Chapter 28

We called the little alcove off of Molly’s room the private room. The big oak’s branches scratched at the window making it feel like we were in a tree house. I anticipated Neil would blow up when I directed him away from our bedroom to this tiny room with only space enough for a bed pressed against the wall. He made no complaint, perching on the edge of the mattress like a punished child as I turned away mumbling something about checking the laundry and left.

For hours he barely spoke, smoking on the porch, lighting cigarette after cigarette, flicking the butts into the hedge as he watched Molly spin on her rope swing. It seemed to calm him, watching her twirl around and around, her body parallel to the ground, the rope wrapped around her hands, spinning until she was dizzy. I busied myself cooking and cleaning frenetically. Tetley followed me closely as I moved through the house, as if he too was avoiding Neil.

Molly came into the kitchen, her brow furrowed. “What’s wrong with Daddy?”

“I think he’s just really nervous. It’s hard for him to be here after everything that’s happened. He’ll be ok.”

But I wasn’t sure. After an awkward dinner together, father and daughter retreated to watch television and I disappeared upstairs for an early bedtime, pulling what used to be our bedroom door, firmly behind me.

The next day he still acted like an awkward guest, as if he knew he was disturbing us. I made chatty conversation, steering the discussion to what we would have for lunch or an errand I needed to run. Again, Molly twirled on her swing and Neil sat on the porch and smoked. I stayed outside for most of the day, preparing the flower and vegetable beds for planting. Neil found me by the side of the house.

“I’d like to buy some flowers for you to plant. I remember you said that you couldn’t afford to buy flowers last year because of my habit and, well, I’d like to make it up to you.” he chewed his lips between sentences and looked over my head as he spoke.

“Oh. Well, that’s nice – but you don’t have to do that.” I pulled on a stubborn dandelion root.

“I’d like to. There is so much you didn’t get to do because of my addiction and I’m sorry. At least I can do this for you.”

“Okay… thanks then.”

I agreed he owed me. Why did I feel irritated by this offer? The gesture was only a drop in the bucket and typical of him: he wasn’t offering to do something I really needed like paying the oil bill – there would be no visibility, no proof of his contribution. If we planted flowers they may only last a season but that garden would be ‘his’. Still, I accepted. We drove to the garden center and bought flats of petunias and impatiens. I left him and Molly to plant them together, creating a wave of purple, pink and red beside the house. Their banter and laughter drifted through the garden. My breathing relaxed and for a moment, I felt guilty. Why did I have to be such a bitch?

On day number three I went to work leaving Molly with whispered instructions to call me for any reason whatsoever. But Neil seemed better – he wasn’t shaking as much and continued to be polite. Occasionally he made comments that intimated at a future together; I immediately changed the subject. The lawyer was awaiting my cue to serve the divorce papers. I didn’t want Molly around for any eruptions. Spring break ended next week and she would be out of the house. Neil’s ticket back to England was for May 5 – Cinquo de Mayo – the Mexican holiday of independence and I hoped, my own day of freedom.


I wanted to give him a heads up about what to expect so he didn’t lose it completely when he was served. But he still seemed too fragile and delusional that a life together was possible. There never seemed a good time and I was getting nervous but also more resolute. I could not live on tenterhooks any more, sharing a life with someone who lived by deception. It was another sunny day and I stood barefoot in the warm grass, using the hose to water the flowers Neil and Molly had planted. Molly was inside watching television. Neil came and stood beside me.

“I know I was a real prat for these past years. I promise on Molly’s life, I am getting better and I will be the man you married again.”

“Good. I’m glad you’re committed to your recovery.” I did not turn my gaze from the water pulsing out of the hose.

“All I want is to be back here with you both.”

“We’ve talked about this. You need to get yourself together first. For you and for Molly.”

“What about you? Don’t you want this anymore?” his voice cracked.

“Neil… I don’t want to do this anymore.” I gestured with the hose and the water sprayed wildly around the garden. “Please stop asking me that question. Honestly, I can’t… the honest answer is: I can’t do it anymore.”


Even as the words left my mouth, I wished I’d swallowed them. His demeanor changed in a flash, his eyes went black, filled with fury.

“What do you mean? What exactly are you saying?” He sidled up closer to me. “Are you saying you are divorcing me? You are, aren’t you? You’re fucking divorcing me aren’t you? All right then! Bring it on! Come on! Do you want to fight? I’ll fucking fight you!”

He picked up a plastic garbage can and threw it against the garage. It bounced off the asphalt and hit the side of my car. I flinched but a bizarre detachment settled over me. I looked at the can in the driveway and thought, it’s a good thing the garbage was picked up this morning otherwise I’d be cleaning up a big mess. I waited, clenching the hose as puddles formed around the now-water logged petunias. It went through my head that I needed to get away from him – but not into the house – Molly was there, hopefully oblivious. I shouldn’t get trapped inside. I remained beside the garden watching the torrent of water drowning the plants so cheerfully planted by father and daughter the day before.

“You know what? I never loved you anyway and you weren’t even any good in bed! I’ll be glad to divorce you, to be rid of you. But I’ll fucking fight you on everything. You won’t have anything left. You’ll lose the house and Molly. I’ll give you the fucking fight of your life!”

My dripping hand trembled so I was surprised at how firm and steady my voice sounded.

“Please stop screaming at me. Molly is in the house. She doesn’t need to hear this.”

“Let her hear, let her hear what a bitch her mother is. That you want to destroy her family! Let the whole neighborhood hear! I don’t fucking care!”

I kept my eyes lowered away from him but his face was so close, his spittle sprayed me as he yelled. In all our years and some terrible fights, I’d never felt Neil would lift his hand against me until now. I wasn’t sure. I stayed focused on the stream of water now pooling at my feet. Finally, he turned away, stomping in the direction of the front porch throwing the other garbage can across the drive as he went, this one crashing into the hedge, the lid spinning down towards the street.

Where should I go? I couldn’t leave Molly alone with him. I feared she might come outside when Neil started yelling, but she was nowhere in sight. Surely she heard everything. Poor kid. I needed to check on her. I walked around the house to the back door.

Molly sat sunken in a corner of the couch, eyes glued to the set.

“I’m sorry, honey. I’m sorry you heard that.” What else could I say?

“Go away! Just go away!” She remained determined not to take sides against her Daddy. I leaned over and kissed her head. I put my hands in my pockets so she would not see them trembling.

“Everything’s going to be fine. Maybe in a little while we can work on your science project together?”

She’d brought home an owl pellet from her third grade class and had asked me earlier when we could open it. Her face brightened at the prospect of dissecting it, her anticipation like opening a present: she couldn’t wait to find out what unlucky creature met its fate in the owl’s gullet.

“I’ll go get the things we need,” she said, springing into action.

            “Put some newspaper down and we’ll dissect it on the table right here.”

I motioned to the dining room table pretending I felt normal, as if this was one of those blissful regular days Molly and I shared in Neil’s absence. I washed my hands in the sink, letting the cool water run over my trembling wrists. Molly joined me in the kitchen, her arms full of newspaper and a little foil wrapped pellet held out like a precious egg.

“What else do we need, Mommy?” Her eyes were wider than normal. How must she be feeling? I wanted to step out onto the porch and clobber her father once and for all. How dare he wreck her world like this?

“Um.” I tried to think of what we needed to pull apart and extract remains. “If you can find something really small to pick through the pellet with. Needles maybe? “Can you find the sewing box?” I hoped she couldn’t tell how nervous I was, my teeth chattering between words.

Neil sat on the porch. He peered at us through the screen. I moved to the table and set everything up so our backs were to the door but we knew he was there, watching us. Molly and I sat side-by-side, heads bent over the teeny mass looking for fragments of bone. The screen door opened.

Neil leaned over us and hissed at me, “I will fight you on everything! And I want my fucking bed back. I’m sleeping in my own damn bed and I’m not leaving this house. You better get used to that. I’m not going anywhere, I’m staying right here in this house. The only way I’m leaving this house is in a box! Do you hear me? In a box!”

Molly kept her eyes on the pellet. I tried to get her to look at me as I said quietly,

“Molly, I want you to come with me now. Let’s go for a ride honey.”

I needed to get her out of here.

Molly didn’t budge, still poking around at the mass, her eyes glassy and unfocused. Neil stepped behind her chair, his voice loud.

“You’re not taking my daughter any where! You stay right where you are, Molly! Don’t think you can take her either! Oh no! This is going to be the mother of all fights, so get ready! You will lose everything.”

“Okay, Neil. I get it. Can you please stop this?”

“In a box, do you hear? In a box! That’s the only way I’m leaving!” he said, his teeth bared like an animal.

He went back out on the porch, slamming the door hard behind him. I murmured to Molly in as comforting a tone as I could muster,

“It’s okay, honey, it’s okay.”

Molly’s eyes never left the tiny pile of fur and bones on the table in front of her.


It wasn’t okay. Neil moved all of his things back into the bedroom that we once called ours. When he returned to his post, smoking on the porch, I chose the clothing I needed for the next few days and set myself up on the little bed in the private room. It actually was better there, closer to Molly. With the door open between the two rooms we could whisper to each other. That night after reading to Molly, I climbed into the little bed and tried to lose myself in the pages of my own book, the telephone beside me, just in case.

The next morning, the two of us slipped out of the house quietly, not wanting to wake Neil. That wasn’t difficult – I suspected he had sucked down sleeping pills with his beer. Empty bottles were strewn all over the living room. After dropping Molly at school I went to work, immediately emailing the lawyer a report of the events of the evening. In his response, he urged me to move ahead with getting the divorce papers served. But I just didn’t feel safe. Molly and I might need to leave the house first. Climbing into bed with the phone beside my pillow, I rehearsed finding 911 in the dark. The lawyer suggested we try and stay in our home but agreed we should do whatever was necessary for our safety. But where could we go?

That afternoon, after I picked Molly up from school, I drove with her to the beach. Strangely, I hadn’t heard from Neil all day. Usually he called me at work multiple times, trying to be sweet and then, sometimes only minutes later, abusive. It was windy at the beach. Molly wore only a light sweater and I found an old sweatshirt behind the car seat and pulled over her head, the arms drooping long. We walked down to the water to search the rocky sand for beach treasures, stepping between the shallow puddles left by low tide.

“Mommy, I liked it better when it was just you and me at home. It was easier, wasn’t it? Daddy’s acting really crazy. It’s like he has a devil in him.”

She looked up at me with her big blue eyes as we walked out to the gently pulsing waves, jumping away as the water came perilously close to soaking her shoes.

“Yes, he is and that’s a good way to describe it, sweetie. I’m so sorry Molly. Listen, I need to talk to you about something.”

I guided her away from the water, drawing her down next to me onto the sand, still warm from the heat of the day. Yes, a devil in him, this from my eight-year old girl. What damage was being done to her by this ‘devil’? Molly sat close to me and I put my arm around her little shoulders.

“I know you love Daddy and are concerned that he not think that you don’t love him, but you can’t worry about him. It’s true he’s not well right now but he’s the only one who can make him better – not you. You need to take care of you. And let me do that too. So I need you to do something for me: the next time I say to you that we need to leave, I don’t care what’s going on, you need to come with me, okay? Immediately. I need you to do what I say right away. Please Molly, this is really important. I’m the one who is going to keep you safe. You can’t worry about being nice to Daddy when he is acting like he has been, okay? Do you get that?”

Molly stared out to the horizon, tossing rocks at the water as she listened to me. She nodded her head.

“I didn’t know what to do yesterday. I mean I didn’t want to make him feel bad. And then, I just couldn’t move. It was like I was stuck to the chair.”

“I know, honey, really I do. Don’t feel bad about yesterday – I understand how you felt and you did absolutely nothing wrong. It’s just in the future, please, if something like that ever happens again, we will go somewhere safe until we know that he’s calmed down. You are right, it’s like a devil is in him – not Daddy.”

The sun dropped low on the horizon, the wind picked up rippling across the water. Slowly, we made our way back to the car, Molly’s warm hand in mine.

“I love you, Molly.”

“I love you more.”

“No. I love you more!”

We climbed into the car for the short drive home.

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Chapter 27

At home in Connecticut, I woke to bird song, the light lingered longer and brave crocuses pushed through the rotting layers of the seasons. Usually I couldn’t wait for winter to be over but this year I felt only dread: Neil’s visit in April loomed ahead. Without him in the house our days unfolded peacefully. He still made manic phone calls, ranting and weeping until I unplugged the phone at night. Molly said she missed her Dad but not the crazy. This taste of what our lives could be like all the time, cemented my decision to serve him with divorce papers while he was here.

I made an appointment to meet with a lawyer who wouldn’t break my limited bank. His office was a storefront space in a seedy looking strip mall and smelled of mildew. I chitchatted with the secretary then pretended to read celebrity gossip in the outdated magazines. Easy-listening piped-in love songs provided the odd soundtrack to my anxiety and sweat trickled down my back. An office door opened and the lawyer, a slight man with battleship gray hair and thick glasses, ushered me into his cluttered office.

“So what can I do for you?” he asked.

“I want a divorce. I need to have full custody of my daughter and I want to keep the house. He has a serious drug addiction and I just can’t battle it any longer,” I blurted out my laundry list, barely taking a breath. I sat on the edge of the sticky vinyl chair.

“Well, the thing is, Connecticut is no fault divorce,” he said.

“What does that mean?”

“In some states, the court will take into consideration who is at fault in making their decisions. In Connecticut, that’s not the case.”

“So you’re saying there’s no guarantee I’ll keep my home or that my daughter will be safe? Even though he barely contributes anything and in fact, took money from me?”

“Well, let’s just say the scenario was you were a stay-at-home mom, you would still be entitled to receive half the house. That’s the flip side of this.”

“Are you saying that somehow being a stay-at-home mother is comparable to being a drug addict? That I could end up paying him? He was not taking care of his daughter – he was taking care of his habit. What about his drug addiction? Isn’t this taken into consideration?” My voice was cracking. I swallowed hard. I refused to cry here in this office. I needed to take care of business.

“Has he been arrested? Are there any legal records of this? If not, it’s hard to prove. It ends up being ‘he said, she said’.”

I needed a meaner guy. This lawyer may be a bargain but I didn’t want a by-the-books lawyer, I needed someone to go for the jugular. A few years ago, I’d hosted just such a lawyer for a book signing. I knew he had a reputation for winning his cases, especially custody issues. I made an appointment and a few days later, was sitting at a sleek hardwood table in an office so cool I wished I’d brought a sweater. Large woven tapestries hung on the office walls.

“So what’s going on?” he asked.

I repeated what felt like my shameful script. “My husband has a drug problem and I just can’t do it anymore. I don’t want to lose my house and, at least for now, and until I know he’s clean, I want to have full custody of my daughter.”

Sitting back in his chair, arms akimbo behind his head, he listened to me for a few more minutes before springing forward and standing up. The cold office air was perfumed with his cologne.

“No problem. You’ll get your house and you’ll have custody of your daughter. I need you to write me a timeline of events with whatever details you can. And your financial records – you need to have those in order – everything you paid for in your marriage, all your bank records. You can email this to me. I’ll need a $3000 retainer – if you can give that to me now, great, otherwise, just pop a check in the mail.”

“Wow. You’re sure? I mean you’re so confident.” I told him about my meeting with the other lawyer and he waved his hand dismissively.

“Don’t worry, with me, you’ll keep your house and your daughter.”

My heart in my throat, I took out my checkbook. Three thousand dollars would almost decimate my savings.

“So there are a few ways to do this. Since he’s not in the country, if you want to serve him in England, we’d have to track down a constable there. Or you could do it when he’s here.”

“I think we should probably do it when he is here, although I dread his reaction. He’s been pretty unstable.”

“Keep a record of everything and email me.”

I felt like I just hired a guard dog to protect me – this guy was not going to let anything get by him. But he would cost me. Yes, I would be able to keep my house — if anything was left after paying him.

The important thing was to protect Molly. I didn’t doubt that Neil loved his daughter more than anything in the world – as much as he was capable of in his white haze. I hoped he would get himself together and stay in his daughter’s life but I would not count on that happening. I couldn’t let him put her in jeopardy any longer or to use her as a weapon against me. When I thought of him sending her up to me in England to try and get me to share the bed, my blood still boiled. He had lost his sense of right and wrong even when it came to his little girl. I would do whatever it took to reclaim Molly’s childhood. Neil had become my enemy and I would fight to win.


I sifted through the paper history of my marriage stored in plastic bins at the back of my closet, examining years of bank statements. Accounts in his name were rarely worth more than a few hundred dollars and overdraft charges quickly outweighed the balance. Withdrawals from my bank account, $500 at a time from my bank in New York, appeared as far back as nine years ago. How had I missed this? I packed all the statements back into the plastic bins ready to bring to a neighbor’s house for storage until I needed them. I didn’t put it past him to destroy my evidence and wanted them out of the house.


Neil was scheduled to arrive on the first day of Molly’s spring vacation but we did not know his arrival time. Strangely, he had not phoned for days. Molly chewed her nails as I set up a bed for him in the little room adjoining hers. In the past, I retreated into this little alcove to escape Neil – but I was no longer in retreat – he could stay there.

“Please don’t fight with Daddy, Mom,” she said.

“I promise you honey, I don’t want to fight. I’ll do my best not to argue. Anyway, I’ll be working a lot and you guys can hang out together.” I tried to sound like I thought that meant fun.


Now that I knew his license had been suspended, he would not be driving my car. Stuck at home, he and Molly would probably spend the week watching too much television. I would find refuge at work, putting a bright face on for the customers, venting to my friends in the back room. They’d been following this drama for years and were supportive, especially now I’d committed to ending it.


Late in the afternoon, I was poking around the garden at the back of the house, searching for Lily of the Valley blooms while our Cairn terrier, Tetley sniffed around the hedge. A car door slammed and the dog took off, tail wagging towards the driveway. Of course Neil had splurged on a taxi again. I waited to hear a squeal from Molly – a “Daddy’s here!” but instead, her head appeared out the back door looking for me. Was she also afraid to face him alone?

“Mommy! Mom, Come on!” She took my hand tugging me towards the front of the house. Through the glass door of the sun porch, I watched him bend to pick up his bags. His hair looked grayer than the last time I saw him. Not even gray – white, like an old man’s. As we came towards him, he glanced up nervously. His eyes were sunken and he’d lost too much weight. Molly stepped back towards me until he said, “Hello sausage. You’ve gotten so big.”

She went to him and hugged him around the waist. He held his bags close, barely returning Molly’s hug as he stood there in the driveway. Finally I said, “Let me take something.”
Neither of us made a move to embrace or even air-kiss.

“No.” He pulled back from me as I reached for one of his bags. “Maybe I should go to a hotel.”

Yes you should! I thought, and as if she could hear my silent wish, Molly looked at me in alarm and took her father’s arm.

“No, Daddy! Come on, come in the house.”

“I’ll put the kettle on. I bet you’d like a cup of tea,” I offered.

In the early days of our romance, Neil tipped me off about how to make peace: the offer of a cup of tea can defuse any conflict. He nodded his acceptance.

“I’ll just put my stuff here for now.” He lifted his bags off the drive and set them in the corner of the breezeway then walked back outside and around to the front of the house to sit on the porch. He did not seem to want to go in the house. His hand trembled as he took out a cigarette and lit it.

“Are you hungry? Would you like a sandwich or something?”

“No, I’m fine. Just a cup of tea.”

Molly, now with Tetley in her arms, followed him to the front porch while I went to make the tea. My teeth chattered, and the kettle shook as I filled it with water. I rinsed the teapot, got two cups, put just enough milk in the bottom. Neil taught me to make tea the English way but he never thought I got it quite right. For heaven’s sake, I always thought, it’s just putting tea bags in a pot! What can you possibly do wrong? But it was true – he made a better cup of tea. Molly came running into the kitchen with tears in her eyes.

“Mommy! Go talk to Daddy! His whole body is shaking and he says he is going to go back to the airport, get on a plane and go to England and never come back! He’s sitting there crying. Mommy – go talk to him, please!” she pleaded.

The craziness had begun. I walked through the living room and stepped out on the porch but felt my body still in the kitchen. I wanted to be at least that far from him. I didn’t want to see him, didn’t want him here, I wanted him gone. Trembling, tears streamed down his face, his cigarette burned perilously close to his fingertips.

“I can’t do this. I can’t do this. I should go. I’ll go back to England,” he said, not looking at me.

“I thought you came here to see Molly? And now you’re upsetting her. Please try to pull yourself together at least for her sake.”

In fact, I wanted him to turn around and go right back to where he came from. I knew it was over and looking at him, I thought, he knows it too. If only we could skip this part. What comes next is not going to be pretty and chances were, Molly would witness it all.

“Don’t be silly. You are welcome to stay here. I set up a bed for you. Molly has been excited about spending this time with you.”

“Yeah – what about you though? You hate me.” He looked at me, his eyes hopefully searching mine. I looked away.

“Neil, I don’t hate you. Please, just have a cup of tea now and calm down.”

Molly was listening from behind the screen door and came out tentatively walking towards Neil.

“You’re not going to go, are you Daddy?”

He flicked his cigarette into the bushes and reached out for her. Molly let herself be embraced and implored,

“Please stop crying now, ok?”

I went back to the kitchen to finish making the cups of tea that would not make everything all right. It was going to be a long two weeks








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Chapter 26

England – February 2004

February in England is surprisingly less dreary than Connecticut. During the two-hour drive from the airport to the West Midlands, I marveled at the green fields bordered by daffodils shimmering in the odd flash of sun. We would not be seeing these sunny flowers in Connecticut for many more weeks. The warmth of the morning burned off the fog and a soft light glistened over the landscape. Molly’s nose was pressed against the window with excitement while Neil pointed out landmarks, sheep and cows. He seemed shy as if we were distant relatives come to visit as he suggested plans for the day. I made listening noises, keeping my jet-lagged gaze on the fields, crisscrossed by stonewalls and hedgerows.

“I’ll take you back to my flat first. It’s not much, but I think you’ll like it. You can have a kip first and take a nice, hot bath. And then we can go over and visit your sisters and meet your new little nephew – would you like that? You haven’t really been around babies have you sausage? And I thought we’d go to the pub tonight for dinner.”

“That sounds good,” I answered.

“We’ll wait tomorrow to see my mum – the old bag,” he said with tenderness, laughing at his own insult.

“Everyone is excited to see you. Later on this week we’re going to do a nice dinner at the pub with all of the family. That is, if you want to…”

“Sure. Moll should meet all her relatives, right sweetie? Makes up for what she doesn’t have from my side of the family,” I said, turning back to at her with a smile. She ignored me.


My mother died when Molly was two. Through much of my adult life I’d kept my distance both physically and emotionally from her, frustrated by her excessive drinking. I avoided what often turned into maudlin phone conversations weeping about a friend’s real or imagined tragedy, by only calling her in the morning or early afternoon. Our relationship changed when we returned to the States with 1 year-old Molly. She fell in love with her only grandchild. I welcomed this warmer dimension in our relationship and looked forward to living close by for the first time. When she was diagnosed with lung cancer less than a year later, I felt cheated. My emotionally icy father and his wife migrated to a warmer state where he succumbed a few years later from Lewy-Body Dementia without any real connection ever materializing. None of my siblings ever had children so Molly had no cousins in the States. She couldn’t wait to romp around with a bunch of English relatives her age. At least she’d be busy here.


We pulled into a narrow street of neat, stucco row houses, stopping at the only one with a garden and a gate in front.

“Here we are!” Neil announced proudly.

We climbed out of the car, dragging our bags and coats out of the trunk. I pictured myself climbing into bed for a nap, but Molly was raring to go. Neil read my mind.

“I’ll make you a cup of tea and you can have a sleep. I’ll take Molly down to the pub and she can see her uncle and anyone else who is there. And maybe we can stop and get you a sweetie while we’re at it, would you like that poppit? English candy?”

Molly nodded vigorously.

We followed Neil into the narrow house, charming and inviting with pillows on the settee and flowers on the mantel. Just beyond this front living room were steep stairs leading to the bedrooms. As promised, he delivered me to a bright room looking out over a small, already-green patch of garden.

“This can be your room,” he said. I felt him watching me as I put my stuff on the beautifully made up bed.

“Thanks. It’s a lovely room.”

I pretended to search through my bag rather than note what I imagined would be his disappointment that I didn’t argue that the room was ours, not mine.

“I’ll go make your tea while you get settled.”

He disappeared down the stairs with Molly, on her second wind, rattling on behind him. A few minutes later he delivered tea and a few biscuits. “We’re going now. Everyone’s anxious to see Mollster.”

He looked nervous and made no attempt to embrace me.

“Yeah. Say hi. I’ll see them later.” I fake-smiled from across the room.

When I heard the front door shut, I climbed under the quilt and burrowed into the pillows. The bedding smelled of laundry detergent mixed with the familiar scent of Neil. Closing my eyes, I wished I could stay hidden here for the rest of the week. Beyond jet lag, I was exhausted by the part of cordial spouse. I needed to get through the week without fighting, without any emotional scenes. He had promised to do the same, although his promises were worthless. And he was so jittery: Using? Withdrawing? I needed to stop speculating, to stop asking that question. There was nothing I could do.

I woke a few hours later and lay in bed looking around the room, out at the garden. On the wall was one of the only paintings I’d done in years: our house in a snowstorm. I stared at the smudgy image of our little cape wishing myself there in front of the fireplace with the dog on my lap and Molly beside me. I sat up in bed and listened carefully for voices and heard none. I was still alone. Descending carefully down the steep stairs, I went into the kitchen and filled the kettle. How strange to be a visitor in my husband’s home – the man that up until a few months ago, I’d intimately shared space with for a decade. Resisting my urge to search the flat, I curled up on the couch, the mug warming my hands. If only I could fast-forward the days.


Molly reveled in being the center of attention of her newly discovered relatives. Older, doting cousins and younger playmates were all eager to spend time with their American cousin. Neil continued to be on his best behavior, acting the wonderful host. I disappeared up to bed by myself each night, leaving Molly and Neil to watch movies. He looked pained as I airily said goodnight before quickly retreating up the stairs alone. I tried not to pay attention. I could not share a bed with him.

Yet there were moments that reminded me why I’d fallen for Neil almost a decade ago as he showed us around, engaging and charming strangers everywhere we went, sharing his glee with new discoveries, entertaining us with anecdotes about old haunts. Watching him striding ahead with his daughter in tow, conjured countless trips together when we believed the world was ours. This is the man I fell in love with. I still wanted this man who, at least superficially, was taking care of us, who knew the best way and brought us there with adventure, good humor and warmth. Always generous, he paid for everything as if he’d all of a sudden come into money. I didn’t argue although I knew it was a charade: at his flat I’d found letters from his landlord demanding back-rent. Someone from a bank left messages with me saying it was urgent Neil returned the call. Collections were more polite in England, but the intent was unmistakable. I didn’t know what he was up to, where he had gotten the money he spent on us, and I didn’t ask. As we played a family of tourists, I tried to enjoy the moment, pretending again, for Molly’s sake. But clearly he had not changed; he was digging himself into another mess.


A bottle of anti-depressants sat on a shelf above the kitchen sink. This was his place and in trying to detach from him and his demons, I did not snoop for other substances. Lucy said she had put the word out on the streets of this small town asking nobody to sell him anything. She believed he was clean. He and I circled each other warily, Neil solicitous and me, the perfect guest. I did laundry and dishes, my clenched-jaw-smile in place. We spent the days visiting Molly’s sisters and their kids and lived the typical life of this West Midlands town, meeting up with relatives for lunch and sometimes dinner at the pub and drinking endless cups of tea on the settee while watching ‘Coronation Street’ and ‘East Enders’ and other favorite English soap opera reruns. I admired the Neil who left so many years ago to find a world and challenge beyond this world. What a waste that cocaine destroyed his dreams, our dreams.

 Molly came in to the bedroom where I lay reading. Only two more nights to go.

“Mommy, Daddy is downstairs crying. Can’t he sleep here with you?”

“Please, Mommy. Can Daddy sleep here with you? He’s crying, Mommy.” Molly repeated, her big eyes imploring me to do something.

“Honey, please don’t do this… I’ll go talk to Daddy. You get into bed now and I’ll come up and kiss you goodnight.” I took her hand and led her into the other bedroom that Neil imagined as Molly’s. One of his adult nephews assigned by the family to watch over him, used this room. Neil hadn’t bothered to clean it up. The floor was strewn with clothing and the odd girlie magazine.

“Please Mommy, go to Daddy,” she pleaded.

“I’ll go talk to him. You know this isn’t simple, right? I can’t just fix this.”

I knew she knew – we were on this roller coaster together, her and I. And I needed to show her there was a way off. From a young age, Molly’s empathy was off-the-charts, rushing to comfort anyone crying. When we argued, she conceded the minute my eyes welled, embracing me before any tears could fall. It must horrify her to see her father weep and I knew, he knew the best way to get to me was through her.

I pulled the quilt up to Molly’s chin and braced myself as I walked sideways down the treacherous stairs lit by the glow of the muted television. Neil lay with his face in a pillow, muffling the sobs shuddering his body. I knelt beside him and put my hand on his back, watching myself as if it was someone else touching him. I knew Molly was straining to hear us from upstairs so I needed to do this, to reach out to him, to try and give him comfort – for her. I wanted to run back upstairs and put my head under a pillow and sleep. Instead, I whispered sharply, “Neil! Please stop crying. Please. I’m doing everything I can. Please try and stop crying, it’s really upsetting Molly.”

He took a few breaths and looked up at me, his face streaked with tears.

“It’s hopeless, isn’t it? You’ll never love me again!”

We had been doing so well avoiding any scenes, I didn’t want one now. I took a deep breath and for a change, thought carefully before lying,

“Nothing is ever hopeless, Neil. We’re here, aren’t we? You just need to do your thing. We’re always going to be in your life, it’s going to take time. I’m sorry but there’s just been a lot of damage done. I just can’t share a bed with you right now. It’s too complicated…” my voice trailed off.

“I know. I’ve lost you. I’ve fucked up and I’ve lost you.”

“Neil, come on.”

He reached up and took my hand, clutching it to his chest.

“Please, for Molly’s sake, please stop crying. Listen, I’ll stay down here on this other couch tonight and we’ll watch television together, ok?” I offered.

“I’ll take what I can get,” he said, his despondency cutting.

Molly appeared from around the corner and climbed onto the couch between us. Neil let go of my hand and shifted over so she could scoot in beside him.

“I’m sorry I was upset, honey. Daddy’s better now. I love you sausage,” Neil said.

“I love you too Daddy.” Molly looked at me expectantly as she said this. It was my turn. I said nothing. I wouldn’t go that far. Mustering a cheerful voice I said,

“All right! What’s on television anyway?” I searched the floor for the controls and took my spot on the opposite couch, numb.


The next day Neil hosted a family get-together at his brother’s pub. I made small talk, continuing the charade that everything was fine. Only the girls knew my side of what was going on between us. This was Neil’s world and I didn’t want to meddle with it. They had their own histories. My story was not necessary for them to know, they just needed to be there for him. And Molly. Watching her dancing around the pub with the other children, I knew I was right to make the trip. Molly’s English family would definitely love her and take care of her any time she visited. Neil’s family was huge – brothers, sister, their offspring, aunts, uncles and cousins galore. While I hated the idea of sending Molly off for a month to be with her dad, at least now I would picture where she was.

Neil arranged for Molly to drive to the airport with her sisters while he and I drove alone.

“Could you see yourself living here?” Neil asked.

“Oh, I don’t know. Please don’t ask me that now. It’s lovely, there’s no doubt, but it’s not about the place… you know that.”

In another time not even so long ago, I would have been completely seduced by the green fields we were passing. I would have embraced the chance to live on one of these country lanes. And to be with Neil, growing old together and seizing all our imagined adventures. But those days were done. He frightened me now. My dream was simply to stay in the little house in my Connecticut suburb and be boring. Boring sounded wonderful.

“I want to feel safe, secure and supported. That’s all I want anymore,” I said.

And I’ve finally gotten it through my dense skull that I’ll never, ever have that with you, I thought to myself.

“I am working on becoming that man for you again. For me! I really am. You have to believe me!” he said as if reading from a script.

“Good, Neil. I am really glad about that”, I answered as if reading from mine. But I thought: Believe you? I can never believe anything you ever tell me again. During the week I answered phone calls from the bank and seen collection letters fall through the mail slot each morning. I knew they were also piling up in our mailbox at home. He had always been like this, hadn’t he? Neil needed to live on the edge of someone else’s crisis – the bigger the better – like the war in Bosnia where he channeled his ‘ducking and diving’ nature into helping people rather than conning them. I still completely believed his heart to be good and more generous than most — but his addiction and the dense web of lies and deception he created in his world had overwhelmed his love for Molly and me. I no longer believed there would ever be enough room in Neil’s troubled heart and mind for us. I had given up on a miracle.

We pulled into Heathrow airport and met up with Molly as planned. I was glad for the time bonding with her sisters who both reassured me they would always look after Molly when she visited. We neared the departure area and I felt giddy, anticipating an end to the oppressive feelings of the week, it was all I could do not to break into a run to the gate. Airport security was tight and Neil could go no further. He hugged Molly, repeatedly kissing her face then turned to me, grabbed my arms and planted a kiss on my lips and said forcefully, “I love you!”

“Yeah. Thanks for everything. We better get going!”

Grateful to the people trying to get by us with their luggage, I pulled away from Neil. He continued to call after us as we passed through the automatic doors to the security gates and into departures,

“I love you! I love you both!”

“I love you too, Daddy!” Molly blew kisses back to his. I waved again and hurried through the security barriers out of sight, the doors shut behind us.


Buckling into my seat, I took a deep breath and felt all my muscles relax. We made it. We were going home. But Molly was agitated.

“I don’t want to leave Daddy! I want to stay here with him! I want to get off the plane and stay here – I don’t want to go with you!”

Not sure if my obedient daughter might bolt off the plane, I held her wrist and said,

“I know it’s hard to say goodbye, but Daddy will be coming for a visit in April and you can come back here in the summer and other times as well.”

She glared at me, twisting out of my grip. I wanted to wrap my arms around say: I’m the one you are safe with me. It’s me that looks after you and loves you more than anything. I’m sorry you have a father that can’t do that for you. I’m sorry he needs more attention from you than he can give you — even though you are only eight. I’m sorry he manipulates and uses you. I’m sorry I have to protect you from him.

Instead, I spoke to her gently,

“Why don’t you write Daddy a letter and tell him how you are feeling now and we can mail it to him as soon as we get back? I know he’ll want to hear how you are feeling.”

I sounded like a fucking television shrink. Molly was ignoring me anyway, now fussing with the controls to her screen. The crisis was past. The airplane’s engines kicked-in and the noise and tension of departure filled the plane.


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Chapter 25


“Mommy? Do you still love Daddy?”

I rolled an omelet onto Molly’s favorite plate and placed it on the kitchen table where she sat doing homework. I helped her push her papers aside before sitting next to her with a salad. Determined to make up for all of the lies in our life by always telling her the truth, I struggled to answer as I speared a tomato. I knew she wanted a one-word answer, and hoped it to be yes. I didn’t know what to say. I often asked myself the same question these days. Did I still love this man whose addiction wreaked havoc in our lives? I imagined Molly thought if I answered ‘yes’ to her question, everything would be fine, but I couldn’t. Everything wasn’t going to be fine – not yet, maybe never.

“I feel so many things about Daddy right now Molly. Yes, I love him. But honey, I don’t want life to be crazy anymore.”

Molly accepted my answer asking, “Does this have cheese in it?” my cue to stop talking.

With Neil gone, a heavy mantle of worry seemed to lift from the house. Days became predictable. Only his phone calls shattered our peace. The thrill of returning ‘home’, (as he still called England) of seeing friends and family, seemed to last only a week. He grew more agitated as I quizzed him. “What about rehab? You’re going to do rehab, right?” I asked.

“Honestly, we don’t have any rehab places in the Midlands. There aren’t even regular AA meetings here and I really miss them. But I’m seeing my GP regularly,” he said as if that were enough. Then he changed the subject.

“There are so many beautiful little villages around here. There’s one I went to yesterday that has a lovely school Molly could even walk to… and we’re so close to Europe. Remember how we used to love our trips?”

He launched into the perfect scenario he’d concocted for us – we just needed to step into our assigned spots.

“Look, you wouldn’t even have to work. You could paint and write,” he offered me my favorite fantasy. I wouldn’t bite. The phone felt like it was turning cold in my hand as he described our imagined life. I knew enough of the lingo of addiction and recovery by now to recognize this ‘geographic’. Rather than deal with his issues, he acted like moving to England was solution enough. In fact, he was back where his problems began.


A week later, news of Neil’s two dodgy friends christened by Molly (along with her father) the three stooges, being arrested was splashed across the front-page of our local paper. My stomach soured remembering the afternoon I left Molly with these guys in my house. But I couldn’t help feeling vindicated as I reported this close call to Neil.

“You should consider yourself lucky to be there, rather than in jail with your buddies. According to the paper, the FBI has been watching them for months so I’m sure they know who you are too. Listen Neil, since you might easily have been in jail, why not think of this as an opportunity at real freedom, and do the necessary work?”

“I’m getting it sorted! Why won’t you believe me? And it’s bloody hard, I can tell you,” he said.

News of the arrest seemed to calm him for about a week but his moods were still erratic. He often called to yell at me, his fury stoked by drink and who knows what else.

You – you’ve lost nothing! I’ve lost everything! I’m the one over here struggling and you have Molly and the house and I haven’t a pot to piss in! You still have everything!

I held the phone away from my ear as he screamed. Sometimes I tried reasoning with him but when Molly was not home, I yelled my rage right back across the Atlantic.

“Yes I did lose, Neil. I’ve lost a lot! I’ve lost time — all those years when I should have been enjoying our beautiful daughter instead of stressing about you! Don’t you even think about that? What you’ve missed? Not to mention all the money! God, I can’t even think about that without feeling sick to my stomach. But most of all, it’s the time, Neil. It’s all the fucking wasted time, all of our dreams. You shattered them so don’t even suggest it was my fault!”

I stood in the living room screaming at the top of my lungs. The other end of the line grew quiet.

“Listen,” I lowered my voice, “You have to understand: we were on a sinking boat together – the three of us. It finally dawned on me that if Molly and I were going to survive, she and I better get out of the boat. Because the fact is, you never cared if we all drowned – you weren’t going to save us because you were sinking it. I did lose something, Neil: I lost you. I lost my husband.”

Was he listening?

“And I still hope you can get yourself out of that sinking ship, that you can save yourself. But let’s be clear: you did this, not me. And to hear you go on at me, it’s clear you still don’t own your own shit! I have news for you: this is not my fault!”

He’d hung up.


Molly was not spared the drama or manipulation. One evening she got off the phone in tears, “Daddy was crying! He wants to come home but says you won’t let him!”

“No honey, he can’t. Not yet. He’s not ready and I’m not ready.”

“When is he going to be ready?”

“That’s a good question. I really wish I knew the answer.”

After these agitated phone calls, anger and sadness reverberated through the house for hours. Some nights he called again and again making terrible threats one minute and then calling back a half hour later, weeping and begging for my forgiveness.


I worked hard to remain detached reminding myself there was nothing I could do for him, no threat or trick or drama I could concoct so he would finally experience his defining moment, his bottom. Without him in the house such detachment became easier. Only his calls drew me back onto the track of anxiety worn into my psyche over the years so I began to let the answering machine pick up, lifting the receiver only if he sounded calm and sane, otherwise leaving him to rant on tape.

Life without the worry and daily fallout from Neil’s addiction was a revelation. I connected with neighbors and made new friends. Single parenting no longer seemed so daunting as I realized the love and support available to me. When school was cancelled due to winter snowstorms the phone rang with offers from neighbors inviting Molly to stay with them if I needed to go to work. We became particularly close to two families a short walk from our house. Molly would hang out with their children while I shared wine, meals and laughs with Christine and Amina. I felt less alone.

I had long been the sole provider plus, unknowingly, supported Neil’s addiction so why did I doubt I could support just us? The shrink with the bed in his office was right: I had acted like a mother to him, picking up the shattered pieces left after he’d barreled on to feed his habit. No more. The economics felt fragile but I would figure it out, just as I always had. Money could no longer be one of my excuses for inaction.


Reluctantly, I agreed Neil could spend Christmas with us. Through the years, he’d always rally to decorate the house, cook an elaborate, roasted meal and somehow manage to buy a ridiculous number of gifts I knew we couldn’t afford while I scrounged for bargains so house bills would still get paid. I dreaded disrupting our serenity but Molly was excited to have her daddy home for the holiday. Grouchy from retail madness, I was no match for his spirit. I would be glad this year for the excuse of the crazy shopping season for working long hours – and avoiding him.


A taxi pulled into the driveway and my jaw set into a familiar clench. I watched from the house as he got out of the car. He looked healthy, like he’d gained weight since September. Molly rushed out of the house into his outstretched arms. I watched from the window as he lifted her up in the air and covered her with kisses. As they came through the doorway we hugged and I gave him a quick peck and tasted tobacco. I asked him about his family and life in England and he launched into his vision of our life together living in a little village in the West Midlands. I tried not to pay attention. The old fantasy that he might actually get his life together and be able to support both himself and his family had not vanished from my mind. Only with this story, the one he made up about our potential life in England, did it seem we had any possible future.

With all of his bridges burned in the States, his credit shot and friendships strained, Neil agreed that England would give him a chance to start fresh and get on his feet again. He had been working in his brother’s pub and seemed excited by the opportunity to help make the business successful.

The days passed without incident. The house sparkled with lights, the tree too big for our little house, was gorgeous. Molly cuddled up on the couch with him watching re-runs of holiday movies while a blazing fire filled the room with warmth. It looked idyllic. I stayed away, working as much as possible. We were civil, even sharing the bed although it was as if an invisible wall neither of us breeched ran down the center of the mattress. I woke often in the night, hovering on the edge, my fists and jaw clamped tight.

I left early for work and when I came home Neil asked to borrow the car so he could go to AA meetings. I furtively cleared the mileage meter and the next day saw that he’d put more than forty miles on the car. AA meetings were less than 5 miles away. I resumed my searches between cracks in the cushions and boxes in the basement, scanning the floor for white powder. I found nothing.

On his best behavior, he kept almost normal hours and was good-natured, even funny. He cleaned the house, cooked the meals and was affectionate and attentive to Molly. It was helpful having the extra set of hands and Molly was getting long overdue time with her father. I trusted none of it. I counted the days until his departure. Christmas morning, he showered Molly with presents brought from England and gave me a ring set with three stones saying they represented our family and his love for us. The weight of it on my finger felt uncomfortable.


We were upstairs in the bedroom putting away laundry when he asked me, “Can I borrow $300?”

“No! What the fuck? I don’t believe you! You haven’t given us any money and I’m scraping by here to keep everything together and you’re asking me for $300? No, I can’t give you $300!”

I yanked a handful of clothes out of the basket, throwing his into a separate pile for him to deal with. I folded Molly’s little shirts, pants and pajamas touching the soft fabric to my nose, the combination of her sweet scent and laundry detergent calming me.

“All right. All right, that’s fine.”

He picked up a gray, once white t-shirt and folding it, continued, changing the subject.

“So you’ll both come to England during Molly’s February break, right?”

He grabbed his socks and underwear with one hand and put them into the bureau drawer.

“Yeah,” I answered unenthusiastically.

“I promise you’ll have a great time. I have some dosh coming to me next month so I’ll send you plane tickets. You’ll see for yourself how our life would be so much better there. You’ll love it!”

I listened, my pulse racing.

“What? Don’t you want to come over?” he asked in response to my silence.

“Of course I do. But I want you to get your life together, Neil. That’s what’s important to me. That you are clean and can pay your bills.”

“I am clean! I swear on Molly’s life, I’m clean! And I am going to take care of you both. You watch – I’ve got the pub now and I can always get a job driving.”

I lifted Molly’s pile of clothing off the bed.

“I need to get dinner started.”

“I’ll do it. How about some eggs and chips?”

“Fine. I’ll get Molly in the bath before dinner.”


Neil had befriended a taxi driver during his stint at the train station and had arranged for this friend to drive him back to the airport. I thought this extravagant – the airport shuttle bus would be cheaper – but I figured his friend must have given him a good deal. On the day Neil left, we hugged in the driveway as the driver put his suitcase into the trunk of the cab.

“I’ll see you both in February – only 6 weeks away. I love you!”

He leaned out of the window blowing kisses and waving at us as long as the car was in sight of the house. Molly and I went inside.

“I don’t want Daddy to go! Why can’t he stay, Mommy?”

“I know hon, it’s hard to say goodbye. But we’ll go to England and see him during your February break. That’ll be fun, seeing your sisters and all those cousins.”

The week had gone better than I imagined. I kept my cool and he stayed calm. There were no scenes. Anyone peering in the window would think us the model family. And I couldn’t quite let go of the hope that things might work out in the end. I believed he loved us. As much as was possible for him, he really loved us. Molly and I went back into the house now strangely empty without Neil’s energy. But as I pushed the door closed behind us, I breathed a sigh of relief.

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Chapter 24


Getting into a residential rehab program is not like booking a hotel. I wanted him to pack up and go immediately but first space needs to be available and insurance coverage confirmed. But Neil approached finding a program as if he were planning a holiday, even suggesting a Florida location touting resort-like grounds and delicious food. While putting distance between us appealed to me, my insurance covered only treatment, not airfare. Nearly two weeks passed before we managed to find an opening at a place in a neighboring town that was suitably posh for Neil’s taste – he refused the state-run option in the a severely depressed city less than 10 miles away. On check-in day, I arranged for Molly to go to a friend’s house after school and left the store early to drive him.

Wearing a blazer, silk cravat tucked into the neck of a blue pin-stripe shirt still crisp from the cleaners, he looked like an English gentleman off for the weekend instead of a penniless, strung-out cokehead. After sliding a small duffel bag onto the back seat, Neil got into the car, his lips sealed in a grim line. I’d watched him pack the small suitcase until it bulged with clothing, a collection of Brit-comedy videos, framed photos of Molly and me and a leather-bound copy of the collected works of Shakespeare. I never saw him crack the massive tome, although he knew Hamlet’s famous soliloquy and other snippets of plays by heart from his days of working in film. The book like his costume, were purely for effect.

Within 20 minutes we arrived at a campus-like setting with New England-y buildings and lush lawns. Neil lit up a cigarette as we walked towards the registration office, the flame quivering in his shaking hand. Watching his back, I half thought he might bolt and take off into the woodsy streets we just drove on, away from this place. In the office we were instructed to wait. We sat for what seemed hours in a formal reception room with thick carpeting, overstuffed furniture and a loudly ticking grandfather clock. A mother and father sat poker faced with a complaining teenage daughter who seemed to have been there before. In the corner, a woman who looked about fifty, sat by herself. We all spoke in hushed tones as if the registration area were a library. I opened my book and read the same sentence over and over. Following any story but ours was impossible. Neil kept stepping outside for a cigarette and I stared at the door until he returned, sure he wouldn’t. Finally his name was called and he disappeared into an office. His admittance interview took about 30 minutes. He came out agitated.

“I don’t know if I can go through with this. I hate these places! I can’t even have my videos – like a bloody prison. I never told you about when I was a kid and they put me away for a few weeks, did I? They kept me locked up in a room. I just can’t be locked up,” he said, chewing his fingers.

“No, you never told me any of this. Why were you sent away?” Why had he never told me about such a traumatic childhood event? I felt sick at the thought of another secret.

“They said they wanted to do tests. I don’t know. I was only a kid.” He shook his head, irritated. “Anyway, it was fucking horrible. I am warning you, I really can’t be locked up.”

That was all he would tell me. What trauma caused this terrified child in my hulking husband to self-medicate? Over the years, Neil had shared only bits and pieces of his past – mostly the amusing anecdotes that were easy for him to deliver. Less often, he shared sobering stories. His father left when Neil was an infant, running back to Scotland, abandoning Neil’s mother and 4 boys. Overwhelmed, she placed her children in what Neil referred to as ‘a home’, essentially an orphanage where they remained until she married a sweet man who Neil loved dearly because he insisted the boys should be with them. But this snippet of history, of him being sent off to an institution as an older boy, I’d never heard before. I only half believed him. Besides, this was not time to be swayed by conjured images of him as a little boy.

“Oh, Neil, I’m sure it will be fine. Please, you just have to do this. Hey, and maybe you’ll have a chance to read some of that Shakespeare!” At the same time I was trying to muster sympathy and pleading with him, I couldn’t resist throwing in a barb. I’d become such a bitch.

He grunted. He had failed to impress the unsmiling young woman in-take Doctor with his usual charm and suave demeanor. I could see him floundering and sensed he was starting to panic. So was I: he had to go through with this! Nothing was stopping him from walking out of there. I willed him to stay put and I begged him, “Neil, please try and do this. Think of Molly, of us. Please! Remember, this is our last chance to make this work. I can’t do anything more.”

I followed him outside as he went to smoke again.

“Look! It’s nice here,” I motioned toward the lush grounds. “It looks like a college campus. I’m sure it will be fine. You’ll be fine.”

He sucked hard on his cigarette. His forehead pressed into his left hand, his eyes closed. We went back into the waiting room. A heavy woman with stringy hair stood in the middle of the room with a clipboard. She glared at us, apparently irritated at having to repeat her self.

“Everyone who has finished checking in will now be taken by mini-bus to the other side of the campus. You need to say goodbye here,” she barked.

Tears welled up in Neil’s eyes and as we walked out of the building towards the waiting mini-bus, he began weeping. I managed to choke back a sob swelling up from my chest but I could not hold back my tears. Even as I couldn’t wait to be free of him, I felt something inside of me tearing.

“I love you!” Neil said to me.

“I love you too!”

He had to duck his head as he climbed into the bus. He turned and looked back at me and I saw a petrified little boy. I felt a pang, as if I was doing something unforgivable – like leaving my child at the orphanage when I really could take care of him. But I could not take care of him. And he was not my child. This man was my husband and our life had become impossible. There was no other way. All I could do was hope this worked. We waved to each other as the bus pulled off. Back in my car, I lay my head against the steering wheel and sobbed.

“Please let him get better,” I prayed to a god I wasn’t sure I believed in, that I spoke to only in the darkest of times – like now. There was nothing left; every last corner of my being had been spent trying to fix Neil. Finally, I knew what it meant to admit I was powerless.


At Al-Anon meetings, I was never comfortable with the group’s shared prayer, and would remain silent or slip out of the room rather than participate in the recitation of ‘Our Father’. Too loaded with conflicted memories of childhood hours chanting on my knees in the pews of church. But I felt differently about the short little Serenity prayer and repeated it to myself throughout the day: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change and the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference”. I said it now, over and over invoking all of the glimpses of god I ever found in nature, in the remaining remnants of my childhood religion, the spirit of my dead mother and grandfather: I needed all their help.

I drove back carefully navigating the twisting, narrow roads. The leaves were just starting to change, colors lit by the dramatic slants of the setting sun. A new chill in the air made it clear that summer was over. It was time for me to pick Molly up from her friend’s house.

A few hours later Molly sat at the table doing her homework while I cooked dinner by emptying a jar of tomato sauce into a pot and boiling pasta. An unfamiliar sense of peace permeated the house. I knew where Neil was, I knew he was safe and couldn’t be doing drugs. When had I last been sure of that? I put two plates on the table and the phone rang. I let the machine pick up.

“If you don’t come get me from here right now, I swear to God, I am going to break out! I’ll destroy this place! They have me locked up with bars on the windows and I’m in a room with a drunk who keeps throwing up. The smell is disgusting. Please!”

I put my fork down and rushed to the phone before Molly could hear any more. “Neil!” Molly watched me, still eating her spaghetti. Neil continued his rant.

“They went through all of my things, took all of the glass out of my photographs of you and Molly – like I was a fucking prisoner. I’m telling you, I am not going to stay here. I’ll go straight to England, I’ll go anywhere, I just can’t stay here and I swear to you, I’ll break out if I have to.”

I held the phone arm’s length from my head and still heard every word.

“You have to stay! What are you talking about! You know what we agreed.” I said, my voice rising to match his.

How fleeting those moments of serenity had been. Molly now stood beside me and piped in, “Daddy! Just stay there! Otherwise how are you going to get better?”

“Do you hear that? Neil, listen to your eight year old! We need you to do this for us. For you!”

“I can’t. Not in this place. I’m dead serious. You need to come and get me from here tonight. I am leaving, no matter what. I can’t be locked in. I can’t do it. I’ll destroy the place!”

“What do you expect me to do? It’s almost Molly’s bedtime – I’m not bringing her there. Please, this is just insane.”

“No – you haven’t seen insane yet! I’m warning you. You need to come get me out of here. I beg you.”

“All right. All right – but calm down. I’ll get there when I can.”

I hung up the phone. God, I hated him! He had me again. I had to go talk to him. But that’s all I would do: talk. These few hours – only moments – of what my life could be like, was enough of a taste. I refused to live in the chaos of Neil’s addiction. Molly deserved to be raised in peace, even if that meant, I’d be doing it alone.

I arranged for Molly to sleep over at a classmate’s house. She could go to school with them the next day. I would not expose her to any more of her father’s theatrics tonight. She packed her little plaid backpack, happy to have the adventure of a weeknight sleepover. I crawled along the dark roads back to the hospital. Why was I even going? Why didn’t I just let that place deal with him, they must have seen worse cases than Neil? But the way he begged me – he sounded so crazed. I imagined him trying to break out, destroying furniture, being jumped by orderlies like a scene out of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. And as usual, in spite of all the Al-Anon literature I’d been reading, I was trying to fix everything, to head-off disaster before it happened. Or was I heading right towards it, returning on this dark road where hours ago I admired the beauty of the fading light?


The building where Neil was did resemble a prison. It was as if the college campus image we’d been welcomed into was just a front. I peered through a window with glass so thick it appeared smoky. A man with rheumy eyes and deportment of a patient passed by the door. I knocked. Nodding to let me know he saw me, he ducked into a room and returned with a trim, bearded man in his 30s who unlocked the door and stepped outside onto the landing of metal stairs where I stood.

“Hi. Can I help you?” he asked.

“My husband is here and he’s freaking out. He called me hysterically threatening to destroy the place, saying he can’t bear to be locked up.”

Why the hell do they let them make phone calls anyway, I thought.

“Have you ever been to an Al-Anon meeting?” he asked me earnestly. I wanted to hit his handsome bearded face.

Not trying to hide my exasperation, I answered, “Yes, I know, I know! I’ve been going for years. I’m here because he threatened to break out and wreck the place while he was doing it if I didn’t come get him out of here. He’s a big guy and he could probably do it.”

“OK. Come inside and talk to him. But he can’t be released tonight – the offices are closed.”

I was relieved to hear this.

“I’ll call the doctor on duty to see what we can do.”

“Thank you! I appreciate it,” I said, although I felt like I was doing them the favor.

I followed him through the heavy metal door into an institutional hall that reeked of smoke and disinfectant, empty but for a pay phone. The man led me to a room with three shabby vinyl couches and a television. The mud colored carpet had patches that were worn through to the floor. Neil sat on an orange couch looking pale and sick, his face visibly relieved when he saw me. I nodded and sank down into the farthest couch holding my elbows, arms crossed in front of me.

“See what I mean? Look at this place! I can’t take it here, it’s doing my head in!” Neil gestured to the windows with metal gates over them. “This is a bloody prison. And the other people here, they’re drunks and junkies. My room smells like puke from the guy I’m in with – he keeps throwing up and has the shakes. I’m supposed to sit around with them and… I can’t do it! I’m not like them. They searched me when they brought me here and went through all my things. I feel like a fucking prisoner!”

What a snob he was, like somehow he was better than other addicts and his was a classier addiction. Did he think he deserved better accommodations because he didn’t shoot up or smoke crack? No – just snorting for him. And he couldn’t abide alcoholics, their lack of personal hygiene and slovenliness. I couldn’t believe how superior he felt. Getting angrier by the second, I took a deep breath before speaking.

“I don’t know what you expect from me now. I am so exhausted, I feel like just a shell sitting here. I have done everything I can. This is your problem to deal with and I can’t fix it for you. Everything I said still holds. If you leave here, you can’t stay at home with us. I need to protect Molly. And I can’t pay for a hotel for you. I don’t have the money to support you, your habit and accommodation any more. So what are you going to do, live on the streets? Before I will ever consider having you live with us again, you need to figure out how to be a responsible man. I need to see you can take care of yourself – that you can take care of us. Only then can you come home. And you are so, so far away from that right now. You need to end your love affair with this fucking drug once and for all. And at this point, this place seems like your best chance. So please, Neil – you’ve come this far!”

I spit this speech out. Something deep inside of me felt dead.

“I’ll go to England! I’ll get on the first plane there and get myself straightened out. I just can’t be in here cooped up like I’m in prison.”

A man came into the room and introduced himself as Dr. Abdullah, the doctor on duty for the night. Neil pleaded his case, repeating his childhood ordeal.

“They sent me to a home for evaluation and left me alone in a locked room with bars on the windows for days, just like this,” He motioned to the barred windows behind him. “I just can’t take it.”

“I understand. You have a phobia. I understand. Listen, it’s too late to move you to the ‘big house’ right now but what if I can get you into the medical detox unit? The doors are still locked there but it would only be for the night and you would have your own room. In the morning someone will evaluate you and see if you can be moved to where there are no bars on the windows.”

“I’ll do that. OK. Anything to get out of here,” Neil answered, apparently resigning himself to staying.

“Thank you, Doctor.” I was grateful I’d be going home alone. We shook hands and the doctor left the room.

“I’ve got to get going. I have work tomorrow and need to get to bed.” I picked up my purse, turning as Neil moved to embrace me then quickly brushed his cheek with a kiss and left the room, hurrying to get away from there, from him.


That night I remained scrunched up at the edge of the bed looking for sleep. The next morning, I went about my day at work, jumping every time the phone rang. When Neil did call, it was to tell me everything was fine. In the extreme detox unit where he was moved to, he listened to the moaning and screaming sounds of other patients in withdrawal, something he seemed to have no problem with. But he was thrilled to be in a room by himself and snapped back into his usual flirtatious self, teasing the nurses.

“They check on you regularly, like a few times in an hour. One nurse was quite cute. I had her laughing every time she came into the room. They loved me,” he reported.

He needed to be noticed by strangers, wherever he was. It was never enough for him to know Molly and I loved him.

“In the morning, I was interviewed by two more doctors and a social worker. I told her my Rottweiler joke – that it’s easier to get your kid from a Rottweiler than a social worker. Everyone agreed I could go straight to ‘the big house’. It’s much better there. I have a beautiful room and the food is gorgeous. We spend most of the day in groups talking and I’m learning a lot.”

“So you’re staying, right?”

“Of course I am, darling. I’m going to do this, Tricia – I’m doing it for you and for Molly and for me. I don’t want to lose you. I don’t want to lose my family; you’re all I’ve got!”

“Good. Last night you really scared me.”

I could feel it happening already: I began imagining him back with us, no longer chasing after cocaine, contributing to the household, loving us. I pulled myself back. What a mug. I could not let myself believe his bullshit. Not yet.

“I’m sorry, I just couldn’t stay in that other place. You saw it there! I was lucky it was Doctor Abdullah that was on duty last night. He understands my fear of being cooped up – he told me his story – he’s Palestinian and grew up in a refugee camp. We talked about the UN and our time in Bosnia. He’s a great guy. Listen, I’ve got to go to my next group now. I’ll talk to you later. I love you.”

“I love you too.” The words flowed easily now I felt safe.

Everything finally seemed in place. His rehab program was a month-to-six weeks, time for me to think.


I needed my own recovery after living in perpetual anxiety and fear for years. When people asked me how I managed to stay skinny I made a play on the popular diet program of the time telling them it was the ‘stress beach diet’. I had no appetite. Eating became a function. Where had joy gone? Not even sleep provided an escape, especially as I never made it through the night without being woken either by Neil’s jitters, the sound of the television at 3:00 AM or a panic attack over money. Most painful of all was when I obsessed over how Molly had been cheated by my focus on Neil’s behavior. Her dad had so rarely been my partner in life or in parenting. His craziness sucked all of my energy and attention leaving less for Molly. Enough years were wasted. I swore to myself over and over again that Neil could not live with us if he continued to use drugs. Of course, how would I ever know? He had fooled me for years.

Molly appeared to be handling the knowledge of her father’s drug problem well. Like me, she was relieved to know the reason for his bouts of strange behavior, even as the ‘why’ remained elusive to both of us. While she found it frightening to think of him using drugs, she told me it felt better knowing the cause for his madness. Like it wasn’t really his fault. Or at least that it wasn’t hers. Molly figured if it was something he was doing to himself, he must be able to stop. That if he loved her, he would and as much as I tried to understand that he was sick and addiction was formidable, I thought the same thing.

Neil called every day happily reporting his progress, telling us he loved and missed us. He swore he was working hard and promised he’d be back to his good self soon. Barely a week had passed since his first night there when an administrator from the hospital called to inform me that Neil would be moved to a halfway house ‘off-campus’. There, ‘the clients’ would have more, but limited, freedom, still attending meetings and appointments at the hospital. The cost for was $400 a week, not covered by my insurance.

“Are you sure? How could that be?” I asked.

“Call your insurance company and double-check, but according to what we have on record, your plan will not pay room and board for the half-way house.”

“Then can’t you just keep him in the ‘big house’ longer? He seems to be doing well there.” No way I could afford to pay $400 a week. Every last dime I generated went to covering the barebones of house and living expenses.

“No, I’m afraid the room is needed for other clients,” she apologized.

Clients. That gave it all away – this was business and they needed to move the customers through in a timely fashion. He wasn’t even gone a full week. None of us was ready for him to be home. He can’t come home – not yet. My heart raced just thinking about it. I braced myself to tell him.

“I can’t afford to shell out $400 a week for that place and I just can’t have you back yet. I don’t know what to do. I’m sorry.”

“I know, I know. I understand. I’ve already decided: I’ll go to England. The insurance in this country is awful. Every day someone comes into meetings after being told they are not covered anymore so they have to leave – even though they aren’t ready – even the doctors agree. You wouldn’t believe how much group time we spend talking about fucking insurance. It’s so fucked up in this country. At home at least, National Health Care will pay for everything.”

“Can you get into a rehab program there?” My beating heart began to slow. Neil really sounded so committed to doing this. Maybe he had finally hit his bottom and was on the way up – and back to us.

“Yeah, I’m sure I can. I’ve got to. I want to be the man you married again. I want to get that back. I hear all of these stories all day from people and how they lost everything. I don’t want that to be me. I swear on Molly’s life, I will do it.”

These pronouncements and oaths were so familiar, I knew not too get too excited. His words no longer held any sway. Would he ever become a partner? At this point, I could not count on him to be a reliable parent for Molly. Who would take care of her if I died? It was more than just being drug free now – if I was ever going to live with him again, he needed to grow up and be dependable.

“Neil, remember what I said your first night here: I need to see that you know how to take care of yourself, be responsible – at least for yourself. You become that man and I will even consider moving to England. I’m open to that. But just be clear, I’m not talking about you going over there and just hanging out and coming back after six weeks. You need to get your act together, to get a job, pay your bills. Really.”

“I know,” he sounded calm. “After this week, I understand like I never have before. I know what I have put you through – and Tricia: I am so sorry. I’ve been a lying bastard for too long. I’ve been a miserable git and you don’t deserve that and neither does Molly.”

I felt some satisfaction in finally hearing him admit that his behavior had hurt us.

“Ok,” he said, “I’ll figure it out from here and call you back later.”

The next step happened quickly. Within a few hours he called to say his flight was booked and ready for me to call with my credit card information. If I picked him up tomorrow afternoon, he would fly out the following day. The hospital was releasing him against Doctor’s orders and wanted him to leave for the airport directly from there so he wouldn’t be tempted to go out and get drugs – but he insisted he wanted to see us first to say goodbye properly. I agreed. In England he would stay with one of his daughters until he could be admitted into a rehab program. This was the plan.

I felt like a zombie, moving through the day, but I could handle less than 24 hours with him if I knew he was really going to England. This is our best hope, I thought. With time and distance away from him, I might feel sane again and hopefully, Neil would get his act together. And so would I.

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Chapter 23

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?”



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Chapter 22

On evenings when I needed to manage author events at the bookstore, I went into work later in the day. I missed not being home to put Molly to bed, but treasured the rare morning hours of solitude when she was at school and Neil was at work. On a warm morning in October, I went for a long walk on the beach, hoping to quell a simmering panic. I wondered if Neil was using, and my doubt meant that he probably was. Sitting cross-legged on the rocky beach, I closed my eyes and focused on the sound of the water rhythmically pushing and pulling the sand and pebbles. There are rarely large waves on the Long Island Sound, but the heaving tide jostled the stones and the sound soothed me. I imagined myself cleansed by the water’s movement, taking away thoughts of unpaid bills and visions of Neil with his drug, the incoming surges delivering serenity. I managed to do this for almost ten minutes before growing self-conscious. Opening my eyes, I pushed up the sleeve of my sweater and checked my watch. Time to go to work.

My job at Barnes & Noble kept me sane. My manager and a handful of closer colleagues knew about my struggles and lent me a sympathetic ear and whatever support I needed. It really was the perfect job for me. I could set my own schedule according to the needs of the work that needed to be done and never tired of walking in and seeing books. Growing up, we had bookcases and shelves full of classic and contemporary literature. The family myth is that my parents only spanked us children if we damaged a book.

Our relationship was in full swing before it dawned on me that no books were piled by Neil’s bed at the Holiday Inn. When we moved into a sunny apartment in Zagreb without one, I discovered how important watching TV was to him. The antique-filled flat at the top of 120 steep-steps, so high it seemed to be hovering over the city, captivated us. Suffused with light and a rare quiet, I resisted getting a television, not wanting to fill the space with noise and to suck away our time. Neil insisted he could not live without his English comedies. He bragged that in his house in Windsor he’d had a television in every room – even the bathroom. Horrified he might have such designs for our beautiful apartment, I finally agreed to the smallest set we could find. From then on, the sound of British television perpetually filled our home. The novelty of his English shows made it easier for me to tolerate, at least for a while.


Television was Neil’s idea of bonding with Molly. Nights when I worked, I’d come home to find them both on the couch watching a silly English comedy, a James Bond movie, or worse: Rocky or Rambo for the gazillionth time. By the time Molly turned five she had her own favorite Bond episodes and been witness to hundreds of bad guys being slaughtered in the jungles of Southeast Asia.

With some cajoling and a sterner countdown, I usually had Molly in bed by eight o’clock. Our ritual was to read her choice of five picture books and then I stroked her hair and rubbed her back, singing from my limited lullaby repertoire until she fell asleep. When I wasn’t there, Neil, not wanting to miss whatever he was watching on TV, would let her stay up with him until she fell asleep on the couch.

Arriving one night after an author event, I threw my bag and car keys on the kitchen table and followed the noise of the television. Molly lay sprawled across her father’s chest, staring wide-eyed as Sylvester Stallone machine-gunned his enemies. Scowling at Neil, I snapped, “She should be in bed by now. It’s a school night!”

“She couldn’t sleep and wanted to cuddle with her dad, didn’t you poppet?”

“Come on Molly, let’s go. It’s time to go to bed.”

She stared glassy-eyed at the screen.

“We had a good dinner of daddy’s sausage and mash and a really nice time tonight, didn’t we Molls?”

I reached down and Molly wrapped herself around me as I hoisted her off the couch. She leaned down from my arms to give Neil a good night kiss.

“Books-a-bed, Mommy?” she mumbled as she settled her head into my neck.

“Not tonight honey. It’s really late.”

Nestling into her pillow, she looked up at me with her beautiful blue eyes.

“Mommy, cuddle me?”

“Just for a minute, okay? You need to go to sleep and so do I.”

Climbing into the narrow bed, I pulled her close, relaxing into her sweet scent. I loved this time with my daughter, feeling the heat of her back through the flannel pajamas and the softness of her fine hair against my nose, tension melted away even as the sound of yelling and machine gun fire drifted up from the living room.

“So you had a good day, honey?” I asked.

“Uh-huh,” Molly murmured. “I missed you though. Daddy’s acting a little crazy.”

My heart froze. “What do you mean?” I tried to sound nonchalant.

“Well, he borrowed the neighbor’s car and we drove to the video store to meet somebody. The guy didn’t come and Daddy kept calling him and he kept using the F word and the A word – but mostly the F word. Then we drove to a gas station and waited there until the guy came – he had all these things stuck in his face. I didn’t like him. And then he gave Daddy something and then Daddy was okay again and stopped saying the F word.”

I resisted quizzing her for more details and willed my heart to stop pounding lest she sense my alarm. “Go to sleep now honey, it’s late.”


Molly always recognized Neil’s suspicious behavior before I did perhaps because he underestimated how perceptive she was and didn’t bother trying to hide his shenanigans around her. How pathetic of me not to have been more alert that he was up to something. He was taking her with him when he scored drugs! He’d gone too far – how could I have let this happen? I needed to get away from him. My mind raced. I thought of wrapping Molly up in blankets and fleeing into the night immediately. But where could I go? My mother was long dead and my relationship with my father practically nonexistent. My sister was in the city but Molly needed to go to school and I needed to keep working. I also needed to remember to breathe. When I was sure Molly was asleep, went to the bathroom and found a t-shirt I’d left on the back of the bathroom door this morning. I changed into it and slid back into Molly’s bed as the sounds of war raged downstairs.


I woke to Neil slamming doors. He was late. Barreling into Molly’s room where I feigned sleep he announced, “I’m taking the car. Catch a cab and pick it up from me later.”

We had only one car between us now. Neil drove so recklessly he’d destroyed the last old junker and we could not afford another. Most days he took a cab back and forth to his current job at the coffee shop at the train station.

“Why should I do that?” I snapped, lifting my head from the bed. After hearing about yesterday’s escapades, there was no way I was letting him take the car. “I have to take Molly to school and get to work myself!”

“Just take a cab down to the station and come pick up the car. I’m late, I’ve got to go.”

“Why should I have the hassle because you’re late? You should have gotten up earlier.”

“That’s it! I’ve had it with you! I’m going to see a lawyer and I’m divorcing you and I’m going to make you sell this house and give me half!”

Molly raised her head sleepily off the pillow. Pulling her close, I spoke to her quietly,

“It’s okay. Daddy’s just a little mad right now.”

Turning to leave the room, he snarled,

“I mean it. I’m sick of you! I want a divorce!”

“What’s Daddy talking about, Mommy?”

“He’s angry because I don’t want him to take the car. It’s okay, don’t worry honey.”

“Mommy, just let him take the car, okay?” She stroked my arm as if to calm me. She was learning skills to keep the peace.

The front door slammed and tires screeched out of the driveway. Did he mean it? Was he going to a lawyer? Good! I wanted an end to this insane life with him. His mood swings were getting out of control. I pulled Molly close to me, seething and scared.

“It’s still dark out Moll. Let’s try and go back to sleep for awhile.” I nuzzled her and tried not to cry.


I picked the car up at the station without exchanging a word with Neil as he handed me the keys. In the school parking lot, I ran into the mother of one of Molly’s classmates who I knew was a divorce lawyer. As our girls became friendly so did we, chatting at pick-up time and play-dates. She knew about some of my struggles with Neil.

“Susan? Can I ask you something? Our situation is really deteriorating – it’s getting a little scary.” I described this morning’s scene to her. “He said he’s going to divorce me and at this point, I want that. Does it matter who files first?”

Susan looked dismayed.

“Tricia, he’s being abusive – Molly shouldn’t be exposed to this. If I were you, I’d go down to the courthouse this morning and do two things: ask for a protective order to get him out of the house and file the divorce papers. Yes, it can matter who is filing and you want to be the one to do it. You need to protect yourself and Molly now. Call me afterwards – although I can’t be your lawyer because I know you both and it would be considered a conflict of interest. But I’ll give you some names. Do it!”

She looked me in the eye and gave me a quick hug before climbing into her own car.

The morning felt unseasonably cold. I cranked the heat up as I sat deciding what to do. I felt like throwing up. My friend had looked at me with such pity. She’d used the word ‘abuse’. Was this my life? When did I become someone who was afraid of their spouse, who made excuses for their bad behavior, who tolerated their addiction to the point that he scored drugs with our child? That’s the person she saw when she looked at me. That’s who I had become. What was I waiting for? How many more times would I be fooled into thinking, fool myself into thinking that everything was going to work out? When would it be enough? Now. It is enough now.

I pulled out of the lot, returning waves to the parents I knew. I imagined their normal, happily married lives as I headed south on the turnpike. What did others see when they looked at us? Neil, so handsome, charming, making people laugh at school events, and Molly the perfect kid. I bet they couldn’t imagine the lunacy of my life.

Twenty minutes later, I parked on the street outside the courthouse, passed through security check and was directed to the county clerk office on the second floor. I moved robotically through the halls, feeling nothing. Two women were ahead of me, speaking through the small, bulletproof window to a clerk. One didn’t speak English, the other acted as her translator. I gathered that they were also applying for a protective order.

“Do you have the police report?” the clerk asked.

The woman shook her head as she listened to her companion’s translation.

“You have to get one. Here, fill out that form.” The clerk passed another document through to them. “Go upstairs to room 345 and they’ll give you a copy of the police report.”

She took the paper, looking overwhelmed by the additional bureaucracy.

I stepped up to the window.

“I guess, um, I want an order for protection and also,” I hesitated, “divorce papers.”

She reached for the different documents and slid them through the slot as if there was nothing extraordinary about wanting protection from your husband.

“Bring the court order papers back to this window after you’ve filled them out,” she said to me before closing the plastic window.

I set the papers down on the scratched counter and struggled to read the instructions through tears. ‘Reason’ How about: I’m terrified that my husband brings my daughter with him to get his drugs? And, I want to sleep at night, to answer the phone again, to enjoy food, my friends – life! Instead I wrote, “My husband is a drug addict and regularly uses illegal drugs in the house where we live with our seven year old daughter.” I paused before heading back to the window and eyed the door. I could leave. I didn’t have to do this now. If the judge agrees to a protective order, Neil would have to get out of the house right away – there would be no more threats, begging or persuading. But where could he go? Molly and I are his only family here and his friends are mostly my friends. I had to stop thinking about him first – I couldn’t do this anymore: Molly and I needed sanity and to be safe. I slid the form through to the clerk.

“What do I do now?” I asked, leaning towards the thick plastic.

“Wait here and I’ll bring you an answer from the judge. It shouldn’t be long,” she answered.

I collapsed into a molded plastic chair bolted to the wall. A young couple tumbled through the doorway, holding hands and giggling. Marriage licenses were also issued out of this office. Staring at these two in their mid-twenties and in love with each other, I tried to remember. Is this how it starts? I looked at the divorce papers in my hand. They were complicated, requiring financial information I didn’t know off the top of my head. Assets and debts – that’s what remains to be fought over. And Molly. My heart beat faster. Neil’s ranting from this morning and Susan’s words of urgency rang in my head. I felt in a race to do this thing – to file for divorce – first.

After about 30 minutes, the clerk motioned me towards the window.

“The judge denied your request.”

“What? Are you serious? Even though he keeps drugs in the house and we have a young daughter?”

She shook her head and shrugged. “There has to be threat of physical abuse. Did he hit you?”

No. I couldn’t imagine Neil hitting me. He abused himself – we were only the collateral damage from his self-loathing. Even as I blamed him for my misery, I understood that much.

Tucking the divorce papers into my bag, I left the building, got back on the highway and headed to work. Clutching the steering wheel, I crawled along in the slow lane. Even my confidence in navigating this familiar road felt unhinged. This system was not on my side. Drug abuse wasn’t considered serious enough to merit protection – he needed to physically hit me? What now? My head was spinning, but part of me also felt relieved. I could pretend for the day, yet another day, and there would be no drama — no scenes with police escorting him out of the house – to where? Not today. But, when – when would it be over? I wanted to fast forward to a future life I couldn’t imagine. The dream that began in a war zone was tattered but all I knew.

I felt like I had no recourse, no way to change anything. It had taken everything in me to get down to the courthouse and file the protective order against Neil and it hadn’t worked. I didn’t know what else I could do. At work I shoved the divorce papers into my filing cabinet and called my lawyer friend.

“The order was denied.”

“Oh shit. I’m sorry. It can depend on what judge you get. I’m really sorry. But fill out those divorce papers – call me with any questions – and I’ll give you the name of somebody who can serve them.” She sounded disappointed.

“Thanks for your help, but I have to think about what to do next. I don’t have much faith in the system right now. At this rate, I’m not sure I feel ready to get the wheels spinning on divorce.”

I plowed through the rest of the day. That evening, Neil and I were cordial. After my books-in-bed reading session with Molly, I held her close and spent the night sleepless beside her. Neil watched his English sitcoms, laughter rumbling up the stairs. The next morning, he took a cab to work without complaint.


I badly wanted to believe Neil’s lies were truth. That he was clean and everything would be fine. He knew how to convince me. Up early in the morning, he’d be energetic and sweet natured, go to meetings and toss AA slogans around for me to hear. I hadn’t forgotten the divorce papers in the filing cabinet at work but all it took was a few weeks of normal life and I abandoned thoughts of escape strategies. The thought that Neil might never stop his drug use terrified me but so did the thought of life without him. I was so desperate to keep my family together that I created a new normal for us with every new bump. Any fragile boundaries I’d ever had were long shattered. It took only a few crumbs of hopeful moments for me to be convinced (almost) that we were through the worst of it and at a new beginning.

My friends and my sister worried, offering hollow responses when I told them Neil was clean and everything was great now. I retreated from them all, reluctant to hear the scream of doubt obvious in their silent pauses, the worry at the other end of the line. I knew they were right but denial had become second nature to me and I resisted any challenges to my fantasy – until pretending any more felt impossible.

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Chapter 21

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.


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Chapter 20

I moved through the days in a fog of suspicion. My greatest desire was to keep our life as a family – our imagined future as a family – but the web of deceit he had woven was thick. I knew now what easy prey I’d been. Yet when I wavered in my belief he was clean, he convinced me he was: up early with me in the morning, at night, he’d climb into bed and pull me close, his skin against mine a plea to believe in him again. He raked the leaves, cooked meals, made cups of tea and did chores around the house, singing silly songs and joking with Molly. Initially, with his dark secret finally out in the open, he seemed a changed man. Still, I wanted more than theatrics. I had yet to learn how insidiousness a cocaine habit could be but I knew it would not go away by itself. I insisted we go to counseling.


Dr. X’s office was in a large house on a quiet street. We pulled into the gravel driveway. I led the way in and up the carpeted staircase to straight-backed chairs at the top of a landing. We sat side-by-side listening to a woman’s strident rambling audible through the shut door. Our appointment time came and went. Neil looked tense but made funny faces in reaction to the woman’s harping. We’d have to be sure not to talk too loudly when it was our turn. Finally, the door opened and the woman scurried out followed by a bear sized man, as tall as Neil, with a beard and a full head of messy hair. A flannel shirttail hung out of his pants and the last button was undone exposing a patch of his potbelly. He looked like he had just rolled out of bed. We followed him into the room.

“Go on and take a seat. I’ll be right back,” he said. Bird song wafted through the room with a breeze through the open window. We sat in the two chairs he motioned to across from his more comfortable looking armchair. Notebooks and papers lay scattershot around his chair and an unmade bed was on the opposite side of the room. Neil and I looked at each other and cracked up.

“What’s up with the bed?” Neil said to me, laughing nervously.

“Well he looks like he just woke up from a nap,” I answered. We relaxed, taking in the messy room. Finally, Dr. X returned.

“Okay! So what’s up? Hey, do you guys want a cup of tea or coffee or something else to drink?”

Really? I thought. We’re already more than fifteen minutes late and now we’re taking a coffee break? Neil rarely turned down an offer of caffeine, so I answered before he could, “No! We’re fine.” I glared at Neil letting him know he better not disagree.

“You’re not going to want us to get into bed or anything, are you? Or is that in case we bore you and you need a nap?” Neil was already defaulting to his jokester persona. He’d say anything to avoid discussing why we were there.

Dr. X chuckled politely. “Sometimes I do bodywork. You’re feeling kind of edgy, huh?” he asked Neil before settling back in his chair. “So, what can I do for you two? What brings you here?”

Neil looked at me, waiting for me to tell our sorry tale. He hated saying it – refusing to identify himself as an addict. I resisted my compulsion to rescue the awkward silence and kept my mouth shut. I wanted him to own this, to hear him tell the truth. As part of the crazy magical thinking I’d adopted, I waited as if in Neil telling this stranger we’d come to for help, he might be healed.

“I’ve got a problem with cocaine and it’s destroying my family.”

“I’ll bet it is. And you?” Dr. X looked at me.

“Do I do cocaine? No. But I pay for it in more ways than one. Apparently this has been going on for a very long time and I had no idea.” If I were a cartoon character, there would be green bile shooting out of my mouth. I fought back tears as a flash of painful and confusing days and nights that I now knew could account for years, ran through my head.

“Cocaine is intense. It messes with your neurotransmitters.” The doctor launched into a description of the short and long-term effects of the drug then leaned back in his chair and pronounced, “You two are in a mother-child relationship here. Tricia, in taking care of his needs a dynamic is created that makes Neil want to rebel against you.”

“So it’s my fault?” I couldn’t hide my anger in answering him, “Well I don’t want to be his mother. It’s definitely my choice that he’s not taking care of his family.”

Neil sat twisted away from me in his chair, chewing his nails, probably dying for a cigarette – or something else.

“No of course not! But you have to realize that you’re enabling him to continue.”

Enabling. I was beginning to hate that word and all the rest of the catchphrases of addiction. As if any of this could be summed up in a self-help pamphlet. What the hell was I supposed to do? Where were my instructions?

“So, how do we get out of this dynamic? I want a husband, not a son!”

In response he launched into another ramble on theories and brain patterns but offered me no solutions. My eyes glazed over. Okay, enough, I thought, what can we do, how can we fix this? Finally he suggested Neil detox his body including getting a high colonic to flush out his system. Really? I thought, cleaning his asshole is going to get him straight? I almost guffawed. He prescribed anti-psychotic and other prescription drugs and Neil agreed to do it all, happy to end the session and get out of there.

We met with Dr. X a few more times before I figured out that we were wasting time and money. The clincher was the day I called him after secretly counting Neil’s pills and he had taken an alarming number more than the prescribed dosage. He brushed me off saying it was no big deal. I felt like he and Neil had forged a strange alliance and when the two of them talked about cars or tried to one-up each other on jokes, I seethed. “Can we get going here? I’m glad you guys are having a good time but I don’t think this is what we need to be doing right now, do you?”

They looked at me as if to say, “what’s your problem?”


I made appointments for both of us with other therapists who claimed to specialize in addiction. Neil often did not show up and alone with the counselors, I wept and ranted until paying the deductible on these visits became just another stress of a bill I couldn’t afford. Remembering what Dr. X said about my role in Neil’s addiction I decided that at least, I could figure out how to control my behavior.

Focusing on one’s self rather than the addict was a regular theme at the Al-Anon meetings I frequented. Although never a fan of groups, these meetings were free and provided comfort and a chance to talk without shame or embarrassment. I tried to attend a few times a week. Other people’s ordeals were sometimes so frightening, so insane, that mine no longer felt so terrible. Al-Anon literature became my bedtime reading. Slogans that initially seemed trite and set my teeth on edge, soon became my mantras that when mentally repeated, took the edge off a terrible episode. Even the references to God, usually uncomfortable for me in my uncertain faith, provided solace. My favorite became the Serenity prayer. The simple words steered me clear of the gaping abyss of anxiety threatening to swallow me up. Mornings, when worry rushed me like a wave upon waking, I met it with a mental chant: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change and the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”


From kindergarten to 3rd grade, I’d gone to the neighborhood Catholic school. My siblings and I were required to go to Sunday mass by the school. When we moved away from Saint Gabriel’s Parrish my parents enrolled me in public school and due to a combination of their own ambivalence towards the church and towards us, they stopped monitoring our faith. Even though my parents and siblings stopped going to mass, I continued to rise early on Sundays to go to church by myself. Burdened with the guilt of my imagined mortal sins, I’d leave my still-sleeping apartment and walk alone up the 10 blocks to Saint Margaret’s Church, sliding into a pew with the solitary old people. I knelt, stood, sat and knelt again, praying for my ten-year old soul and for the slumbering souls of my family.

My faith lapse or rather, my epiphany, came after a pre-Easter Sunday confession. When I confessed to the priest behind the dark screen in the musty booth that I’d missed a few Sunday masses, he began yelling at me. “What school do you go to?” he demanded to know and gave me an extra dose of Hail Mary and Our Fathers as penance. Devastated by his admonishments, I shuffled up to the altar, stared at the gloomy statues of blood and mourning could not remember how to say either prayer. Flustered, I stood up, hurried past the other penitents, out of the incense-filled church. Staring at the cracks of the sidewalk for the dozen blocks home, my mortification became anger. Who was that man pretending to be God’s judge? What did he know of my life? By the time I’d taken the elevator up to our floor and opened the door to apartment 7D, I’d rejected all priests. I needed no spiritual intermediary making sure I conformed. I released myself from ever having to attend another boring mass again. Nature would be my church. No men in dresses needed to run interference in my not-yet cobbled connection to God. To this day, I cannot remember the words to the prayers of my penance.


Yet years later, I am comforted by the possibility offered by prayer. My terror of Neil’s addiction and worry about the damage it was doing to our lives, receded behind the dam of my new composure. Al-Anon slogans helped curb my preoccupation with what Neil was up to. I was learning to let go of him and to move forward on my own. But I could not let go of the hope that Neil would catch up.

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Chapter 19

Neil admitted he had not been the best father to his daughters in England and vowed to do better by Molly. The girls were now young women and told me they forgave him. Like me, they remained grateful for any glimmer of attention he gave them. He called them mostly when I my badgered him to and was able to go to their weddings only because I bought his plane ticket.

I hated when his behavior towards the girls reminded me of my own father who was completely disinterested in me for much of my life. He moved out when I was seventeen and never looked back. Months passed without as much as a phone-call. Perhaps he felt absolved by my mother’s bitter instruction that once he moved out, he should stay away. In any case, he obeyed her, not attending my high school graduation or any other event in my life from then on. Our visits were rare and stilted and almost always, I initiated them. When I was 19 and just back from a solo four-month backpacking trip through Europe, I called him and asked if I could visit. He said no.

When my father died more than 30 years later, I felt strangely hollow. I’d mourned him long ago. No surprise I dated men as miserly in their love and sometimes as mean in their rejection. But Neil seemed different. He had me from the start with his shout-it-from-the rooftops courtship. Only after seeing how absent he was from his daughters did it dawn on me he was the same as my father and as all the other men I’d picked – he was just better at faking it.


On a Saturday in early autumn, Lucy called from England. Neil and I had argued fiercely the day before and he’d spent the night at a hotel. Usually, I didn’t share our problems with her but today could not stop myself from pouring my heart out.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with him! He doesn’t do anything but sleep and when he’s not sleeping, he’s nasty.”

“Tricia…” Lucy started.

“I’m sorry. He’s your dad – I shouldn’t be venting to you like this but I don’t know what to do anymore. I’m feeling like this is could be the end. Honestly, I don’t think he even wants to be married anymore and at this point I’m not sure I do either.”

“Tricia, wait – I need to tell you something. You need to know something about Dad.” Lucy’s urgent insistence quieted me.

“What? What do I need to know?” I asked, a sick feeling flooding my gut.

“I’m going to tell you something that’s going to make Dad furious at me. He may very well never speak to me again, but you really need to know this.”

“What is it? What do I need to know?”

“It’s drugs. He’s doing drugs,” she said.

I felt like I was going to throw up.

“How do you know that? Are you sure?”

“I’m sure. Remember when I was over last year and he and I went to visit his mate – the guy he knew from his work? Well, he was buying some then. I told him he should tell you but he refused and made me swear not to say anything. Honestly, I’ve never known him not to be using. He has all my life.”

All of her life’. Lucy was in her late 20s. That added up to how many years of lies and manipulation? I shivered, my blood like ice. How did I not know?

“What? What does he use?” I asked after a few moments of silence.

“Coke. It’s always been cocaine. I remember so many times, especially when I was Molly’s age, maybe 7 or 8, waiting at the window with my bag all packed and dressed up and ready for him to come and get me from mum’s for the weekend. Waiting and waiting. He never showed up. And this happened more than once. I don’t want Molly to have to go through that.”

The image of that waiting little girl ran through my mind. First, of little Lucy, then of Molly, then me, all of us girls so loving and waiting for this man – who never showed up. It was too much.

“Thank you for telling me. At least I know what I’m dealing with now.”


How dense could I be? Now it all made sense: the sleeping, the disappearing money, moodiness, constant complaints about sinuses and headaches – how obvious! I knew his past – on our first date he admitted his coke addiction, his stint in rehab – why didn’t I figure out he was back at it? Over the years, I sometimes, usually in the middle of a fight, asked if drugs were to blame for his behavior. His vehement denials were always convincing. I believed him in spite of all the glaring evidence. I searched but never found anything in the house or his pockets. “I swear on Molly’s life!” he’d say and I was sure he would never take such an oath unless it was true. So I searched for other explanations for his behavior – looking for answers from incompetent shrinks, regular and naturopathic doctors. Neil played along by visiting whatever specialist I made appointments with, me hoping they held the answer, the way to a ‘cure’. And these professionals, perhaps as conned as me, gave their (all different) diagnosis of allergies, depression, herniated discs, polyps and added more drugs to his mix of poisons. None of them saw or at least none told me, the truth. Neil’s specialty was deception and we were all fooled. Why did I so willingly accept his lies? If it weren’t for Lucy telling me I may never have figured it out. Now I knew. My husband, Molly’s father – was a drug addict.

A few moments after hanging up with Lucy, hands trembling, I dialed Neil at the hotel.

“I just got off the phone with Lucy,” My voice was composed and cold.

“Yeah?” he answered defensively. He hadn’t been gone long enough to be contrite or perhaps, to have run out of drugs. Now I had that missing part of the puzzle.

“She told me everything. She told me about the cocaine.”
“What the fuck is she on about? What a stupid idea! She doesn’t know what the hell she is talking about!” he yelled.

“Forget it. Save your energy. I know. I know everything. Things finally make sense.” I spoke calmly even as my heart thundered. But I felt an all-but forgotten clarity. I didn’t know what to do but at least I now knew what the problem was and as my enemy had a name, I might beat it.

For a moment, he was silent and then, in a different, fearful tone he asked,

“Can I come over? I can’t do this on the phone, I need to talk to you in person.”

“Give me some time to take Molly over to the neighbor’s house. I don’t want any scenes in front of her.”

I could see Molly out in the yard, swirling on her rope swing, twisting around and around as high as she could and then releasing into a violent spin.

“I swear to you, I won’t make a scene and I need to see her. Please!”

“I think we should talk alone first, don’t you? She’ll come back when we’re done.”

I heard concession in his voice and knew that what Lucy told me was true and my stomach turned. Somehow I still half-hoped he’d pull something convincing out of his bag of tricks, to swear to me for the umpteenth time that it was not addiction ruining our marriage, our family and his life. Explain it away as something less terrifying. For once, he didn’t even try.


Less than an hour later he stepped into the kitchen, his usual swagger and the smirking grimace I’d grown accustomed to, gone.

“Let’s sit outside,” I suggested, knowing we were less likely to let things escalate into a screaming match in view of the neighbors. I followed him through the house to the front door. He wove past the furniture as if dodging a sniper. Outside, we sat down in two lawn chairs set far enough away to be awkward. A carpet of red leaves surrounded us.

“I’m relieved, like a weight has been lifted off of my shoulders. You can’t imagine what it is living with a secret like this.”

I was taken aback, ready for another lie and instead, this honest admission. His face seemed to have changed, his brow and mouth looked almost relaxed. He looked relieved.

“So why didn’t you tell me? If it weren’t for Lucy, I’d never known!” I’d been so blind. Now, memories of past events ran through my head like flapping red flags. Of course I should have known.

“How could I tell you? How could I admit it?”

“How could you not? All those times I asked you if it was drugs making you so crazy – you always said no. And stupid me, I believed you! Why couldn’t you just tell me the truth?”

“I know. I’m a lying git. I don’t blame you for being mad.”

I heard the grind of one of my neighbor’s lawnmowers and from the baseball field, the crack of a bat hitting a ball followed by a cheer from proud parents watching the game.

“So you have a dealer? Do they come here when I’m not here? Is it just cocaine? Do you use when you are with Molly?”

He looked at the leaves on the lawn as I pelted him with questions.

“Lucy said she never knew you not to use – have you been using since we have been together?”

He looked up, his eyes wide. “NO! Lucy doesn’t know everything! I was clean when we were in Europe. It’s only since coming to this fucking country that I got into it again. It started with the car business. Drugs are all over the place, it’s so easy. You can get anything you want. But I swear it’s only been ‘charlie’ for me – I don’t touch the other stuff – never would. And when the cash started coming in and someone offered me something, I thought I could handle it. I thought it would be a one-off. Bloody stupid, I know. I didn’t think I’d get hooked again!”

Neil looked me, the fear in his eyes reflecting my own. I’d never seen him afraid. Through the worst shelling in Sarajevo, Molly’s too-early birth, I was comforted by his confidence and now, seeing his fear, I felt unmoored. Maybe he’d had enough of his life being a charade and maybe this was his rock bottom. He needed me. Whatever I needed to do to beat his addiction and to save our marriage, our family I had to do. I couldn’t give up on our family.

“What do you want to happen?” I asked, trying not to concede anything to him yet.

“I want you and Molly! I don’t want to lose you two. I don’t want to lose my home, our life here, our dream of growing old together. I’ll do anything to save it.”

He sounded and looked desperate. In those moments, I began to crack and believe he might come back to me. I swallowed hard to keep a sob from escaping. This was not the time for emotions – I needed to stay tough with him until he really committed to me.

“I’ll do whatever I can but there are going to be rules. There are things I’m not going to bend on. You can’t put us in jeopardy any more. You need to go to rehab.”

He shook his head, “What? How can I do that? I’d lose my job. You know I need to keep working.”

He was already backpedaling.

“But isn’t work where you get your drugs from? How much sense does that make?”

I hated the idea of losing even the meager amount of money he gave me each week – hardly enough to count. But we needed every penny. He was right. I didn’t want him to lose his job yet again.

“I can do it. I need you – you and Molly. I swear to God and on Molly’s life I will!”

He was crying now and I was breaking. But I needed to get something more, to extract a commitment from him of what he actions he was going to take to quit. He offered nothing so I wracked my brain for what I imagined might solve the problem.

“Meetings! You need to find the right meeting and you have to go every single day. And we need to go to counseling – me and you together.”

“Whatever you want me to do, I’ll do whatever you want. I can’t lose you and Molly!”

“And there can’t be any goddamn drugs in the house. What if Molly were to find them? What a fool I’ve been!”

A momentary panic shook me as I imagined scenarios that might have happened, that could happen. Molly finding him in an overdose, Molly finding his drugs and thinking they were candy. She wouldn’t do that – she was too smart, too savvy for her age. That shouldn’t have happened. She shouldn’t have to be exposed to all of this. I felt my face get hot.

“Don’t you dare put her in danger ever again or everything’s over. I could lose her! You bring drugs anywhere near this house again and or those creepy guys, and we’re done – and I’m not kidding.”

My voice grew louder with a surge of anger, this time, mostly at myself. I had been so blind for so long!

He wiped tears from his face and nodded his head up and down, like a child, agreeing to everything, to be good.

“I promise you I will be the man you married again! I swear this to you.”

“And you need to give me money. Christ! How much money have you blown on drugs?”

He hung his head.

“A lot, a bloody hell of a lot. I’m sorry. I am so, so sorry. From now on I’ll give you my entire paycheck.”

“We deserve that. God, how I’ve scraped by, Neil! It’s not fair! None of this is fair to us. You can’t mess up! I’m serious.”

We sat, him in his shame, me in a confused stew of fury and terror, picking at the chair webbing between my legs, fraying and probably not strong enough to make it through another season, certainly not with the weight of Neil’s frame. Although I’d never seen him so thin. Now I knew why.

“Go ahead and pick up your things from the hotel before I change my mind. I’ll get Molly.”

“I won’t let you down, I swear. I love you both so much!”

He leapt up and the flimsy lawn chair collapsed behind him, a crash of aluminum on the grass. Grabbing me in a hard embrace he let out a sob. It was all I could do to numbly pat his heaving back a few times. Pushing gently away, I tried to sound encouraging although my stomach was in knots.

“Go on, get your stuff. I’ll see you back here.”

“Thank you. Thank you for believing in me.”

Did I? I looked back out at the yard, the overgrown hedge splattered with red leaves. My head ready to explode with this new understanding of our reality. Now I knew the truth, we would beat this, I told myself again. I wanted my Neil back. Back? Was he ever the man I thought him to be? When did he disappear down this rabbit hole? Was it only a fantasy, me imagining the man I wanted? The hopes and dreams we once shared had shattered over years of lies. But now that I knew the truth, we could fight this together. A gust of wind spun the leaves around in a mini tornado on the lawn. I grabbed a sweatshirt from the back of the closet door and went to pick up Molly from the neighbors.

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