Was that a harvest moon? Large and orange, hanging low in the sky. Hanging low in the sky on an evening while I followed the ambulance transporting my husband to the emergency room. What is wrong with me? Seriously. How could I notice the moon in the middle of all that chaos. How could I not notice the moon? You would have seen it too. The world could have been coming to an end and you would have looked up at the darkening sky and said out loud, “Wow, look at the moon.” Of course, I don’t think I spoke out loud, for with whom would I have shared my awe. With whom would I have shared anything?. I was living a big secret. A big messy, ugly scary secret and that night it started to unravel.

The evening began as it had for the past few months. I listened for the garage door to open, feeling the rumbling beneath my feet. And then I held my breath, listening, counting the footsteps as my husband made his way from the car to up the stairs and with each of his footsteps I tried to discern his condition. How slowly he walked, how heavily his feet hit each stair, but tonight instead of the slow, heavy, cumbersome steps, there was a stumble, a crash, and then silence. I ran to the stairs and found my husband slumped awkwardly there and I’m sure I said his name. “What are you doing?”  One of the many silly questions I would ask him over the years. And I helped him to stand and led him to the couch in the family room and he mumbled, “I’m fine.” One of the many silly lies he would tell me in the years to come.

If it had not been for the blood, I would not have called 911. If it had not been for the blood, perhaps my husband would not be alive today. Within minutes of being deposited on the couch, my husband passed out. This was not unusual. In fact, generally, I was relieved when he passed out. But tonight there was blood. He was bleeding from his head. This very fact, these very words allowed me to call 911 and say, “My husband fell down and hit his head. He is bleeding.” Yes, they would send an ambulance, but details. They wanted details. Where did he fall? Is he conscious? Is he breathing? “No, I can’t wake him up, but he’s breathing. I think he fell because he is drunk. I think he has a problem with alcohol.” There I said it.

Back to the moon. Sometimes I think my ability to notice the moon, to be distracted by its beauty, was what kept me sane for all those years. But sometimes I think it’s what kept me in that marriage for so long. Now that I’m out of the marriage, but not completely out of the mess, I still look for the moon. I look for the light in the darkness; and when the moon has waned to nothing, I search the darkness and wait for the stars to come out.

Family Friends

October 22, 2012

My kids frequently ask me “Why don’t we have any family friends like So-and-So?” Today, as I told this to my friend, not a “family friend,” I choked up. Of course, lately I tear up over a lot of things, but this particular question by my kids underscores for me how isolated we are, how much we’ve lost. it makes me angry and sad at the same time. We used to have family friends, I tell them. When you were little we had friends. We went out with other couples a few times a month. We were invited to holiday parties and birthdays and barbecues. We invited friends to our home and they would bring their children and everyone was happy, or so it seemed. Even before I knew my husband was an alcoholic, I began to dread these gatherings. His behavior, which in my naivete I did not attribute to drinking, changed. When he had an audience, he became louder and obnoxious. My husband wasn’t funny, but he thought he was. He wasn’t witty or clever. He was sometimes just mean. At other times, he was overly affectionate, grabbing me and kissing me, sticking his tongue in my mouth in front of other people, showing off and claiming me as his own. When his alcoholism became fact, he no longer would drink in front of me, but at parties, he would sneak off and drink with others because they did not know his secret. Eventually, I stopped accepting invitations and became more and more isolated. How could I maintain friendships with people when we were keeping a dark secret? The secret was not that he was an alcoholic. The secret was that our perfect little family was not so perfect. We had three beautiful children, a nice house, cute pets, vacations, horses, private schools,… and yet every morning I woke up in fear. I smiled at my neighbors and other parents at school and pretended everything was fine. I felt like a fraud. I cried in my car and wiped the tears away before I picked up my children from school and practiced smiling in the rear view mirror.

Last December, the children and I moved into our new house. It is the perfect house for entertaining, with large open rooms and beautiful views of the sun setting beyond the trees. There are no bad memories of yelling or swearing or scary drunken footsteps coming up the stairs. This house has good energy. And so my children ask me, “When are you having friends over?” “Let’s have a party.” They want to fill the house with life and love. For Christmas, the children had chosen gifts for me, bowls for dips, dishes to hold nuts and olives and crackers, encouraging me to have a party. I’ve had a few of my friends over, and of course, my family, but not “family friends.”

I will get us family friends, I tell them, but I’m not sure how.

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