George spotted me in the drapery rod aisle. I had a list of measurements for the various windows I needed to cover in my new house, so I was in the aisle for a while. He paused at the end of the aisle, ready to offer good natured ribbing about what was taking me so long. I flagged him down to scan a couple of drapes that were in the clearance section. They would be perfect if they truly were the $7 or $8 that was advertised on the shelf, but the item codes didn’t match.
“I saw you in the aisle earlier,” he said, curious about what I was up to. “Yes, I just moved here yesterday, and I have a new house with a lot of windows to cover, so I’m prioritizing what needs to get done now. I have my list,” I held up for him to see. “Where did you move from?” he asked. “Tampa, though I’m originally from Chicago. You from North Carolina?” I asked in return. “Nah,” was his response, an answer I hear a lot here, just like Florida. Everyone, it seems, moved here from someplace else. “I’m originally from New York. My mom has folks down here,” he explained to my unasked question.
“What brings you here?”
People ask me that a lot. Mostly to be friendly, but Florida is one of those places that a lot of people dream of moving to when they’ve had enough of winters, so I think it makes them curious why someone would leave a place so many think of as a desirable destination.
I hesitated. Do I give the pat answer, that I moved here to be closer to my daughter, which is a plausible one most understand, but is only partially true? Finally, I decided to tell the real truth.
“My husband’s an alcoholic. It was time for a new chapter. One where I take care of me.”
He nodded with concern, as if he might have first hand knowledge of what that might be like. “Good for you,” he said. And then to my surprise, he pulled me in for a hug, and I began crying – right there in the drapery aisle of the Lowes in Knightdale, the next town over.
“You’re going to be just fine,” he reassured. “Listen, you’re going to need to come back here a lot over the next few months as you get settled. I’m here on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. You come on a day I’m working, and you look for me. We’ll get you all set.”
I nodded and thanked him. Is this a thing he sees often – middle aged women breaking down in the drapery aisle, picking up the pieces of a life that went so far off the rails of what we had planned?
It is not the first time that, when I worked up the courage to be honest about my life as the wife of an alcoholic, I’ve been met with a similar story, or a knowing that tells me these sad chapters are more common than we think.
In sharing, I feel the grace of humanity, where we really see each other, and any pretense of who we appear to be to others melts away.
George is right. I am going to be fine. Even though I still cry on most days, it’s getting better. I think back to one of the last days I saw John before the divorce, as he was sitting in my driveway in Tampa, waiting for the junk haulers to arrive while I waited for a showing. There he sat, as if he owned the place, smoking a cigar, stinking up the front yard with a prospective buyer on the way.
This new house is mine now. He can’t do things like that here. I have neighbors who will trade watching our dogs. I have work friends willing to introduce me to different parts of the area. And I have George, who will help me as I build new skills to do some of the tasks John used to do. It has been an exhausting week – packing up one house, driving three states away with my puppy, Finn, napping in the back seat, and getting settled in the new place.
Married to John this last decade, I had the illusion of support. Now I’m building actual support through the community I’m building around me.
Telling parts of my story lets us skip past the keeping-up-appearances nonsense to see we are all just humans having a human experience, and with a little bit of help we’ll be just fine.
Maybe even better than fine. As I walked around my new home after the movers left, I took a moment to pause and feel the happiness bubbling up in me, a joy and a peace I haven’t felt in a decade.
This is going to be my home, and I am no longer waiting on someone else’s recovery to start living again.
If you are the loved one of an alcoholic, and you are ready to share your story in a safe community do you can build real support around you, please check out our Echoes of Recovery program.
Author’s note: The picture is of a drape I hung in my powder room so I can now go to the bathroom there without worrying about the construction workers building the house next door seeing me. That was drape number six I hung all on my own with my new drill. The first effort took three trips to Lowes, and three erroneous holes to get it right. By number six, I’ve gotten pretty good at it!