"What! Damn. Humph. What happened to him?"
"I don't know. He was much younger than Lenny. Lenny is 63. Dennis had some disease, was sick all the time. Something was wrong with one of his organs or something. He was on a lot of medication and he drank a lot of booze. Listen Liz, I gotta run. I'll call you back. Thanks, girl, for everything. Shit. It's damn near two o'clock in the morning. I wonder where Lenny's dead ass is. I'm gonna kill him all over again when I find him. And you know what? If that bitch tries to bury my damn husband real quick and succeeds, I'll have his ass dug up and buried in my backyard. I swear I will. A piece of paper holds a lot of weight."
I hung up and could still hear Liz laughing in my head. My next call was to the police station near Lenny and Carolyn's house. I told the story again, but they had no record of paramedics going from their precinct to get Lenny-dead or alive. I called back to the City Morgue. I was crying and telling the person on the end of the receiver that I could not find my husband's dead body anywhere. The gentleman gave me a number that tracks all 911 calls placed from Philadelphia. From there, I was able to find out that Lenny was taken to Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital. That hospital was across the city line and not in Philadelphia. It was in Darby, Pennsylvania in Delaware County. When I tried Mercy Fitzgerald again, they answered the phone this time.
I started in the Emergency Room and was switched to the morgue. From there, I got a supervisor. I explained everything all over again to a woman who said she would have to pull a file and get back to me. She returned my call as promised and took some information. She directed me to another supervisor. I finally got Erin, a medical investigator at the morgue familiar with the file and my husband's dead body. After I explained who I was, Erin informed me that Lenny had been brought in by his wife and granddaughter. I explained again that I was his wife and that Lenny had no granddaughter. Suspect, Erin began to ask me a series of questions about my mother and father-in-law, Lenny's medications, where he was born, where he worked, his Social Security number, and where he resided. She talked to me about Carolyn and I explained that Lenny had been living with her for fourteen years. She also noted on the file that Theresa Roglich was listed as being next to kin. Erin was puzzled as to why a wife, Carolyn, was listing Theresa as next to kin. She explained that the state of Pennsylvania did not recognize common-law marriages. We talked for a long time and, afterward, she believed I had never divorced Lenny. I didn't know all the medications he was on, but I did know he was taking blood pressure medication and drank heavily. She told me they would run tests on him to find out everything that was in his system at the time of his death. I offered to provide her with my marriage license, but she said that it was not necessary. They had another way of checking to make sure I was his wife. They stopped requesting or allowing marriage licenses because, on a prior case, four women had come to claim a body and all of them had marriage licenses. Erin also shared with me that I should contact the Julian Hawkins Funeral Home and gave me a number to call Mr. Hawkins. Carolyn had made arrangements for them to pick up his body. I had to tell them that I had spoken with Erin and that they should not come as scheduled. It was then 3:30 in the morning and she suggested that I wait until 9:00 a.m. to call the funeral home. I agreed, thanked her and hung up.
I couldn't sleep, my mind was too unsettled. I must have checked my watch one hundred times. By six o'clock in the morning, I could not wait any longer and decided to call the funeral director. I explained the situation and advised him not to pick up Lenny's body. Half an hour later, he phoned me back to say he had spoken to Carolyn and she wanted her instructions carried out. As planned, he said he intended to go for the body. My voice became stern and I ordered him not go near that body. If he did, there would be trouble in the form of lawyers. I reiterated that I was the legal wife. At the mention of lawyers, Mr. Hawkins changed his mind. I was relieved.
At seven o'clock, I was in the shower and at eight I was packing. By nine, I was back on the phone with the morgue. Erin had finished her shift, so I had to deal with a new person. Thank God he was familiar with the situation, probably having been briefed by Erin. I needed to fax him some identification for his records. All I had was my driver's license and MasterCard, the first registered in Greene, and the latter with Garner inscribed on it. I ran down to the hotel lobby and had both copied. I wrote a note requesting the morgue to hold the body and faxed the documents. When Yolanda walked in the door at nine forty-five, I was ready for breakfast. As soon as she looked at me, I sighed and confessed, "I've been up all night."
We chatted as we sipped coffee and juice. I messed over home fries, toast, and fresh fruit. I was antsy, knowing damn well I'd never find my marriage license in all my papers. I would indeed end up at City Hall first thing Monday morning to request a copy. In the meantime, my plan was to go to the morgue as soon as I dropped my luggage off at home. Yolanda and I got my bags together, ordered a bellman, and headed for checkout. When settling the bill, I was hit with telephone charges in the amount of four hundred and three dollars! It was for calls made after receiving the news of Lenny's death. Prior to that, I had only been on my cell phone since check-in. Unbelievable! I looked at the gentleman's name tag behind the counter. "Gary, I really cannot pay all these charges. This is ridiculous. This is too much money for phone calls. As you know, my husband passed away and this is why I'm checking out a day early. As you see from my records, I didn't begin using my hotel phone until after I got the news of my husband's death, which occurred on Thanksgiving Day. Please ask your supervisor if he could reduce the charges. It was due to an emergency that I had made all these calls."
Gary looked at me sympathetically and conferred with his female co-worker. When he returned, he offered to lower the phone bill to $127.00. I thanked him, he gave me his condolences, and Yolanda and I left. I boarded the train to Philadelphia.
Once I got on the train, the most interesting thing happened to me. Ironically, I was sitting in front of two Black guys listening to them talk about their jobs. The more I spied their conversation, I kept hearing the word drop. Finally, I turned around and asked if they were Philly City Workers. They were friendly and answered, "yes."
We talked all the way to Philadelphia and they gave me much information. We exchanged numbers, too. They told me to get that marriage certificate early Monday morning and go to the City of Philadelphia Pension Board. They named a few other places to check out, too. The last thing they said to me was not to let anyone get a death certificate. The chance of our meeting was overwhelming for me. I could not believe that those two guys were on that train at the same time as me-God's work and certainly no coincidence.
When I got back home, everything was in an uproar with Noelle. Her condition had deteriorated since our last conversation. Her Crohn's Disease was acting up and she was scheduled to get an infusion the next day. After many years of being on the same medication, her body was not completely responding to treatment. She wasn't feeling well and was staying with her boyfriend.
When I had her on the phone, my maternal instincts sensed she was depressed and that the stress from the news of her father's death inevitably led to a flare up of the disease. She only admitted to me that her stomach hurt and she was upset about her father. But after everything she had gone through with the disease, it had to be much worse. I wanted to run over to Vincent's place to be with her, but I knew my daughter. Time and space was what she needed. I was scared to death, but I decided to stay put.
I called the Delaware County morgue three more times and left messages. Someone finally returned my call and told me that it wasn't necessary to rush out there. I could wait until Monday to pick up the body. They assured me they would not release the body to anyone other than me. I was glad because I was exhausted. The rest of the day was spent telling the story and getting advice from people. My cousin Lynne and her husband, Jerome, stayed on the phone with me the longest on Saturday evening. Jerome Coney was also a former city worker and had retired under the DROP Program. He was a wealth of information. He taught me everything I needed to learn about the DROP Program, death certificates, and city benefits-things very foreign to me. I still hadn't heard a word from Lenny's sister Theresa. After that conversation, I called the Pension Board even though it was Saturday night. I left messages for three people alerting them that Carolyn Monroe was pretending to be Mrs. Lenny Garner and that Mr. Lenny Garner had passed away on Thanksgiving Day. I added that I was his wife and would call again on Monday morning to discuss my situation further. I imagined each one of their faces on Monday after hearing my message. I sat back and howled.
The following night, much was on my mind with Noelle and her Dad's death. I was bushed from gathering information, unpacking, and the entire whirlwind from the last three days. I took an Ambien and passed out. Monday was going to be a very busy day and I needed a good night's rest.
Before I left my house the next morning, I called the morgue where Lenny's body was. I was on my way to City Hall for my marriage certificate, but they informed me that they had received one over the weekend from Carolyn Monroe. Lenny and Carolyn married on June 22, 2002! I was in a state of shock! How could he have married that wench when he had never divorced me?
I hauled ass to City Hall and found my marriage certificate on the computer from 1986. Bingo! They tried to get me a copy from the physical file and the entire file was missing. Nowhere to be found. Hunted and hunted. Nothing. They couldn't understand where it was. I swore they had paid somebody a couple of dollars to lose that file. I then requested my husband's marriage certificate. Lenny and Carolyn had filled out the application together at City Hall on June 3, 2002 to get married. Lenny indicated on the application that he had never been married to anyone.?Humph. Lenny was married prior to meeting me and divorced after we hooked up. He knew Carolyn about ten years prior to meeting me. Lenny could have been messing around with her when he was married to his first wife. The first wife hated her. Carolyn and Lenny got married in some church in Philly and kept it a secret from his family. It was probably kept a secret so I would not find out. If Lenny and I had divorced, I would have been able to go after the DROP money and pension. If I stayed married to him, the money would be his. If he had dropped me from his medical coverage, I would have found out, filed for divorce to get on the COBRA plan for medical insurance, and attacked the pension, too. That would have affected the DROP lump sum payment to him and his monthly retirement checks. So, they kept the shit quiet. Based on his yearly salary, he was eligible to get about $131,000 from the DROP Program as a lump sum payment.
Could Lenny have divorced me without my knowing it? Okay, I had to think quickly. I knew some shit was going down, so I went to another department that handled divorce decrees. A thorough check was done in 67 counties. No divorce decree ever came up. There had been a divorce complaint filed by me years ago in 1992, but Lenny and I stopped that action and just let it go.?After hours of searching, a copy of my marriage license was found in the City file containing my Divorce Complaint. The department gave me two documents with Court seals stating that I had never been divorced and faxed a set of the documents to the medical examiner holding Lenny's body.
The Delaware County morgue received everything. As far as I knew, Carolyn never gave the morgue a divorce decree, just her marriage license.?This blew their minds. The case was just too big for the morgue's office, and now, they were sending all of our documents over to the Chief Register of Wills in Delaware County to be reviewed. He would make a decision as to who was the legal wife.
After all that drama at City Hall, next was the Pension Board. After I explained my whole story to the clerk, I handed her my marriage license.?She wasn't alarmed because Carolyn had never applied for Lenny's pension thus far. Since another wife popped up, the Pension Board decided to have a meeting to discuss it. They planned on sending me papers to fill out requesting documents. The pension board had not known of Lenny's death until I reported it. A pension check would be generated to go to Lenny in three days. No plans were made to stop the release of that check, but they were sending a letter to Lenny's residence stating that checks would be stopped after that. They had to do it that way until they received a death certificate. They informed me that Lenny had picked Option J on his pension, which gave benefits to the spouse after his death for the rest of the spouse's life. He did not indicate a spouse's name. Just checked off spouse. If his spouse died after him, I discovered, the benefits would go to a minor child or an adult child with a disability.
I was on a roll! I was Mrs. Lenny Garner. My next stop was District Council 33, the Health Insurance Department. I notified them of Lenny's Death and they changed
things around to make sure health cards and things like that would come directly to me.?I was listed as the wife and was on the insurance until 2009, after which I would move to COBRA. That department had never been informed of Lenny's remarriage or his death.
Next, I went to the post office and had Lenny's mail rerouted to my house. I wasn't leaving anything to chance. I didn't trust that Bitch.
From there, I headed to Social Security Administration and reported Lenny's death. They gave me an appointment to return on the sixth of December with a long list of documents. To show proof that I was Lenny's wife, I had to show my marriage certificate. If I filed at age 60, my benefit would be $944 and $1322 if I filed at 66 or if I were disabled and unemployed. As a widow, I was entitled to an immediate $250 from them.
After all this running around, I spoke to my attorney, Tony Marino. Tony was my former employer and had handled several personal injury cases for me. We had
become good friends over the years and if anybody needed to know this shit-it was Tony. He wanted to meet to discuss the matter after I got the body stuff straight along with all the other business. The Medical Examiner wouldn't release the body for burial until the legal wife was determined and they heard back from the Chief Register of Wills?in Delaware County. Tony would represent me regarding Lenny's estate until I formally hired an estate attorney. If Lenny had a will, I would have to get a percentage of his assets. I had no idea if there was a will, but I anticipated there wasn't one because my husband was always too busy partying.
I believed Carolyn committed fraud on the marriage application. She indicated that Lenny had no other wives to her knowledge.?I could prove her dishonesty. In 1992, Carolyn filed a lawsuit against me, Denise Garner. She was trying to obtain $50,000 from me after Lenny moved in with her. She filed the suit for harassment, that I had been calling her house and some other stupid shit. She later dropped it, but the Court kept the records. She was well aware of my marital status because my medical insurance cards were being mailed to her house for years, as Lenny was the subscriber. In the end, she would be burned at the stake.
While I was trying to play Columbo, people, Lenny's friends and family members from all over were ringing the phone off the hook wanting to know the funeral arrangements. They got my phone numbers from Theresa who had become super tight with Carolyn. I simply told everyone the same thing, that I couldn't deal with the funeral at the time because Noelle's Crohn's was in a flare-up and I had to get her infused and healthy again. It came as a surprise to many people, but it wouldn't be for a couple of weeks before I could work on the funeral. I still hadn't talked to Theresa since my return to Philly. She was just as hard-headed as I was and had not called me either since informing me that she was in charge and had a policy.
This thing played like a saga. People were blown away at City Hall and other departments that my dead husband was leading a double life. The Medical Examiner's office confirmed that they were getting a zillion calls on the case of the two wives. People wanted to know when the funeral was. Erin, the investigator for the Delaware County Medical Examiner, and I talked late last night. She believed I was not lying, but procedure was that the Register of Wills had to get this case. She said that Theresa kept calling to find out when the body could be released to plan a funeral. At that point, I had not heard from the team of Dumb and Dumber (Theresa and Carolyn) because that was certainly who they were to me. As smart as I was, I would end up with his dead body. He was my husband, dammit, and after everything he had put me through, in the end, I'd be the chick in charge.