Auld lang syne, I bought my first vehicle, a barest-of-bones black Mazda truck with a manual transmission. An acquaintance at work was moving, and needed to get rid of it, so he sold it to me for the low, low price of five hundred dollars. I didn’t care enough about it as a vehicle per se to even note the make.
I bought it so I could carry on my affair with John.
As he handed over the keys, my soon-to-be former co-worker told me the truck’s name: The Stealth Bomber. With such a stellar appellation for a conveyance to secret rendezvous, it was as if the transaction had been approved by the universe itself.
It wasn’t a vehicle per se. It was liberation. When I first drove the Stealth Bomber home, I was stuck in an abusive relationship that I didn’t know how to escape. I was stuck with my partner dropping me off and picking me up at work, on the same days she waited until no later than 10:00 a.m. for calls from the temp agency before deeming the whole breadwinning lark a bust and getting high. I remember calling her in a panic once because she was terribly late to come retrieve me. It turned out she’d gotten so high she’d passed out and had missed my pickup time. I’d left a sobbing message on the answering machine that she deleted as soon as we finally got home. I told her she should have at least listened to it, so she could hear what I sounded like when I was terrified that she was dead in a ditch somewhere.
She said that wasn’t something she cared to hear.
For years and years, I have a recurring dream: that I’m still stuck in that abusive relationship, still trapped with that single powder-blue station wagon that isn’t even mine, trying to understand how I could still be there with her, still trying to sneak off but nary a Stealth Bomber to be found…
And for years and years, I would wake up next to John, and the relief and gratitude was enough to flavor an entire day.
John was meant to save me.
And for a long time, he did.
Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot, and auld lang syne?
And surely you’ll buy your pint cup! And surely I’ll buy mine!
And we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne.
Our first New Years’ Eve party together, as a couple, no longer in the dark, no longer a secret, was at a friend of his, mostly with friends of theirs, people I didn’t really know yet, but a few I would get to. There was a standard amount of booze and pot for a New Years’ Eve bash, which is to say rather a lot, but at least the cocaine folks left to take their drug of choice someplace else.
Everyone had certainly had plenty to drink as we approached midnight, so nothing about John’s drunkenness seemed extraordinary. That is, until he finally approached the quiet man.
He’d been there for the entire evening, watching the proceedings with what a fellow introvert would recognize as discomfort. He’d kept mostly to himself, diffidently acknowledging the few people he seemed to know, nursing a single drink. John, who’d been in my peripheral view, struck suddenly. “Why are you so quiet?” he called, loudly enough for most of the room to hear, into this person’s face.
The hair prickled on the back of my neck at the way John had blocked him into the corner. I felt a wave of defensiveness as he gazed wordlessly and unhappily at John, who seemed less recognizable in this moment than the quiet man I’d never met.
I had never seen John as a bully.
“Ask him why he’s so loud,” I offered to the quiet man, and moved away into the thick of the party, glad that I had caught John’s attention and that he was following me, away from someone I oddly wanted to protect.
By midnight’s kiss, all my shock was forgotten, or at least generously anesthetized. And after the festivities, on the ride back home in my little Mazda truck, John threw up copiously and so suddenly out the window as I drove that I didn’t even have time to pull over.
The truck, thus christened, was thereafter known as The Vomit Comet.
All perfectly normal, healthy adult behavior, of course.
We two have run about the hills, and picked the daisies fine;
But we’ve wandered many a weary foot, since auld lang syne.
We two have paddled in the stream, from morning sun till dine;
But seas between us broad have roared since auld lang syne.
When the fault lines of an alcoholic relationship shift and slip, the geography of the people in your life heaves in the most disorienting way. From tectonic ruptures and collisions arise massive gulfs and jagged peaks, all made of the same material: lived experience. Suddenly, people you’ve known and held close might as well live on the moon. Suddenly, you’re shoulder to shoulder with strangers.
This is hard, when you’re quiet.
In the days leading up to the divorce, I dream about him and the people surrounding him, who used to be the people surrounding us. The group are all women, and I can’t speak to any of them. They won’t hear me, and any time I try to speak, they tell me it’s my fault, and that they are there to protect him. From me. Like mothers.
None of them will talk about the booze. The booze is the ghost that no one else can see, haunting everything.
None of these women, who used to be my friends, want to listen to me, want to hear me. He’s arrayed them like an entire deaf army, that’s not merely deaf itself but absorbs the very words spoken in his presence without him having to hear, so there’s a clean, clear path of wordless air wherever he goes.
I’m furious when I wake up.
Why would I care about the people who were there smiling at us at our tiny wedding? Why is it so hard to let it go, shared weddings, funerals, pregnancies and births, cross-country trips, over so many years? In my waking life, though only in my head, I’ve had oh-so-many variations of those abortive dream conversations with the old, I guess former, friends who snag on rough spots of my psyche. Especially with the one whose own husband, John’s best friend, had started showing signs of elevated liver enzymes before John’s first cirrhosis hospitalization.
How many people will I opt to be hurt by? It is a choice, after all.
Why haven’t I contacted them myself? Well, honestly, it’s probably been for the best that I haven’t. The subject line hasn’t been Hi, How Are You, Long Time, Huh? It’s been Fuck You and Here Are Five (5) Reasons Why.
Maybe progress is recognizing that it’s sadness behind the anger. The anger is so tempting and feels full of fire and power, full of things you’re going to burn out of your life, wounds you’ll cauterize, paths you’ll clear. Sadness is an admission. It’s still and lonely.
I had forgotten that until recently, at a Friendsgiving where I was the only unpaired person. And for the first time since I quit more than four years ago, I missed alcohol. I used to be able to shake that lonely, tongue-tied sensation off easily with a couple of drinks.
After Friendsgiving, I have a dream. John and I are together in bed, and I’m beyond confused thinking, what, no, we haven’t slept in the same bed in years, why are we now, why is he asking for sex, why do I seem like I’m about to agree? I can’t agree! I don’t trust him! How have I possibly forgotten this?
When I wake up alone in my bed, the first instinctive thought, feeling like it comes straight out of my brain stem, is oh, that’s right, thank god, we’re divorced…
And there’s a hand my trusty friend! And give me a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll take a right good-will draught, for auld lang syne.
For auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne,
We’ll take a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne.
I spent Labor Day weekend at the beach with three friends who have emerged from the seismic shift, not new friends, but a new awareness of them as friends. We were all in the half-century birthday neighborhood, and one of the conversational questions was, “What’s the dumbest thing on your bucket list?”
Mine was learning the cello.
A month later I turned fifty-one, and the quietest of those friends texted me to say, “I’m buying you your first cello lesson.” The note came with a link to a local music school that does lessons online.
My physics mentor also got in touch around that time, our birthdays being close on the calendar page, and I told him about the cello lesson, and about looking for a cello. He called back a couple of weeks later, telling me he’d found a cello, and would I be a dear and record a few different types of strums so he could look at the resonant frequencies with his nonlinear dynamics colleague?
That cello will be one of the first voices I hear in 2022.
I think I’m going to be glad, at least for a while, that no one else is here to hear.
If you are ready to share with and learn from different voices, please consider joining our Echoes of Recovery group for the loved ones of alcoholics.