I wished Neil was drunk. Besides being a legal poison, I would be able to smell the substance destroying us and have bottles to brandish accusingly. Evidence of cocaine use is elusive but I looked. When I thought he was using, I madly foraged through the house and his clothes for drugs. Hating him and hating myself, hot with fury and shame, I looked in pockets, under the car seats, behind drawers and dusty shelves in the garage. I watched his every move, obsessed. Standing at the bottom of the stairs I stared up at the gap under the bathroom door as if I might surmise something from the view of his feet as he sat on the toilet. Why was he in there so long? I listened for sniffing. Later touching my finger to specks of white powder spotting the black tiles of the bathroom floor, I tasted for his bitter drug then convinced myself it was only cleansing powder. I longed to believe his repeated promises of sobriety, almost willing to accept his accusations that it was me that was crazy. I felt it.
On a steamy August day almost a year after I’d learned the truth, I rifled through his pockets not caring if he woke up and saw me. It was well past noon. He’d seemed so good for much of the year and I’d started to feel sure he was out of the woods with the old Neil back with us. But last night he didn’t crawl into bed until the early hours of the morning and when his legs and arms began twitching and jerking, I knew. I could hear by the sound of his breathing. I could smell it on him, a chemical sweetness that made my stomach heave. How could he do this again?
My head spinning and my heart broken, I pawed through his pockets. Finding only a broken cigarette and coins, I dropped his jeans beside the bed. His ragged snores followed me down the stairs to the living room. Transfixed by the television, Molly ignored me as I tore at the couch cushions around her, shoving my hands into the upholstery’s crumb filled crevices.
Taking the stairs by twos back up to the bathroom, I peered into cabinet corners, aspirin bottles and light fixtures. Balancing with one foot on the radiator and the other on the tub, I pushed two fingers into the hollow of the dusty blind frame fixture and felt something. Time stopped as I pulled out a baggie – the same kind I packed Molly’s peanut butter sandwiches in. Outside it was so hot, heat mirages shimmered in waves across the parched lawn, but I shivered. The bag contained blue pills and a square of aluminum. Peeling back the foil, I found what I expected, what I dreaded: white powder. The bastard. Cartoon-chatter triggered Molly’s laughter, the innocent sound echoing up the stairs. Storming across the hall to the bedroom, my nausea turned to fury.
“Neil!” I hissed, yanking the sheet away. His eyes sprung open in surprise.
“What the hell?” he growled, snatching back the cover.
I put my face up to his so Molly wouldn’t hear me and whispered, “I found your stash!” shaking the bag before him. “You are such an asshole! What the fuck? What the fuck, Neil? I’m throwing this shit down the toilet where it belongs. I can’t believe you! What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
The bed heaved as got up and followed me to the bathroom.
“Hang about! I’m holding that for somebody who is going to be right pissed off.” He made no move to stop me but I paused, momentarily fearful someone might really come after us, then recognized the sound of a lie and dumped the drugs in the toilet.
“You know what, Neil? Fuck you! Maybe I should call the police instead? I can’t believe you brought this shit into the house. You really want to destroy everything, don’t you?”
I smashed the handle down, swallowing tears as the pills and powder swirled around and around the bowl before sucking away. We stood side by side watching the water rise back to fill the porcelain.
“Mommy, I’m hungry.” Molly looked up the stairs, her big blue eyes questioning. She wore an oversized t-shirt for a nightgown and her hair was still bed-messy.
“I’ll get you something right now, honey,” I said, pushing past Neil, grateful for the reminder to take care of our seven-year old. Sometimes I felt like I spent her childhood obsessing over her father more than thinking about her. What had I missed while worrying about his behavior, trying to control his addiction?
Downstairs I took deep breaths to calm myself, concentrating on what I was doing: carefully pouring cereal into a bowl, fishing a spoon from the drawer – inhaling, exhaling. The past week ran like a warp-speed rerun through my head as I tried to identify what clues I missed that he was using again. When did I turn into this insane woman? How did we go from our extraordinary beginning to this? I wanted to turn the clock back, knowing what I knew now. But what would I do differently?
Our wedding video is CNN news footage. On that day in August 1994, there was a rare lull in the fighting in Sarajevo. The international press pounced on our love story as a welcome change from the usual litany of battles, destruction and death. The photo and AP photographer took, Neil in his kilt, lifting me off my feet as he kissed me against the backdrop of the shell-pocked wall of Sarajevo’s City Hall, appeared in newspapers all over the world and clips of us dodging a hail of relief-rice were broadcast on morning news shows in the States.
During that cold Bosnian winter, I found Neil’s affection and quick wit amidst the bleakness of that frigid war zone irresistible. In his room at the Sarajevo Holiday Inn, as battles raged across the dark city lit by tracer fire, the hotel walls shuddering from nearby mortar hits, he blanketed the bed with bullet-proof jackets, pulled me close against his chest and promised to always protect me. How could I not fall in love? In his arms nothing seemed terrible. In one of the world’s most dangerous places, I felt safe.
Where had this man and his promise gone? Was it a mistake to move to the States? Would we have been better off moving around the globe in the wake of every war and disaster? Would Neil still be clean if he’d been working in the killing fields of Rwanda, saving lives and making people who needed to, laugh just as he had in Bosnia? I no longer understood, if I ever had, what made him tick. I knew he thrived on danger and even now was drawn to drama, the first to jump into a fray, break up a fight, to stop to help at car accidents, not thinking of himself. Or, it seemed to me, his family at home. Yet he adored Molly more than anything, loved making our house a home, drinking endless cups of tea on the couch while watching the fucking television.
He loved me. I had to still believe that. I knew him better than anyone I’d still laugh at his antics but I knew he was smart and deeper than most people gave him credit for. I saw past the clown. I loved him. But he was destroying everything, killing us, killing him. We couldn’t go on like this. We just couldn’t. But we did.