The value of NO

by Carolin Messier

Found Receipt

On July 18th, 2014 my fiancé fired a single .22 caliber bullet into his brain. He bought that bullet, one from a box of 50, six days before at the Big 5 Sporting Goods store in the neighborhood. It was walking distance from our house. He charged it on his credit card. He left the bill for me to pay for. I was furious when I found the receipt a month after his death, crumpled up underneath the desk in the messy home office. When I found it I was even more furious at him and the universe than I had been at the act itself, of him killing himself. He left it for me to pay for.

Two days after finding the receipt, my friend Karen helped me organize the paper chaos of a grieving life left behind. Bills had to be paid, accounts had to be closed, forms had to be signed and I hadn’t made much progress on any of that in the previous two weeks. Together we built tidy stacks of papers in neat rows that covered the dining room table. Each stack was labeled with a lime-green sticky note with clear instructions, “Pay W’s Credit Card”, “Sign and Mail”, “Ask Attorney About”, “Call and Confirm”, and “To be filed”. Three hours of organizing and a lunch of comfort food had psyched me up for heading out and getting things done

As I drove alone along Leary Way I felt progress for the first time in two months, movement of my life in a positive direction of doing. But when I passed under the Ballard Bridge on my way to my first errand, I realized that I was going to drive right in front of Big 5. Suddenly I felt trapped. I prided myself on knowing all the back streets and alternate routes through town, but in that moment my mental map went blank. The store was still blocks away, but all I could see was the road ahead that led straight past it; all the side streets faded from possibility. There was nowhere to pull over and there was too much traffic on the busy neighborhood arterial to make a gutsy U-turn. When I realized that a confrontation with the executioner’s supplier was inevitable, I breathed deeply, called on William’s spirit to hold me and braced myself for a collision with the truth. As soon as I saw the sign I felt a phantom muzzle of a gun pressed against my right temple, pulled my hands from the steering wheel, pressed them to the sides of my head, and screamed. As the cold steel of the barrel burned my skin my knuckles turned boney white from the pressure of my fingers digging into my oily roots while my palms covered my ears and tried to compress the anguish and despair. The stabbing spasms were excruciating, but there was no physical pain, nothing ibuprofen or codeine could have helped. I grabbed the wheel again but couldn’t look away from the storefront as it passed on the right. By the time it was out of view I was sobbing and shaking. A few blocks away I found a place to park out of the way of late afternoon traffic and calmed my breathing enough to drive the mile home

The neat stacks of papers with the lime-green sticky notes lost their order as they shuffled around the back seat of the car for three weeks. Big 5 killed any momentum I’d had just as its bullet had killed William. But bullets don’t kill people, people kill people, isn’t that what the NRA says? I had no choice in the direction that bullet took my life. I wasn’t with him when he pulled the trigger. I couldn’t have wrestled the gun away from him or negotiated my way out of him doing it. He’d been the one to buy the bullets, and I was stuck with the bill. Or was I?

What began as defeated sobs of “I can’t pay for his bullets,” evolved over those three weeks into assertive, tear-filled statements of “I won’t pay for them.” I refused to be held hostage by powerlessness any longer and began to see the found receipt as a little gift, rather than the torturous betrayal that it felt like at first. It was a gift because it gave me the opportunity to stand up and say NO!, I will NOT pay for the bullet he used to kill himself, the bullet that ripped my life open, eviscerated it, and left me alone. Had he paid cash, I wouldn’t have paid for the bullet, but the deed would have been done and I’d have had nothing to say about it. And sometimes all we have is our voice.

Having dodged the calls from the bank’s credit department and ignored the auto-generated letter they sent informing William that he’d now missed two payments and they were happy to help him through this difficult financial time, I waited until Karen was available to be my wing man to walk into the bank and tell them what I needed. Sitting across from the branch manager I held out the receipt and spoke my truth. I told him my story and that I was not going to pay for the bullet William put in his brain. I didn’t ask. In very businesslike terms, with tears streaming down my face, I told him that I needed the bank to credit the account $8.75, that I would then pay the remaining balance. A friend had offered to just give me that amount in cash to salve my pain and make it go away. He meant well, but that would have just buried it, not healed it. It wasn’t about the money. In this situation where I had neither choice nor power, this little bit of empowerment gained by speaking up and being heard felt pretty damn good.

The bank credited the account $8.75.

Read the poem Found Receipt