Fugitive Chris Burns Left September 24th. What do I Remember About the Month Before He Went on the Run?

Sitting in the kitchen staring at our driveway, I was only half-listening to the psychiatrist on the other end of the phone. We had been living a Covid lifestyle for close to six months, so a forty-five-minute telehealth appointment was the best we could get for my son this afternoon. He had just come home from a trauma center, and I wanted to make sure that he had every support system he needed, including prescription medications for ADD.

“Where is Chris?” I kept repeating in my head. “He knows how important this is, and all he had to do was jump on the call…or pull into the driveway….something, anything!” I was going back to the list. The list seemed to be growing every day lately. 

  • The time he showed up to Gavin’s band awards ceremony five minutes before it ended; we knew Gavin was getting an award. 
  • The endless nights where an ice cream run took over an hour when the Kroger was two minutes away from our home. 
  • The night I drove to his office because I asked him to plan a date for us, and I sat in the waiting room for forty-five minutes. Eventually, I walked down the hall and interrupted his meeting to let him know I was there.

I was held up like a trophy to the clients, and after the small talk, he said, “Okay great! You ready to go?”

“I was here an hour ago,” I remarked.

“Oh man, I just lost track of time, I’m so sorry. But dinner is gonna be great–the food at this place is amazing.”

I wanted an apology– a real apology, but at this point in our marriage, some safety mechanism had kicked in my brain. I knew I wouldn’t get what I kept hoping for. My time never seemed as important as his. I didn’t particularly enjoy the food or the date. Listening to someone explain their next entrepreneurial adventure was a top one hundred song on repeat. It was barely charting in my brain anymore, and it all sounded the same and irrelevant to my daily life. I sat in the five-star restaurant both wondering why I was wearing a new skirt and makeup and still smiling and laughing, trying to make the best of it all.

  • And then there were the calls I was getting from the school that the boys were late every morning. Chris was their chauffeur because their school was on his way to his midtown office, and I didn’t know how to broach the subject with him.

 He just seemed to always be out of place, out of time–missing.

Today he was missing this important appointment. I checked my phone to make sure I had put it on the calendar. Confused, I thought, “Didn’t we confirm this morning that we would both be on the call? Did I think I talked with him, and I really didn’t? How could the timing be so off?”

I was texting him, “Where are you? We are supposed to be on this call; can you just answer your phone?” For thirty minutes I got no response.

A minute after thirty minutes, my phone finally dinged and a text with his name exploded onto my phone screen.

“I am so sorry. I think I passed out next to my car. I just woke up on the cement staring at the back tire.”

“WHAT?!?! ARE YOU OKAY?!” I texted back.

“I can drive, I am going to come home.”

“Are you sure that is a good idea? Let me finish this call, and I will come pick you up. That’s not normal, I’m really worried about you.”

He texted, “I was running late, so I ran to my car and then realized I left my keys on my desk in the office. Ran back down the stairs in the parking garage, back up to the 12th floor, and into my office to get my keys, then run back to the car. I just woke up on the ground.”

“Okay, there is a really good chance you have Covid–let me come pick you up. Just sit in your car,” I texted.

“I’m sorry Mrs. Burns, did you hear my question?” the doctor asked.

“Oh, I’m sorry Dr. Newsar, could you repeat that…I’m a little disoriented.”

“Sure, I was just wondering if you could tell me about how you and Chris are doing with Philip now that he’s home,” he said.

“Um, we’re good. It’s a lot to take in, but, you know, I guess best as can be expected. Really though, I just want to make sure Philip is supported. What do you think would be the best plan for any medications?” I said. I just needed to get off this phone call as quickly as possible now, but we still had at least another twenty minutes of paid appointment time. These weren’t covered by insurance, and I knew how expensive it was to have even half an hour of phone time.

I did my best to stay focused on what the doctor was saying while coming up with a plan for taking care of Chris on the other side of my brain. I just kept staring at the driveway feeling like I should be somewhere else but also needing to stay right where I was. ‘Had I eaten today?’ I asked myself because my cranium felt like it could float off of the top of my head. In my mind, I was asking, “Why is there always a reason, a reason that seems to trump whatever else is important?” Guilt flooded over me as I felt my blood resenting me for the fact that it was being asked to raise its pressure yet again.

I finished writing down the psychiatrist’s recommendations, I looked out the window at the cement landscape again only to see Chris driving his Yukon Denali down the steep drive.

I quickly hung up the phone, put on a mask and surgical gloves, and ran out to his car.

Have you ever seen someone whose skin color is blue? It looks like an open casket.

He said he was just going to come in and get in bed, but I quickly informed him to get in the passenger seat of his car because I was driving him to the hospital. He stumbled around the car and barely pulled himself up into the seat. 

“Chris, you probably have Covid,” I said.

“I think I just need to rest; I think I just ran too hard to get my keys.”

We also lived five minutes from a hospital and hit every green light making it four minutes. Because it was at the height of Covid before the vaccine, I had to drop him off and was not allowed to come in with him. It was raining and dark outside; tears streamed down my face as I watched his off-balance walk sealed in by automatic glass doors closing behind him. I pulled into a parking space to catch my thoughts and let my emotions soak my eyelashes. My hands searched for napkins to wipe and blow and attempt to keep my face dignified.

Through blurry optics, I looked at the black interior of the car and somehow caught the outline of two black bookbags, one in the front passenger seat, one behind the passenger seat. I don’t know how I saw them because their black leather was a chameleon sitting in the dark leather chairs. The rest of his car was spotless. I knew one was his briefcase bookbag. I had seen the other book bag before when we traveled but didn’t realize he took it with him to work.

Why did it feel odd? I never wanted to snoop. I never wanted to feel like I was snooping. I felt dirty and criminal. But, the universe was pulling me towards the bags.

I looked through his briefcase–folders, paperwork, ADD medication, anxiety medication, everything disorganized…but that was normal. But this other bag, it looked empty. There wasn’t anything in the main compartment. I almost just put it back down not wanting to get caught. But, the universe inside me created intense pressure to keep looking. I started pulling zippers and reaching into small areas. I was at the end when I discovered a quart-sized zip-lock bag. I couldn’t tell what was in it, so I pulled it out and turned on the overhead light.

I gasped; my head was again floating above my body. I wanted to scream, but my lungs couldn’t connect to my voice; no air; no sound.

On my lap lay a Ziplock bag. In that Ziplock bag were used syringes, handwritten bottles of red and yellow pills, a canister of edibles, syringe vials with the names torn off, a complex vape, more liquid cartridges, and unused syringes. A Thanksgiving feast of anesthetizing agents.

He was in the hospital, I was sitting in his car with his drugs.

Can anyone know what to do that at that moment? I was adding things together and reverse walking through memories and conversations, missed appointments, and inattention. Fidgeting, passing out in bed at night, almost in a coma once he was asleep, incessant talking when he first got up in the morning, so many apologies for missing. 

When I first parked outside the hospital, I thought I would wait in the parking lot for him to call me once he had been seen by the doctor, so that I could drive him home. Instead, I drove myself home, in his Yukon. On the way, I called my Dad, and he drove to meet me. Sitting at the kitchen window, we documented everything through photos. It was robotic. It was walking in a black universe with no clear direction. My Dad barely said a word. As he left he said, “We’ll figure this out, I’ll call you tomorrow sweetheart.”

After my Dad left, I texted Chris pictures–pictures of a hidden life now strewn across my white counters. I didn’t get a response again. How long would I wait this time?

Thirty minutes later, he FaceTimed me, “Hey honey. They have diagnosed me with pneumonia. I just have to take antibiotics, but I can come home. I’m just waiting to be discharged.”

I was silent, my face had no life left in it. I had been working for weeks to make our house safe for our oldest son Philip to come home. There were strict instructions to make the house a shelter for him. I locked up the wine cabinet and got rid of all of the beer and liquor. We put specific controls on our router to protect him from dangerous websites; he had a new phone number and a new phone. He was starting a new way of life. When we picked him up after three months, we all signed a contract that he would not even smoke cigarettes for two years without serious consequences–and that we would abide by many of the same policies in solidarity with him.

The trauma center told us the best medicine now for Philip would be getting to spend time with Chris over the next two years. And so Chris aggressively signed the contract letting Philip know that he would be the enforcer of the consequences for any misstep. In my wildest imagination, I could have never guessed that I would need to have concerns about my co-parent not being able to model a “no drugs” policy. The very weighty expectation that Chris was placing on Philip’s shoulders, Chris was lying about to us in family counseling sessions where our son was utterly vulnerable and laid bare. To break that level of sacred trust–the only word I can think of is cruel. At the same time we were finishing all of this up to take Philip home, I would later discover that Chris was sending thousands of dollars to his mistress in Vegas via Paypal.

My Philip had worked harder than any other kid I know to deal with himself, his horrors and pains; he looked them in the eye, let the grief flow, and was ready to step into a new history. I have never felt more proud of any person in my entire life. He was brave, braver than I have ever been.

He took us at our word and trusted us, put all his trust in us to walk the next two years together according to his contract. I put all the truth I had within my body into my signature on that document.

I had been on the phone this afternoon with his psychiatrist continuing to care for the baby I carried for nine months and was still carrying in my arms, in my living, in my soul.

I’m still silent on the phone. In the background, I hear Chris asking me to come pick him up. He’ll explain the pictures; it’s no big deal. As I stare blankly at his mouth moving, all I can hear him say is, “lie, lie, lie, lie.” Does he have pneumonia? Lie. Late? Lie. Contract signature? Lie. Passed out? Lie.

He finishes talking, and I tell him he seems to be able to take care of himself. I wish him luck taking care of himself. He tells me what a bitch I am to make him get an Uber to a hotel when he’s this sick. It is really going to mess Philip up if he doesn’t come home. What kind of wife doesn’t take care of her husband. Everything is explainable if I would just listen and stop doing what I always do–“you always jump to the worst conclusion.”

But I don’t want to wait anymore. I’m tired of listening. I tell him maybe tomorrow.

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