Pain comes in so many forms

23 02 2008

Bill was a married man in another state, sweet and always eager to listen and extremely affectionate. I was to shortly learn about heartbreak and unfulfilled promises, Internet style. We spoke daily and planned our future together. I would move back to Kansas and live on my own for about six months. Then Bill would come and rescue me and we would live happily ever after.  At least that’s how I heard it.  And I heard without listening, my friends tell me how this was lust and infatuation only.

No matter what the relationship really was, it helped me get through one of the roughest times of my life. As I left to strike out on my own, Bill was my ray of light, my only encouragement. I began to realize mid-January of 1999, after I had been on my own in Kansas for a month, that the relationship was going nowhere.  And he mailed me an envelope with a simple handwritten note that confirmed it.  I still remember opening it after I came home from work, standing in the living room of my apartment in a red bra and red boxer shorts, crying as though the world had come to an end.  My mascara was good and smudged when there was a knock at the door.  The Jehovah’s Witnesses wasted no time in fleeing down the stairs after taking a look at me.  I then went and took a look at myself in the mirror and somehow found laughter through my tears.

I started dating men in the area, most of the wanna-be relationships ending in wanna-be-one-night stands. Only two relationships actually seemed to have potential and the potential shown was only a glimmer.

Of these two, one was with a man named Mark who happened to live in Missouri, about four hours away. He would make the trek every other weekend and flip-flop between serious and just dating every time we talked. One time it was “Why don’t we move in together” and the next it was “I am going to go out with my ex this weekend”. The relationship, if you will, lasted about three months and as much as I knew it needed to be ended, I was too scared to break it off. Then I met someone who would change my life forever.

I was still frequenting the same old chat room I had been in for a few years, when I began having a private conversation with one of the “roomies” who I had known only as a name. He and I talked for hours in IM’s and I marveled at his intelligence and knowledge of so many vast subjects. One night he suggested that we speak on the phone at some point and I asked him for his phone number.

Derek lived in the Chicago area and happened to be seeing another “roomie” who was a very good friend of mine. That first phone conversation we talked for thirteen hours non-stop and never experienced a lull or silence.

We began our relationship a few nights later after Mark had told me it was over. Derek responded to my IM that I had been dumped by Mark by saying that he was picking me up and I think I physically swooned. Within a week he had asked me to marry him, though I not yet been able to get my divorce completed. June 6, 1999 I was now an engaged woman as well as married.  Derek and I first met in person July 13th at a train station in Newton, Kansas. It was about five in the morning and upon seeing me he ran up and immediately dropped to his knees and proposed. Since that time we were only apart for two weeks. He returned to Illinois and two weeks later I drove up to be with him. Our wedding was planned for July 21, 2000, but my divorce had not when through and we spent the day at Six Flags Great America in Waukegan instead.  Sometimes I think I knew it wouldn’t work and my subconscious allowed for delays so that I wouldn’t fuck up it’s ultimate plan.

During this relationship with Derek, I learned that there were many things I needed to learn how to deal with; one of which was family members who were alcoholics. There were several months that would be good, and then there were the bad months. Violence, name-calling and just enough stress to make one physically sick, which it finally did. One of the worst of these days was in October of 2000. But, as they say, it must get worse to get better. I think now, looking back that we needed the dramatic fight to wake us both up to reality. I would push his buttons and he would try to find release.

Call it intuition or instinct or just dumb luck, but I knew he was drunk and I knew it was bad. I informed my boss of what was going on and asked if I could go home to check on Derek. Should I not call within a set amount of time, would he call the police for me? He agreed and I left for home. Upon arriving, I found my fiancée of two years on his computer, surrounded by a sea of empty Budweiser cans. Donning only his boxers, he turned and looked at me with the evil glare that I had come to find as a familiar gaze.

I told him to leave, that I was kicking him out of the home until he could find himself sober once more. I remember the laughter, it filled the room and I remember how he rose to his feet, stumbling towards me. I remember the following two hours only in flashes, a few seconds here and there. It is as if it were an old time picture show, slides missing, the sound cutting in and out.

I grabbed for the phone. He struggles to take it from me. I clutch it tight to my chest. He says he needs it. I tell him I do too. He pushes past me. He is in the bedroom. I am in the office. I begin dialing. He has his hands on mine. He takes the phone. He yells. The words are played out of sync with the images. Something about not calling the police. His voice is low and distorted, likened to that of a cassette being eaten by a player.  I lunge once more for the phone. I am running down the stairs. I hear his footsteps behind me. I am dialing as I circle into the kitchen and then to the dining room. His fingers cover the phone once more. I hold tightly to it. He shoves me. I am now upstairs once more. I have shut myself into the kids’ bedroom. He grabs my arm. I see his eyes. They aren’t his. I dial 911. He grabs the phone from me. I hear the echo of the phone hitting the wall, then the pieces of hit falling to the wooden floor.  His finger is by my nose. My back is to the wall. His hand is gripping at my wrist. He spits at me as he yells. I am on the floor of the office. The phone is beneath me as I lie on my stomach. I yell my name and address into the receiver. I do it again. And again. And again. I am on the porch as the police turn onto our street. They are taking pictures of me. I am in their car. I am writing. One officer lights a cigarette for me and hands it to me. We chase my cats. They are back in the house. I am lying in bed. Alone. Crying.

The sobriety he promised after that night would not be permanent and the bad days of the past would seem heavenly compared to the ones of the future, I would learn this later.

Derek and I had a lovely facade that could fool even the most closest of friends and family. We even fooled ourselves. We were happy, we were perfect. It was a cute little fairy tale. We pretended the past didn’t exist and we never brought it up.

Derek quit his job, or was fired, or lost it. It really is hard to tell what really happened. The story changed so often, it is difficult to recall what the final revision was. He refused to find work and supplemented our income with his unemployment pay. After a month, he agreed to begin watching the girls to save the added expenses. When the math was done, we barely broke even, but break even we did.

We shared an ill-fated dream of owning a home, took a family vacation or two, but essentially we became comfortably content in our lives and nothing more. The love was gone, what remained was only the love shared between two old friends who cared for one another. The lies on the outside of our lives, the faces we showed to each other, to our friends, to our family and to our mirrors; those lies said we were to wed, we would make babies and live happily ever after.

In December of 2001 I decided our relationship was over. I never verbally admitted it, but I admitted it to myself. After all the attempts to make him give up the booze, that Christmas proved to me what everyone had told me all along. I had faintly heard the voices of friends and counselours and family shouting to me how it wasn’t because of me that he drank and nothing I did would make him stop; that he would have to want to stop in order to stop.

We traveled to his family’s home downstate for the holidays and Derek asked if I would mind if he drank. I can’t explain the dumbfoundedness I felt at him even asking. I told him of course I would mind, but ultimately the decision was his. Derek then said he wouldn’t. Shortly thereafter his cousin approached me, bitching that it was the holidays, why wouldn’t I let him have some fun. Yet another family member approached me as I moved away from the crowds and went to sit by myself on a couch. Hell why don’t you have one too, might loosen you up a bit, I was asked. I then went to the kitchen, where his mother and cousin and grandmother and other family members stood. And I asked them to drop the subject. I reminded them that he had been sober for one full year; that this was remarkable for him and took a great deal of effort to get to that point. His mother nodded in agreement with me, but then mentioned that it was after all just the holidays.

I recall at this time I went out to sleep in the car. Derek ventured out at some point, asking me to take him to the local gas station. Why, I asked, though I knew the answer. But could he formulate the words to my face? Yes, yes he could. I reminded him of his sobriety, almost a year, just weeks shy in fact. Give that work up for a beer? Why do you want to drink, I asked. To feel comfortable, it’s the holidays and every one of them is drinking. So you would do this knowing it hurts me, knowing that you have worked so hard to change, all to fit in for one evening? Either you’ll drive or I’ll walk. I gave up arguing and turned to crying. Begging, actually. In the end, he left the store with a six-pack and I came to realize that even if I had been home all those days in the past, even if I had been able to console him and comfort him, it would have done no good. But I think I had to see that for myself. Hearing it from those who have been there isn’t quite the same as waking up from a fantasy and opening your eyes to the nightmare that is your reality.

It was over, there was no way it could be anything less. I thought about what to do, where to go. I had no job; money was all in investments and that which wasn’t, went to bills.

I called my best friend Robin and told her the truth of how bad it was. In doing so, I finally told myself. I had tried so hard to believe it would all get better. I knew it wouldn’t. I planned then to move to North Carolina at the end of May, once Alannah was out of school and Derek’s court date was over. My hope was that I could testify and he would be incarcerated. Then there would be no chance of repercussion for my leaving.

It wasn’t until late March that I finally told him I was leaving. He cried, uncontrollably, asking why. Was it someone new? Was there something he could do to change my mind? Give him a chance. Unbeknownst to him, I had given him so many chances, so many that I had long since lost count.  Oddly, I didn’t cry. I wasn’t going to be leaving anything I would miss. There was nothing left to cry over. I guess it wasn’t so odd after all.

Derek finally got a job about this time. Robin introduced me to an online game. I found a release. Derek’s mom had the girls most of the time, as she knew we were leaving and wanted to spend time with them. When he wasn’t working, he was usually with his mom and the girls, allowing me the house to myself. In many ways it was difficult, in many ways it was solitude I had needed for too long.  Generally, by this point, he spent his nights at his mom’s, drinking it up and the girls would spend the night with me. If Derek was at our house, then the girls were at his mom’s. It was just an unspoken agreement that his mother and I had made, knowing his rage when intoxicated and knowing that the last thing the girls needed was to see that behaviour.

I sought escape. I swore off relationships, they were never worth the pain anyhow. I was going to be moving to North Carolina at the end of April. I would live with Robin’s family until I could find a place of my own. Get a job. Get my own home. Get a life. For the first time in my life, I would finally be able to get one.

At that time, I was the happiest I had ever been, but sad, too. It’s funny, feeling both surges of emotions at once. Odd really. From one viewpoint, I finally had independence, freedom from pain, and the right to decide what to do and when to do it. I had no one to blame for what came my way but myself. And no one to thank, but myself. The coin always has two sides. The other side showed that everything I wanted was right there, a fingertip’s length away. I could see it, but grasp it, no.  I was for once, learning to live my life without trying to plan every minute. Yes, I still reverted and wondered what would happen next and tried to gain an answer as to when this or that would occur. I had essentially, kept all of my goals, but removed the calendar aspect from them.  My reason for living was to learn all the lessons and pass all the tests that life handed my way.

Am I done? No, not yet.

*Names changed

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