Love


To the newly-minted couple,

You have made me believe in love again. I have long-admired the ease of your conversations, your encouragement of one another and your kindness to all within your circle. The family game and karaoke nights, the adventures and the hilarity. When I was first introduced to you as a couple, it felt as though you’d been together forever. The fit was perfect; meant to be. My friend with the finest collection of avant -garde shoes I have ever seen, and her beau, with his dress shoes and wool suit. He and I introduced you to Feargal Sharkey (you’re welcome). Who could forget the train carriage full of commuters on Christmas Eve, singing along to the song below?!

 

You were the most chilled-out bride and groom; everyone from the flower vender at the markets to the hairdresser was blown away by your zen attitudes. Having a leisurely breakfast the morning of your wedding, the day seemed unhurried. When your guests saw you being escorted to the venue by your fiancee, we all gasped. You both looked sublime; elegant. It was an image that will be imprinted on my mind all my days. Your dress had sustained a few dirt marks on your way up the hill, and rather than fret, your beau got soda water and a towel, then lovingly wiped your wedding dress clean. Another thing that I love about the both of you is your ability to find solutions together.

Dancing and singing with your guests, you were the last to leave at night’s end. This is the start of the rest of your life, and it was done right. Leading up to the day, you both showed kindness and love to all you came into contact with. On the day it was the same. The detritus of disappointments and angst have been swept away, and all that remains is love. I believe in love again, because I have seen it’s transformative power with my own eyes.

 

Starting over.


The past five weeks have been snatched away. I am left tumbled and breathless. I met my husband at seventeen years of age. I had no intention of marrying. Studying and become a learned single woman were on my radar, not a bloke. He came up to me, and said “hey beautiful,” and I ignored him, wandering off. We became great friends, without a hint of romance until after I turned eighteen. He was supportive, rarely drank, and could always be counted on. The little boy he once was had never left, nor receded. He was ever-present, as was a hint of naiveté. It was endearing, seeing life through this child’s eyes. An appreciation of wonder and a soft spot for those in trouble and for animals. Qualities often neglected in adults, and then they wither. Slowly, he changed. The pressure of retrenchment, slap-bang in the middle of fertility treatments was the opening scene. Ticktock, ticktock. We were on a clock, and time was running out. Pressure mounting. You can’t stop mid-way through such an epic journey. Every week, there was a new bill for a fertility treatment in the thousands. Sperm extraction, theatre costs, anaesthetists, specialists, storage, drugs, etc. By the time our daughter was born, he had receded into the shadows. We were visited by this phantom-as though we had contact with the dead- and he came alive whilst interacting with our little girl. Then, back to the shadows. We have spent a fortune on alternative therapies to help retrieve his broken spirit and mind. I would have given anything to see him well.

Just over a month on the new medication, and my husband is eating regularly and healthily. He is sleeping more, and communicating. He isn’t restless, taking off at parties, unable to be found. He is hanging around, standing by my side. He is making great decisions, both for himself and for the benefit of us as a family. When I see glimpses of agitation and frustration, caused by everyday life (dealing with Telco’s, for instance), my muscles tighten and my heart thumps. He is able to retrieve himself from that space, and our life continues. He is healthy and looks better than he has in a very long time, despite currently being on a job where he is working twelve-hour days and travelling a few hours on top of that. He wanted me to make our story public. He wants partners to know they aren’t alone, and we wants people like him to know the same. I commend him for this. We are starting over, tremulously, nervously. We are starting over…

The Aftermath.


Has it only been five days since a sink-hole opened and swallowed my home? Everything has changed. I have changed. If I didn’t know I was strong before, I do now. Diamonds are created under immense pressure. For years, he has told friends how he worries about me, as though I were made of porcelain. Deflection at its best. I am not scattered. I don’t disappear. I watched a musical with my girl and several friends Saturday. I couldn’t tell you anything about it, as I was bone-shatteringly exhausted. I kept bumping into friends, dear people who asked how we were. We were assembled to be shown to our seats. Does one say “my husband disappeared and I don’t know what the hell is going on?” Once home, the mask collapsed. He was there. I had nothing to say. I was so tired by this point. I changed, grabbed my little girl, and on the way out the door, noticed his bandaged hand. “Mummy is taking you to the carnival, just as I promised,” I said breezily. As I entered the showground and the swarm of people, my head was thumping. It grew worse in the searing sun, despite the painkillers I had taken. I didn’t want to meet familiar faces. I was too spent for conversation, and too exhausted for a fake façade of togetherness. By a miracle, I ran into an authentic family. A family who loves unconditionally and does real. Hallelujah! I told the sorry tale to the couple as Lizzie played with their daughter. I got to hang around them throughout the night. My friends sat with me, and understood my introversion. This was kindness. We watched the fireworks, then I went home. Hubby was in and out of the house. I didn’t speak to him. I was too spent.

 

The next morning, we had a christening to attend. Our dear friends are moving to England and I was not going to miss the opportunity to meet their baby, and bid them farewell. My spine was excruciating and I had to ask hubby to drive. I read the Sunday papers, and he said nothing. Our daughter watched DVDs in the back. “What happened? How could you do this?” I finally asked as she slept on the long journey. “I messed up,” he shrugged. “I didn’t know if you were dead or alive!” I cried. Back to silence. I am so tired. We enter the church in the Southern Highlands, and a grown woman, who has intellectual challenges, greeted me. She held my hand upon my entrance, and sat with me. I had on a black coat, and she nuzzled into its softness. “I feel sad,” she whispered. I looked around at all the folks gathered, and said. “There are a lot of people here, more than you are probably used to. I feel afraid sometimes too.” We hugged, two child/women connecting in their fragility. It was special, raw and honest. My friend came over with her new baby, and my daughter kissed his head. How I wished I could give her a sibling. A lady spoke an obscure Bible verse and my jaw dropped open. It was the verse I had selected to open my book! My husband sat beside me, unaware.

 

Afterward, outside in the glorious sun, I met a music teacher who lives in the same area as I, and formed a new friendship. My daughter was playing, and my husband had extricated himself. We went to find him when it was time to go back to the house. I searched the vast grounds, then rang his phone. We found him in the car, staring into space, the seat in recliner position. Wanting to bring some food to the house, I asked that we stop at a market. There were complaints that I spent money on bread and chips, and on a little bracelet for a friend’s birthday. How much does a six-pack cost? I wondered. “Please slow down, it’s hurting my back,” I winced as he sped down the bumpy rural road. He wasn’t listening. We missed their house in his haste and had to turn around. As Lizzie played and I chatted to our friends, he paced outside. Disconnected. My friend watched him pace up and down the patio. I confided in her, told her how he hadn’t come home Friday night. She had bi-polar running through her family, and understood. Her father-in-law pulled me aside and said my husband looked gravely unwell. He was concerned about him.

 

Back home, I did what parents do; fed my child dinner and prepared for school the next day. In the shower Monday morning, I wept, soul-wracking tears. I felt raw, exposed, going up to school. I told a few close friends and they weren’t surprised that my husband was an alcoholic with mental health issues. They had suspected as much. I went to the gym, and did the circuit of the damned, attempting to exorcise a demon. I figured at least I wasn’t drinking, or dying. A friend shouted me a coffee and confided that she and her husband had the experience of seeing my husband come to their door with a fresh beer and our daughter in hand. Horrified, beyond belief. He had been drinking at ten am in the morning. Shame and humiliation, anger. He came home and I asked that he give me the key to his car. He wouldn’t. I looked in. Empty cigarette packets, brown paper scrunched up, empty bottles and fast food wrappers. Bills and envelopes. Chaos and filth. I wanted to smash the window. In the spare wardrobe in the garage, I found a demand letter addressed to me from a company hired to collect payment for Centrelink. I had been receiving a family payment years before, and when I had broken my back again, my husband took over the finances. He made some huge errors, and now I found I had relationship-acquired debt in my name. I wasn’t even privy to my own affairs, my own life! The madness saw me tearing through every jacket pocket, trying to find evidence and hoping to find none.

The past fell into place in a devastating manner. Why, when he was working interstate, I uncovered that despite receiving a living away allowance, he was sleeping by the side of the road in his car. He was spending hundreds each week on booze and heaven knows what else. He was a master of deception, made easier due to the long hours he worked. I hardly saw him. People have been kind, though I have been asked many times in the past five days, “what are you going to do? Are you getting him to see a doctor, into treatment, into AA”? Healers have been suggested, or offered their services. Somehow it all falls on me. I tell you, I am a mum, and a writer, trying to earn a living. I barely sleep and I need spinal surgery. I have no more energy. I have invested thousands in therapy, in alternatives, in resources for him since he began to fall apart. Why am I then asked, what I am doing about the situation? I didn’t create it! I have no power over it. I can control my life, and keep my daughter’s life orderly. I can’t control his. He has to make the appointments, and put in the work. I can’t do it for him. I will die in the attempt.

 

He went to AA last night, and I sat up until midnight covering books and doing all that is necessary to lead a manageable life. I am doing it solo. At the moment, it seems an unfair equation I can’t believe that this is where we have ended up. I have shown people a picture of him from before we were married. He glowed. He was handsome, charismatic, and healthy. He was a vegetarian who didn’t drink. I can’t believe the man whose eyes are dead and whom never smiles in photos now, is the same man. Where have you gone? The past six years have been excruciating. Anxiety every time I log on to pay bills, tension every time you disappear at a dinner party. You have become a phantom. I miss you. I hold on because I love you. I know you are in there. I am not angry, not really. Just very sad.

Hell


Hell. No other word is adequate to describe what it is like living with someone who is an alcoholic, intent on destroying themselves. Add mental illness to the mix and boom! There is reams written about mental illness and addiction, though scant support for the partner. I had no family support, either to turn to or go home to. I called him at 3.30pm, and he said he would be leaving work shortly. I was pleased, as I had invited a friend over for dinner. 8.30pm came and went and he was a no-show. I called, and he said he had met some boys from a construction company he had previously worked for, and they were having a drink together. I didn’t like the sound of it, nor how the plans had changed without consultation. He said he would be home in an hour. At ten pm I rang and he was slurring. “I am in Marrickville.” Our friend left and I called again at 11pm. “I have only had three beers, relax!” I was made to feel that I was being unreasonable, and a nag, despite not knowing where he was, with whom, when he was coming home and whether he had cleaned out his bank account.

 

I received the following texts throughout the endless night… “See you tomorrow night, lots of love.” “I don’t know why this has happened but see you soon. Please don’t worry I am fine!” I tried calling, but his phone was switched off. I begged him via text to let me know he was okay at 6am, and said I would be in touch with the police if he didn’t answer. No answer… Our daughter woke up, and found me in the shower, sobbing. I wiped my tears, smiled, and gave her breakfast, my arms shaking. I wanted to keep things as normal as possible, despite not knowing whether her father was dead or alive. I called close friends and asked them to pray. One said she had bumped into my husband near her work, and he looked depressed. He had called her a few times the past week, worried about money. I thought he may have suicided at that point. I phone the police assistance line, and the lady was full of grace and compassion. I explained that my daughter had a class for two hours and I would be home after taking her. She said the police would call in, as it was a worrying situation. I dropped my daughter and her little friend at art class, smiled and chatted to the art teacher, and drove home to await my visitors. I received a brief text, stating “I am at work, battery flat, see you this arvo.” I had to ring the police and cancel the visit, and the dear lady said she was glad he was safe. The thing is, he is not safe. We aren’t safe. If you find this behaviour normal and acceptable, then you aren’t in a safe place inside your mind.

 

I have to keep being strong even though I am collapsing into myself. My body can’t hold this exhausted spirit up any longer. My daughter and I were going at one pm to see a show with friends. My schedule; pick my daughter and her friend up. Let them have a playdate, then head to the local theatre. Smile through my exhaustion. Face my destructive husband when I get home. Change and take my daughter to the local carnival, as I had promised to get her a show bag for the tremendous work she has put in at school. I don’t want him to come. I can’t play happy families, not tonight. The people we will run into, some of them were praying alongside me this morning. It can’t be business as usual. My nerves feel as though they have been put through a mincer. I met a generous compatriot and her family, and the situation is briefly explained. We hang out with them at the carnival, my silent contemplation accepted, my exhaustion understood. As we walk around, I wonder where my husband has gone, and how he has come to be in the dark place he resides in, alone. I have Natalie Merchant’s ‘Carnival’ song spinning around my head. I am looking forward to sleeping tonight. The trip home with an excited, chattering little girl was five minutes of pure angst for me. I don’t know what to say. I had left the information I had written out for the police, alongside a recent photo of him on the dining table, hoping he will understand the gravity of what he put me through. I tuck myself and my daughter into bed, and we fall asleep in each other’s arms, whilst he prowls the house, unable to stop moving. It will be another long night, but I haven’t the stamina to participate, other than in my disjointed dreams.