There is a crack, a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.

Leonard Cohen, “Anthem”


That Saturday morning, you wake up early and sneak down two sets of stairs. The basement’s not yours. You don’t want to get caught catching him. 


You probably don’t have to be quiet, though, since he’s “asleep” in his room with the door closed. But it’s a habit you’ve gotten into, because he complains that you’re angry whenever he hears you make a noise. Whenever you remind him you exist. 


You know he was drinking yesterday, last night. He was using that tone with the dogs, the burbly baby talk, which he only affects at BACs that would obliterate a lightweight. He was in a good mood. And those have made you wary lately.


So, that Saturday morning, down, out of the sun and into the dark, you go.


Like a bomb-sniffing dog, you find it in the first place you look: a half-finished liter of Tito’s Handmade Vodka (Award Winning American Vodka, Crafted in an Old Fashioned Pot Still, AustinTexas). The grenade, with the pin pulled out.


You let the sick feeling come over you, one last time. There are no more fixes from the usual bag of tricks: pleading, cajoling, calls to substance abuse counselors, marriage counselors, doctors, nurses. This is the point, the place and time where you really understand: it didn’t work.


Failure is most definitely an option.


You’ve been putting the pin back in that grenade for so long. Of course you have; it’s a fucking grenade.


But this last time you hold onto the pin, and you let that grenade…




When the subject turns to the highest stakes, the biggest, hardest, most important decisions, you know everyone thinks it’s giving him the liver. It’s not the stupid liver. That wasn’t a decision, it was a deus ex machina, the god reaching out from the whirring machine with an almost unbelievable solution to your particular intractable problem. (If this were fiction, it would be bad writing, like cheating.) It was a foregone conclusion, from the rented spaces of women’s bodies.


You’re not going to just stand there with your bucket of water and watch your house burn down.


There are seeds that can’t germinate unless their cases are cracked open by the scorching temperatures of a forest fire. The heavier elements in human blood and bones were forged in stars, and only scattered to the interstellar winds for our eventual earthly use by their cataclysmic supernova deaths. The former Red Forest, buried by hazmat “liquidators” in the soil of the Chernobyl exclusion zone because the trees themselves had become so radioactive, stellar ash run riot, is now a lush and improbable home for endangered species.


You come back up the basement stairs, back into the bright Saturday morning sunshine that beams through the intact and unfazed sliding glass door. You’re holding the half-full bottle. How strange, he’s slept through the explosion. Or maybe rather, how typical. You’ve been doing the big things by yourself for quite a while.


You bring the bottle back upstairs to your bedroom. You put it on your nightstand, and take pictures of it. The light from your bedroom windows reflects off the glass. His room across the hall is still dark. 


(Eventually, your laptop will have a Divorce folder, with a subfolder called Booze. In it will be the pictures that you’ve taken over the past year of bottles and cans, empty, full, and in-between. Some are like posed portraits, individual and group; some are candids, captured under his bed or at the bottom of his closet; some are still modestly clad in their brown paper bags, with receipts. You’ll strip all of them out of your phone and put them away here. You’ll know where they are, but you’ll never be ambushed scrolling past them while looking for something else.)


You’re not crazy. This is evidence. It’s part of your slow-growing decision tree.


You are genuinely surprised when you realize that: you’ve been working on this decision for a long time. Ripening it. 


You told the transplant team, when they asked how you felt about your marriage, that you gave it even odds. Fifty-fifty. (You just make back the amount of your bet.) You were not lying to them.


You saw a lawyer the week your husband started his intensive outpatient program. You told the lawyer your story, and noted well the way her jaw dropped. (She thinks it’s the liver, too. Funny, but you didn’t ask any lawyers about the liver. You didn’t ask anyone. When you first heard the doctor say that it was an option, you put your hand up like a kid at school and said, “Me.” Pick me, I’ll prove it. You were not lying to him.) You couldn’t help but feel a little proud that you’d impressed an attorney with a quarter-century old practice. You told her that you were not ready to end it, that you loved your husband. You just had questions: a free consultation, like it said on the tin. You were not lying to her.


You told the transplant team hepatologist, when he called you to say they couldn’t get in touch with your husband, to warn that fitful bloodwork showed volatile fingerprints of alcohol in his liver enzymes, being produced by that little piece of you: “We’re in the same house, but we’re not together.” You weren’t lying to him.


You told your dad, when you got in the car for the trip to the airport, after finding out from a neighbor that your husband had been drinking while you were away, “I think my marriage is over.” You weren’t lying to him.


And during this whole time, you told your husband repeatedly that you weren’t done fighting for this relationship, not by a mile. That if he thought you were anywhere near giving up, he had another think coming. You weren’t lying to him, either.


How did the two of you, neither lying, reside in the same body for so long? 


After the detonation, there is just one of you left.


You were told, over and over, you will know. You asked, over and over, how will I know? Now you understand, this isn’t a how question. This isn’t a thing that you know, like the way you know about seeds and stars and radioactive trees. It’s a process: a phase change. You are simply moved into the next state of your matter, once that decision you’ve been making falls from the tree in the shock wave. You were one thing when you went down the stairs. You were another thing when you came back up them.


It’s funny, though: you can stand at that exact spot now, down there, and for the magnitude of this supernova, there isn’t even a crater.


He comes down late in the morning, heading straight to the coffee maker. “Good morning,” he says to you, and he seems to mean it (that dubious good mood, its source confirmed).


You’re standing in the light of the sliding glass doorway, the sun streaming in around you.


“I found the booze.”


You feel the mood darken despite the sun behind you continually fusing its atoms into carbon, calcium, iron.


“Mmm-hmm.” He’s waiting to hear how the pin went back in. (The pin: We need to fix this, we’ll call the counselor, we’ll call the therapist, we’ll call the transplant team, the two of you certainly scheduled for a fight about it in his bedroom because he won’t stay in the neutral spaces of the house long enough to hear you.) The pin always goes back in. He looks almost bored.


“I’m going to call a lawyer on Monday.” 


Eight simple words.


The day’s second detonation.


He stands there in the kitchen for a moment, then walks out and back upstairs to his room, closing the door. He doesn’t say a word. His empty coffee cup sits unattended in the still-sleeping coffee maker.


Go down into the dark, blow it up, and let the light in.


No matter where you are in the process of knowing, we have support and friendship waiting for you in Echoes of Recovery – for the loved ones of alcoholics.

Echoes of Recovery

Broken Silence
July 18, 2018
The Link between Flat Earthers and Alcohol Drinkers
May 26, 2021
The Three Reasons I’m an Alcoholic
June 12, 2019
  • Reply
    Anne K Scott
    December 1, 2021 at 12:48 pm

    So sad on so many counts. Beautiful writing – I feel the chaos of it all, the boozy film of not understanding

    • Reply
      December 2, 2021 at 9:22 am

      Thanks, Anne, I love the phrase “boozy film.” There’s definitely a layer that gets stripped away that makes everything both raw and clear. I so appreciate your reading and continued support!

  • Reply
    December 12, 2021 at 12:42 pm

    Damn, Barbara. I wish I had something more profound to say but…..I have an understanding of what you may be feeling. You are a phenomenal writer. Please keep writing.

    • Reply
      December 12, 2021 at 1:14 pm

      Hi, Sloane, thank you so much. I can’t tell you how much it means to be understood, especially when I’m still in the process of understanding things myself. I will definitely keep writing, and hoping to connect! <3

  • Reply
    December 27, 2021 at 7:34 am

    You’ve captured the decision point so well, Barbara. I’m sad to say I can relate. It’s wonderful to see someone from the loved ones side of the equation finally telling her (and our) story. Beautiful and heartbreaking, just like our life with our loved ones.

    • Reply
      January 1, 2022 at 10:53 am

      Happy New Year, Kathy! Thanks for reading and commenting. I really struggled with everyone’s assurance that “you’ll know when it’s time,” so I feel a bit annoyed on the behalf of all those like me when I say “you really will.” There’s just no mistaking it. (I’m also starting ro think that beauty and heartbreak are flip sides of the same coin…)

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