It was a Saturday. Molly and her neighborhood friends were wandering from yard to yard to play. Last I knew, she’d been around the corner at her friend Brad’s house but I called to check on her – she was eight. Brad’s mother said they’d headed back to my house and I promised to let her know when the children showed up. I went out to the garden to find a few ripe tomatoes to slice into a salad. Neil rolled the lawn mower out of the garage and called to me,
“I’ve got to go get some petrol. I won’t be long.”
Jingling the car keys, he swung the empty gas container into the trunk of the car, waving as he pulled out of the drive. A few minutes later Molly and her group of friends burst into the yard.
“Do we have any juice boxes?” Molly asked.
“I think so.” I leant over to kiss my daughter’s sweaty cheek then followed the kids into the house to collect the cellophane wrappers before they ended up on the kitchen floor. Juice boxes in hand, they ran out to the yard to play on the rope swing. After pouring myself a glass of water, I hit redial to let Brad’s mother know the children had arrived to my house. At the same time I said hello, a woman with a Spanish accent barked, “He’s left already!” and hung up. I stared at the receiver in my hand. I’d redialed using ‘last call made’ – but that woman was not Brad’s mother. Who was she? Neil must have called someone after I did. But he said he was going out to get gasoline. A few seconds later, the phone rang. The woman with a Spanish accent had called me back and now demanded, “Who is this?”
“Who are you? I hit redial and it wasn’t you that I called before. I guess my husband Neil called you? Do I know you?”
“Never mind. Wrong number. Goodbye.” She hung up. In the few words she spoke to me I could hear a confusion and anxiety in her voice that mirrored my own. The disconnecting click triggered a powerful shift in me. I looked around the house stunned, unsure how I arrived in this place but knowing, I has arrived and there was no return. The echo of my own uncertainty and misery in the voice of the woman on the other end of the phone had galvanized me. No car accident, lost job, suicide threat, stolen money or horrible fights – nothing had been as clarifying as the sound of that woman’s voice. I did not want to be the person she was, that I had already become. I would take back a life I barely remembered. Fuck the therapists, his supposed meetings, enough! I no longer believed any of it. I no longer believed him.
I needed him out of this house. His only choice was rehab – to actually check in somewhere and stay as long as it took. Otherwise, it was over for me. I would not waver. Too many seasons of my life had been blurred together and consumed by his addiction. I could not solve his problems nor continue worrying about him, about money, about our safety. I definitely didn’t want to be his mother and I no longer wanted to be his wife.
Molly’s laughter as she spun around on the rope swing was my background inspiration as I wrote everything down in a letter. I’d barely finished and folded the two sheets of paper ready for an envelope when Neil returned proudly holding up the plastic gas container as he got out of the car.
When he came into the house, my voice quavered as I did my best not to sound too sarcastic. “I see you got gasoline – and? What else? What else did you pick up while you were out?”
“What’s this in aid of? What’d I do now?” he said.
I told him about the redial call.
“Oh, that was just Juan’s girlfriend. I called to ask him something.”
“So I gather.”
I thought of all the times I thought I needed proof – that I could only go through with giving him an ultimatum, or even kicking him out, if I caught him at it as if I were a cop or something. I skulked around looking for this fucking white powder, trying to catch him with a spoon up his nose for years. No more.
“I wrote you a letter with everything I’m thinking and feeling so you can read it whenever. I’m done. This time, I’ve really had it. You need to check into a real rehab program – one where you go away and stay there for 24 hours a day for as long as it takes. No coming home. That’s all that’s left on the menu in this house and I swear this is your last chance. I’m done with the drugs, done with the craziness, done with your lies. And if you’re not, then you’re on your own. Our marriage will be over.”
I blurted out my last straw between clenched teeth. His face screwed up in anger as I finished and taking the letter, he shredded it before throwing it in the trashcan.
“Fuck you! I’m not reading your fucking letter! What more do you want from me? I’ve done everything you’ve asked me!”
I walked past him to the sink and began washing the dishes. I clutched the sponge, suds filling the bucket as Neil slammed cabinet doors and shoved kitchen chairs around me. Rinsing cups, dishes, silverware, I refused to look at him. He kept screaming, his face now inches away from the side of my head. My stomach was in knots but outwardly I remained in a bubble of calm. I could hear Molly and her friend still laughing and playing outside. I willed them to stay there long enough to miss this scene.
“Fine! You want me gone? I’ll sod off and you’ll be sorry! You’ll grow old alone and bitter – an old spinster with no one. You can be like your mother – an old lady alone! Is that what you want? You can have that! But I’ll fight you for the house and for custody of Molly. You won’t have fuck all when I’m done with you.”
The suds slid off the plate in my hand and disappeared down the drain. I said nothing.
“Fuck this! And fuck you! I’m taking the car,” he screamed on his way out the door.
Slamming doors along the way, he peeled out of the driveway.
I turned off the water and dried my hands. The house was silent. Everything felt different, calm and clear and terrifying. I stood on the very edge of all the illusions of our marriage – none were left. I was done with denial and there was no turning back.
That evening, I cuddled close to Molly on the couch as she watched television. When I heard the car pull in, I did my best to muster the composure I felt earlier – but my gut burned. I gave Molly a squeeze and went into the kitchen to try and head off any scenes. Neil pushed the back door open and stepped into the kitchen without looking at me. Taking my earlier spot by the sink, he washed his hands. I watched the back of his head, leaning on the doorway ready to exit quickly and go upstairs.
Looking out the window over the kitchen sink he said, “All right. I’ll go. I’ll go to rehab.”
“I’m glad. I want this to work but I can’t do this way anymore. Nothing we are doing is working and I’m just wiped out.”
“I know,” he said.
“We need to tell Molly. She needs to know what’s going on and what’s going to happen.”
“Fine, let’s do it now then.”
“No, it’s right before bed and she’s watching television. We don’t need to do it now, we just have to do it.”
“No, we should do it now if you’re so keen on telling her.”
Neil strode past me into the living room. I trailed behind ready to pick up the pieces. Before I could open my mouth, he said, “Mommy wants me to go away for a bit, Molly.”
“Why? Where are you going?” Not waiting for an answer before turning her gaze back to her show.
“Daddy has a problem. He’s sick and needs some help.”
I glared over at him. Why was he speaking in the third person?
“What do you mean – sick? What’s your problem? Mommy?” She turned to me for explanation, wide-eyed, brows like question marks. Now we had her full attention as she looked back and forth between us looking for her answer.
“Just tell her, Neil! She’s not three!” I imagined that like me, after witnessing his insanity, she’d be relieved to actually know the cause.
“Daddy has a little bit of a problem with drugs. But I am going to go away for a few weeks to get better.” He paused, waiting for Molly’s reaction but she only stared at him, waiting for more explanation. “You have to know that I love you more than anything in the world, Molly and I don’t want to lose you. And please… don’t tell anybody about this. This is our private family business.”
A secret, he wanted to make a secret out of this. Of course he was worried about what other people think, he always was. And his daughter should feel shame for his behavior? And he couldn’t even say “I”, own his shit for once. “Daddy has a problem” as if he were talking about someone else. I clenched my teeth to keep myself from screaming at him.
“Can you get better?” Molly always asked the profound question.
“Yes, Molly, sweetheart, I can and I will get better!” he said.
Reassured she asked, “Can I turn my program back on now?”