(Spring 2009 to Spring 2010)
It was 5.5 years since Rich passed away. The last thing I was looking for was a boyfriend. Yet, there he was - on my couch, (which he bought) - with his dog.
He kind of just appeared. He was my lawyer. Then we became Facebook friends. Then he was at my door in the middle of the night.
It was surreal. Rich was 22 when we started dating in 1993. He didn’t even have hair on his chest. We grew into adulthood together. This guy was already a man – with a really deep phone voice. It freaked me out.
Over dinner and drinks on one of our first dates he was describing his relationship with his soon to be ex-wife. The time and the places when they began dating (early 90s Oakland) were similar to when and where Rich and I met.
Here is what was the polar opposite. He described their relationship as people who were negative, judgmental, critical and entitled. Rich and I were nothing like them. Rich and I were kind. I said out loud, “Rich and I would have never been friends with you.”
All I could think that entire evening was - Rich wouldn’t say that; Rich wouldn’t feel that; Rich wouldn’t think that; God, I miss Rich. I knew it didn’t feel right. I sensed this man’s spirit of malignity. I wanted to leave, but I stayed. I just pushed it down with another glass of wine. I choked down all of my apprehension until I couldn’t feel anything at all. That’s the way I liked it.
Over the next few weeks, my nerves and emotions were so completely out of whack that I broke out horribly. I was 39 years old! I mean horribly. It was the weirdest thing. I had to see a bunch of dermatologists and try different medications including Accutane. My already low self esteem took a nose dive. I didn’t want to leave the house. I was convinced the boyfriend was using some kind of product that I was having a reaction to. One doctor even joked that I must be allergic to him. (To this day I have scars on my chin and forehead from it.) No doctor was ever able to explain it. It had to be the stress of the “relationship”.
The doctor warned me that if I consumed alcohol while on that drug it would most certainly damage my liver. It was a risk I was willing to take.
Sure, the boyfriend was wholly flawed, but so was I. He knew about the DUIs, losing my job because of alcohol, rehab, losing my license and now my mutant appearance and he still wanted to be with me. I think part of my appeal to him was that I was sicker than he was.
The guilt of being with someone that was not Rich was making me desperate to escape. I mean escape from myself. I wasn’t trying to get away from my children. I wasn’t even trying to get away from the boyfriend. It was me that I didn’t want to have anything to do with.
I was drowning in my fears, shame, guilt. We had drinks together every night at dinner in restaurants then we would continue late in to the evenings at my home or his. My children became used to the routine. His children were there half the time to keep them company.
We looked like a little family. He liked to call us the mini Brady Bunch. I was miserable. I was in a relationship with someone I didn’t really like, but at the same time, I didn’t want to be out of if. I think I thought that no one else would put up with a mess like me. Meanwhile, I wasn’t looking for a relationship to begin with. I guess I liked having a partner. I’m not sure if I even noticed myself getting sicker.
I tortured myself daily with thoughts of failure and inadequacy. Now that I was a criminal, I figured I wasn’t going to be employable. Even if I got a job, how was I going to get there with no license? I would go round and round with thoughts of how horrible I was. I could absolutely not see my situation getting any better. I slowly became more and more dependent on this boyfriend. My addiction told me this was as good as it was going to get. My addiction caused me to forget who I was. My ambition was gone. My personality was gone. My laugh was gone.
I was alone during the day. I was trapped in my cave - trapped with my demons. Each day I opened that first bottle of wine earlier and earlier. I figured I could numb and then be alert enough to pretend to enjoy the evenings.
Wrong. My demons are patient.
On an early April morning in 2010, I drank until I passed out. I didn’t go pick up my child from half day kindergarten. I woke up to the phone ringing. I immediately knew what I did. I jumped in my car and flew up to the school. I can’t imagine what I looked like or how I smelled. I know my teeth were purple when I dashed into that school and grabbed my son out of the principal’s office. I said, “Sorry”, and ran.
When we got home I lied to all my emergency contact folks that the school called. I assured them everything was fine – it was just a misunderstanding.
I managed to get myself and the house cleaned up before CYS knocked on my door that evening. I had a feeling they were coming. When they arrived we looked like a happy little family. The boyfriend and his kids were there by then. The house and kids were clean. There was food in the refrigerator. The water ran and the toilet flushed. CYS spoke to each of my children separately. They were “fine”. In my peripheral I could see the boyfriend seething.
The case worker said there must have been a mistake. He saw no problems in my household. There would be no report filed.
One month later, I did the exact same thing. This time when I ran into the principal’s office, my son wasn’t there.
I sat down and started to cry and said, “I need help.”
She said, “I’m so glad to hear you say that.”