I’m struggling to write this one. Usually I have the mornings blog mostly written out in my head the night before, but it’s been almost a week since I posted what had led up to Pauls death and I just can’t get passed the first morning. So I’ve decided to wing it. If there are typos, and things seems to string along, I apologize. I don’t proofread before I click “publish”, I just read it after and cringe at all the mistakes! Here goes.
After I hung up the phone at around midnight or so that Saturday night, sunday morning in July and got on the computer and wrote a letter to Paul stating how I felt that I really wanted him out of our lives forever because of this drug pattern. It was tearing me apart. It was affecting my ability to be a productive business owner and a patient mother. I had to let go. I told him in the letter that I didn’t care if he was five years sober, he was never to come around because I knew now that he could start using again at any time. Clearly, he never received this nor any other letter again. Little did I know that as I was finishing the letter and climbing into bed, he was dying.
I didn’t sleep well that night and got up early the next morning and arranged to meet up with Pauls brother and niece at the beach. I first stopped by Pauls moms house to give her the letter and asked her to give it to Paul. She responded with, “I don’t think I’m going to talk to him anymore either”. My phone rang and Brian (Pauls brother) asked if I was at his moms, I said yes, and he told me to wait there, he was on his way. I thought that was strange, but as I waited I got on Catherines computer to show her the place I was going to move into back in Northern California. I explained to her that I just couldn’t be in Los Angeles anymore because I didn’t want Paul to interfere with our lives anymore. I was trying so hard to be strong, but inside I was sick, hurt, angry, and sad. Really really sad. It was at this time that Brian came in with Emma. He told Emma to take Brianne outside in the hallway, but not before he announced to me and Catherine that Paul was dead.
I knew before he spoke the words that something was wrong, because he uttered the words that you hear in every movie when someone has very bad news, “you had better sit down”. I thought in those few seconds maybe an overdose? But I think I knew before I heard the actual words. Catherine was wailing at this point and I ran into her bedroom and flung myself on her bed and was screaming, “NO” over and over and over again into her pillow. I just kept imaging five years down that road, sort of where I am now, and Brianne fatherless, and me alone and Paul gone all these years. I just couldn’t believe it. Yes, you think about it when they are using, that it could happen. But until it actually does…
I finally pulled myself up and went back into the living room and asked where he was when it happened, when, and who was there. The answered sickened me and I started yelling out threats that I was going to kill this person. You see, maybe a year prior when Paul was using and I had kicked him out he had gone to stay one the couch of a girl who was a drug addict herself. At that time she had a boyfriend who was a drug dealer and Paul had called me scared, obviously out of his mind on drugs. She was a crack smoker, and even though that wasn’t Pauls drug of choice, it was there and free, so he was using it. I’m sure mixed with heroin, his real drug of choice. He told me on the phone that he was scared what this guy was going to do to him. He had been helping him with deals and had smashed some guy with a bottle or something. There was a gun in the house and didn’t know what to do. He was scaring the crap out of me and suddenly says, “he’s here, gotta go”. I had no way of calling him back, so I called his brother to find out the address because he had done some hardwood floor work in her condo. So he found the invoice and I called the police stating that Paul had threatened suicide. The police took him away where he had to do a 72 hour hold. I think that was the first time we got him into rehab. So this is where he died. On her bathroom floor. The one thing I know for sure is when she found him, he was alive. She didn’t call 911 right away, she scrambled to hide all evidence before she did. The first responders said he was gone only minutes when they got there. There was no paraphernalia to be found anywhere.
After calming down a bit we all just kinda sat there in a circle looking at each other and wondered, what do we do now? I said we had to go to the beach. And that’s just where we needed to be. You see, this was Venice and Paul was a Dogtown Zboy. Everyone would be at the beach and we knew that news of this was spreading like wildfire on and around the beach. In fact Brian found out because his wife was running on the beach at 6:00 in the morning and someing had approached her with the news. So to the beach we went.
We have a spot we always go. Nowhere else. It’s at the Venice pier. By the time we got there, there was already a crowd that had formed. It was just so surreal. I was in such shock. Brian and I had parked far away and had time to really talk this over during the walk. Was he a good enough brother? Did I play a part in his death? Did he do this on purpose? We were walking arm in arm crying, talking, grieving. I remember being on the beach, I remember a lot of people being there and sharing condolences and crying with us. But most of it is a blur. I don’t really remember WHO was there, specifically. I don’t remember driving home, but I do remember I couldn’t seem to get there. I kept driving in circles crying on the phone. I remember The Cataldo sisters staying with me that night, well, for sure Joanna, and maybe Nicole or Laura or both! I must have seen my friend Heather because I remember her giving me a bottle of pills, I think that helped me sleep that night. I remember feeling very scared. Scared of everything.
The next day my mom asked one of my friends if she should come to LA to which they replied, “YES”. Of course, right? Why would my mother question that. Why wouldn’t she ALREADY be here? Anyway, she came and my cousin, Jenny came. The rest of the week is a blur, maybe the pills? The day of the funeral I remember. It was at Pauls church in Santa Monica where he was baptized Catholic. It was a huge, beautiful church as most Catholic churches are, and it was standing room only. I don’t even think some people could stand, they had to wait outside. I don’t remember what was said, or who said it. There was a large screen that was displaying picutures of Pauls life. Skateboarding, surfing, with family, friends. There were flowers at the podium, but the most beautiful thing at the podium was this handpainted skateboard that Aaron Murry hand painted of Paul on. Brian has that. I remember as I was leaving, Christian Hosoi and his wife Jen handing me an envelope with a check in it which I was so grateful for because I couldn’t work, obviously. Work had stopped. My friend, Kate, (Lee Remicks daughter) bought a very expensive necklace on my retail website which I also was very grateful for. My mom and friends had given money to someone who was collecting on line for Pauls services. The left over money was given to the person who had helped with the services. I don’t really remember to many other faces, I did see two of my “sisters” (you know, your besties that are like family, beyond friendship?), but for a brief moment. I asked them if they were coming to the services after, but they had something to do.
The services after were held at my “sister in laws” house (in quotes because remember, Paul and I never married…which also meant there was no mention of me in the obit. At all.). She did a lovely job, which again, I don’t remember much. I do remember Pauls ex girlfriend being there. Yay.
The next day was the paddle out. If you’ve ever had a friend that was a surfer pass away, then you know what a paddle out is. A paddle out is a way to honor a “fallen brother” in the surf community. It usually is done past the break and well past the swells. Guys (and girls) will form a circle, hold hands and speak on the passed. Most times there is the spreading of the ashes and then yelling and splashing and surfing back in. This particular day had pretty large waves, but in I went with Pauls wetsuit and a borrowed board. This was not easy and I was very grateful to have the help of a couple of Pauls friends in getting me out there. We formed our circle close to the pier which was packed with people trying to get a view of us. Pauls nephew, sister in law and I got in the middle of the circle and spread his ashes, then everyone rushed toward us splashing and yelling, crying and laughing. It really was magical and beautiful. People had tossed flowers into the water from the pier, and even the Coast Guard got into it and got us all with their water spouts. I even climbed into the Coast Guards boat to catch a ride as close to the shore as I could.
There was a podium in the sand with a microphone and lot’s of people spoke, then only thing I really remember about that was Pauls mom saying that she new that Paul was safe in the palm of God’s hands now. After all that, there was food and people were discussing memories of Paul. Lot’s of Zboys and dogtown skaters and pro surfers were there. I met a lot of people. I don’t remember a one. But the day was bittersweet. Pauls brother had tagged the pier with RIP ZBOY Baby Paul Cullen, it was also done by someone of the wall of the old Zephyr shop. We sold some decks of Pauls that Adrien Reef of “Cove Surf” had made up before he passed. He still had about 70 decks left and we got rid of quite a few that day.
A day, or two, or three, or so, we (my mom, cousin and I) left to go to San Jose. I had asked them to remove all the decaying flowers, etc. as I did not want to return home alone to more death. I stayed in San Jose for a week? Two? I’m just not sure. I do remember being VERY grateful for those pills. Must have been Xanax. I went to Danville to look at my new place and we decided on a moving date of August 30th. This gave me a month to pack. So, Brianne and I returned home.
I do remember walking in the door. The door to our house that Paul would never walk into again. And feeling very very very alone. And scared. Very very very scared. I walked into the kitchen only to find maggots in the garbage can. Maggots. I lost it. I threw myself down on the ground (far away from the maggots) and cried, and cried and cried. I don’t know how long I was on the ground for, I don’t even remember what Brianne was doing. But I had no one. Everyone had gone about their lives, but I couldn’t. I had work to do, packing to do, Brianne to take care of, and note one soul to help. There was one day in all this time that my “sister friend”, Crystal watched Brianne so I could pack. The other think I remember is Brian and Michelle sending their daughter, Emma to my house for three days as I was trying to get through all of this and her asking me why I was so sad, “Paul and I weren’t even married”. Damn 10 year olds! My very last day in LA my friend Brian came to help, my friend Lexi and Clint had flown in to drive the truck to Danville. Packing had actually helped me get myself together I think. Or maybe it was just being busyand focused. Because having to pack up Pauls things, and the sober living house dropping all his stuff off to me, I honestly don’t know how I did it. I’m sure my business must have suffered during this time, how could it not? The economy was already very bad and getting worse. I guess I focused on starting a new life for me and my daughter and getting out of LA and that things had to get better from now on. So, Brianne and I got into my car, Clint got into the moving truck and off we went.
The thing I remember BEST about that day, and that drive on to our new lives, was the air conditioner breaking in my car. It was 106 degrees that day driving down the 5. We had every window down in the car rolling on at about 80 mphfor the six hour drive . I think the wind put my daughter to sleep though, or at least she didn’t complain.