I do the yardwork. I have since we moved out of our apartment and into our first rented house. By then, John was already sick, but we were still long months away from his cirrhosis diagnosis. He tried to mow the lawn once, in the early days at the rental, and gave up after five minutes.
At the age of forty-four, his liver sneakily failing, he simply wasn’t physically capable of it.
Comet Ping Pong is a hip, family-friendly little restaurant in a comfy neighborhood in the Northwest quadrant of Washington, D.C. There, you can nosh on wings and wood-fired pizzas while playing ping pong (surprise!) and listening to local indie bands. In a lovely alternate reality, this is all there is to say about the place.
“I know you never lie to me. I believe you. You’re not lying. It’s worse than lying. You’ve forgotten.”
The rocks glass, perched on the old steamer trunk in the basement, contains a pale pink liquid.
But I know he drinks cranberry juice out of his rocks glass. Bright red cranberry juice. The warm plastic bottle of it is sitting right beside the rocks glass, on the old steamer trunk covered with the labels of our past wine bottles (those bottles our main means of travel).
I can never bury the familiar internal alarm deep enough. Something is not right here breaks out like spring sprouts from the dirt as I walk past the steamer trunk on my way to the laundry. I’m an experimentalist, not a theorist, though, so I grab the rocks glass and knock back a quick swallow.
That’s the voice in my head every time I sit down to write. What gives me the right to tell these stories about my life with my alcoholic ex-husband, and the long, slow demise of our relationship? Alcoholism is personal, certainly in our culture. It’s a secret, one that he labored to keep from his family, from his friends, from his co-workers and employers (and even from me, whenever he could). Despite that, since I was his partner, it was understood that I would keep the secret, too.
“We all have a voice that tells us why we shouldn’t write.” I was surprised to hear this from a professional writing coach during a workshop. (I thought it was just me.) “We need to get to know the voice, negotiate with it. Ask it what it wants to tell us about our writing.”
Lots of why will be spun up around this in the future I’m falling headlong into (it’s the alcohol, it’s the disease, it’s not him, it’s not real).
But none of you are here right now. None of you can see the way my partner, my husband, is looking at me. We’re two decades past and three thousand miles away from when and where we first fell in love, but there’s a longer time, a deeper distance: both immeasurable.
He hates me, and it doesn’t matter why.
Empathy, that putative ability to feel the emotions of others as if they were your own… well, you can see how that would be a dangerous prospect at this moment. A thing to guard against.
You are not just an emptiness that breathes and walks and eats…
The melting point of chocolate is the temperature of the human mouth. It’s one of those happy accidents in the universe, like the apparent sizes of the discs of the moon and sun being the same, so that total solar eclipses can even happen at all.
I cook my own drugs. I confess that raw concoctions, like the batter for my chocolate chocolate chip muffins, are often superlative to the finished product. It’s the way they coat your mouth. The sugar, fat, and salt are just merging. The baking soda and powder are starting to fizz. The whole chemical reaction is taking off, right there on your tongue, studded with solid cocoa pearls that immediately begin their surrender.
But you’ll get the jitters so quick. You’ve got to take the edge off, cut it with baking, or it’s too pure, too strong.
In January, I finally get the text from John’s dad that I’ve been waiting on for more than a year.
Oh, and the waiting. It’s astounding the stories we build up in our heads when there’s no intervention from reality to prune them into a sensible shape. I ask myself on a loop, how does he think this happened? Why does he think I gave his son two pounds of my own liver, and a year and a half later handed the same man divorce papers? Doesn’t he want to know? If I have an overactive imagination, I wonder, are some others’ atrophied, seized up and dry? Or is it worse: do they just not care?
Waiting, I compose in my head a pointed, yet directionless reply to a piercingly unasked question. The meat of it wraps around a spinal litany of near-funerals for his son that he doesn’t even realize he’d missed: five by my count, the transplant (the one everyone pays attention to) not even the last one, not even the closest call.
I remember driving around behind Meteor Crater in Arizona, off Chavez Pass Road, on a deserted bare-bones dirt track. I was deliberately (perhaps illicitly?) skirting the crater from the outside, instead of looking into it from an officially-sanctioned observation deck. The crater visitor’s center had, honestly, offended my burgeoning amateur-astronomer sensibilities. It had a certain Diz-Nee no thanks, don’t mind if I don’t vibe, and the fee to venture onto the deck was exorbitant for me in my salad days. It seemed like someone had executed a daring daylight robbery, and ugly baseball hats with flaming meteors streaking across them sufficed to distract entire tour groups from even noticing.
I felt despair. This was ours, or at least I thought it should be, like Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon or Yosemite. And yet it belonged very specifically to someone, and they didn’t really care what I thought.
So in a vanishingly small act of rebellion, I took a drive instead.
When I was ten, my kid sister caught me at it in the upstairs office.
“What’re you doin’?”
“Nothing! Go away!”
“What is that?”
“Nothing! Get out!”
“Oh, my god, are you reading… the dictionary?”
“Fuck off, and close the door!”
“I’m tellin’ Mom…”
I’m not sure if she reported me for that particular “fuck,” but oddly, she did mention the whole reading-the-dictionary thing at the table that night. Mom and Dad seemed benignly amused and a bit curious.
I was actually embarrassed. I assured them that the appeal wasn’t the plot.
And I tried to share the revelation: that words were so human; they had histories, families, secret lives, hidden meanings. And someone had thought to stick them all in one magic place, with their evolutions laid out like maps to travel? How bafflingly marvelous!
Ultimately, Mom and Dad seemed content that it wasn’t the worst thing for a kid to get up to.
It’s May, and a friend I haven’t seen for ages emails me out of the blue about an alcohol ink painting class she’s interested in. Do I want to go with her? My first thought is that it’s one of those paint & sip, wine & design numbers. I’m six months sober at this point (and someday I’ll unpack the fact that I quit drinking, after a lifetime in enthusiastic pursuit of intoxication, so I can donate my liver to my husband).
I tell her I’m not drinking, expecting that she’ll want to go with someone better suited. You know, someone fun.
My friend patiently advises that alcohol ink is actually the painting medium, and that there’s probably no cheese to go with the no wine, so we should plan on dinner before. She has her eye on a new place not far from the paint studio.