Joey and Alli trembled with fear whenever Ex3 sneezed or coughed loudly. His reaction to that could probably be chalked up as annoyance, but was manifested in guilt.
It wasn’t always that way.
One late Wednesday night in December, not long before Christmas, was when it started. I was pissed because I missed the first showing of Top Chef. It was the season in Seattle when Kristen won a lot. She may have ended up winning the whole thing, but, like most contests, who won didn’t really matter after it was over.
It was the usual struggle to get him home, my phone blowing up with texts and calls about being home in 10 minutes and needing a ride. Too many drinks at one bar led to too many drinks at another led to too many drinks at a bar where I used to have too many drinks. One of his friends thought “Blackout Wednesday” was a fun tradition—shit I would have thought it a fun tradition at one point in my life—but I was beyond the games of finding my car and pissing the bed myself.
There is no good explanation for how I found myself in the same old situation, loving someone who didn’t love himself and thinking I could be enough to make everything okay. I really did think I could fix everything—I just needed to make more money, cook better food, be prettier, be nicer, and things would fall into place. If not completely happily ever after, at least ever after.
Chalk it up to the heart wanting what the heart wants.
The easiest fix that night was classic enabling: get in the car, drive to the old haunt, pay the tab, and become the human crutch for getting from the bar to the car and the car to the house.
Human crutch is never fun with 185 pounds of dead weight and I found myself getting angrier with every step. It’s easier to be angry at the sick person than be angry with yourself for how your choices helped create the situation.
You wouldn’t dump him if he had cancer, I used to tell myself.
You were sick, too, you should understand, I used to tell myself.
We navigated the back stairs with a near face plant, but somehow he managed to flop on the couch unscathed.
“I’m missing my show for the second time because of your bullshit,” I said.
He was already passed out.
The Bitches were always conflicted on those nights. Do we stay with him? Do we cuddle up with mom? Sometimes they split duties, with Alli staying in the living room, holding vigil over the passed out Ex3 and Joey snuggling in with me.
I woke to a panting Joey staring at me, with Alli not far behind. Alli turned and hurried out of the bedroom, nails clicking when she hit the hardwood floor of the hallway. Our house is small, but I wasn’t used to hearing her panting from the living room. Joey took off after her.
They returned to my room seconds later and Joey was whining as she panted, so I wondered what was wrong. They weren’t barking, like someone was on the property or trying to break into the house. They were scared, though, in a way I hadn’t see before or since.
These were Bitches with a purpose.
There was enough light from the TV, which played the Nth repeat of the Top Chef I missed, as I made my way out to the living room. The Bitches hightailed it for the kitchen, where they stayed together as they peered around the corner.
He was on his back, struggling for air, on the couch that had already been defiled with piss on too many occasions to count. This was the couch I lied upon during Joey’s shuking incident.
He was gonna pull a Jimi Hendrix in my living room.
In a few steps, I was next to him, turning him on his side and pounding on his back. There was no hesitation or time to think about calling someone.
I was next to him.
But then I wasn’t.
The meat skeleton that carries me around stayed with him, pounding and shaking.
But I was gone.
I was in the corner of the room, watching the flesh and bones, thinking about the time I woke up in the bathtub, covered in my puke, wondering why I hadn’t choked on it and died. A decade later, that night still bothered me. It was another push towards getting better, but wasn’t enough for me to get into long-term recovery and get well. I don’t know that there was a moment in my life when I felt as pathetic or hopeless as I did that moment in the tub because it was all on me. Nobody else got me there. And I’d never been more lost.
I looked over at the Bitches, who were still peeking around the corner in the kitchen, panting and shaking. They were looking for cues from their master, like any dog does, but they weren’t watching the meat skeleton, they were watching me.
They were watching me.
And before I could respond, I was back in the flesh, brown and red splashes of vomit, tinged with the smell of Newcastle, hitting my red sweatpants as he gurgled and retched. His eyes were wild and scared, he had no idea what was going on, or that he could have died if the Bitches hadn’t woken me up.
The Bitches shook.
On hands and knees, I scrubbed the rug.
I really loved him.
We both always knew it shouldn’t be so much work.