Chapter 32

I recall the scratch of dirt beneath my knees as I knelt in the garden the day before, the air blowing through my open window as I drove to the hardware store, the smell of the pillowcase as I fell to sleep. Before details are crystalline but the minutes, the hours and days after remain a blur. Days later I sat outside in the warmth of the sun, cradling a hot cup of tea. Over and over in my mind, I replayed scenes looking for clues. His last words to me to me – did I want a cup of tea? What if I said yes to the cup of tea he offered instead of retreating into sleep? Would drinking a cup of tea have given him the will to live? Would he still be alive if I had just gotten out of bed for a damn cup of tea with him? I flung the hot cup I was drinking into the garden, the milky brew spraying the lawn before the old chipped mug landed between the tulips. I tried to picture him walking into cluttered garage in the early hours of the morning, past the lawn mower, rakes, shovels set against the wall – was he weeping? And when he died – and I hope to God that was quick – where did he go, this life that was ‘Neil’ – his essence slipping away over years until this terrible, final exit?

Molly might have found him and for that, I hated him. He must have thought of that possibility too and then did it anyway? Was his intention so cruel? This still triggers my fury. Molly was introduced to grief too soon – but how much worse would it have been were she to have been the one to find him.

I searched my memory for strange particulars: where was Tetley during the moments when I found Neil? I had been on my way to take him for his morning walk. Was I still holding onto his leash when I went to Neil’s body? I couldn’t place him there, so maybe he had retreated back into the house. For some reason, I wanted every detail about that hideous morning and it bugged me I could not remember Tetley. It seemed imperative I string together the morbid details even as I wanted to forget it all. I threw out the wicker chair and the clippers I’d used to cut Neil down with. The remnant of rope was still wound tightly around the beam for a few days. I must have asked someone to cut it off. Who did that? Or did I do it myself? Years later, this is a clouded memory – although I know the wood is forever imprinted by the twist of rope, to anybody else, looking like a slip of the saw at the lumberyard.

That morning I sat like an awkward guest perched on the edge of my couch. Chris had left Molly with her husband and kids to sit beside me. She held my hand. I’d never held my friend’s hand, how much smaller and softer hers was. The police waited in the garage with Neil’s body for the coroner to arrive, occasionally coming in the house to check on me. Neil was left slouched in the chair, now draped in a white sheet. One of the officers told me with barely masked outrage, that he had a daughter Molly’s age could not understand how a father would do such a thing. Molly. She was still across the street. What was she thinking? I needed to talk to her.

“What do I do? I need to tell Molly. How do I tell her?”

“I don’t know but you have to tell her something. She’s got to be wondering what’s happening. Come, I’ll go with you.” Chris stood up, drawing me with her.

“Goddamn him!” One of Neil’s scuffed shoes was poking out beneath the couch. I kicked it out of sight.

We walked down the driveway together, not turning our heads, neither of us looking back at the garage. We sidestepped the broken wine bottle.

“I have to sweep this up.” I said, pausing to push the larger pieces over to the side of the road, resisting the urge to pick up the UNPROFOR label.

Had he been thinking of our days together in Bosnia before he tied the noose? Did he remember how we held each other in his bed at the Holiday Inn through dark nights of heavy shelling? I felt so confident in this man and our love then, never imagining the enemy lurking within. That my protector would one day, ravaged by addiction, destroy the dreams conjured during those dark nights in Sarajevo. I threw the largest shards to the side of the road.

Molly sat on Chris’s couch next to Gary, her husband and their two kids, watching a movie. They looked so normal. I hated to disturb the scene.

“Molly, honey…” I called, motioning for her to come with me downstairs to the family room. Her eyes seemed focused on something distant as if to avoid looking at me. Her little back straight, she walked ahead of me down the stairs as if ready to receive a punishment. I wanted to hold her close and tell her everything was fine. It wasn’t. I sat next to her on the sofa in my neighbor’s basement, took a deep breath and blurted it out:

“Daddy’s dead, Molly.”

“You didn’t have to say it like that!” Molly said, looking at me as if I said something gauche. I had.

“I’m sorry. I don’t know how else to say it.”

Molly’s expression didn’t change from a mask of stunned control.

“Can I see him? I’d like to see him,” she said.

“But… he’s gone. I mean, his body is there but he isn’t, honey, not really. I don’t think it would be a good thing for you to see him this way. I don’t think Daddy would want you to see him like this.”

I thought of his sheet-covered body growing colder in the garage.

“How? How did he die?” she asked, still no tears, matter-of-fact.

“Drugs. He took too many drugs.”

It just came out that way – and it wasn’t a lie. Cocaine did kill him. Slowly but surely, the drug wreaked havoc on his body and brain. The noose around Neil’s neck flashed into my head, his feet off the ground — hanging. The terrible, gruesome image is forever branded into my mind. I could not share that with my eight-year old girl. Someday, yes, she will want to know and I will tell her. Not now.

“I need to get back to the house honey. Please stay here and I’ll come get you later, okay? I love you.”

I leaned forward to embrace her and she drew away from me. I understood – I didn’t know what to feel either and my touch might topple her precarious emotional balancing act.

Chris and I hurried back to the house pushing through the already bent branches in the hedge rather than walk up the drive and see his body, covered with a sheet but still in the garage.


I needed to call England to tell Neil’s family. Except for Lucy, I did not have regular contact with any of them. Before the past six months Neil had spent in his hometown, he only spoke with his mother every few months. Years sometimes passed with him not speaking to his siblings. I knew Neil’s mother never liked me – the ‘Yankee’ wife, and now she would hate me forever, cutting my head out of photographs. I called the brother’s pub and was relieved when he picked up.

“Neil’s dead, Kim. He killed himself this morning.” I blurted.

“Oh my god! Oh no, no!” he sounded winded.

“Please, can you tell every one there? I’ll talk to the girls later but I’d be grateful if you’d call them for me,” I said.

“Yes, yes. Oh my God! Take care of yourself, Tricia. And Molly.”

I was grateful he did not ask me more questions, probably too shocked by the news himself.

Other neighborhood friends appeared and my sister had driven up from the city in record time. We barely talked, drinking tea together as we stared at the living room floor. It was almost noon by the time the car from the State Examiner’s office arrived to take Neil’s body, now zipped into a bag, away in the long hearse-like vehicle. Unnatural deaths like his require investigation, possible an autopsy. I didn’t care since I had no idea what one otherwise did with a body. I watched from the porch. Just as Neil had threatened a few days ago, he left the house in a box. He was gone.

I felt a strange calm. For the next twenty-four hours a stream of friends passed through our little house. Molly played card games with my sister, happy for the company. She insisted on going to school on Monday. I understood her longing for the comfort of daily routine, the desire to pretend nothing had happened, that everything was normal. But when was anything normal in her life? What was normal about doing drug pick-ups with your father? Yet her father was the fun one – ready to make her laugh, tease and tickle, cuddle her. In her confusing soup of emotions, Molly told me she also felt relief. With her father’s death came an end to the chaos, the sense of never being sure when the earth beneath her feet would give way.

In the days following Neil’s death, I took spring-cleaning to another level, opening every window, stripping the beds and washing all the linens in the hottest water. I gathered scruffy pants, boxer shorts, and t-shirts and other clothing still scattered around our bedroom and stuffed them into a huge duffel bag and dragged it into a closet we rarely used. I lit incense in every room and imagined that the smoke disappearing through the windows was the fog in my head clearing away.


Years ago Neil and I had a macabre conversation about how and where we wanted our bodies to be disposed of when we died and he told me then, he wanted to be sent ‘home’. Home. Not even this house we loved so much was ever Neil’s home. He never found ‘home’ only the trappings of house, family of a wife and daughter, none of it ever sufficient. What was he searching for or fleeing from his entire life? It was right he be sent back to where it all began. Maybe his family in England, who asked his body be sent to them, could find solace in some closing ritual of burial or cremation. For me, it would not be enough.

Chapter 31

I woke to sunlight moving across my bed like a twisting kaleidoscope. Scents of spring air filled the room and for a moment, I felt at peace before that familiar pinch of worry resumed cramping my heart. Every day this week, I’d woken up tense and ready for battle. But this morning I remembered Neil’s decision to go back to England and felt a rare calm. Tetley curled up beside me, nudged me with his nose, stretched and leapt off the bed then scratched the side of the mattress.

“Okay buddy, I’m getting up.”

Molly’s bed was an empty jumble of sheets; she must have fallen asleep in my bedroom while watching the movie. I pulled on a pair of jeans and cautiously leaned in the doorway, expecting to see Neil and her asleep. Only Molly was sprawled in the middle of the huge bed. I tiptoed in and kissed her damp cheek. Descending the stairs, I thought I’d find him passed out on the couch – but it was empty. Strange. Where could he be? Already awake? Unlikely. I walked towards the kitchen to get the dog’s leash and on the floor, lit by a slant of morning light was a sheet of paper. I picked it up. I knew what it was. I could have had a collection of all the scrawled notes he’d left for me over the years. The waking peace vanished, my stomach flooded with the usual mix of dread and anger, the beats of my heart quickened to double-time. Judging from past experience, he’d be gone for a few hours and when he returned, last night’s decision about leaving would be forgotten and he’d be raring for a fight. Sighing, I put the paper high up on a bookshelf where Molly would not see it.

“Come on, let’s take you for a walk,” I said to Tetley, clicking the leash onto his collar as I stepped into the screened-in breezeway between the house and garage. I looked out at the chairs where we drank our tea yesterday and half-expected to see Neil smoking a cigarette, but the chairs were empty. The breezeway was at the back of the house and while filled with sun in the afternoon, now the light was dim, but the door was open to the garage and I could see a stream of light with dust particles glinting dreamlike through the air. How beautiful, I thought glancing in as I walked by to the door. And stopped. From a rafter catty-corner from where I stood was Neil. He wore only a pair of khaki shorts his long body stretched tight, eyes and mouth closed, a noose around his neck. Hanging.

“Fuck! Fuck!” Cursing, I went to him and tried to lift his body to relieve the strain, to support his weight. “You fucking asshole! What the fuck did you do? I don’t believe you did this, Neil!” I needed to somehow loosen the rope pulled tight into his flesh. Maybe he was still alive. I pulled over a white wicker chair that lay on its side – the one he must have stood on – and tried to get the weight of his body on it to reduce the pull. His legs were heavy and I could not maneuver them. Was he still alive? I needed to get help but did not want to release his weight as if my holding him up might really be easing the choke on his neck. But what else could I do? I released him and ran across the lawn to my closest neighbor’s house. I banged on the door, calling her name. No answer. I ran across the street to where the town’s fire chief lived. Banging on the door and screaming, “Help me! Please help me!” still, no one answered. I ran back to my house and grabbed the phone to call the police dialing 911 then quickly hung up. Molly! I needed to get her out of the house first. She couldn’t see the hideous thing her father did.

The phone in my hand rang as I sprinted up the stairs. It was the police.

“What’s the emergency? Someone called 911 from your location.” a woman spoke to me from the phone still in my hand.

“Yes… I think my husband killed himself in the garage,” (did I just say that aloud? Was this happening?) “I need to get my daughter out of the house now.” I disconnected and went into the bedroom where just moments before I’d peeked in on my sleeping daughter.

“Molly, you need to get up immediately and come with me. Come on honey, get up right now please.”

She lifted her head from the pillow, her eyes glazed with sleep. She took my hand and climbed off the bed. Squeezing her fingers tightly in my own, I led her downstairs and out the front door, across the lawn, stepping over the deflated ball she had played with yesterday. Clutching Molly’s damp hand, I pushed through the scratchy branches of the overgrown privet hedge before the police arrived.

“Is Daddy okay?” she asked as we ran to our neighbors on that warm May morning.

“I don’t know, honey, I don’t know.”

I knew.

A decade earlier, amidst the war in Bosnia, a dashing Englishman promised me a life of romance and children. Leaving the Balkans to raise our family, I imagined us growing old together. Instead, our little house in Connecticut became a different kind of battleground. Glass littered the street. I recognized the UNPROFOR label from a bottle of wine Neil and I had saved from our days in peacekeeping. It must have been like vinegar. Neil obviously drank it in the night and smashed the bottle out here. Molly was barefoot.

“Be careful of the glass,” I said, navigating her away from the shards.

We crossed the street to my neighbor Chris’s house and I banged on the door. It seemed forever until my friend came to the door, still half-asleep.

“Please, can Molly stay here? I need to go back to the house.”

Did I still think I could save him?

Chris retrieved Molly’s hand from mine and drew her into the house without a word. She knew not to ask any questions. I ran back up the hill and into the garage, grabbing the pruning clipper I’d cut back the roses with the other day. Positioning the white wicker chair just below Neil, I climbed onto a stool and clipped the thin rope, guiding his body into the chair. My husband slumped in the chair as I tried to loosen the noose from his neck. Could he still be alive? I heard the slip of gravel as cars sped into the driveway. I pushed the automatic garage door button and ran outside. A police car and ambulance were in the drive. The officer and paramedic rushed passed me to Neil. I stood by the ambulance holding my head, not looking at what they were doing. What if he was alive? What condition would he be in? What if they revived him to live as a vegetable? Within seconds, the police officer, a short black man walked towards me.

“I’m sorry, he’s gone.”

I crouched down against the bumper of the police car as if I’d been punched in the stomach, releasing a strange moan that turned into an ugly sob. It was over.


Chapter 30

The last few nights of April were rainy but by sunrise the skies cleared and the air smelled of new life. I knelt in the dirt pulling out handfuls of green leaves crowding the flowerbed on the east side of the house. Soon bleeding hearts would droop their split-valentines in this patch, followed by fragrant lilies in the hot summer. Maybe this year the woodchuck would spare the black eyed susans. I loved how they lasted the summer. Sometimes I’d still find blooms up to the first frost. Spring always filled me with optimism and in the garden, as stressed-out as I was, my hope for the future was as tenacious as the roots of the plants I was yanking out. I sat back on my heels, filling my lungs with the scent of the damp earth. Tetley stretched out on his side next to me, savoring the day’s last hours of warm sun. I ran my fingers through his scruffy fur.

A cartoon soundtrack drifted out through the open window. I pictured Molly sitting on the edge of the couch. Across the yard Neil inhaled cigarette smoke. I dug into the earth feeling his eyes watching me – haunted eyes, almost black, sunk deep beneath his over-grown eyebrows. Always a handsome man, he’d navigated the world for most of his life using good looks and charm – now gone – at least in my eyes.

I glanced over at him. His long legs stretched straight, one arm draped across the back of the empty chair beside him, cigarette dangling between his chewed fingers. He smirked back at me. He probably thought I was going about weeding all wrong. Neil always claimed to do things better than me. On this trip, as soon as his mood shifted from meek to mean, one of his first biting comments was noting ‘the state of the house’ as if things had deteriorated since he left. Neil made things look good fast – packing everything into closets or under beds, chairs and sofas. Of course like everything with him, he was a master of illusion. And he thought it enough. That getting the mess out of sight was actually enough, never mind it was only hidden from sight. He must be so frustrated that his smoke and mirrors no longer worked with me.


I checked my breathing – in deeply with my abdomen, release bad energy out, good energy in. I’d been forgetting to breathe, holding it as if to keep my life together, weaving a knot that twisted tighter and tighter in my chest. Release. I needed to let it go, not think about him watching me, about the distance that lay between us. There was nothing for me to say. What could we talk about anymore? The memories, adventures, joys and sorrows of our shared years had disappeared behind the wall of his lies and addiction. I kept digging, wrenching the roots out and tossing the plants in a pile beside me.

We fell in love with this place because of the garden. The privet hedge circling the property made it feel like a secret home tucked away in the country rather than a cape in the suburbs, a stones-throw away from I-95. Our first spring, a bank of peonies cutting across the property created a fragrant swath of delicate color until the first heavy rain when, as if they’d been butchered with a machete, they were reduced to piles of pink petals. We dug a vegetable garden and planted tomatoes and broccoli and for Molly, pumpkins. One year we planted gourds and the vines took off across the yard, climbing a tree where the strange bottle shapes hung out of reach.

I picked up the pile and as I walked past Neil to the compost heap, we looked at each other coldly. He hates me. I hate him. A familiar commercial jingle came through an open window and the screen door slammed as Molly came looking for us; or at least, for me. Molly was wary of her dad. I imagine this enraged Neil and certainly must hurt him terribly. He tried to entice her to be affectionate, calling her ‘daddy’s girl’. Almost nine, Molly always impressed me with her perceptiveness and clarity. Even at a very young age she had a remarkable ability to express her frustration about not getting what she needed from her father. Like any child, she wanted to be the center of attention – but he couldn’t give up that spot – not even to his beloved little girl.

Molly did adore him. At least there was that left in the wreckage of what was once our family. Neil called to her, “Come here poppit, come sit with your Dad.” He pulled his legs in to give her a lap to sit on and she climbed on, putting her arms around his neck. Neil drew on his cigarette and exhaled over her shoulder. I bit my tongue. Breathe. They both watched me as I returned and pulled a few more blades of green from the patch.

“Mommy works hard, doesn’t she?”

Molly didn’t answer, likely perceiving he was not actually complimenting me. As I held a fist of greens and looked at the pile, it dawned on me that this plant I’d been pulling up didn’t really look like a weed nor was it just grass; there was a funny bend to it.

“Oh, what did I do?” I said aloud as I realized I had just pulled out an entire bed of forget-me-knots.

“What’s wrong Mommy?”

“I didn’t know what I was pulling out is actually a flower – not a weed.”

Neil drew on his cigarette, looked at me smugly and as if he had known all along, exhaled a cloud of smoke and said, “I didn’t want to say anything.”

I picked up my tools leaving the last bit of greenery in a pile on the lawn.


Neil kept his word about drinking less and only picked fights when Molly wasn’t home. He was served with divorce papers without incident even reporting to me about the exchange as if it were pleasant. He said he thanked the sheriff as he accepted the papers and they chatted about the weather. Apparently resigned to the dissolution of our marriage, he’d now shifted his focus on angling to get the most out of a shitty situation. He knew he was legally allowed to remain in the house until the divorce went through and planned on doing just that, obviously delighting in my misery. Anyway, I knew he had no money and nowhere else to go but back to England.

One evening after ushering Molly from bath to bed, I retreated to my little alcove-room and curling up under the covers, let out a deep breath of relief. I’d made it through the evening without a scene. This would be my life until the divorce – this excruciating status quo. I needed to stay calm and develop patience. From my bed, I could see Molly already asleep, no doubt also exhausted by these emotionally fraught days, her cupid-bow mouth slightly open. Looking at her peaceful beauty, I began to relax. Although it was just after 8:00, I turned my reading lamp off to sleep. When I heard the floorboards in Molly’s room creak.

“Pssst. Tricia!” Neil stood beside Molly’s bed looking in at me, “I want to talk to you!”

I whispered back, “I’m sleeping – and so is Molly – don’t wake her! We can talk tomorrow. Please leave me alone.”

“I just want to talk to you!” he pleaded.

I threw the blankets aside and got up, following him across the small landing to what had been our room. The gigantic bed was unmade and covered with his clothes.

“Come in and sit down. I need to talk to you,” he said, motioning next to him as he sat on the edge of the bed.

“No, I don’t want to come in. I’ll stand right here. Talk to me from here,” I answered from the doorway.

“What? Now you can’t even stand to be in the same room with me?”

“What do you need to say to me? I have to work tomorrow and would like to get some sleep.”

“I spoke with a lawyer today. I want you to know that. Do you know that Molly will have to have a psychological evaluation if we put her through a fight for custody?”

I didn’t answer him. What did he imagine a psychological evaluation would entail?

“I just want to know that you are going to give me access to her. And the holidays – you’ll have to send her to me for Christmas. You know Christmas has always been important to me.”

Was he almost sounding reasonable? I felt myself soften.

“Oh, Neil, I want you in Molly’s life – a healthy you. Look, both of us had absent fathers and I don’t want that for her. As long as I am confident you are not using, I’d never keep her away from you. The onus is on you. I know your family in England will also look after her so of course I will let her go,” I added.

“Do you swear it?”

“If that’s what you need me to do, yes: I swear it. Now, I’m going to bed. We can talk more tomorrow.”

I went back to my bed and pulled the covers tight, barely breathing until I heard his footsteps down the stairs.


How would Neil pay for a lawyer? I doubted he had any access to money. I bet he had nothing but his ticket back to England. I’d looked through his things one day when he was out for a walk with Molly and found collection letters from an English bank and a notice of overdue rent and an eviction letter from his landlord. It took just six months for him to make a mess of things there, too. No wonder he didn’t want to go back.

I would get through these days. I had to. And Neil would need to behave himself to stay in the house. Eventually we would be divorced and I would have my life back again. For the next nine months to a year before the divorce was finalized, I’d live like this, under siege, forcing myself to keep breathing, to focus on Molly, my garden and job. Distant as it seemed, at least I now saw an end in sight.


When I came home from work the next day, Neil and Molly were out in the yard. I watched from the porch as the two of them kicked a soccer ball, joined by Tetley who kept desperately trying to grab hold of the too-large plastic in his tiny jaw. Molly was laughing. Neil kept glancing over at me as if to make sure his exemplary behavior was being noticed. I made two cups of tea and brought them outside. Molly chased Tetley who had managed to pierce the ball with his teeth and now ran away from her with the rapidly deflating sphere, his tail wagging madly.

“I decided I’m going back to England next week,” Neil said as he took the cup of tea and sat down in the folding chair next to me. I couldn’t believe my ears. I tried to sound matter-of-fact in answering him.

“Really? Okay. It does sound like you have more possibilities there with your brother’s pub and all,” I lied, pretending I didn’t know about the bank and eviction notices.

“You win. I can’t fight you on this. And I don’t want to make it harder on Molly,” he said.

“No, these days haven’t been great for her. Did you tell her yet?”

“Yes. She was fine. Probably looking forward to seeing the back of me as much as you are.”

“Of course not! Don’t say that! You’re her dad and she loves you.”

This reasonable side of him was so unfamiliar. I wasn’t sure what to make of it.

“She’ll go to stay with you in England, I promise you. I will send her.”

Molly ran across the lawn in front of us, laughing. He chewed his nails.

“She will always be part of your life. I will make sure of that.” I wanted to end this discussion in case it turned in a less agreeable direction. “I’d like to go to the hardware store to buy some stuff for the garden. Do you mind?”


It was the first time since he’d been here that I felt some ease leaving him alone with Molly and I wanted to take advantage of the chance to run errands and be on my own.

“Go ahead. We’ll be here.”

It felt almost like the old days when our world appeared to be normal, all of us playing our parts brilliantly. Driving past the privet-hedge I waved at father, daughter and cute dog running across the lawn. So perfect looking, I thought bitterly. But then, as I pulled onto the highway towards Home Depot, I whooped and pumped the air in glee. Instead of the months of battles and oppression I’d anticipated, Neil would be gone in a matter of days.

It was April 30 – my fingers would be crossed until May 5 when his plane left. To no longer live saturated with anxiety and fear! I couldn’t wait. I wished him the best, that he would get his life together. But that no longer could be my concern. This year we would be married for ten years but our time was up. Almost that many years had been haunted by addiction. A decade of living together like this seemed insane to me, not an accomplishment. Why had I waited so long? Why did it take me until now to realize I was losing this battle, to realize that it wasn’t even mine to fight? I had been as high on hope, on delusions about the power of love, as Neil was on coke. I pulled into the Home Depot parking lot and went in to buy stakes for the vegetable garden.


By the time I returned to the house, Neil and Molly were inside watching television. Since it was Friday night, Molly would be allowed to stay up past her usual bedtime to watch a movie.

“A Bug’s Life is on, Mom!”

“Great, honey. I like that movie,” I said.

“Do you want to watch it with her?” Neil asked. “There’s an English mystery on I wouldn’t mind seeing. The two of you could watch upstairs and I’ll watch my show down here.”

“No. I’m going to read,” I answered curtly.

He was leaving in a matter of days and couldn’t sit and watch a kid-movie with his daughter?

“Okay sausage, I’ll watch your movie with you,” he said, realizing I would not give him an out.

“I’m tired so I’m going to go up to bed now and will probably conk out pretty early – so, goodnight.” I bent to kiss Molly.

“Good night” I nodded to Neil.

“Good night,” he said pleasantly.

A breeze blew through the little room, rustling the new leaves of the oak tree gently against the window screen. I’d need to get those branches trimmed this year. For the first time in weeks, I felt calm. Everything was going to be all right. I ran through the logistics of our future in my head. How would I get Molly to England? At least for a couple of years, I’d have to take her there and back. I couldn’t imagine putting her on a plane to fly over the ocean alone.

I read until I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer. Just as I turned out the light, Neil came to the doorway and called in to me,

“Would you like a cup of tea?”

I glanced up. “No thanks. I’m going to sleep now.” I burrowed into my pillow.

“Okay.” I heard the door shut behind him.

Chapter 29

The next day after work, I picked Molly up from her after school program. The drive home took about 3 minutes from there. I pulled in the driveway, stiffening as I caught sight of Neil in his usual spot on the front porch, cigarette in one hand and cheap beer in the other. I’d been wishing he might miraculously disappear but he was still there. He’d made it clear to me yesterday he wasn’t going anywhere. Nodding to him as I unloaded the groceries from the backseat, I slammed the car door shut and headed to the side door to delay contact as long as possible. Molly trailed after me. Neil called out. “Hello poppit! How was your day today? I missed you. Come tell me about it.”

“Hi Daddy.” Molly veered off towards the porch to greet him. Moments later I heard her squeal, “ Yech! You smell like beer!”

I couldn’t make out Neil’s response but took a deep breath. I need to keep my cool and just get through each day, however days, weeks or months that may be. I put the bag of groceries on the table. The kitchen smelled like bleach. The black-and-white tiles of the kitchen floor were spotless, the sink empty and dishes put away. Obviously, he was making a gesture of apology for his horrible behavior. It meant nothing to me – particularly when I opened the refrigerator and saw Neil’s only daily contribution to the refrigerator since he arrived: a 12 pack of beer, always gone by the end of day. I’d bought eggs, cheddar cheese and a head of lettuce. I’d make an omelet and salad. I’d also picked up some first-of-the-season, luscious-looking strawberries for dessert. I closed the kitchen door and concentrated on cooking, grateful he was leaving me alone.


“Dinner is ready, Molls. Turn off the TV and let’s eat.” Mustering an effort to be cordial I called out to Neil still sitting on the porch, “Do you want to join us? I’ve made enough.”

“No. I’m fine. Thank you,” he glared at me through the screen door.

Molly and I sat at the kitchen table. The evening sun poured through the windows and birds were singing and I registered the beauty as if from the end of a long tunnel while chewing my food, oblivious to tastes and textures. I couldn’t remember when I last had an appetite. Like everything else in my life, eating had become a function of survival. Molly wolfed down her dinner in a hurry to escape back to the television and maybe from me. I washed the strawberries and delivered them to her with a kiss, pushing her soft brown hair off her brow.

The screen door slamming hard behind him, Neil came into the kitchen. “What?” he said with a glare at me as I watched him yank a beer from the refrigerator and stomp into the living room. Scrubbing coagulated drips of cheese and egg from our plates, I heard him speaking loudly like intended for me to hear whatever he was saying to Molly. I turned off the faucet and put the last plate in the dish rack to dry, soothed by this normal evening ritual. I’d nixed Neil’s bid for a dishwasher years earlier, not wanting the expense nor minding the chore. Drying my hands with a dishtowel I started as Neil joined me by the sink, sputtering curses and pointing at a dripping red splotch on his yellow, button down shirt.

“Look what your daughter did!” he yelled.

I darted into the living room. Molly sat where I’d left her moments earlier but now wide-eyed with a strawberry oozing between her fingers, red juice dripping down her arm. Neil stormed past us with beer in hand, and taking the stairs by two, screamed over the banister,

“You stay with your mother! You just stay with her then! She has you so fucking brainwashed! Just fucking stay with her! You’ll never see me again – either of you!”

He banged the door so hard it shook the house and the bed groaned followed by horrendous sobbing.

“Honey, what happened?” I sat next to Molly, pulling her close wiping the juice off her arm with the dishtowel.

“He kept saying really mean things about you and I told him to stop and he wouldn’t so I smooshed the strawberry into his shirt and he just went crazy. I didn’t mean to do it.”

Molly began crying quietly, her shoulders shaking under my arm.

“Oh, Moll! It’s okay, honey. He’s just reacting, he doesn’t mean it – you know that.”

Her tears fell faster than I could wipe them but unlike her father, she wept silently, the sound of her father’s sobs both frightening and pathetic. I turned up the television and pulled her tightly against my thumping heart. My mind raced. Now he was targeting his anger at Molly. I stared at the television, seeing nothing, willing him to stop making the awful noise. Finally, it was quiet and we breathed easier until the bedroom door opened. Tetley jumped up onto the couch and pressed his little body against my leg. Neil came downstairs and without a glance in our direction, retrieved the remaining beer from the refrigerator returning to the bedroom, slamming the door behind him. Molly and I sat frozen, staring at the television and seeing nothing.

“Mommy, I’m scared.”

“Me too,” I let slip in a whisper and then quickly added, “We’re okay honey, don’t worry. He’s drinking too much but he’ll probably just go to sleep now.”

I tried to sound convincing although I didn’t believe this myself. The craziness couldn’t go on: I needed a plan. I would talk to my lawyer tomorrow and get things moving to finally end this. Molly and I sat up later than usual watching inane programs before slipping up to bed, praying Neil would leave us alone. I shut Molly’s bedroom door, climbed between her Winnie the Pooh sheets, pulled her warm body next to mine and tried to sleep.

The next morning, I woke nauseous from the memory of last night. Peering cautiously into our bedroom through the open door, I looked at Neil’s back where he lay in the bed. I could tell from his breathing he was sleeping. Still, I tiptoed to the bathroom. As Molly got ready for school, we were careful to whisper. As I was packing her lunch, Molly came in to the kitchen crying, clutching Neil’s yellow shirt from yesterday. She must have crept into the bedroom to get it.

“Mommy, can you get this out? Can you wash it? Will it stain?” She held the shirt out towards me. I took it from her, wanting to shred it, to go upstairs and whip Neil with it, to stomp on it with dirty shoes. I hated him.

“Of course I can, honey! Please don’t even think about that stupid shirt. Daddy was drunk last night – I’m sure he didn’t mean to hurt you and will understand today that you were just expressing your frustration with him. He was being unreasonable – not you. I’ll wash it and it will be just like new.”

I kissed the top of her head, her hair smelled faintly of shampoo.

“Now go get dressed so you won’t be late for school.”

The shirt in my fist, I went down to the basement cursing him as I sprayed stain remover product over the red-smear. The asshole!

“Are you almost ready? It’s time to go.”

I called from the kitchen, anxious to get Molly out of the house to the safety and sanity of school. She appeared in the doorway already wearing her backpack. I quickly ran upstairs to brush my teeth.

“Tricia! Come here! I want to tell you something,” Neil called to me from the bedroom.

I bristled at his orders but stepped towards the doorway and glared in at him, stretched out on his side of the bed, beer cans across the floor.

“What?” I barked.

“When you come home today, I won’t be here. I’ll be out of your life forever so you’ll get what you want: to never see me again and neither will Molly. You’ll have to find a way to explain it to her. I know that’s what you want.”

I glared in at him, not even stepping over the threshold. He barely lifted his head from the pillow. I hurried down the stairs, took Molly’s hand and slammed the door behind us. I hoped it was true. I wanted him to be gone from the house – gone forever. But I doubted he’d go anywhere. Over the years he often threatened to disappear, sometimes leaving dramatic suicide notes behind. Once he even included his wedding ring, and driver license in an envelope. That time, when he arrived back home in time for dinner, he asked for the envelope back. Yes – I wanted him gone. How could I not? I felt terrorized in my own home.


After work, I picked Molly up from the after school program and had her wait in the car while I went in the house, moving quietly, dreading what I might find. Neil lay in bed where I left him this morning, his back to me but I could see his body rise and fall – that was enough for me. Slipping into Molly’s room, I picked out a change of clothes and pajamas for both of us, and left. I would not risk another scene like last night.

I drove over to my neighbor Amina’s house; we had become good friends over the last year and I knew I could count on her. Her house was only a block away, but out of sight of ours. As long as Neil didn’t walk in this direction, he wouldn’t see my car in their driveway. Molly happily disappeared upstairs with Amina’s daughter to play video games and I sank into a chair in the kitchen. Everything in this house was spotless and neat. I marveled how other people’s lives were so well organized and maintained. I longed for such order. My world overwhelmed me – the house, the yard, my day-to-day existence. How could I ever achieve this kind of order in my life? I felt like I was swirling out of control, grasping on to each rung of a ladder in a dark tunnel determined I would make it to the light.


On Amina’s pullout couch bed in the family room of their split-leveled house, I slept better than I had in ages. I felt safe. When I woke the next morning, it took a few minutes to remember my bleak reality and for the iron clamp on my stomach to take hold again. Molly burst into the room, I imagine, happy for this midweek sleepover with her friend and glimpse at normality.

“Mommy! I need my violin today!”

Shit! I would have to go to the house. Well, I couldn’t avoid it forever and I needed to say some things to Neil – to set some boundaries once and for all.

“I’ll go get it now. You stay here and eat some breakfast. I’m sure Amina has some delicious things in that big refrigerator.”

I threw my clothes on and Amina saw me to the door.

“Do you want me to come with you?” She was still in her pajamas.

“No, no. Really, I’m fine. I’ll be 10 minutes at the most. I’m not going to talk to him.”

“If you don’t come back, we’ll come looking for you.” I knew she was only partially joking and gave a nervous laugh.

“Thanks. I hope that won’t be necessary.”

Our house was only three minutes walk away but I wanted to be able to get in and out quickly so I drove. As I pulled into the driveway, Neil immediately came out on the front porch. His white hair stood on end and his eyes, equally wild.

“What are you playing at? Where have you been? I’ve been sick with worry. I called your sister – she gave me an earful. I called everywhere – you’re lucky I didn’t call the police – taking my daughter out of the house without my permission,” he said.

“Don’t be ridiculous. You know you don’t want me to explain to the police why we had to flee our own house. Listen Neil: I’m not coming back here with Molly unless you stop drinking and stop screaming at us and making crazy threats. I’ve had it. Do you understand that? I’ve had it!”

I stood on the bottom step of the front porch. He sat with his back to me as I spoke and then turned to me, his face distraught – a desperate look that in the past would have me forgiving him, pretending to believe all was better. Such forgiveness for him was no longer possible. This morning, I felt only fury.

“Molly and I don’t feel safe with you anymore. That’s why we stayed away yesterday. You threatened to kill yourself and when I came home, you were still in bed at five o’clock. What was I supposed to do, wait for the next crazy outburst? I’m not going to do that. No more. No more drinking. I know you think it’s acceptable because it’s not coke and it’s legal, but that doesn’t fly.”

“Did Molly say that? Did Molly say that she didn’t feel safe?” He asked as if he didn’t believe me, as if he had no idea how terrifying he’d become.

“Yes, she did. Of course she’s afraid of you – you’re scary! That whole strawberry thing was awful. You can’t treat her like that! My god – she’s your daughter! Stop using her as your emotional batting ram against me!”

“I don’t want her to be afraid of me. I won’t drink, I promise. And I’ll try not to scream at you. Please, please bring my baby home,” he pleaded.

“I mean it – we’ll be right out of here the minute you get crazy on us.”

“I get it. Please just bring her home.”

I went inside. The atmosphere in the house felt stale, the light dismal – my beloved home felt no longer mine. I grabbed Molly’s violin and hurried out, calling behind me,

“All right. We’ll be back later – but if I so much as smell a beer around here…”

“You won’t! I’ll call Sal and ask him to bring me to a meeting.”

We’d met Sal at an AA-AlAnon couples meeting we had been to a few times. When Sal took Neil under his wing I felt so hopeful, sure this new friend could lead Neil to his own recovery. Now my only hope was that he’d get Neil out of the house for a few hours.

I put the car into reverse and backed out to the road, grinding my teeth. Molly wasn’t the only one living with fear. I was terrified of drugs, drunkenness, violence, verbal abuse, and most of all, that something might happen to Molly. I feared Neil. How had the man I thought I would be my mate for life turn into a threat? We were so in love and full of plans for our life of adventure before it was all destroyed by white powder. I couldn’t beat it – this drug was more powerful than my love, than Molly’s sweet devotion. I gave up. It was just the two of us now – Molly and me. We were out of Neil’s sinking boat and swimming furiously to shore. I didn’t know how far that was but I was going to make damn sure that Molly and I would not drown.

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.

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








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.


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.

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.

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?”