“No more. Not ever,” I’d said.
Years of warnings, threats, tears, and promises had not changed him, not really. And now we had a child. We owned a home.
We were grown-ups, and far too old to be passing out in the bathroom or on the kitchen floor. I didn’t trust him. I didn’t feel safe. He’d never hurt me with his fists or his words.
No, the threat of him was simply this: Alcohol made him unpredictable.
Namely, I never knew, one day to the next, what version of him I would encounter and at what stage of inebriation. Sometimes he was as sober as a judge. Other times, a beer or two made him giggly. Still others, a beer or two had become six or seven or ten.
These were the bad ones. The passed out on the floor ones. The leaving-the-door-wide-open-
Consequently, to him, to others, I’d drawn the line: No more. Not ever. I told friends and family I’d had enough. While supporting him, while loving him, I also began to realize the isolation of this. The excuses and explanations, apologies and denials had cost me. They, those who knew me, could see the toll. It took me years, but I began to see it too. After several pencil lines had been drawn and crossed, I drew that line in ink.
To him, I warned he could never drink again, not if he wanted to stay married. Not if he wanted to keep our family together. He said he wanted that. He always said he loved me and I believed him.
But, he wasn’t in charge. His love for me, I imagined, was like the proverbial sailor’s longing for home when out at sea. Truly, no matter how much the sailor loves and longs for home, the sea beckons. Neither the sailor nor my husband could deny the siren call.
To be clear though, he wasn’t the alcoholic hiding bottles in closets or drawers. He didn’t drink every night. But these things are not prerequisite for problem drinking. Instead, alcohol acted upon him and upon our relationship like the faulty wiring of an old lamp, always flickering.
That night, the last night, the light died.
On that fall evening, while our toddler, then three-years-old, slumbered, I watched television. But, I kept an eye on my phone and the door. It wasn’t late, only eight or nine; but still, he should have been home hours ago. From long experience, I knew something was wrong. I prepared myself for the worst.
I tried calling him. He answered my fourth or fifth call, his words a slur. I don’t remember what he said, but I know I answered him calmly. He was on his way home. I waited at the back door. When I saw him stumble through the gate enclosing our urban backyard, I moved to intercept him. I closed the door behind me, cutting our son off from what was about to happen.
When I reached the swaying tower of my husband standing befuddled in our yard, I spoke softly, even kindly. I told him he could not come in. He would have to find somewhere else to go, but I would help him. This was the end, I said.
Remember: No more. Not ever.
In the moonlit backyard, we struggled. Me, asking him firmly for his phone. Him, resisting. He didn’t understand why I wanted him to hand it over. Again and again I explained that I just needed access to his contact list. I wanted to find a friend to come and pick him up. Eventually, I prevailed.
Meanwhile, I kept an eye on the back door. I knew he could not set foot inside that house again. I was ready to throw myself in front of that door, blocking his entrance. He could not stay not even for a night, not ever. Too many times before my heart had softened with his pleas and promises. I’d continually heard what I wanted to hear. But not now.
Not any more. Not ever.
Soon, I found a phone number of a name I recognized and dialed. A friend would help him; he was on the way. Then, my husband, unable to understand what had happened, stumbled from our backyard towards the embrace of a couch in someone else’s home. When the gate latched behind him, I returned to our home, dry-eyed and calm. The deadbolt on the backdoor engaged effortlessly. Next, I checked on our child. Then I called my aunt and my best friend.
Finally, hours later, I went upstairs to my bedroom and stood at the window, looking out over the backyard. The streetlights winked in the distance. I realized, for the first time in many years, I felt different. I felt safe.
Obviously, pain was ahead. I knew I’d be awash in tears in the coming weeks and months as we worked through what it meant to end twelve years together. But, I also knew this wasn’t only an ending.
This moment, the lights twinkling in the distance, the doors locked, my sleeping child nearby, was a beginning too, a birth. I had only to nurture this new thing, this new life. This me, the one that could end a marriage with kindness, with hope, with love, she was strong.
She drew a line and held it. She said, “No more. Not ever,” and meant it.