Earthy, With Hints of Floral

Last night, we had my favorite agnolotti (which is prissy for ravioli) for dinner. It's nothing too exceptional; just some frozen thing you can pick up at any old King or Queen Soopers for like $5.99 a package, but it's really good. It's filled with a blend of ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan, Romano, and the very final moments of my marriage. 

For the first 16 years of our life together, he'd been home for dinner, on average, one night a week. I'd never been able to cook dinners that included him, and I'd never had help getting the kids settled for the night, because that's just not how the restaurant industry, or addiction, works. We wives and children to chefs and GMs are widowed and orphaned by Open Table. Add vodka and wine to that equation, and we were lucky to see him at all from Tuesday morning through Sunday night.

The new job he had taken in 2011 had him home for dinner three or four evenings a week, which was new for us - and quite nice in a normal-life sort of way. It wasn't very good in the hide-the-drinking-while-the-family-sleeps sort of way, which - as these things are wont to do - caught up with us with a vengeance eventually. 

The thing with co-dependency is that we want to believe so badly that we will twist and warp reality to make it believable to us no matter what pesky facts lie in our way. He had more late tables than any GM in the history of restaurant management, his drawers would never, ever balance, he'd have to work on national and corporate holidays when no one else is the entire company of hundreds was working, the makeup bags under my seat of the car were left by thieves digging through the car looking for change or ironic Robyn Hitchcock cassettes - and I'd find some way to believe it, always.  

I'm still not sure if I believed it because I didn't want to face the reality of what he was doing to himself and by proxy me and my children, or if I didn't want to face him when and if I called him on it. I'm still not sure it actually matters. 

So when he started working mornings, when he started coming home to us at night, I found a way to believe that we'd found the answer to our prayers. He was with us during the one time he could drink himself stupid; ergo, he couldn't drink himself stupid anymore. That's called science, bitches. It's logic. I beliiiiiiiiieeeeeved it. 

And I had hope. For him, for us, for my children, for his insane dog, for all of it. There was hope for the first time in a very long time. 

Because that's how addiction to addicts works. 

So this one night - after almost a full year of pure hell in which I had watched, listened, and smelled him nearly kill himself with vodka, watched my kids realize for the first time that their father had a problem, saw him physically hurt one of our children while he was drunk, saw him repeatedly emotionally hurt another child, dodged fists that went through doors instead of my face, asked for divorce, was denied a divorce, endured his long bouts of depression followed by long bouts of rage, given up all hope of saving him or leaving him - after all of that he got this job that made him feel useful and challenged amd secure again, one that had him home with his family more nights than not almost like a normal person, one that I convinced myself could keep him from drinking even though it was a wine bar and he had every key to it, and this one night I decided to bury the hachet, be a nice human being, make him a nice dinner, wear something cute, and welcome him home like I always imagined wives welcomed their husbands home at the end of a long day in a world that I didn't live in, but wanted to. 

So I made this dinner he'd never had before, this agnolotti (which is prissy for ravioli), and a big old salad that had all of his favorite salady-type-things in it. I put on a skirt and my nice makeup. I straightened my hair. I dabbed some perfume on. Then I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

And he never came home

He never came home because if he couldn't drink at night, he was going to drink during the day, dammit, and drinking during the day means drinking during work and drinking during work at a wine bar means blacking out at 11am and not remembering anything until 7pm that night, across town, with no idea how you got there, were your car is, or how you are going to fix this. 

Because you can't fix this. Because this is your rock bottom. And it is mine, too. 

I sat on my corduroy double-wide arm chair that I loved more than just about any other earthly possession, the one I had to leave behind when we made our abrupt exodus from Texas because we didn't have enough money to rent a truck big enough to bring it, or any of my living room furniture that, I was told, was "just stuff" I "need to let go of". I sat on that chair under the warm orange glow of the table lamp I also don't own anymore and most of everything inside of me died.

It's funny how quickly fear gives way to anger, then humiliation, then resignation. 

By the time he came in the door, without a car or a job, I had already put all the children to bed sweetly and calmly, I had already cleared the table of his wilted salad and hardened pasta, and I had changed out of my skirt and sweater into the oversized sweats that had room enough in them for me and the waves of alternating panic and rage and sadness ebbing inside of me. It was over; the dream I had clutched in the palm of my foolishly-determined fist all those 16 years was finally over, and I'd finally, with finality, let it go.

He has no idea what happened to either one of us that night. I've never spoken of the details of that night with him, or with anyone for that matter. He never found the car he lost that night, and he never found the job he lost that night, and I never found the person I lost that night, the one inside of me that was willing, always, to give one last chance, to find one last reason to believe in him, in us, in that reality. 

On January 25th of this year, I made that same dinner again for the first time since that night, this time just for me and my children. I wore a skirt, I put on some makeup, I dabbed on some perfume, and I quietly counted the distance between that place I was a year ago and the reality I ended up living, 365 days later. 

Now we have it again on the seim-regular dinner rotation. It still tastes a bit like brown corduroy and grace, which will always be a bittersweet thing to swallow, but I think I am finally at the place where I like the taste of what is done, and what is becoming because of it. 

What I Haven't Got

Winter's change is the cruelest of all, for me. It is frozen and dark and offers no glimmers of hope, except those that twinkle reflecting off the frozen tundra, mirages in the desert of our lives holding out the distance sparkle of solace where the reality is that there is none to be had, and it is cold, and there is a long way to go before there will be warm, golden light.

Everyone is writing their end of the year posts this week. The best books they've read, the coolest places they've traveled to, the best pictures they've taken, the best goals they can think of for themselves in 2013 - this is the week that pretty much everyone looks in the rear view mirror, checks their blind spot, and changes lanes along the highway of their lives. People woke up on Tuesday - maybe refreshed, maybe hungover, maybe pregnant, and stared down a new day and a new year with the determination to do/be/write/love/act better.

More. Bigger. Differently. Something. 

These are the moments for which I hold my breath and wait for time to pass. These are the days I pray for forgetfulness or distraction. These are the times I wish I wasn't, and didn't, and won't. 

My year isn't ending yet. My year ends on January 7th when my entire world did. It ends again on January 25th, when the new house of cards I'd spent 17 years meticulously building up came crashing down. My year isn't restarting yet.  It begins anew on January 9th, just like it has every year since 1992 when I was shoved headfirst through an airplane jetway and into a brand new life. 

January marks the days of my mother - the day I lost her, and the day I left her forever. January marks the day I lost my husband and decided in my heart, if not my head, to leave him forever, too. January is not the month I reset or recharge or realigned; it is the month I die over and over again. January is a month of resignation, of giving in - letting go and letting whatever the hell will make this easier


But I am trying to change that. 

This year will be the first calendar year that I live start to finish intentionally, for myself, not in a way that I feel like someone else is making me live but in the way that I chose to live. I ended this year entirely too far over the edge of the precipice to let anyone pull me back into that old cycle, that old life that I keep setting myself up to live through and die from over and over again.  

I'm learning - no, I've always known, I'm trying to accept - how much of everything that has transpired is my own fault. I didn't make my husband drink-and-everything-that-comes-with-it, but he certainly didn't make me stay, either. I perceive requirements that don't always actually exist and customize my life around them, because I am a highly skilled, professionally groomed enabler, and that is what we do best. I've been so afraid of change that I found a near exact replica of my relationship with my mother and entered into a legally binding, contractual, lifetime relationship with it. 

Every January I mourn these losses that are in fact gifts. Twice in my life I have held my nose and stood tippy-toes-over a precipice, waiting and hoping for something, someone, god will anything just come shove me over? because I certainly have never had the courage to leap on my own accord. Twice in my life I have been given exactly that which I have wished for. 

And it is a gift. These weights I cling to are actually disguised wings. I just have to figure out how to use them to fly.

Day Thirty Six

I walked out of our hotel the same day I married him, because he had been so drunk for so long that day that his best friend and I had to hold him up on the way back to the room. He chased me down, screaming at me that if anyone was leaving, it was going to be him. I came back five minutes later.

I left him when our sons were infants, partly because I was sick of it and partly because he'd thrown me out - though I very purposely poked and prodded at him until he did, because I couldn't find a way to say I was unhappy; I needed him to tell me to leave. I came back three months later. 

I left him after he crashed his car in the middle of the night, out drinking with some girl that worked behind the bar, and cost us a month's rent in bail money and another month's in car repairs. I moved the kids and myself to Colorado Springs and he began court-ordered-sobriety in a court-ordered alcohol treatment program. I came back three months later.   

Five months after that the drug testing stopped and the drinking started back up. 

I stayed for a long time that time, and things were okay for a while. I saw both of my boys into school and was looking into university for myself. I was 29 years old and just starting to get an idea of who I was. I made some new friends, some of the kinds of friends that adults make who stay with you forever, and I started this blog in secret. We fell pregnant with another baby, moved out of our crappy apartment and into a house, and it all started to unwind then. 

These things never happen suddenly. They slowly amp themselves up, and we simply choose to see it or ignore it. I ignored it, because I didn't know what else to do. And then we got transferred to Canada. 

And then he lost his goddamn mind one night while I was at an alanon meeting and that's when I took my children and got as far away from him as I could. I went back to Denver and started my life over, and he stayed in Vancouver and started his life over. He was work-ordered sober on a work-ordered treatment program. I was a single mother with three children thousands of miles away from him, where I could work on myself, my life, my children, and not enable him any longer. 

I was happy. I was broke, tired, lonely, worried, and proud of myself in a way I can't describe. It felt so good to be finished with it all, to not enable someone anymore, to live for myself for once. I lived. I worked at a bar two or three nights a week, cleaned houses one or two days a week, and took care of my kids the rest of the time.

It was an impossible existence that I only pulled off because I had an incredible support structure of friends who would help me when I asked and let me figure it out for myself when I didn't. They didn't make it easier for me, but they made sure it wasn't too hard, either. I came to realize that I was worth being loved, that I was respectable and capable and could have meaningful relationships with healthy people who made me a better person.

I went back a year later. 

He was unbearably far away and the children didn't want to live without their father any longer. He was getting better and I couldn't live without my co-dependent any longer. The idea of someone getting sober-him after I'd give up a decade to drunk-him was unbearable. So I came back.

Two weeks after I'd dismantled the last little bits of my life in Denver, in the middle of a summer Vancouver night, I heard the crash of him passing out drunk on the kitchen floor. I came downstairs and laid down next to him, in the bed I realized I'd made, and I've been laying in it ever since.  

Until 36 days ago.

36 days ago, I flew to Montreal to finally end this for real, to put us out of our misery in front of a third party who would make sure he, and I, had the tools we needed to deal with everything that came after.

And I didn't do it. But I didn't not do it, either. 

We talked a lot while I was there - with the therapists, with each other, with the people going through treatment with him. We talked about everything that has been, and everything that's coming, in real terms that mean something to both of us. We talked about what needs to be done now, and what can wait for tomorrow. We talked about what actually matters to each of us as people, and for him, that's recovering from his addiction to alcohol and for me, that's recovering from my addiction to alcoholics. In particular, him.

We talked about how hard it is to change anything, let alone everything, and that maybe everyone would be well-suited to take advantage of the fact that we don't have to do all of it rightthissecond. And so we aren't. We made a deal that we wouldn't fix the marriage, and we wouldn't end the marriage - we would just let it sit here while we work on all the other very large changes happening in our individual lives. 

And I am terrified. I am terrified that I had my final out and I didn't take it. But at the exact same time, I sat in a chair in a basement in a country north of us and I met this man for the first time. I have never seen him like this. Whatever they did, it worked. I'm not saying he's cured, I'm just saying he is changed.

And I am more afraid of sabotaging that than I am of missing the last exit on this highway. 

Day Fourteen

When I was a very little girl, smaller than my daughter is now, we lived in a house made of stucco and mud. Inside that tiny house (an apartment, really, with two stories) we had a very, very small kitchen. To me, it seemed so big - I could never reach the ice box, or the high shelves where our parents kept the chocolate syrup - but to them it was a cruel joke played on poor people who could ask for nothing better. 

Two grown adults couldn't fit side-by-side in our kitchen. It was like a galley kitchen on a Barbie Dream Yacht. It had avocado green linoleum countertops and an avocado green rotary phone to match. Over the sink was a florescent light bulb, one of those long ones you pulled a little chain to turn on, like under the hood of an oven a million years ago, when I was a child. 

My father worked the swing shift at the steel factor a mile or two up the road from our house (if I am not mistaken, it is one of the few functional steel mills left on the eastern seaboard) (and the reason everyone from Claymont, DE is going to die of some very horrible lung disease someday). Some nights, he would get home at what felt like 3,729 am to a little girl not old enough to gauge time after the sun went down. I would hear his key in open the door, the dog greet him, his boots and coat come off, and all the while I'd be creaking my way down the old, wooden stairs of our home, trying to catch of glimpse of Ed before Dad noticed me in pigtails and nightgowns, peeking my poofy eyes through the spindles of the banister. 

He'd call me down and we'd go into that tiny huge kitchen together, just the two of us, and he'd plop me up on the cold, green linoleum. He always let me pull the chain on the light over the sink, and we'd listen in silence as it hummed itself awake, then bolted into the moment with a crackle. 

I would watch him wash his hands under flickering blue lights and scalding hot water, scrubbing 8, 10, 12 hours of black soot off his skin and his nails with Lava soap. It took what felt like forever, but was probably only minutes, for him to scrub away layer after layer of steel plate or bearing or block or whatever they made all day in the place that pumped the black smoke into the air. He scrubbed and rinsed and we talked about our days. Sometimes he would tell me silly stories, and sometimes he would let me wash my new-person hands with that Lava soap. 

I remember how it stung, but I wanted to be tough and brave like my daddy, so I washed with it anyway. When we were all done, he'd pat my hands dry, rub them with lotion, make me a little chocolate milk with the secret stash of Hershey's syrup way up high in the cabinet I never reached, and then tuck me into bed. 

This is my single greatest memory of my entire existence. 

This is also the same man who regularly laid my brother and I out naked over the edge our our bed and beat us with leather and metal until the skin tore away from our flesh. 

And this is why I can't be too hard on myself when I sit here, having infrequent and faint feeling like I miss parts of my husband, like his stupid jokes or the way he shaves his face, even though when the phone rang on Saturday and it was the number of the rehab center I had the same feeling just above my stomach and below my heart where the terror of the sound of my father walking through the door at not-3,729-am lived. 

I learned to compartmentalize. I learned that was able, if I wanted it badly enough, to love someone so much for what was good in them while at that very same moment, being absolutely terrified of every single way they were probably going to kill a part of me the next day. 

And this is how I ended up with an alcoholic, though neither of my parents ever really drank. I actually hate drunk people, and hate being drunk myself, and yet I worked in bars for 16 years and married an alcoholic because I learned before I was old enough to read a standard clock that what you love and cherish with all of your being is also what is guaranteed to hurt you in ways you could never fathom, no matter what you do to stop it. 

Day Six, Maybe Seven.

I spent the nine and a half weeks leading up to this point waiting to get here. All I had to do was get him to rehab; the rest could sort itself out later. Just get him to rehab. Baby steps on the bus. 

And then he left for rehab and that first day was like magic. I did it. I got him to rehab. I was quiet and calm and patient and as kind as I could be for nine and a half weeks and he went to rehab. 

And then it was later. And then I had to sort the rest out. 

I couldn't unclench my jaw for five, maybe six days. My face felt like I'd taken a sledgehammer to it. It took me 90 minutes to write a two-paragraph email for work. I washed the dishes every other day, and I called every single person I haven't been able to call in nine and a half weeks and I talkedandtalkedandtalkedandtalkedandtalked. 

I don't think I was doing okay. 

I didn't have insurance for the past year because he'd lost the job he's had as long as we've had children, and I don't even know why that happened, he still hasn't told me...but I can guess. When he took the new job, and an I-can't-even-talk-about-it-pay cut, covering all of us was just flat-out too expensive, so we just covered him and the kids. Thank god my vagina had decided to rip in half when it did, man. 

So I've been off my anxiety meds for a little over a year now, which is ok, actually, eh 80% of the time. I have an awesome case of PTSD, but I don't have it all the time, you know? It comes, it goes. I manage it when it comes, and I celebrate when it goes.

Of course, my PTSD comes from child abuse and attachment exploitation, which is exactly why I ended up with an alcoholic even though neither of my parents ever drank. My husband allows me to perpetuate my at-risk dependency into my adult life - because that's exactly what I want to do, keep being a broken, bloodied six year old for the rest of my life. 

But then I got this job, this really awesome amazing Joseph-and-the-Technocolor-Dream Job, and now? I'm not totally reliant on him anymore (later we'll talk about why that fact is in no way disconnected with current events.) Now, I can haz the insurance. Now, I can go to the doctor. 

By the time I sat on the exam table, I was talking so fast, even I couldn't understand what I was saying. It's called Pressured Speech, and there is not one single thing I can do to make it stop. It's typically a bipolar thing or a schizophrenic thing but sometimes when people hit extreme anxiety, it happens to them. It happens to me whenever I max out. It hurts because you can't stop talking and you can't slow your talking and so you don't get quite enough air in your lungs and you kind of suffocate yourself a little. My doctor was like, WHOA, WOMAN and I was like yesiknowthishasbeengoingonforaweekbutitsworserightnowbecauseijustgotoffthephonewith

And help me, he did. He gave me a maintenance pill that will keep my anxiety levels down and help stop the physical pain that my kind of anxiety creates in my face and back, and then he gave me Xanax for emergencies. Xanax really is the epi-pen for anxiety, isn't it?

Everything. Just. Stopped.

I sat on my couch Friday night and listened. Listening is a really hard thing to do when you've lived your entire life trying to control a whole bunch of shit you have absolutely no control over. I listened to my kids play, I listened to their friends shriek, I listened to to popcorn pop and the birds chirp. Later that night I laid in my bed, staring at the ceiling fan, and I had that same feeling you have three minutes after you have the best sex of your I tried to call a friend to talk, and I couldn't talk




Of course, it's all leveling out now. I don't have that zingy euphoria anymore, which I really think mostly came from the fact that my jaw could open entirely and I could breath allll the way in. Oxygen is totally underrated, yo. 

Last night, I laid down on the couch at 7pm, just for a minute while the boys played their video games, and I woke up at 6am. I slept - for the first time in months. More importantly, I woke up for the first time in months unafraid of what I was waking up to. 

All of that stuff that I put off sorting out until later? It's later. And I'm ready. Ish.