I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Into the fire

Well, it's Sunday again, a week since the last post. I realize that all of this introspection brings up thoughts I haven't had, feelings I've suppressed, for decades. Examining my life like this is very cathartic, but sometimes catharsis brings up difficult emotions I've stuffed down inside. Charmine asked in a comment why now?

Indeed, why now? Because I had better do it soon, before all the brain cells stop working like they should. It's scary how often I cannot bring up a name, a word, or how quickly my mind loses its train of thought. And then, in the middle of the night, the past comes screaming up at me, things I had forgotten I even knew.

That reminds me of a puzzle I couldn't remember: how did I get divorced from Don? I know I had never traveled back to Michigan to do it. Finally I remembered that I spent a season, maybe the summer, maybe a six-month stint, with David in Ann Arbor before we went to California. During that time I remember traveling back to Flint where I saw Don for the last time, at the divorce proceedings. He was dressed in a jacket I had given him and he had never worn before, with a tie that I had given him on some past Christmas. I noticed these things, and it made me sad. The divorce went through as expected. The most important thing I remember is being given back my maiden name. Although I would not use it for a while (pretending to be married to David), it was a milestone that meant a lot. Finding out who I was apart from men was still ahead of me, but that little sprout of independence was an important beginning.

Back to being in Sacramento. David went back to his job as vice principal in a middle school, and he would not allow me to work. I spent my days being a housewife to him, Chris, and sometimes his two children when they came to visit us. I had long ago stopped drinking every day and felt it was my mission to take care of David when he went on one of his binges.

David was definitely a binge drinker. He would go for days or even weeks without touching a drink, and then would have just one. For a day or two, or even three, one or two drinks would suffice. But then he would start drinking and it would go on for days. I have memories of him lying in the middle of the living room surrounded by mostly empty bottles of Canadian Club, delirious and in and out of consciousness. Occasionally he would look up at me with hate in his eyes, and then he would start to hit me and call me names.

Chris and I became accomplices in an elaborate scheme to avoid David when he was like that. We both recognized the symptoms when they started, and we figured out ways to survive. He never touched Chris, only me. I left him numerous times and joined Al-Anon where I made some critical contacts. They helped me so very much, and one woman told me that if I was ever in need to call her and she would help me.

I always went back to David. When he was recovering from one of those binges, he was always so incredibly apologetic and vulnerable that I could not help but love him and want to help him recover. This of course is the old alcoholic line: all I need is the love of a good woman and I'll never need to drink again. How could I have been so stupid?

One time I left him and moved back to live with my parents. Chris and I showed up on their doorstep and they took us in. I got a job and Chris went to school, and for three or four months we were happy, it looked like our lives were looking up. But David came to get me, sweet and sober and I agreed to meet him in Las Vegas and get married to him. Chris and I drove in my new used car to Las Vegas, and I entered into my third marriage. I was not quite thirty years old. I don't know the date, but I know it was not a happy time. Chris and I knew better, but I had little to no volition of my own.

We moved into a beautiful ranch house and tried to make a life together. Chris went to yet another school, and I learned to make all the things David liked, and he went on Antabuse, a drug that makes you sick when you drink. He insisted that I take it too, which I did, so I could know what it felt like.

And then he went off to a conference for three days and I could not monitor whether or not he took his Antabuse. When he came back, he proceeded to start drinking (which is what I feared more than anything). The old David was back. I told Chris to open the latch on his window and gave him the keys to the car and told him that if I said some phrase (I don't remember what ruse I used) to climb out the window, get in the car, lock all the doors except that driver's side and put the keys in the ignition.

Then something set David off, and he started to beat me. He hit me and hit me, and I lost consciousness. When I woke up, he was sitting drunkenly next to me and I called out the phrase to Chris. Then carefully as if I might wake a sleeping dragon, I made my way out the front door. Chris was in the car. As I got in, I saw David coming out the front door like a mad bull. Quickly I locked the door and started the car. He tried to smash out the passenger window, but I drove away, with his hand on the car door trying to get in. He fell in the driveway, but all I could think of was to get away. We did. We got away.

I went to the house of my friend, and she gave us a place to stay while I got my life together. Since I was pretty badly hurt, I went to see a doctor at my friend's insistence. The doctor asked if I had been in a car wreck. When I told him what had happened, he took me by my shoulders and looked straight into my eyes and said, "If you go back, you will die. Please listen to me. I've seen this before." I owe that doctor my life.

I cried and cried, but I never went back. David sent me my things, and they were damaged beyond recognition. His anger and hate for me fueled his drinking. I don't know how he managed to keep his job, but he did.

Eventually I found a job with the Department of Education, an apartment for Chris and me, and I began another new life. I divorced David, a marriage that had lasted only a few months. And this time, I used my own name, which I have never changed again, although I am now happily married to a wonderful man. I spent twenty years finding myself and was fifty before I married again. Anyone who has been married and divorced three times by the age of thirty needs to have a little break, don't you think?

The next period of my life was filled with discovery and adventure. I'll talk about the steps I took to find myself, and why Chris eventually went back to live with his father full time. The decade of the 1970s was just beginning, and I had a good job, started taking evening classes at a local community college, and life was about to change drastically. For the better.


Norma Jean said...

Wow! Maybe it's for the best that part of your life was never something I knew about. How close you came to being a statistic and never knowing how good life can be. You're right; you owe that doctor your life (I guess your guardian angel was watching over you right then). Since I know a lot of the "rest of the story", what a different person you are now. It makes me love you even more.

Lucy said...

Nobody can be more convincing or attractive than an alcoholic when they want to be! (I know...) It pains me no end that you write: 'His anger and hate for me fueled his drinking.' It's not you he hated or was angry with... you just got in the way of it. It was anger and hatred of himself as with all drunks. Stop putting the blame on your own shoulders but squarely where it belongs... on his! OK?

Whitney Lee said...

How chilling. The amount that you have experienced and overcome in your life, particularly that young, is staggering. It's comforting that there were people willing to help you when you did reach out. I would agree that someone was watching over you.
What is it about humans that keeps us from doing what we know in our hearts to be the right thing for us until we hear it from someone whose opinion or advice means more to us than our own (as with you and the doctor)? You can at least be thankful that David didn't ever strike out at Chris the way he did you.
I agree with the Lucy and Dick Show; alcoholics are so damn angry and depressed and incapable of looking honestly at anything (particularly themselves) that they turn on those closest to them. It's easier to pile all that blame on someone else than to admit their own culpability in their lack of happiness. You were just a handy target, not someone to blame. I'm sure you feel guilty enough about a great deal of that; let some of it go...
I cannot imagine the feelings that these old memories dredge up. I'm sending warm and healing thoughts your way. I hope that you can look at your past with honest and forgiving eyes instead of guilty and judgmental ones.

wendyytb said...

Seems like you saved the best for last....

The Retired One said...

I was afraid of exactly this when I read the end of your last post.
I am SO sorry you had to go through yet MORE emotional (and physical!) pain before you finally got to experience a better life....
Your son had to also go through so much.
Thank goodness he never abused him when he was a child and had his drinking bouts.
Of course, what is the definition of abuse?
He saw his mother being abused, and not leaving the situation until it was an emergency....that WAS a form of abuse for him, after all, wasn't it? And being a child, he was powerless over it all.
When my parents went through years of drinking, I would hear arguments between them. They never got physical, but they would say emotionally abusive things now and then to each other when they were both drunk. I would be alone all night, go to bed, only to be awakened by hearing this....it was painful for me and I had no one to turn to. It made the lonliness even more traumatic. Because I didn't know if that meant that the next day would be worse, if they were breaking up or what would happen.
To THIS date, whenever people verbally argue or if I am with someone who drinks and is not themselves...I get extremely anxious...and leave the situation as soon as possible.
I have drink rarely and when I do, never more than 2 drinks..I refuse to ever lose control of myself or be around anyone who does.
Just once I would like to go and experience getting drunk..but I just can't let myself.

Jinksy said...

I've seen enough of the effect of too much drink on an otherwise decent human being to realise how hard it must have been for you and your son. Well done for surviving, and being brave enough share, to let others see how they may do the same!

Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

Wow, what an incredible journey you are taking in this blog. I'm sure it's difficult, but it also seems very worthwhile for you...and helpful to others, too.

Far Side of Fifty said...

DJan, You were very brave and very lucky to get away. What a journey you have made..I guess you waited for just the right Smart Guy to spend your last years with:)

SquirrelQueen said...

DJan, I have been here all along reading each of your posts. You went through some incredible times the first half of your life. You must have had a hard working guardian angel to come through it and not become a statistic. It has to be difficult to put all of this on paper but it also will help to finally delegate it to the past.

Leave a Legacy said...

Oh My! I have never experienced abuse like this and can't even imagine. I sometimes cry when my husband just raises his voice to me. I also find it interesting to read your sister's comments.

Deborah said...

DJan, I came here via Nancy's blog and have read your last four posts (this being the last one, so far). You are brave and clear in your openness and I wish you success in your quest to find yourself explained.

Tiff said...

I'm just getting caught up here, and I admire you so much. You are an amazing person. I might have said that on my last comment, but it's very true! I look forward to reading more of your journey!

justme_alive said...

I admire you for the ability to record your life so honestly on this page. You are an amazing woman. Your ready smile these days gives no clue to what you've been through in your life. I'm glad your days are happier now. Keep pressing on, enjoying these "good" days.