I have a rule. I don’t drink when I am sad. The other night when my phone buzzed at 9pm I saw the message pop up ‘Feeling sleepy, smooshie? Goodnight soon?” The person on the other end was by boyfriend. I was used to him being on the other side of the screen; for the better part of our relationship we were in two different cities or two different continents. The beginning of our story happened too [read this] Then arrive at six months ago when I was nothing but a fool bidding her boyfriend farewell on his indefinite overseas adventure convinced that the best was yet to come.
Three months later, one night in December, I awoke to an email telling me not much more than he was alive and he would be coming home early. He had gone over the handle bars of a bike late one night in Vietnam and was in bad shape. I dissolved into a mixture of fear for what could’ve been and bewilderment that he would be home this time next week. Five days later there he was.
When he was over in Asia, our story had gone the way that most people forewarned me of. He grew distant, emailing me less and less. The connection began to dissolve and I spent the first few weeks convincing myself I was either the biggest idiot in the world or the chick in the Mumford and Sons songs who waits patiently for her lover to return. When the doomsday email finally arrived bidding me to carry on while he was over there and ‘see what happens’ when he gets back, I actually handled it better than I expected. The heart is a funny thing, it gives gives gives until it doesn’t. It can relinquish its privileges just as quickly as it dealt them out. Out of sight out of mind. For awhile.
With the help of some other-worldly generous friends and family, I found myself rebuilding my life again. I found an incredible job in the city I had missed for so long. I was working out, taking care of myself, enjoying good music, doing things alone, I used my expensive eyeliner during the daytime. And then…he was coming home. He needed help. I had to help him. I had to take time off work. Had to make sure he was ok. What would he be like? What would happen?…. this didn’t stop until his plane touched down.
I was filled with the kind of excitement mixed with dread known only to people who find themselves in this kind of love. My parents warned me to take it easy and remember that he had had a long trip and that he may not be able to handle all of the change. They would be there waiting at home if I needed them. I can’t say enough good things about my parents during this whole past year of my life so I won’t do a disservice by trying. In short: they are why I’m still here. My blood was pumping so fast on the drive over to his fathers house that at one point I had to remind myself to breathe. The door opened and there he was. Back in this country. Cuts all over his face. The same Singhai tank top he had worn most days in Seattle. Same shit eating smirk on his face. He moved the way I imagine a mannequin would move, slow and jagged gestures. He seemed a bit broken, in disrepair. His six month travelers dream waddled down to two makeshifts casts and his dad’s basement.
We had an uphill battle again but that was all we knew. We’d begun dating in two different states, made it to the same one only to wage a war with the impending trip and my own battle with depression. Now here we were thrown into another.
It started that day with 10 hours at the Medi-Cal free clinic, which wasn’t exactly the homecoming I had imagined while he was away.Through awkward conversations and eternal wait times we tried to feel out where we stood. Exhausted well into the next day, we went to try and find a 24 hour drugstore only to be turned away from two in a row. With no pain meds and no patience, he snapped at me suddenly as I opened up his camera case to fish out his ID. Two broken arms made nothing easier, and I thought it would speed up the process as we knocked on the door of drugstore number 3. What are you doing? You’re going to lose it. Don’t touch my stuff! It was a tone stark enough to cause the family of two teenage girls and their mother to look at me with pity when the other person had two broken arms. I mumbled something about being sorry and drove him back to his dads house. He was home now, he was here. He wasn’t a mean person and neither was I. It would be would be better in the morning.
It wasn’t. Just like that our days turned into hospital visits, buying the wrong bandages, not getting enough sleep, ordering the wrong thing, lashing out at the wrong time. Most of the time I was either in a panic or reassuring myself that it was the predicament we found ourselves in and not our relationship cracking under the eternally piling shit luck. It wasn’t all terrible, as most people treading water in relationships would tell you the reason they keep going is the fleeting moments in-between that realign the faults. I loved him. I wanted him to be happy more than I wanted myself to be. I saw him slipping into the same kind of place he had described to me when we were in love and spent long nights staying up late discussing our pasts and how lucky we were to have ended up here. I still saw that crooked-smirk boy who told me he had never loved anyone like he loved me.
Now I would look at him until my heart swelled up as I watched him grimace, often with a drink. I have to say something. Its going to be a fight. He is so unhappy. Why is he so unhappy? Our life had become a series of cautionary steps around each others mood swings. I would swing upon his moods until he would crash. Or I would crash. We would scream at each other and I would cry and he would leave and I would keep repeating to myself it would all be over soon.
It wasn’t. The casts came off and the mood worsened. Nothing was fun anymore. I would try everything to bring us out of the black and into the sun. Literally, we stopped going outside. Out of the blue and into the black. We sunk further and further into a chaos that never let up. I would panic if I didn’t hear from him while I was at work. I would worry he was angry or wasted or going to threaten me with the memories I left in Seattle when I was at the lowest point I had ever been in my life. I had spent months apologizing for the mess of a person I had become as it became more and more clear to me that his drinking wasn’t something that was going away. The same people who would take me aside and squeeze my arm and say We don’t know how you do it. We wished we could’ve helped him. He has found himself in trouble with it before. We know it must be hard stared at me with wide eyes when I would ask for their help in asking him to slow down at a party. It became easy for them to cast me as the villain when my spirit began to break and I all but stopped caring about the number of people or the tone of my voice in the bar. I was upset a lot. Those people weren’t there on Tuesday mornings when the hangover set in. Or when I would wake up at 3AM to find him gone, only to wander in sometime in the morning unable to form a sentence or explain where he had been. People don’t want to know what goes on the other 115 hours in a week. For now, they were at a bar. And they’d always known him to love bars.
Those hours that had once been spent falling in love became an excuse to find a neon sign. I would explain to my sister on the phone that it was easier to just to join in than get into another 3 hour dragged out fight of me pleading with him to ‘go back to how he was’ and make myself sick with worry. I told myself we were leaving Seattle soon and at the end of this difficult time we would be in a place of happiness again. Like the beginning. We would romanticize our plans for what we would do when he was back. We went on walks in Fremont and talked about the puppy we would get and the record player we could share and the family dinners we would have and all the time we would finally get to spend with them and each other. Everything would be ok once he was back.
It wasn’t. As the third month since his homecoming began there were nights when he couldn’t even look at me. The month before I had spent hours searching for crazy straws that he could use with his casts, my Mom even going to two different places to see if she could find ones long enough to reach his mouth. That thought ran through my head as I watched him sit in the front seat of my car and tell me he had drank half a liter of vodka as we drove to my parents house for dinner. I didn’t know what to think at this point, everything just seemed to hurt. Everything was a battle. Even the simplest of outings seemed to carry the weight of lies and frustration and an endless stream of bad luck. I still couldn’t make myself let go. There was always a constant pull for me to give it one more day. I was moving in to a new place. I would have two feet on the ground. Stop living out of a suitcase (which I had done since last May). We had dinner with my parents and then we had dinner with his parents then we had dinner with my parents…it was almost the 1st. The day I would move in. If we could just make it to that day then things could go back to normal.
They didn’t. It was February 4th and my phone was buzzing. After a weekend of much of the same we had managed to have the conversation recognizing this couldn’t continue and that substances had far too long affected the way that we treated each other. Depression was constant for both of us, as it always had been. The thought of somehow being on the other side of it for me began to rule out what had once been distractions.
But now it was Wednesday night and we were going to say goodnight. Within seconds I realize that he is drunk. The kind that you can tell four words in. I asked him about it and was fed the usual lie followed by admission followed by excuse and ultimately blaming me for the occurrence. But this time was different. He was done trying.
As terrible as a relationship coming to an end over the phone and a bottle of whisky feels, it is not the worst feeling I’ve had. I can say this now,
one two three week(s) out that its taken me to write this. Over the course of my new found sobriety of being alone (and cutting out most booze) I experienced a certain form of clarity that can only come from nights not used to being spent alone. I’d been allowing myself the absence of guilt based on the nights I’d spun around in my head where I drank to keep up, because, avoid a fight, he was going to anyway…when you are in a relationship you always have an out. You have an excuse for why. Or you can convince yourself you do.
The worst feeling came with realizing my own role. My own depression and alcohol issues hidden behind the first word. Whether it was him or the addiction or the fault of friends not wanting to get involved, their was also cowardice in my own year long denial. A lot of it.
When I think about those people up in Seattle now I still wince. I used to force myself to shift my focus. As my relationship dissolved, there was a point when I genuinely stopped trying to save face and accepted the role of girl who____(cries, yells, constantly upset). So much of that was based in embarrassment and isolation, wanting to talk about everything that had been going on rather than attend another party and pretend like I wasn’t counting every beer until I’d had too many of my own. Addiction is a terrible disease and coupled with depression it leaves no stone un-turned. Even six months after we left, the anxiety that washed over me every time he would mention a name or place it seemed to only get worse. There were so many nights that I had wanted to explain but that opportunity seemed to evaporate with the distance and a few clicks on Facebook.
At the end of all of this, I have finally begun the process of letting that misery go. I realize I am not the first person to have a list of casualties stemming from a difficult period in life. There are so few things that are not difficult weathering the minefield of addiction that its almost comical to suggest one try and list out all of their mistakes. When you’re in the thick of it, depression and the disease leave no time for apologies. All you can do is hope that one day that person figures it out and then crawls back to make amends for their actions that occurred when nothing else mattered. When you’re in it, all you are is selfish. There isn’t room for anyone else. Mentally, physically, spiritually. Every decision becomes self serving. You’re more fucked up than everyone else. You’re more upset than anyone else. You’ve been through much more than anyone else. You’re drained. You’ve hurt.
The admission that came from seeing my situation for what it was it was also served as a painful reminder that people don’t have to forgive you. Or believe you. Some people go through much worse in their life and never put others through the same turmoil others do at the first sign of pain. That’s the thing, comparing and blaming and carrying the weight of all of my shortcomings would only lead me back down the path I’ve spent the last month dragging myself out of. For so long I was consumed with the guilt I felt from my life spiraling further and further in a direction I hadn’t wanted it to go. When you’re in a healthy committed relationship you push each other away from the versions of ourselves that take days to recover from. When you’re the ones driving each other to insanity, there will be no happy ending. The writing is on the wall and although both of you may see it more blatant than a billboard or an aero plane spelling out the words ‘T-H-I-S–S-H-I-P–W-I-L-L–S-I-N-K accepting that means the inevitable grueling breakup that comes from saying I love you after three weeks then trying to prove it for 12 months and who the fuck wants to get into that? But the time had come, for him at least, and here there I was.
Part II. The Now.
I’m a few weeks into my search for a faint glimmer of a silver lining. Not as pretty as the one sung in breezy Jenny Lewis vocals [which is also a great breakup song] but something to make me feel like the road to love is not forever paved with perpetually bad intentions. In the many hours and nights I’ve had to be alone again, I’ve mulled over these supposed hidden truths. Some days were ok, some days were awful. My little sister said it best,
People say ‘every day is a little better’ but honestly, its a cycle.
And its sometimes 2 steps forward one back.
But you just have to continue going forward. And you are.
Its really easy to fall into the vortex that is Why do I still care? Why do I not feel better yet? Why didn’t we fight harder? You see how quickly that sounded like Nicholas Sparks? But in all honesty, the myth of this fairy tale ending has been causing people in shitty relationships to stay in them for far too long. I give you the famous ‘When Harry Met Sally’ quote
When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible
Except that isn’t how the world works. You can’t just ‘know’. You can like, you can like a whole lot, but truly loving and understanding someone comes with time and its the process in itself that makes it so beautiful. When I thought of the story my own relationship was shaping up to be, there were so many things that I wanted to change and fix that the whole thing felt as if giant curtains had swallowed me up whole and every fiber inside of me was begging me to call “THE END”. But I couldn’t. I’m still working through it. But I found something today that made me feel a little less alone in my silence.
The scars on my heart will be there forever. The lump in my throat will be there for awhile. The worry and the blame and the jealousy and the drinking and the fighting and the denial will stay with this relationship. Relationships should not invite in the parts of ourselves we’ve found to be toxic to others. The phrase ‘met your match’ is a perfect example. Either you’ve met someone you’re going to duke it out with routinely or you’ve met the person who raises your one hand and calls it for what it is. And loves you in ways that in time there isn’t much left to hide.
You are only as good as your last day turns into. One of the most grueling, unforgiving, why not just this one time? lessons is the realization that there is no way to undo the past. It sounds simple, but one of the most complex tests I’ve encountered is abandoning the idea that there is an excuse or meaning behind every event. Sometimes shit just happens. No reason other than it did. We do have control over how we deal with it. Focus on your good but know your bad parts better. The idea of an inherent vice is what dooms us all. We’re all capable of change. Of being happy. But its earned. The longer you cut yourself slack or place blame on others to distract from the thoughts that keep you up at night the more you’ll wish you were asleep. Breakups put the spotlight on our flaws. Perhaps why some people choose a life of solace rather than risk enduring that level of pain again. I am not one of those people.
After the grieving period beings to succumb, the focus shifts from what went wrong to what we are able to salvage. A piece of that time to keep. The now faded memories of sitting on hilltops and rides to work and cooking dinners on the roof and pretending even for a brief period of time that we could be happy together, as we were then, forever.
For a few fleeting moments, I think we were. But that distorts the facts, dilutes the rest of the story, like why on this afternoon there are way too many tissues surrounding me on this couch. I’m almost done now. It has taken me awhile to get to this point, but I think that in my avoidance I was waiting for the answer to find me in ways that it indeed did on this Saturday morning with way too many outbound texts. Bobby Dylan said it best You’re right from your side I’m right from mine We’re both just one too many mornings An’ a thousand miles behind. The beautiful thing about love is even after all of the ache, empty bottles, and slammed doors, there is still a piece of the beginning that remains as long as you need it to. Perhaps until your heart has found another way to heal. Despite often speaking in ruined tongue, I can’t pretend I don’t miss him deeply and hope that he is getting better too. For now, there is space where there was once another pulse. Its going to take awhile to get over that.
All I can do is know what i did. Own up to it if only for myself. There is no absolution in a broken heart. But in that, there is also a gift. Time does heal. I will be ok again. I will not have to leave a store if City and Colour come on the radio. Today this couch, tomorrow the world. Don’t dwell on the heartache that was the night before, but how beautiful the sunrise was when I woke up (to a sweet message from a dear friend). Don’t cloud my mind with the missteps, like my sister said, I’m moving forward. To anyone out there who has taken the time to read my lament, I hope it finds you with a full heart and an introspective lens. Oh how I miss a full heart. But full hearts come from the opposite of swearing we will change. They come from the proof.
With that, I keep my fingers crossed and whisky at an arms length away.
There is the good, the bad, the ugly.
See it all. Be the one.