The smell of stale, consumed vodka filled the room. My heart threatened to plunge into my nauseated stomach. My three week old daughter was asleep on the bed beside me.
The whole bed shook as he struggled to pull his six foot, four inch, 287 pound inebriated body to the floor to get dressed. My heart rate increased as we went through the habitual routine. I wanted to stop him. I was afraid he would get arrested and I was afraid he wouldn’t get arrested. I was terrified he would hurt or kill himself or someone else.
I jumped out of bed as quickly as I could with the extra fifty pounds of baby weight-gain I schlepped on my five-foot-four, typically 110-pound frame.
“I’ll go,” I said.
He looked at me, eyelids like submarines over a red sea.
“I don’t want you to drive.”
I pulled on a pair of large cotton shorts and one of his mammoth t-shirts and piled my hair on top of my head as I sleepily stumbled around, looking for the keys.
I moved my baby to the bassinet, hoping she would not wake during the fifteen minutes I would be gone and climbed into our twelve-year-old, gold Honda Accord, rear bumper attached via green and yellow bungee cords. The gas needle hovered below empty, but I decided to risk it. We couldn’t afford to keep a full gas tank, but managed a nightly piggy-bank scrape for a pint (and most nights an additional pint or half-pint) and sometimes a fifth of vodka.
It was 1:42 AM and, thanks to him, I was privy to the fact that alcohol purchases entered lockdown mode at 2:00.
I pulled into the nearly empty Ralphs parking lot, hoisted myself out of the car and listened to the slapping sound of flip-flops against my naked heels as I waddled toward large glass doors like a mother duck. I was horrified by my reflection. I had never looked worse. Sleep-deprived, fat, sloppily clothed, no make-up, my hair forming what appeared to be a dead cat hat.
My pupils winced and my eyes watered as I walked into the fluorescent brilliance.
“Do you think you could dim those to sunny?”
I quickly towed my Brobdingnagian body to the liquor department and snagged a half-pint of Smirnoff.
I shuffled towards the register, lugging my recently acquired fat ass behind me like an 18-wheeler hauling concrete blocks. “Trina?” I froze. During the neighboring split second I considered my options, none of which included acknowledging the deep male voice echoing in my left ear.
I felt a tap on my shoulder and wondered if the nice lady at the cash register would call security if I darted to the exit, Smirnoff in hand. Instead, I braced myself for humiliation.
I looked into remembering eyes. Not Uncle Chuck, who I hadn’t seen since Christmas and would most certainly have detained and interrogated me regarding the wee hour and the bottle in my hand. Not my old neighbor Frank who always materialized when my plumbing leaked or heavy items needed unsticking from over-stuffed closets. Not one of my many “new parent” friends who would have totally been down with my rumpled look and would quite possibly be toting a similar bottle.
Any one of those faces would have been okay. Any one of those faces would have been a relief (although the Smirnoff would have caused quite a family stir and most assuredly an intervention had it been Uncle Chuck). Any one of those faces would have been altogether embraced.
The eyes I found myself staring into were none other than my high school prom date. A hankering for instantaneous death came close to describing my feelings in that moment, but fell short by a void resembling the Grand Canyon. “Todd?”
“Hi… I wasn’t sure it was you. You look… different.”
“NO SHIT!” I thought to myself. “I had a baby three weeks ago and gained a lot of weight.”
I laughed awkwardly, positive something green and slimy was shipwrecked between my two front teeth.
He smiled. “This is so weird. I had a dream about you a few nights ago. You were driving this SUV.”
“Just an old broken down Honda.” Another awkward laugh. Silence.
As I sent him telepathic messages to keep his eyes focused on my eyes, I experienced a mini anxiety attack as I saw him glance at the Smirnoff.
“Wow!” was all he could muster.
I looked and pointed at my grocery item as if eyeing it for the first time. “This isn’t for me.”
I scrutinized the cashier, wondering if it wasn’t too late to make my mad dash for the exit.
I put the Smirnoff on the conveyer belt and waited for the nice security-calling lady to ring me up as I opened my sweaty hand to scoop out four dollars and sixty-seven cents. I glanced to my left, secretly promising the devil my soul, but Todd was still standing there… looking at me.
“Great seeing you,” he said.
“LIAR!!!” I envisioned, but instead stammered, “Great seeing you too.” I kicked myself for not following my initial impulse to dart for the exit, security at my heels. Shoplifting incarceration would have been tranquil compared with my momentary imprisonment.
I tossed him a weak wave, hobbled out to my car and feared his gaze on my ass cheeks, alternately shifting up and down like humungous cheese wheels.
As I drove home, in the midst of my anger and deep sadness, I found a quiet, effortless grasp of why this had happened.
I would never do this again. I would never make an attempt at controlling the behavior of another human being. I would never again try to protect this alcoholic from his inevitable destruction, his passive suicide. I couldn’t. Nobody could.
Within the nucleus of my humbling encounter I had unearthed a tiny treasure…an elfin grain of wisdom.
I pulled up in front of my house and as I stepped out of the car, I was greeted by the bittersweet songs of my howling baby girl. I charged toward the front door, anxious to return to her, aware of how much I missed her during those few life changing moments.
When I opened the front door the decibel level intensified and I was fully aware that the one who really needed me was the one communicating with me in the only way she knew how.
I tossed the Smirnoff to the unconscious, malodorous human on the bed and went to my baby. She hiccupped as I lifted her out of the bassinet, and the tears immediately ceased. I put her to my breast and as she patted my chest with her miniature hand she looked up at me with her huge, blue, trusting eyes and all was wonderful in our world again.
Another day. 1:46 AM. The familiar sounds and stench still filled the room. The elephant in the room was up and dressing…heading out for more. I pretended to sleep.
I listened to uneven footsteps lumbering towards the front door, keys jangled, then dropped on the floor. The door closed and for what seemed like five minutes, the sound of the key circling the key hole and finally, miraculously, the slide, the turn, the click of the lock. I breathed.
I rolled over and looked at my beautiful baby girl and was flooded with emotion. Heartbroken, angry and grateful for small steps of growth. I cried quietly and vowed to never leave her alone with him or anyone in that state again. I promised her I would always protect her in ways I hadn’t protected myself.
As she slept in my arms, I thought to myself, “I hope he gets arrested. Better yet, I hope he runs into his high school prom date.”