Hotel Rooms and Pills

I got to the hotel first.

R’s sense of drama had been on full display when he chose the scene for his suicide attempt:  he’d taken a room in the same hotel we’d spent our wedding night in.  I raced down the hall and found the door cracked open so that I didn’t have to knock to enter the room.

R was splayed half conscious on the bed, two bottles of pills and a bottle of vodka on the table next to the bed.   I couldn’t tell how serious the situation was, I had no idea what he’d taken or how much.

“R…what were you thinking?  This is not a solution, here.  All you will do is hurt everyone who loves you.”

“Which doesn’t include you,” he said groggily, reaching over to check my left hand.  It was empty; I hadn’t worn the ring in months, vowing not to put it back in my hand until we had reached a place where we both felt respected and solidly in the marriage for the right reasons.

I sat down next to him on the bed.  “R, I do love you.  I just don’t like some of the things you do.  You’re right, things are not great between us now.  But that’s not a reason to do this.  It’s just not,” I said.

I remembered when I’d tried to kill myself as a teenager; it all came flooding back standing there in the dimly lit room.  I’d cut my wrists once, but not enough for it to put me in any real danger.  I’d taken pills once, all alone one night my senior year in high school.  Both times, if I was being honest with myself, I was just begging for someone, anyone, to come find me and help take away my pain.  To prove to me that I mattered enough to someone, anyone, enough to take time out of their day to console me, to help me, to say to me that I meant something to them.

I was sure that R was doing the same here.  It was no mistake that he had called me, not his parents.  He wanted me to be his savior, to prove to him that our marriage wasn’t over, that I still cared about him, that we could make a go of it.   I wanted to be that person, I did.  I wanted everything to be different.  But I couldn’t help also feeling more anger than sympathy.

I’d never had anyone stop me, so I didn’t know what to do.  I couldn’t tell how bad the situation was; I glanced down at the empty pill bottles and realized they would have his doctor’s information on them.  I found the name and number of his psychiatrist and dialed the numbers quickly into my cell phone.

“No, he should be fine,” the doctor said on the other end of the line after I explained the situation.  “I don’t think that you’ll need to get an ambulance, but he still should be taken to the ER to be checked out.  Has he vomited at all?”

I repeated the question to R, who answered by shaking his head slowly, his eyes now closed.

“I’ll meet you at the hospital,” the doctor told me next, instructing me as to which hospital, which entrance.  I hung up the phone, dumbfounded, staring at it.  I had to do this.  I had to gain control and fix this.

As I started gathering up R’s things, the door opened and R’s father rushed in.  Questions rang out in rapid fire speech as he strode across the room.  One by one I answered them, backing away from the bed as he approached.   I had called him after R’s quiet phone call to me, telling him where R had said he was and reporting exactly what he’d said.  I knew I’d need his help.

He stood next to the bed and started talking to R, loudly, rousing him and bringing tears to both of their eyes.  I watched them together, wondering how we got here.  A year ago we were finalizing plans for our wedding.  R’s parents were having us over for dinner and we were talking, drinking, appreciating each other’s company.  We were a team.  Now the worst of both of us was on display for his father as R hurled accusations at me in slurred speech while I shook my head quietly from across the room.

“Enough,” his father said.  He looked over to me and said calmly, “You probably should go.  There’s nothing more you can do here for him, with him like this.  I’ll get him to the hospital and call you when we have a better sense of what is going on with him, ok?”  He gave me a sympathetic smile that I could tell he was hiding from his son.

“OK,” I whispered, gathering up my things.

I walked over to the bed, where R had gone from listless to tearful to angry.  “I’m going to go now, your Dad is here.  I’m sorry, R…I am truly, truly sorry that you felt you had to resort to something like this.”

“No, you’re not,” he responded without meeting my eyes.

R’s father shook his head and nodded towards the door.  “Just go,” he said softly.

I closed the door behind me, the symbolism not lost on me.

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What The ….

“I don’t know where he is,” I said to R’s mother on the phone late that evening.  “Have you heard from him?”

R had spent the first month or so of our separation living in the sleeper cabin of his boat the marina.  We’d gone to marriage counseling every week in order to help repair the damage, but it hadn’t been going very well.  My hurt and anger was slow to heal, and I just couldn’t find myself willing to allow R back in the house.  His hurt increased with every single day he was out of the house, and finally when we stopped seeing our expensive therapist, he started seeing a different one on his own.

I was finding a strange empowerment being on my own again; while the bills were tough to meet on my reduced salary and without R, I was loving my job.  Already plans were forming in my head for advancement; I was already working on my Master’s degree and was now sure I would try for a curriculum position in one of our local districts.  Work was going amazingly well; the days sped by, and I looked forward to each day of the students and fellow colleagues.  It was starting to become clear to me that I didn’t have to settle for mediocrity; it took me a while to find a job that fulfilled me but now I had it.  Was I willing to go back to a marriage that didn’t fill my needs?  I wasn’t sure any more.

R went to stay with his parents after the weather turned colder and the boat was no longer an option for his residence.  They called me on the phone several times to try and help matters along, but the efforts always ended in them agreeing on the points that I was upset about.  They knew their son could be difficult and they promised to try and work with him to help him see where I was coming from.

And so it was odd that they would call me on a weekday evening after 8pm; R was usually home by then.  “We haven’t seen him since this morning.  Something just doesn’t feel right,” said his mother.

“Have you called his cell phone?  What about his friends there in town?  Work?”  I went through the options for them, but no, they told me they’d called each one.

“If you hear from him, please have him call us,” they told me.  I promised I would, and then started the work of dialing all of the numbers that I had just instructed them to call.  No answer at work, no answer at his cell phone.  Maybe he was just out with a friend and forgot to charge his phone, I thought.  But something felt wrong.

I jumped when the phone rang five minutes later, the caller ID showing a local number that I didn’t recognize.  “Hello?” I said into the receiver.

A distant voice on the other end of the line responded.  “I called to tell you goodbye,” R said quietly.

“Hey, where are you?” I answered.  “Your parents have been calling here looking for you.  They are worried sick about you.   You really should call them.”

“I can’t talk to them right now,” he said, the voice thin and odd on the other end of the line.

“Why not?” I asked, my mind racing with annoyance mingled with questions.

“I took some pills,” he answered.  “I’m just waiting, now.  You won’t have to worry about me much longer.”

Oh, fuck.

A Bright Spot

It reminded me so much of the middle school I’d taught at when my mother was ill, for so many reasons.

First of all, everything looked different than it had in the city.  I had a brand new classroom, with brand new desks, a closet which held brand new calculators and textbooks.  There was a dry erase board mounted to the wall, a computer and a closed circuit TV which could be connected to the computer for large lesson displays.  There was a library of CDs with computerized encyclopedias, math lessons and games for student use.  I had everything I needed, even some things I wasn’t sure I would ever use.

But too, it felt the same because I was similarly pushing out the drama and difficulty at home to focus on my work.  I didn’t tell a soul what had happened at home; that my husband and I had a huge fight yesterday, that the police had been called, and that he’d spent last night in the cabin of his boat and I’d changed the locks on our shared home.  I was out to prove myself to these people and I hardly knew them; I certainly wasn’t going to talk about my home life in this, the first day of school.  No, I pushed it all out of my head.  I had to focus.  I had no idea what to expect from my students, who as eighth graders promised to be a challenge.

I worked through the advisory period (in my school days we used to call it homeroom) with my first day of school philosophy:  start out tough, and you can ease up later.  Once you lose a group of students’ respect, it is much harder to gain it back than to ease up the reins of control.  With middle grade students it is easy to joke around and try and have the “I’m your friend first” mentality, but my experience had told me that this was a recipe for trouble later on.   In the city, the sheer numbers of students and the general lack of respect for school, adults and authority had made it impossible to be anything but hard and tough in order to manage my classroom without it spiraling into chaos.  The combination of pushing out the thoughts of what had happened yesterday and my worry at losing control of older students on day one gave me the manner of a tiny, blond drill sargent.

But everything I knew and was used to practicing as a teacher were not the same here.  Immediately in homeroom I found myself dumbfounded by the fact that I gave an instruction and it was followed without question.   The students were silently filling in their information cards as I’d instructed them to do; I walked slowly up and down the rows of desks to be sure no one was pretending to be on task but really writing notes or daydreaming.  But they weren’t.  They were all doing what I’d asked.

I kept looking for the cracks in the wall:  the inevitable tiny flick a student would give to a neighbor to incite a distraction, the passing of gas that would lead to ten minutes of pulling the kids back on track, the sarcastic comment after I gave an instruction to the students.  But it didn’t happen.  The students quietly came up to my desk with their completed cards one by one, and pulled out books and magazines for the rest of the advisory period to read until the bell rang for first period.

I could feel myself soften by the second period, when students filed in and dutifully participated in the team building activity I’d created in order to gain their respect and feel ownership of their studies.  By the sixth period, I was laughing with the students after they’d completed their tasks.   I could hardly believe the day was over; it had flown by in a flurry of activity and anticipation.  The exhaustion I normally felt the end of a school day was no where to be found; I was exhilarated and couldn’t wait for tomorrow to come to see what else my new students could do and how they would respond to my lessons.

“Wow, you really keep those kids in line,” my coworker Julie said as we stood together in the hallway watching the students at their lockers pack up for the buses.  “I never heard a peep out of your room today.”

I looked at her and laughed.  “Honestly, these eighth graders are easier to work with than the first graders I taught four years ago.  They actually listen and believe you’re in charge instead of questioning you at every turn.”

Julie laughed.  “It’s not that they are necessarily easier.  They would question you if they thought they could get away with it.  It’s clear that they respect you.”  She paused, and smiled.   “I think we’re gonna have a lot of fun this year.”

I smiled brightly at her, the stress I’d been feeling this morning completely erased from my mind.  So this was what it was like to love your job, to want to come to work, to be able to focus on your work so completely that nothing else could distract you.  “I think you’re right, ” I answered brightly.

Something Ever After

I reached next to me and turned off the clock alarm.  Obviously blissful sleep wasn’t right around the corner, as I’d kept hoping every time I’d rolled over all night long.  The red numbers had inched forward, excruciatingly slowly.

I’d replayed the evening over and over in my head dozens of times in the darkness of the late night and early morning.  The frantic phone calls, the police lights blinking outside our window as they’d interviewed both R and I.   R’s look as he packed a small bag and they escorted him out the door on his promise to stay away for the night; a combination of desperation, hurt and extreme anger.  The quiet after everyone left and I talked to Z in as calm a voice as I could about why R would not be staying with us for a while.   The feeling after I’d tucked him into bed.  Opening the door to Dawn’s husband when he arrived at 10:30pm to change the locks.

I was scared, but was I being too irrational?  R hadn’t taken a swing at me, hadn’t hit me, hadn’t threatened me with violence.  But his sheer force and power as he held me and his refusal to let me leave the room had scared me in a place very visceral, very deep inside.   I wasn’t sure if I saw bruises starting to form on my arms from his grip or if I was just imagining it; maybe I was.  I didn’t know anything other than my fear, my overwhelming sense that I was not safe, that my son and I both were not safe.

How did it all get so out of control?   I rolled over the question, working it like a loose tooth that won’t come out.  Which step had I made today that had caused R to cross the line from arguing to something much bigger, much darker?  What could I have done differently?  And how could he have let himself get that far down the road?  I’d always said that love was an extreme emotion, as was ange; there was often a razor thin line between the two.  Is this what real, committed love looked like on its dark days?  I’d never lived with a man before, and R was certainly the longest relationship I’d ever had; was this level of ugly anger just the way things worked?

No, it wasn’t, I knew it wasn’t.  My sister had been married for years, and it had never been like this.  Dawn and her husband, even in their worst fight before she came to live with me, had never had a confrontation like this.  It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

I looked out the window; the sky had gone from black to gray towards the sunrise that I knew would make it blue.  I could lay here ten more minutes and ponder the bigger question of where this was all leading, or I could get in the shower and prepare for work.

Oh, crap.  Today was my first day teaching at my new job.

Hurt and Anger

We were locked in our bedroom, as we did when we fought, hoping to shield Zach from the harsh words and anger.  I can hardly remember what had sparked this particular battle, as we were living in an angry, silent existence at that point since our return from Niagara.

The respite with his family had reminded me one of my favorite things about R:  his family.  They were wonderful people, his sister and parents having joined us for the Labor Day festivities along with his aunts and uncles who lived in the area.  We went to a concert with the cousins, while the extended family watched Z for us and made barbecue in the back yard.   There were enough people around to mask our silences and by the end of the weekend we’d declared an uneasy truce.

It didn’t last long.  Once we returned, all of our troubles were simply waiting for us, like spoiled milk in the fridge after a week away.  It didn’t take long before the sarcasm bit both ways and this Sunday morning I’d had enough.  I started pushing back with my own pent up anger, but it wasn’t long before the verbal volleys became so caustic that I had had enough.

“That’s it, I’m done with this,” I said, starting for the door.  “I don’t even know what to say to you any more.”

R grabbed my arm.  “You’re not leaving until we finish this.”

I looked down at my arm, where he was gripping it tightly.  “You’re hurting me,” I said through tight lips.  “Let me go.  Besides, you’ll never be done.  You never are.  You keep this going and going even though it’s long been over.  You want to accuse me, I deny it, you don’t believe me, it goes on and on.”

“Why do you keep emailing him?”  R went on, not letting go.

“I’m not getting in the circle again here.  He’s a friend, I can email my friends.  Now let me go,” I said, trying to pull free from his grip.

He tightened it.  “He’s not your friend.  He’s a guy in LA who you didn’t know until a few months ago.  I’m asking you to stop communicating with him.  It’s him, or me, that’s it.”

“You can’t do that, give me an ultimatum.  This is ridiculous.  Come on, I’m serious, let me go.”

“I’m serious too.  You have to stop, I’m telling you to stop.”

I broke his grip.  “You can’t tell me what to do.  I’m not your child, I’m your wife.”  I turned again towards the door, only to feel him grab me, hard.

“You’re not going anywhere,” R said, firmly.  “Not until you promise to stop communicating with him.”

I was scared, now.  He was holding my shoulders, pushing my back up against the dresser.  I remembered this feeling, the feeling that someone was forcing you physically to do something you didn’t want to do.  I started to struggle.  “Stop this, now.  Let me go,” I hissed, hoping Z wasn’t hearing any of this.

“No,” he said, an edge to his voice that raised even more red flags behind my eyes.  As I wiggled, he moved one hand quickly to my waist and grabbed me by it, pulling me back towards him.

“Stop,” I pleaded, the tears coming down my face.  There was nothing else, nothing in the world, just me not being able to leave and him forcing me to stay.  I saw years and years of fear and rage and control in front of me; the panic was rising fast.  “You’re hurting me, let me go!”

I felt him pull tighter, but then something broke inside him.  He let go and sat down on the bed with his head in his hands.

I raced from the room,and ran downstairs to find Z blissfully unaware and playing video games.

 

Impasse

The trip to Niagara Falls was R’s idea.

We’d go to Niagara a few days before Labor Day, and then spend the weekend with his extended family nearby in Canada.  I was terribly uninterested and hardly spoke as we took Z up to Skylon Tower and took the Maid of the Mist tour, complete with rain ponchos for your trip underneath the falls.

I should have been happy that R was trying to do something that would move us closer to each other again, but I had spent the last month so angry and so frustrated with him that I was beyond wanting an improvement.

The accusations had kept coming after our fateful fight in the computer room, and my resentment grew by leaps and bounds.  I’d never felt such lack of trust and it unnerved me; my parents had always had such great trust in me that I was unprepared for how to handle it.

Me being me, the end result of R’s behaviors had been to push me to even more questionable behavior.  My sister watched Z one Wednesday as Dawn and I drove to Pittsburgh and back in one day to go see Kyle Vincent open up for Bryan Adams.  He and I talked for hours after the line dissipated at the end of the autograph booth.   His vulnerability as he wistfully asked me if a crowd that size would ever show up for his name on the marquee made me feel needed.  His pride in my attendance at a show six hours from home made me feel wanted.  I liked that, and it was so diametrically opposed to the way I was feeling at home with R’s fear and mistrust that I didn’t flinch when he kissed me goodbye on the cheek.

Two weeks later, in the midst of R’s absence and silence, I dropped Zach off again on a Tuesday around noon for another road trip.   Summer was already counting down and this would be the last chance, I reasoned, to just go and see Kyle perform; the tour was nearly over.  New York City was a twelve hour or so drive from my home.  He was performing two shows, one at the World Trade Center.  If I was going to get accused of having an affair, I might as well at least enjoy some fun and good music along the way.  I felt independent and empowered as I walked up and down Broadway from Midtown to Gramercy Park, in a city I’d never been to before.  I looked up at the Towers and felt awe and inspiration as I watched Kyle sing underneath them.  I deserved more than what I was getting at home, I reasoned.  I drove home, savoring each decision I’d made alone.  I didn’t ‘have to be yelled at and accused all day long; I was a good person who could do whatever I put my mind to.   I tucked my wedding ring in my purse and readied myself for the rage that I would encounter when I returned.

And so two weeks later, after R had said his piece and I’d decided to stop arguing with him about it since he thought the worst of me anyway, I wasn’t entirely happy about trying to fix things up with a family trip to see his aunts and uncles.   But Z was excited about the idea, and I told myself that it was the right thing to do.

“What are you thinking about?” he asked as we drove towards Hamilton, Ontario, and away from the Falls.  We’d hardly said anything this morning so far to each other, allowing ourselves to just talk to Z about our trip and what had been his favorite thing so far.

Was it that obvious?  I was a million miles away.  I wasn’t here with either of them.  “The Secret Garden” by Bruce Springsteen was on the radio and I was listening to the words, thinking about finding someone that would admire my own secret garden instead of someone who ridiculed it.  “Nothing,” I answered, not even bothering to pull my eyes away from the window and the scenery flying by at 120 kilometers per hour.

I didn’t realize that his initiation of conversation was tantamount to an apology.  He took my rebuff as a rebuke of the olive branch he’d offered.

R pursed his lips and didn’t say anything else.

Trust or Lack Thereof

“Do you care to explain this?”  R was pointing to the computer screen in our office.  Since we’d both come into the marriage with a personal computer apiece, there were two desks set up on opposite walls, one with his computer, one with mine.  When we both worked in the tiny space that used to be Z’s bedroom, our backs would nearly touch.

He was pointing to my computer. I shook my head, confused.  He never used my computer, and I never used his.  In fact, when R moved in, he’d gotten his own phone line as well; I never answered his phone, even when it was his parents.  There was something about it that just felt like crossing a line.

I looked closer at the screen.  My email account was open, and an email was highlighted.  I knew instantly what he’d done, and what he’d read when he’d done it.   Anger flashed red behind my eyes; the guilt I felt wrapped itself up in it and made it white hot.

The email he had read was from Kyle Vincent, the singer my friends and I had gone to see a few weeks ago.  Sure enough, he’d been attentive and funny during our interactions during the course of the day, leading my girlfriends to make all manner of accusations.  I just laughed, but inside I felt special and attractive.  Which I shouldn’t.  I was married.  But it felt good, and fun, and innocent enough with me married and not looking to change that status.

He’d asked us to come to another show nearby and Dawn and I had made the trek.   By the end of that evening, onlookers had guessed that we were a couple by our easy conversation and comfortable interactions.  He’d sent me a saucy email afterward when he returned home to Los Angeles asking when we would start our affair.  I knew he was joking, mostly, but it still felt fun and a little dangerous to be talked to that way by a good looking man who could have any girl in the room.

I hadn’t told R about any of it other than the fact that we’d gone to a second show while he was in San Diego.  He wasn’t happy about it; he tried to explain that he didn’t like that we were engaging in separate interests, that he didn’t like that something outside of him was bringing me happiness.  I argued that it would be hard for us to have common activities when he was away five days a week.   I hadn’t told him about any of the emails, knowing he would take them absolutely the wrong way.

“Explain what?  The fact that you’ve gone into my email account without asking me first?   I don’t know how to explain that, or understand that.  Why on earth would you do that?”

He looked angry, very angry.  “Because you keep running in here five times a day to go on the computer; I figured that something was going on in there to have you come running in here before you’ve even showered in the mornings.  And I was right.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I countered, indignation oozing from every pore.  But he was right.  I was looking forward to the emails.  That was true, and probably wrong.

“I read the email.  You want to explain what he means by ‘when are we starting our affair’?  Because I for one would also like to know the answer to that question.”

“It’s a joke, R, come on.  You can’t think that he was serious.  It’s just a joke.”  My cheeks were red with fury but also with guilt.  I knew that I should not have enjoyed emailing and talking with this other man so much.  That was why I didn’t tell R about it.  But I did enjoy it.  I knew nothing would come of it, so it seemed harmless.

“He doesn’t seem to think it’s a joke,” R countered, fury still evident in every word.

“OK, you’re delusional.  This is a rock star.  He goes from town to town, singing, getting ogled by beautiful women, probably getting laid wherever he goes.”

“You fail to refute my concerns,” R said icily.

“Come on!  Do you not trust me?  I met him at the shows, we have emailed, we’re friendly.  Emphasis on the word friend.  Are you saying you think I slept with him?  Even if I were someone he was remotely interested in that way, I’m married.  To you!  Hello!  For heaven’s sakes! Do you not know me at all?”

R clicked the X in the top right hand corner of my email browser, revealing the sunny beach on my screensaver.  “I don’t like that you’re emailing him.  You shouldn’t want to email him.  Why do you email him?  Aren’t I enough for you?”

I sighed.  “Of course you are,” I said, but feeling that his anger and accusations were certainly making the statement less true than it should be.  “But am I not allowed to have friends?  Male friends?  Is that a rule now?”

“Not like that.  Not friends who talk about having affairs with you, while I’m two thousand miles away.”

Fair enough.  I had to give him that.  “OK, point taken.  Besides, the tour is over soon, anyway.  I’m sure he’ll forget I exist as soon as it is.”

“We should be so lucky,” R muttered as he walked past me out of the room.

I looked around at the tight space and sighed.  Did everything really have to be this hard?

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