(First published on Sisterwives Speak, June 2015.)
One day, I’ll change
You’ll be the first one that I call
I owe you an apology
Too many thanks, and that’s not all
‘Cause I been runnin’ long before I learned to crawl.
~ The Indigo Girls
That guy. The one who charms a woman with the grace and ease that he lights a stolen smoke off a borrowed zippo. The woman that enchants him on Friday night is alone on Saturday. Somehow he goes through them all without getting his ass kicked, leaving many of them believing it is because they aren’t pretty or interesting enough, as some women tend to do.
He’s already been through me and I am no different – on some level I think it’s because there is something wrong with me, too. But I am not one to go quietly, so as I leave, I say to the girl with the long curly black hair, the one he’s been buying drinks for all night, right in front of him: He’s ok in bed. Not great. He’ll never call you again and he’ll make you feel like shit for thinking he would. Good luck.
And I walk on.
When she came back, looking for him, she found me.
How can I make you understand?
She is profoundly fucked up. Her family is rife with dysfunction, and addiction – to money, to religion, and in her case, anything that takes her away from them.
We fit together in a way I have never known. Everything that is soft and understated about her is abrasive and awkward in me. We each are dark where the other is light. She hides behind me, hides from herself, and all I want is for someone to SEE me.
We become inseparable; two sides of the same tarnished coin. No matter how many times that some ambitious would-be lover uses up his ration of clever for the day with I’d love to be the guy who gets between you two, no one ever will.
She shows up day-drinking in the drive thru of the bank where I work, wearing enormous sunglasses, cigarette tucked in the corner of her mouth, and drops lengthy handwritten notes in the kiosk for me and drives on. We spend our days in a cardboard duplex built for WWII military families, given to her as a back-handed token of support for finishing rehab, and for the inconvenience of needing it in the first place. It didn’t stick, anyway. Afternoons drinking beer on the couch in front of the TV with her head in my lap as I comb her hair with my fingers.
I love you.
I love you too.
No, I mean I think I really love you. Like move in with you and raise children love you. Don’t laugh!
You don’t like women. Besides – I can’t afford you. If you drank less, you wouldn’t love me as much.
That’s not why!
I know. I love you too.
If we were cartoons, she would always be pulling me back after I’d walk over a cliff to see I am standing on air. I’d be throwing myself between her and falling anvils.
Master loves the servant who blind heeds him;
Husband, the obedient wife
Snake will always bite the hand that feeds him;
Even if you love him, even if you save his life.
In five minutes I will sing Elvis Presley in front of an ostentatious number of wedding guests; I don’t even know that many people. But right now we are staring at each other, her in the white dress that her stepmother tried to shame her from wearing, and me in ridiculous frothy lavender that I’m pretty sure is a punishment, as she prepares to pledge forever to a man I cannot stand. I want this for her, this love she believes she has found, even as I am choking on my own cynicism. He is not good enough; I believe he wants her in the same way some people want birds in cages. She looks panicked, suddenly, and takes two steps back and says It’s never going to be the same after today, is it? This is the last time.
It’s gonna be okay, I tell her, because maybe it is, and that is what she needs to hear.
And I let her go.
And it was okay, for a while. For a long time. Time enough for them to make two beautiful dark-haired children, for her to finish college and look at her life and find she wanted something else, something more.
More than him. Faced with losing her, he did the unforgivable.
I have no eloquence for it – some drugs are easier to glamourize than others. Crystal meth, the incestuous, toothless, unwashed cousin that no one remembers inviting. Just one bump. Just try it.
He brought it to her. But don’t believe for a second that I don’t know that she chose.
When I feel that stirring,
the illicit kiss
It’s just the cool tongue of the devil
With a sucker in his midst
I am crouched on the floor in the corner of the bedroom, on the phone, hiding. The man I am going to marry is in the next room, and he will not understand why I am flirting with Danny the tweeker.
Danny is a mountain of angry redneck trash and I know this much about him: he beat the mother of his children unconscious and left her in the street in front of his house, so that those children could be forced to sit on the porch and watch cars swerve around her.
He has also made despicable trades for drugs with my best friend. I have reached a point with her that I don’t always know or hear the whole truth, but I know that he is a very dangerous man. The conversation is deceptively courteous, as it sometimes goes with sociopaths – his opening gambit was to remind me who he is and to flatter me with malignant charm, but now we are getting down to it.
She owes him money, and he can’t find her. He thinks I can help him with that. But I won’t.
He tells me that if I pay him, he’ll go easier on her. He is lying. We have been here before. I can’t help her. I can only hope that he can’t find her.
I can’t find her.
When I start to feel it making sense for me
That’s just hope springing eternally, yeah…
It’s 3am in a town that makes that far less interesting than it might be otherwise, and I screech to a halt at a red light and we both scream and giggle as the last note of some belligerent rock anthem fades.
We are out of breath from singing and stink of cigarette smoke and tequila and adrenaline and suddenly she turns to me and says You know me better than anyone. Why haven’t you fixed me yet?
I don’t know what happened.
Maybe it was the song, or that we were drinking, but in the moment it took for me to find an answer, I ruined it all.
I flashed back over every return to rehab that ended exactly where we were. Every “alternative” cure that never made it off the ground. Thankfully, the tweeker days are behind us, but she never stopped drinking. I plan our outings around the pivotal moment where she becomes hateful and bitter and starts fights with strangers. I hate it. But clearly not enough, because here I am.
I remembered every time she was on a bender for days, me scouring the arrest reports in the paper. Every 2am call from the pay phone in some piss-soaked dive, Come up here, I need you – I’m drunk and they won’t leave me alone and I’m scared can’t you just come? and I’d drag myself out to find two old men, barely conscious, slumped at the bar paying no attention to her, the girl in the corner who just didn’t want to be alone. Every walk to the car with her sedated form draped across me like a mismatched accessory.
I told myself I’d help her stop, but she had to actually stop first, and at least this way I could still be there – the flawed logic always escaping me. I watched her carelessly destroy relationships for twenty years, and sometimes I didn’t know how ours survived, or if we would ever get back to that place where we just loved each other, no matter what.
I had started ducking her phone calls and erasing her unheard messages. Showing up two hours late, or never.
Making her angry. Making her cry. Failing her.
As she looks at me I am filled with a venom that I can’t stop. She is beautiful and damaged, the core of my heart and the bane of my existence and in that moment I can only remember every time she has fallen and how dare she ask me that question.
You don’t want to be fixed, I say.
Yes, I do, she says, her eyes bloodshot and full of pain. We stop singing and the silence hovers around us like malicious gossip.
Don’t believe for a second that I don’t know that I chose.
There is so much more to this story. So much that shines and seems like it doesn’t belong. She was my best friend. There was far more love than hate, more laughter than pain.
I was a stupid, sheltered girl and sometimes the only thing that kept me from falling was the fact that she’d already jumped. There were times that I saved her, I know. But she saved me, too – from the thing in me that tells me that no one could ever think I was worth saving.
We stood by and for each other against…everything. We lied to and for each other, and to ourselves.
I know enough about addiction to know that it is a coping mechanism. It’s like an infected poultice on an open wound – the delivery method is relevant only in the speed of it’s destruction.
They say addicts don’t have friends, they have enablers – and I always said I was her very BEST enabler, her number one, our way of dancing around what we already knew.
She threw me out of her life. I need to be clear about that. I never would have gone, had she not. I wish I could say I intervened, or gave her an ultimatum, but what I actually did was hurt her so badly she wanted me gone. The details are nothing more than girlish gossip. In the end, we turned on each other in the kind of unforgivable fury that I think only women can understand.
I was the thing that had to go.
Can I say that I loved her, even I as I know what I was?