I called home the following day, worried that Ron would find an end to his misery by way of the alcohol. He answered, said he was OK, that he had to think about things. The surprise of his sober voice was a relief – sort of. He could sober up now that I was gone? There were things I needed to think about too.
We didn’t talk for over two weeks – other than brief calls to schedule times I could pick up some of my things when he wouldn’t be home. Our daughter returned from school on a break. She stayed with her father, but came to make me dinner one night. Her embrace released tears I thought had been drained. I told her I didn’t think her father and I could ever be together again. She said she knew, had understood the struggle for a long time, had heard more than I imagined through the years. “What do you mean?” I asked. Her simple reply: “You didn’t think I could hear you fighting?” sliced through my own fog like a laser. The pain had not been neatly contained behind closed doors. It had seeped into her corner of the house, through the entire house. My own denial and illusions had provided the veil on reality I needed to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Another bear lumbered out of the shadows.
Several days of sick leave buffered reentering the real world. It was time to return to work, ready or not. Fortunately, students could be seen at their preschool program. There was no need to go into an office and face casual chit chat or sideway glances at my swollen face. I made it to the preschool’s parking lot but then froze in my seat. I feared the tears that now lived on the brink of my eyelids would start flowing during the treatment sessions and upset the children.
My gaze lifted toward the sky and I spoke to an entity I had never fully acknowledged or asked for favors, “I give up. I don’t know what to do. If you’re there I could use some help.” I took a long breath, grabbed my therapy bag, and opened the door. The children brought an unexpected smile to my face. It was hard to believe there was room for the uncomplicated joy of a child’s eager face in the same heart that held such compound sadness. Thankfully, tears did not drip into their innocence.
Returning to my car I sat in the driver’s seat and closed the door. Within moments a cloak of knowing settled over me, as real as if it were woven from wool. I was his wife. It was my duty, my promise, my desire, to help him in any way I could – even if we could not be together. A long slow breath left my body, taking with it the heaviness that had invaded every corner of my being. Anger and disappointment receded like an outgoing tide and a fresh wash of hope slid back in its place. A different kind of hope – not for us, but for him, and for me. I drove home, not yet knowing how to begin, but knowing I had received the guidance I had requested.
After a few weeks Ron and I met for dinner to discuss what to do next. Ron looked good. A finger of fret poked at a sore spot. He could be OK on his own, didn’t need me to survive. We talked about the reunion. He described the pain that had pervaded the event, always there, even under the laughter. Many of the men were broken, some more vividly than others. He had not been alone. The memories and stories they shared in hope of relief had instead brought them back to life. He met with the two daughters of his Sergeant. The Sergeant he had seen only moments before he and the men with him were killed. The Sergeant that had sent him back to their defensive position to guard against attack, and in doing so had saved his life. He needed to tell his daughters that he was the last person to see their father alive, and that he was alive today only because of the orders their father had given. And, that deep inside he believed their father had known he was saving him. That conversation, and the tears and memories it evoked, were as difficult for Ron as any battle in the war. He worked hard to drown them the only way he knew how. He hit bottom.
I told Ron I could no longer live with the drinking, and expected the same old promises to stop. But instead he quietly responded: “I don‘t know, I don’t know if I can stop.” Finally. The truth. No promises to wrap my hope around. The truth cut much deeper than the lies. Lies planted like seedlings in the soil of desperation, but deprived of sun and water. Now the ground was left fallow. I hit bottom.
To be continued….