It's been a while, but I'm still here. I thought I'd post an excerpt from Clay-Stained Memories in honor of Valentine's Day. It contains spoilers, so read at your own risk. If you like what you read and you want to cry a whole bunch, buy the whole book here: Clay-Stained Memories. It deals with tough subjects such as addiction, relationship and family violence, and sexual assault.
It’s been said that time heals all wounds. Whoever came up with that must have meant a whole lot of time, because my wounds kept getting wider and deeper, and they started letting everything in. Time only made my wounds more visible, more accessible. When I was in the mood to pick at them, I could do so without rummaging around and searching through all the old hurts. These wounds were right on the surface. They were fresh.
And pick at them I did. The day I identified my dead husband’s body was also the day I went to the funeral home to choose a time when friends could pay homage to an ashen not-Alex. And I ordered flowers that were supposed to represent his greatness or his smile or his departure from this Earth or whatever the fuck the florist thought they should represent. I accomplished all the little errands a grieving widow was supposed to do. Check, check, check off my list.
I even smiled. Translated tears and misery into pulled-back lips exposing white teeth that barely refrained from gnashing at the sorrow hanging cloudlike in front of my face. Those smiles were costly though, because most importantly and disastrously and shamefully, the last item on my checklist was to pour alcohol on the Alex-wound. I poured and poured and chugged and swallowed and erased years of sobriety away in mere minutes.
But what are setbacks and erasures when death had left its mark on everything surrounding me? The bed I no longer slept in, the half-eaten pint of strawberry ice cream, the wedding pictures that were now face down. The whole house, the whole town, the whole world were bursting with reminders of what had been and what would never be again.
Drinking had always been the salve, the make-life-more-bearable cure, and it was not surprising that I fell back into it naturally. Neighbors packed the house full of meals and condolences. I didn’t have to cook or grieve because other people were doing it for me.
I had the days to get back into the swing of things, to build up my tolerance—tolerance for the drink and tolerance for suppressing a marriage that had rescued me from the demons who were once again swimming in my bloodstream. It took a whole lot of effort to achieve the level of amnesia I was searching for. Especially with constant reminders of the lost thing I would never get back.
Tears shed by friends and comforting words muttered by neighbors and bad dreams and loneliness and the closet full of clothes that would never be worn again. Being immersed in the thing you were trying to lose intensified the struggle of drowning out the echoes of memories.
The intertwining of two lives, two strands, can be a blindingly beautiful thing. Until one piece of the twine breaks, and you’re left with an unraveled bit of string, missing half of what made it a whole. Dangling, dangling, without the stabilizing help of the other piece, the part that made it one instead of just zero point five.
How do you trudge forward when you’ve grown so used to being a one? When every little thing that defined the numerical value you represent was so caught up in another’s fraction, that without them you flounder and roam about not knowing what to do besides try to cope in ways that smother what used to be your life. When your current reality is but a partial remnant of the essence that had inspired hope and love, then what else was there to do besides forget you had ever lived that kind of life?
It was wonderful when I reached the point of saturation, where I could no longer be influenced by the events forced upon me. My shield was no longer an external barrier; it had become a part of who I was. Alcohol didn’t just deflect the awful, it had sunk deep down into my skin, and infiltrated my organs, and manifested a level of oblivion that made continuation of the fucked-up state my primary objective. This level took about two weeks to reach. Fourteen days of inebriation led me to the point of no longer caring.
The memorial service was held fifteen days after his death. The summation of my memory amounts to sloppy sips from a coffee cup brimming with booze and people interrupting my drinking with their probing questions.
“How are you doing? Do you need anything, Eva?”
And their piteous statements.
“We’ll miss Alex so much; he was such a great person. You guys were the best couple. I’m so sorry for your loss.”
Around and around the attendees went, from the guest book to the picture collage that memorialized the dead to the bereaving widow and finally out the door. A cycle of grief that ended when each person recognized the guest of honor’s incoherence. My slurred replies weren’t even close to the proper display of anguish one expected at such affairs. People came to see my tears, not to witness how many mugs of gin I could put away in a two-hour period. If guests had come to see the latter, they might have been impressed, because each cupful went down like water.
Instead, because their expectations had been dependent on misery and heartache, they shook their heads and muttered as they departed the service.
“That poor girl, she’s got nothing now that her husband’s gone.”
“Did you see the way she was acting? Disgraceful.”
“I give her ‘til the end of the year. You don’t last long when you’re drinking like that.”
What they didn’t know was that Eva had a long history of blocking out the world with ethanol-based medication. Eva was a pro who could function at the highest levels of intoxication. Eva just didn’t care about anything anymore.
When you stop giving a damn, you don’t think about death or gloom and doom or despair. Your only task is to measure time in gulps and in bottles.
Simplicity. And a simplicity I basked in for quite some time.