Twenty-three years. I had been with him (on and off) for twenty-three years. His drinking wasn't a problem for the first fifteen, and it took another three for me to realize how bad it really was. I remember with perfect clarity the night it all came crashing down. It's funny, I can no longer remember the horrible names he called me or which glasses he broke against the wall, but this night will forever be ingrained into my memory as the beginning of the end. Or perhaps a more accurate analogy would be the bullet that puts a road-rashed deer out of his misery.
It was four-thirty on a Tuesday morning when he finally came home from the bar. His eyes were bloodshot and his breath wreaked of vodka. He saw me sitting at the kitchen table. I expected him to try and stumble through some drunken excuse but instead he stumbled into the kitchen and tried to drunkenly wrap his arms around me. I pushed him away and glared at him. Usually he quailed under that look but tonight he was too wasted to take notice. I pushed him away again and stood up.
"Baby," I started.
"Oh, baby, you look so sexy tonight..."
"No," I said, yet again pushing his hands off of me. "No way. I told you --"
"I'm sorry. Babe--Baby. Look at me. Look at me." I sighed and looked up at his eyes. He was staring blearily at my left cheek. "I love you, baby. You know that."
"Yes, I know, but --"
"No buts. I love you. You love me. That's all that matters." He leaned in to kiss me. I leaned back.
"It's not all that matters --"
"Kiss me when I'm trying to kiss you, please," he said quietly. It was always something he hated. I just shook my head.
"It's useless trying to talk to you when you're like this. Go to bed."
I've never seen him look so angry. He stared at me for a few seconds, then his hand reached out quick, so quick, much faster than I thought his drunken self was capable of, and grabbed the hair at the back of my head. He pulled me in hard and forced my lips to his. I struggled away. He slapped me. I gaped at him, open-mouthed. He grabbed my hair with both hands and yanked me back to him.
I was scared and in shock. For a second I considered just giving in for fear of being hurt worse. As soon as the thought came into my head it filled me with such disgust towards him and myself. It fueled me with anger and I began to hit and punch him wherever my hands could reach. He was stronger and bigger than me, and had enough alcohol in him that my attacks didn't even phase him. I drew my knee up fast and hard and finally he went down. I refused to feel any pity as he rolled, wheezing on the ground. I grabbed my wallet, phone, and car keys off the kitchen table and walked out. A loud ringing in my ears almost blocked out the, "Baby, wait, baby, please..."
I bought a pack of cigarettes from an all-night gas station and parked my car on a side street. After letting three burn down almost untouched I gave up and let myself cry. I knew now that I had to leave him. I knew I couldn't let myself go back to the alcoholic monster he'd become and that knowledge hurt worse than my cheek where he hit it or my hair where he'd yanked it. My phone rang. It was him, of course. I didn't answer. It rang and rang and rang. After the fourth or fifth time he left a voicemail. Curiosity and a small amount of lingering respect for our eighteen year history made me to listen to it.
It was a long, rambling, drunken message with a lot of heavy breathing, as though he was trying not to cry. The only time I ever saw him cry was when his father passed away.
"I love you so much," the message began. "You're the only one who's ever always been there for me." It went on for a few minutes but I couldn't understand much beyond the occasional word. Near the end he seemed to get himself together, and it ended: "And now you're gone, too, and it's all my fault and I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. You'll never hear from me again. I promise I'm done hurting you. I'm done with all of it.
"I love you, baby. When you remember me, remember us, please remember the good times. I want you to be happy when you think of me. I want... I want you to be happy.
I raced back to the house. No matter how angry I was, no matter if I wasn't going back to him anyway, I couldn't let him kill himself. Though I thought it was just an attempt to get me to come back, I still couldn't take that chance. I drove all the way across town in less than five minutes and walked in the front door to find him loading his shotgun. Somehow I managed to talk the gun from his hands and put him in bed. I stayed up all night to make sure he didn't try anything else. The following morning I told him that I was leaving, and that I was taking his shotgun. He wasn't happy, but he wasn't drunk enough to force it from me. I told him he needed to quit his drinking. I told him he needed to get help. I told him to call me on his ninety days and we'll talk. He didn't say anything, just nodded his head to everything I said. I left.
Later, he got angry. Every few days he called me and told me to bring his gun back. He said he would call the police. I knew he was bluffing, he knew I knew he was bluffing. He still hated pigs from his younger days. I told him over and over again that I wouldn't give it back until he promised me he wouldn't use it on himself. For weeks and weeks he wouldn't do it. His friends and family members called me, yelled at me to give it back. They didn't know how bad he was, they didn't want to know. He doesn't have a drinking problem, they told me, as if they would know better than I would.
A few months went by where I didn't hear from him. Then he called and asked if he could stop by. I said no. I said I wanted nothing to do with him until he made the promise. He did. He promised me. And he always kept the promises he made to me. I took the gun over to his house. He begged me to stay. Begged me to come back. I told him I would come back when I had proof that he was getting help. Because after it all I still loved him. I still hoped he could get through it and that we could be happy again.
Four years later he was still drinking. I couldn't bring myself to leave him completely. I was the only good thing in his life and I knew it. So I would still go over to his place now and again when he needed me. I still checked up on him and we still talked on the phone and went out to dinner every couple of months. Every time he would ask me to stay, and every time I broke my heart telling him I wouldn't. He half-heartedly went to a few AA meetings, but that didn't last long. One night he called. I could tell by his voice he was drunk again. He asked me to come over. To come over and stay over. I wouldn't. I was angry that he quit going to AA. I was angry that he would even call me so trashed and ask me to come over when he knew how strongly I felt. He begged me, pleaded. I wouldn't budge. Then he just gave up.
"Alright. I didn't really expect you to. I understand. I wouldn't come see me, either."
I was so angry. I knew he was just trying to guilt me again. Well, this time I wouldn't give in. I turned off my phone and tried to turn off my mind.
That night he propped up his feet with my favorite blanket, the purple one with the white unicorn, and blew his promise all over the wall.
I will never understand why he did it. I will never understand why he would rather die than be with me. I know that's a twisted way to look at it, but I told him if he would put down the bottle we could pick up where we left off, but he didn't.
I will never be rid of this guilt. I will never be rid of the nagging belief that if I had gone over that night he would be alive today. I know I can't be held responsible for his actions but fucking hell, if I had gone, if I had been there for him like he needed me to be, like no one else ever was for him, he might have pulled through.
I will never stop hating him for breaking his promise. The last twenty-three years he had kept every promise he had ever made me, big and small. He never went back to jail, he got me that puppy for my 27th birthday, he never cheated or had any sort of affair. Why did this one, this last one, this most important one have to be the one shattered like my glasses, like his skull, like my heart?