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January 28, 2012 / Samuel DiPaola

For Patty


On Wednesday night I flew home from a work conference in Las Vegas, sick as a dog.  The morning had started out normally.  At 7:00 am, I went down to the meeting rooms for the last of the conference sessions.  Room checkout was not until 11:00 am, and the flight back to Minneapolis didn’t leave until 3:55 pm.  I poured myself a cup of black tea and assembled a small plate of assorted melon from the breakfast buffet.   The first two sessions went well, but by 10:30 am, my stomach was doing flip flops and I knew something was wrong.  I skipped the last session, checked out of my room and arrived at the airport by 1:30 pm with two of my colleagues.  Within an hour I was rushing to the men’s room to throw up.  I was flush, and fever was setting in.

The entire 3-hour flight home, I sat hugging myself in pain.  My whole body hurt and I was burning up.  To help cool myself down, I turned the air jet on above my head.  I could not get comfortable, and it was impossible to sleep.  By the second hour of the flight, we had hit a patch of bad turbulence and the flight attendants were told to return to their seats.  I was afraid to eat or drink anything, but at the same time I was dying of thirst.  It wasn’t until the third hour that I was able to get a glass of water.  By that point, I thought I was going to pass out, and was not looking forward to the long walk to baggage claim or the taxi ride home.  I kept watching the navigation screen on the movie viewer in front of my seat to see when we were going to land.  I also noticed the temperature at 30,000 feet was -56 degrees Fahrenheit.

The flight arrived in Minneapolis, on time, but we sat for an additional 10 minutes because they couldn’t get the airplane door open.   I thought to myself, “You have got to be kidding me!” I felt trapped and wanted to just get out.  20 minutes after exiting the plane, I located my luggage, flagged a taxi, and within 30 minutes I was home. My first thought was to brush my teeth.  It was 10:30 pm when I fell into bed, bringing to an end, possibly, one of the worst days of my life.

The next day, I called in sick from work, and stayed in bed till 10:30 am.  After a long hot shower, I went down stairs to make some dry toast and get something to drink.  It had been 24 hours since I had eaten anything, and thought I’d give it a try.  My wife had picked me up some ginger ale to help settle my stomach, and I was starting to feel better.

Since I had been gone for 4 days, the kitchen garbage was overflowing, as well as the trash cans in the bathroom and bedrooms.  I thought to myself that I should go empty the trash, but instead, decided to watch a TV show and rest for a bit.  By 12:20 pm I was cleaning the dishes in the sink and finally decided to gather up the trash to take out to the back alley.  I collected the trash from upstairs, combined it with the kitchen trash, and went outside without a coat, wearing my slippers.

The weather application on my cell phone said that it was 38 deg. F., warm for a January day; and there was only about ½ inch of snow on the ground.  I walked through the back yard and opened the back gate.  The trash bin was on the front side of the detached garage.  I walked across the driveway to deposit the bag I was carrying.  It was at that point that I noticed my neighbor who had just pulled his truck into his parking spot across the alley.  I also noticed that it was recycling day, from seeing the row of brown grocery bags full of cans, glass and plastic bottles lined up along the front of his garage.  Yes, it was Thursday; the garbage collectors would be coming soon.

As I turned to leave, I saw my neighbor running to the side of the car parked next to his truck.  They were side-by-side, parked in front of his two-car garage.  His wife drove a Toyota and he drove a red truck that had a red cab on the back.  I could only see the front bumper of the Toyota since the red truck was blocking my view.  Suddenly, he began yelling in a panicked voice, “Damn it, Patty! What the hell have you done?  Oh my, God!  Call 911! Call 911.”

I didn’t even realize what was taking place.  I pulled my phone from my pocked and began dialing 911.  I said, “What’s wrong?”

“She did it!  No, what have you done, Patty?  She attached a hose to the exhaust pipe.”

The next thing I saw was him wrenching the car door open and heaving out the body of his wife.  The interior of the car was covered in white residue from the carbon monoxide.  She was unconscious as he laid her down on the driveway pavement between the truck and the car.  When the 911 operator answered, I told them to send an ambulance because there was a woman unconscious in the alley.  I gave them the address and they said they were on their way.

We waited 4 minutes for the ambulance to arrive.  My neighbor was beating on her chest and yelling. “Common, Patty, common.  No, no, this can’t be happening.  She has no pulse.”  He then got up and started banging his fists on the hood of the car.  “God, damn it! Oh, my God, Fuck you, Patty!  What have you done?”  By this point the next-door neighbor had come outside to see what was happening.  I told her that Patty had attached a hose to the tail pipe and had asphyxiated herself in the car.

We could now hear sirens coming from down the street.  I turned and saw the ambulance pulling into the alley.  It was followed by two police cars.  When the ambulance attendant got out of the vehicle, I told him that the woman had asphyxiated herself in the car and that she had no pulse.  I walked him around to where she was lying on the pavement.  Her husband was inconsolable, walking in circles on the other side of the car, wringing his hands and crying. “She was fine this morning.  I left at 9:30, and she was fine.”

The neighbor woman was also crying and holding her hand up to her mouth in disbelief.   At this point the teenage boy from next door came out to see what was happening, and we told him to go back inside and not to look.

The paramedics were unable to revive her.

The neighbor woman told me that Patty had been on and off medication for depression for the past year, and nothing seemed to be working.  She had recently found a job, and they thought everything was going to start getting better.  I asked where the kids were and she told me that their daughter was studying in Europe and that their son was now living in New York City.

Within 20 minutes there were three more police cars, and I was being asked by a police woman what had happened?  I told her that I came out to empty my garbage just as he discovered his wife in the car, and that I called 911.  She took down my name and number and thanked me for calling.  By this point three other neighbors were outside watching the events transpire, and the police were questioning them as well, as to what they may have seen or heard.  The one neighbor to their left said that he had gone out to the store at 12:05 pm, but didn’t notice anything.  He didn’t know if the car was running and didn’t see her.  We figured that she must have come out shortly after that and had been in that car for at least 15 minutes before her husband found her.

I went back into my house at 1:30, realizing that I didn’t have a jacket on, and was still wearing my slippers.  It took 3 hours for them to take her away in the ambulance and for the police to unblock the alley.  The trash collector was unable to pick up that day.  They were told by the police to back out and go around to the other side.

At 4:30, I went outside again to look.  All was quiet.  The car had been towed and I felt an amazing sense of sadness for what had happened.  I kept hearing him say, “She was fine, at 9:30.  She was fine.”  I remember thinking the same thing about my son Alexander when he stopped breathing at 3 months old, and almost died.  I said the same thing to the doctors, “He was fine, this morning when I dropped him off at daycare.  He was happy, and playing, and fine.”  But it only takes less than 5 minutes to change all that.

I stood in the back yard as the sun was going down, and I noticed the empty spot in the driveway where the car had been.  And then I looked up, and I noticed the empty tree house in the tree in their backyard.  And I remembered how their kids would play in it, and how they would run around, all summer long, barefoot, laughing and teasing each other.  Patty would come over and pet our dog and give him treats.

As bad as I felt the night before, flying home from Las Vegas, I know I didn’t feel as bad as Patty must have felt.  And I could never conceive taking my own life.  I only hope that I never have to experience a pain as great as that.  The sadness I now feel is very heavy.  It’s as if a part of her soul attached itself to me when she was pulled out of that car.  She wanted to get out, just as I wanted to get out of the plane last night.

I can only hope that she is now at peace.  May God take care of her, and her family as well.  And may her husband find in his heart a way to someday forgive her for what she has done.


Leave a Comment
  1. gaietty / Mar 12 2012 4:40 am

    This is such a sad story…

    • Samuel DiPaola / Mar 12 2012 7:34 am

      It was very shocking to me. It took me many days to get over it. I still think about her every time I go into my back yard now an look at the driveway.

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