you to be healthy and safe and happy, you know?” And he was like, “Thanks, mom.”
We’ll be right back.
We’re back. And it’s the last day of Anthony’s life.
Leticia: My phone rings. It's Anthony. I answer, and I'm like, “Hey.” And he was like, “Hey, Mom!” Super singsongy. I knew right off the bat. I went like, what the fuck is this? You know when your kids are about to ask you for something, and you know the pitch? Right? And I'm like, “What do you want?” He's like, “I'm just wondering if I can use your car when you come back.” I was like, “Yeah, you can.”
Nora: I thought you were going to ask me for money, so sure, that’s fine.
Leticia: Or like, “Oh by the way, I like, set the house on fire by accident. Like, there was a grease fire,” you know what I mean? And so I was like, “Yeah you can.” He’s like, “I just want to go talk to Father face to face. They're not putting me through,” like the receptionist was not, like, they kept sending him to Father's voicemail. “So I just want to go up there. Do you think he'll see me?” I was like, “Yes.” I'm known for stalking my priests. It's like very, very well known that if my kid walks in there, he's just doing what I do, which is, “I need to talk to the priest right now, and you need to get out of my way, or I'm going to go back there.” [laughs]
We come home. Walk in the door. Anthony's phone and the spiral [notebook] and the pen are sitting on the coffee table, but Anthony's gone. And my first thought was he must have just taken off to the church, because it's like, maybe two miles from our house, so it's not super close, but it's not super far. And on the way from the front door to the table, I hear a noise. Like something fell over. And it didn't register in my head. But I thought, like, “Oh, it must be Anthony. He's upstairs.” So we sit down, we eat our lunch, I'm still thinking like, “When's Anthony coming down?” We get done, and Dan's like, “Hey, I'm going to take a nap.” I said, “OK, but, hey, can you tell me if Anthony is up there?” Because I had heard the noise and I was like, maybe he's upstairs. Why isn't he coming down? And he was like, “Yeah, I'll tell you.” So Dan goes upstairs. I start opening doors downstairs. I open the broom closet door. I look in the backyard. I open ... so when you open the door to the garage from our kitchen, there was an office there before you get the garage. So I open the office door. He's not in the office, and I just didn’t open the garage door. So then I go upstairs. I was like, “Hey, Dan, did you find Anthony?” He was like, “No, but I didn't really look. He's not in my room.” [laughs] Thanks. Thanks for looking.
Nora: Thank you, Dan.
Leticia: High five! So I went to go pick up Gabriel from school right around the corner. On the way back home, I thought I saw Arianna's car pass me and honk and wave. And so I was like, “Oh, Anthony's with Arianna.” And so I kind of let it go, you know? We get home, Gabe goes to his room. Dan's still taking a nap. I sit down to start doing my homework, because I'm still in college at this point. I start doing my homework. Stace comes home from work. I go down into his office. I'm standing at the front of his desk. He's sitting at his desk. He's telling me the conversation him and Anthony had that morning. I'm telling him the conversation me and Anthony had had the morning. And I was like, “I really think everything's going to be OK.” And Stace said, “I think so, too.” Meanwhile, like ... Anthony is like, just on the other side of a sheet of sheet rock, you know? But we didn't know.
All of a sudden, I say I heard a scream, but it wasn't a scream. I don't even know. There's not a word for the noise I heard. And I thought, “Oh, Anthony probably did go for a walk, and he found his cat.” He had them looking for his cat, who had been missing for like a month or two. I don't remember how long she had been missing. And so I go down the stairs, and I turn the corner into the kitchen, and my husband is standing there making the noise. And his face is so ... not human. I don't even know how to describe his face. Everything just went to my feet. And I knew. And I said, “Is it Anthony?” And he said yes. And I said, “Is he dead?” And he said yes.
And I tried to get past him and he was like, “I'm not going to let you see that.” And I was like, “You're not going to tell me what I'm going to do. Like, you're not the boss of me. You're not the boss of my kid. You're not the boss of anything.” I just went off on him, like, you're not going to stop me from seeing my child. And he was like, “I am your husband, and I am going to stop you from having that in your brain. You're not going in there.” He was like, “You're not going in there.” And my husband doesn't talk to me like that. Like, he knows my abuse history. He knows me and Ben's history. So he doesn't ever speak to me in that way. So I knew he was doing me a favor.
There are intense ripple effects from every kind of loss. Leticia and Stacey are at the epicenter of Anthony’s death, stunned at the way their world has imploded while life around them in suburbia keeps going, cycling through the realization of what has just happened … and the distraction of the small, inconsequential life things that still need to happen. They have to call the police, whose arrival in their suburb is something that people notice, though they don’t know what is going on. Leticia has to get the dogs crated, because they’re going nuts with all of the activity, all of the new people poking around their house. And then there’s Gabe, the kid who called 911.
Leticia: So Gabe is like, “I’m outta here.” He worked at the Domino’s down the road. So he gets on his bike, he goes to Domino's. He passes Anthony's best friend's mom, who is like, “Hey, what happened at your house?” And Gabe just shouts at the whole neighborhood, “My brother killed himself!” And so, like, all the moms of all the kids who Anthony had grown up with are congregated in the little same area, like, looking into our cul de sac. And so they all just collapse. So he, like, knocked out all the neighborhood moms like in one. [nervous laugh] So he leaves, so I'm trying to keep up with, like, where are my kids, what's happening, what's going on? And don't get hysterical. I just told myself, like, “If you get hysterical, they're gonna drug you,” and then you can't make decisions. I don't know where I got that idea. I guess like, SVU or Grey's Anatomy or multiple other drama shows where the mom goes hysterical, and then they just start like, “Give her a Valium. Put her out, whatever!” You know?
Nora: “Chloroform. Whatever it takes!”
Leticia: Just shut this screeching woman up, you know what I mean? And then I go start trying to clean the kitchen because the detectives, like, “I'm going to come inside and we're going to ask you questions.” He's already asking my kids, my husband questions. And so I decide that I'm going to clean up the kitchen, and I like ... look down at the sink, and there's Anthony's plate with his half-eaten meat loaf in it. And I'm just thinking to myself, like, how crazy is it that here's his meatloaf that probably still has his spit on it, because he spit a lot when he ate, because he was gross, and he's dead in the garage right now. It just doesn't make sense, you know? And then the detective asked me a bunch of questions and this and that, so then the detective got done asking questions and he was like, “OK, it's just going to be a little bit longer. We're still processing the scene.” And I was like, “Processing the scene. Like, is it suicide?” You know? And he was like, “It was suicide.”
It was a suicide. And now, Leticia has to tell Arianna and Anthony’s daughters that Anthony is dead.
Leticia: And she's like, “Hey, what's going on?” And I was like, “Nothing. What are you doing?” And she was like, “I'm making dinner. Anthony is supposed to come over. We got a new bed. It was just delivered. I'm so excited for him to see it.” And … man, it just took all the wind out of me. And I said, “Arianna …” And she was like, “Oh, no.” And I was like, “I'm so sorry, but Anthony's gone.” And she was just like, “What? What do you mean gone?” And then Aaliyah’s in the background going, “Where's my daddy? Where's my daddy?” And Arianna's like, “Aaliyah, shh shh.” And then, I don't know if Arianna had me on speakerphone or I don't know, but Aaliyah knew. Like Aaliyah, was like, “Where's my daddy? I want my daddy. Where's my daddy?” And I said, “Arianna, the cops are here. I don't really know anything else than that.” She was like, “I'm coming over.” And I was like, “No.” And that's when I realized what Stace had done for me.
There are things that Leticia knows how to do, things that the death of her aunt and uncle taught her. She knows to call her priest, her friends, the people who care about her, and the people who care about Anthony. She knows how to plan a funeral. She does not know how to live in this world without her firstborn son. She does not know how to square this kind of suffering with a God who loves her, who loves Anthony.
Leticia: I became Catholic at the same time that I moved into the suburbs. So it's this huge overhaul of like all these things I thought and believed and my personal faith was so raw and like I knew God was so big and I believed all of these things, but like I was listening to all these people who seemed to have the right answers about, “If you're a good Catholic, this is what your life looks like.” And my life looked nothing like that. Like, you're not going to listen to rap music. You're not going to say cuss words. You're not going to smoke. You're not going to get drunk at the dive bar on Saturdays. And my life was like, literally nothing like that. I was the complete opposite of those things. I had stopped drinking for self soothing. But I drink straight bourbon. Like my dogs’ names are Bourbon, Whiskey, and Moonshine. That is not a coincidence, you know? And I had already done this fundamental evangelical stuff, you know? These rule-based, “If you don't follow the rules, God's going to zap you,” type thing. And I didn't want to do it again, but I felt like what I knew, what I had experienced had led me to this place. And the theology was one thing, but the practice was a whole other thing. Does that make sense? Like the theology of Catholicism is, “God loves you more than you think he does, and he's going to be with you, and he's never going to zap you to hell and it's your choice and blah, blah, blah. And it's beautiful. And everyone's accepted here. And the dignity of the human person we're all made in God's image.” Yada, yada. Like that's the theology. Then the practice is, “Oh no, you do this? Boop!” And before Anthony's suicide, I was trying to fit into this mold to be a good Catholic, because I felt like I'm wrong. Like, not my choices are wrong, but like I'm wrong, and I need to look like so-and-so to be right.
But she’s not so-and-so. She’s Leticia. And all that gentleness she learned, all the grace she’s been able to give herself with the help of Oprah and therapy … it evaporates.
Leticia: Everything everyone told me about how I was not able to keep this person safe happened. He died. I failed. He died. That's the way I saw it. So I was looking for every single piece of evidence I failed. You know? And then, I was looking for every single evidence of how God failed. Because I was like, “How can you just sit there and watch him do that? If I was there, I would have blah,” or “I would have done this,” or, “I would have done anything to stop it. So obviously, you're not real.” And my priest was like, “So you're yelling at God that he's not real, but you're yelling at him.” I'm like, “Yes, it makes perfect sense. Like, don't you get it?” You know?
And then comes the whole, like, religious cliches: God is in control. God has a plan. Blah, blah, blah. And then I watch this story of another kid from my parish who was almost swept away in a river, but his mom caught him at the last minute and saved him and pulled him out of the river. So then all the same people who were telling me all this stuff were also telling her, “God has a plan for his life.” So I'm like in the comments, like, “So God didn't have a plan for Anthony's life?!” like, I'm irrational, you know what I mean? “That doesn't make any sense.” I'm like, cussing. Like, “That doesn't make any sense!” And everyone's like, “Oh. Here. Here's the real grieving Leticia,” because I'm just like cussing people out, and I'm telling them off, and I'm on Twitter and I'm on Facebook. And it was bad. And then I got off everything, because I couldn't even stand to see like, one of my closest friends who has a son who's almost the same age as Anthony got married. And I couldn't stand to see the pictures. And the happiness just felt so unfair. And like unfair doesn't even cover what I felt, you know? So I was like, I logged out of everything. I deleted my Snapchat. I was like, I'm out. I hate everybody. They get to go on living their normal life and blah, blah, blah. And I'm sitting here in this cesspool of shit. It’s especially worse if you're a mother who loses a child and you're Catholic, because everyone wants to tell you to “look at Mary, she lost her son too.” First of all, Mary's full of grace. I'm not. Second of all, her son was God. Mine isn't. And third of all, you have no freaking clue what you're talking about. None. Zero. Zip. I don't want to hear about how Mary knows my pain.
And then I just, like, reached over, picked up my phone, texted my therapist, and I was like, “I'm not fine.” And then I did what I told Anthony to do. I did not start with mass. I did not start with going to church. I did not start with adoration. I did not start with my religion. I started with therapy, because I needed to be well, not better. Well. And in that, my therapist told me from the get go, “You have every right to mourn the life of your child. And no one can stop you.”
That’s the thing. Like, everyone kept trying to act like me mourning was a myth, like a lack of peace, or a lack of joy, or lack of anything. And it's like, no, it's a part of. There's nothing lacking. It's just a part of. I mean, my kids and I have such dark senses of humor. Gabe made the funniest joke ever at Anthony's funeral, because they were all pallbearers, and Anthony's biological dad insisted that he be a pallbearer. I was like, fine, whatever. So he's at the back of the line. And so Anthony's other brothers and best friends are at the front of the coffin and Gabe's at the front. And the ladies like, OK, we're going to pick up the coffin and put him in the hearse. And so Gabe, like, looks at his brother, at Anthony’s his best friend, and goes, “OK, are we ready to back to deadlift this bad boy?” Because Anthony was a meathead, he loved being in the gym. And so Gabe just thought that was a super great joke, like they're deadlifting his brother, you know? Anyways, play on words, the whole thing. Perfect. He was like, chef's kiss. Perfect.
She has the right. To her pain. To her suffering. To those pockets of joy tucked into this pain. She has the right to all of it. It’s hers. The way Anthony was hers. The way Anthony is hers, still and always.
Leticia: It made me feel normal, and it gave me permission to say that my grief is not taking away from my peace, or my joy, or my life. It's part of it. It's a part of the entire picture, you know? And I have the right. I birthed him. I carried him. I chose him. I raised him. Twenty- two years. Text messages. Love notes. Every sketchbook he's ever had, the first page is me telling him how great he is. And people think that, oh, you have a funeral, you bury him and then you go back to normal life. And like none of that happens. Every memory that has a physical thing attached to it, like every memory has a real thing attached to it is super important. My trellis. Anthony helped put it up. The car. The last car he drove. The last clothes he wore. The first pickup truck he ever used when he started working for us. You know? All those things, like, I'm so attached to all of them, and I'm letting go of them one by one, but I'm choosing to do that and I'm choosing to keep what I want and not apologize for it.
Nora: I want your reflections on what this specific kind of grief has meant to your family, and what is Anthony's role in your family now?
Leticia: I love that you even ask what is his role in my family. I think people think dead people are no longer part of your family, and that isn't it. You know, he is still our family. He's still my son. He's still Aaliyah and Cammie’s daddy. Just yesterday, we were driving down the highway, and we went to go visit my mom, and the girls were like, “OK, well, we saw amom.” That's what they call my mom. “We saw amom. Now let's keep driving and go see Daddy. I want to see my daddy.” And like, they think it's like it's totally normal for them to ... play in a cemetery. That's where they see their daddy, that's what daddy is, that's their life. They don't think it's weird. They don't have a problem telling people, “My daddy lives in a cemetery.” I told Aaliyah what you posted about Ralph saying a grave hole.
Nora: Ghost hole. [laughs]
Leticia: Ghost hole. And she was like, “Yes!” I mean, they know it's different from other people's experience of having a daddy. But they know theirs is valid. We still talk about Anthony every day, all day. Like Dan was just saying, like, “If Anthony was here, we'd have a list of activities of exercises all day long, because it's unhealthy to sit at your desk all day long,” you know? [laughs] And stuff like that. And like, we need to eat healthy meals. And I mean, he would just be the organizer of the situation. And we don't have that. So there's a blank. It’s like, life life life life blank life. But we still celebrate his birthday. We spend Family Day on the anniversary of his suicide. Father J comes over with dinner, good Italian food.
In our last episode, I quoted an article from 1987. The article is called “Haven’t We Blamed Mothers Enough,” and the answer is YES!
I’m paraphrasing here, but in the article, the author says that when mothering is the only or primary cause of whatever “bad” thing our child does or becomes … all that remains is to identify what KIND of bad mothering there is to blame.
But Leticia is here, four years after Anthony’s death by suicide, 35 years after that article was published, refusing to take on that mantle.
Leticia: I'm still in a relationship with him. Like, I've learned how to take responsibility for my mistakes as a mother, like any mother ought to. And I don't take responsibility for his suicide. And I don't beat myself up as if I'm a bad mom because my kid committed suicide. I was a struggling mother who was severely traumatized.
And that’s vital. It’s so important. Because Leticia isn’t a bad mom. She’s been a young mom, a traumatized mom, an impoverished mom, a working mom … she’s been all kinds of moms. And now, and for the rest of her life, she’ll be a grieving mom.
All of the memories she has of Anthony are the only ones she will have for the rest of her life. And because we believe that people are always more than just their deaths, we want to end with one of Leticia’s favorite memories of Anthony.
Leticia: He had a really great job. He had a work vehicle. He had just bought his red 2015 Mustang that he was like, super freakin proud of. He loved that Mustang. I mean, I could show you 14,000 pictures that he took of that car. Like, he loved it. He took me for a ride in it.
Nora: Just like you used to drive him around! Now he's driving you around.
Leticia: Yeah. I was the first person he took for a ride around in his car. He was like, “Me and my mom gotta cruise.” And he had a whole playlist, and he played Lil Wayne. I can't remember what the heck the name of that song is, “How to Love.”
Nora: I knew you were going to say that. I knew it. I knew it. God, I love that song.
Leticia: I know. He played it for me. And he said, “I don't think you see how awesome you are. And you're my mom, and I love you. And this is my song to you.” We always dedicated songs to each other. And he was just so happy…
This has been “Terrible, Thanks for Asking.” I’m Nora McInerny. Our production team is Marcel Malekebu, Jeyca Maldonado-Media, Hannah Meacock Ross and Jordan Turgeon. Phyllis Fletcher was a part of our team, she did work on this episode, and she is no longer with us. She is still alive, but she works for the New York Times now, so
Thank you so much to Leticia and her family for sharing Anthony with us. What an honor to do this job. Theme music is by Geoffrey Lamar Wilson, and we are a production of American Public Media.