My husband of fifteen years is an alcoholic.
God. It feels good to be admitting that, finally. Even in an anonymous letter.
When we first met he was an entirely different person than the man I know now. We confided in each other about everything. I told him how I had tried to make it as a starving artist, and how burned out I was, and I felt relieved when it seemed he understood. He helped me to climb out of the darkness, to find my first stable job, to move into my first real apartment. Eventually we rented a home together in a nice, quiet neighborhood and when he proposed I truly believed that everything was falling into place.
But not long after our daughter was born he started to drift further away from me. He’d always been a social drinker, sometimes to excess, but now it was a daily occurrence. I don’t know if it was the stress of the baby, or if something in our marriage shifted, but a light in him went out. Right before my eyes, something in him turned dark and cold. And as hard as I try not to, Alice, I blame myself.
Now he’s drunk every night when I get home. I am scared to leave my daughter at home with him, but I can’t miss anymore days at work, or I’ll lose my job. I’m drowning, Alice. The liquor store bills are more than I can afford after I’ve paid the rent, and bought our other groceries for the week. I’m cutting costs where I can, but our little girl is growing and she needs more new things every day. I thought when she started school it would lighten the load, but he’s only getting worse.
My friends say it’s long past time to cut and run-- and I’ll admit that I’ve thought about it often. All the signs are there. How can I stay with this man who I barely even know anymore? How can I allow him to drink and rant and rave around my daughter? But then I worry about the damage that a divorce might do to a girl her age. She’s only 7 years old, and she still loves her daddy. I don’t want to take him away from her, and yet I don’t think I can bare to live with him any longer.
Please help, Alice. I need guidance. Am I a terrible mother if I separate our darling from the daddy who I know loves her so much, just because he makes life so hard for me?
- Mom In Need Of Relief
I hear the pain in your letter, and it weighs heavily on all of us here in the Dear Alice offices. I have spoken to many friends about your problem, lauding you for your courage and strength. You are the mother that so many of us would have loved to have had. A true mother.
I want to begin by telling you how proud of you I am. We all are, for making the first steps toward a brighter tomorrow in admitting the first of many hard truths: your husband is a lowly scumbag of an alcoholic. There can be no true happiness without struggle, and I can feel that you are in the midst of your struggle now.
The way you describe this man with whom you share your home and your life, there is only one word that comes to my mind: Pathetic.
How could he give up on himself, on his wife and his beautiful daughter, precisely when they all need him the most? That is not what a true man does, MINOR. That is what a weakling does, a man who is undeserving of the love that you and your daughter so graciously bestow upon him. My advice is not going to be all that different than that which you’ve already received: it is time to GO. And to go far away. Now, if not sooner than now.
I am sure you are aware that alcoholism is a disease. Many people will use this as an excuse to give up their battle with addiction. These are lazy people who want to argue that they are fighting against a disease and they cannot win. I say to this: WHAT ABOUT CANCER? We always tell cancer patients to fight, regardless of the odds! Why do we allow our addicts and mopey mavises to so easily slither off the hook? We are all diseased in our own ways.
You must see my point, MINOR.
Your husband has proven himself selfish and unworthy of both you and your child, of whom you speak so highly. He has shown again and again that he can only think of himself, and that, my dear MINOR, is unacceptable.
Your daughter does deserve a father, one who loves her unconditionally, but it is clear that it cannot be the one she has. She should no longer be forced to grow up the daughter of such a self-obsessed rodent of a human being. He should no longer be allowed to claim her as his own. You both must move forward.
I imagine you are a frequent reader of my column, and so you must know that I am a firm believer in second chances. But there are times when a line must be drawn. This, MINOR, is one of those times.
Break ties. Break free. Run with your child into a sunset of your own creation. There is only one direction that you can go: away from your husband. I suggest you start now.
With love and hope for you,
PS. Expect a follow-up e-mail from my staff about obtaining your home address. We, here at the DEAR ALICE offices, want to send you a complimentary, signed, copy of my newest book: LIVING IN THE M.O.M.E.N.T: Finding your best, Maternal, Optimistic, Magic-Enriched, Now Time!
All the mac and cheese and crying put me to sleep before I could think to delete my fucking ringtone, and I am awakened this morning by the second chorus of “People all over the world! Join hands!’
It is Mom.
“Sweetie! Oh sweetie, I feel just terrible for how our conversation ended yesterday. I really do. But you have to understand that you caught me by surprise. Of course you understand because I’m sure you were surprised too. The whole mess is just so awful, isn’t it? It seems so awful, I can hardly even wrap my mind around it, even this morning after a very long sleep. How are you this morning? Did you manage to sleep at all?”
“I slept. Yeah.”
“Did I wake you up? I didn’t want to wake you up, and I was worried I might, did I? Well I guess it’s almost eleven, so it’s time to get up anyways, but still, if you had trouble sleeping last night--”
“It’s fine, Mom. I slept. But now it’s good to be awake. Everybody wins.”
“Well all right. So, sweetie, I’ve sent several emails to Aunt Alice. I explained to her this whole affair, and she says there’s positively no rush for you to come back to work. Oh, sweetie, she was so sorry to hear about your father. I mean, we all were. But you know how tender-hearted your Aunt Alice is. She gets so emotionally attached, even to the idea of someone. Even someone like your father. She is so remarkable that way. So generous with her love.”
When I graduated from college I applied for what felt like a million jobs, and then didn’t hear back from most of them. I went on one interview at an Arts & Crafts supply store, but I couldn’t quite sell them on the idea that what I really wanted to do was help suburban mothers find the appropriate felt adhesive, and ultimately I turned down their offer.
Working for Alice has, on innumerable occasions made me re-assess that decision.
Alice is not my real aunt. She and my mother became friends via e-mail years ago. For reasons entirely tied to the mess that was my father, my mother is one of maybe 40 women in the world who “believe in Alice”. "Believing in Alice" basically means that you invite her to all your dinner parties, and you read her column religiously and you own all of her books and you think she may as well be the second-coming because everything she says is gospel. The two of them starting corresponding regularly after Mom sent her first letter to Alice when she was in what she has described as a "very, very emotional and dark place. Like a cave, Sweetie. Like a cave of feelings." Conveniently, not long after they started writing back and forth, Alice moved up to the Pacific Northwest from Texas to be with her then-lover and now-husband, Walter, and soon what had been friendly emails became weekly cups of coffee. Almost immediately after my parents divorce was final, "Auntie" Alice became a series regular in my life. Having Alice around is a little bit like having one of the Designing Women as your aunt, lots of big brassy southern charm and inappropriate conversation.
My mom deferred to Alice on almost everything concerning me growing up, which she believed to be to my great advantage. Alice was called in to explain to me about bras, tampons, sex and student loans. So it should come as no surprise that after graduation, upon hearing that I seemed to be chronically unemployable, she hired me on to join her “team" at the "DEAR ALICE offices”.
DEAR ALICE, Alice's column and alter-ego, is, with myself as the one recent exception, a one-woman operation. There is no team. There are no offices.
In truth, it's little more than a pet project she started after her third divorce, when she finally found “real, honest, true to G.O.D happiness” with Walter. She had been working part-time in Dallas to keep herself occupied, writing a self-help column that was featured in a few different local papers. And when she took up with Walter and dropped her Dallas-raised oil tycoon, she was eventually dropped by those few papers, and moved to the northwest to start her own blog called DEAR ALICE.
The site has seen variable success, but to hear Alice or my mother talk about it you’d think it was the new Oprah magazine.
Technically, my title at the DEAR ALICE “offices” is Full-Time Personal Assitant/Editor but the reality of my job varies depending on how dear Alice is feeling. She works out of her enormous home in the terrifying, plastic, suburb of Bellevue. I doubt that her work actually brings in enough money to pay an employee, and I’m pretty sure my checks come out of Walter’s expansive pension. Tasks include, but are not limited to: helping her to edit her blog/column as well as chapters from her upcoming memoir, writing weekly horoscopes for her astrology sister-site, walking Walter's dog Pumpernickel, picking up assorted goat cheeses from the farmer’s market for wine and cheese tastings, and massaging Alice’s pressure points while listening to Enya.
My favorite is writing the horoscopes. Because neither Alice nor I actually knows anything about astrology, I get to be like Lady Cleo, the completely fake, but completely legit-seeming late night television psychic. She calls them “Alice-trological Readings”, I think to avoid controversy about their failure to follow any planetary trends whatsoever. It wasn’t very long after she’d started this that I joined her team, and she handed the task off to me. “Sugar, it ain’t all that complicated,” she’d assured me. “Just make it seem like the year’s got some sort of overall pattern and from there just follow your gut. You’re a perceptive gal, I know you’ll knock it out of the park.”
I don’t know whether I’m knocking it out of the park or not, but the control it gives me over strangers’ life choices is remarkably fulfilling.
“You didn’t have to e-mail her, Mom. I could’ve done that.”
“Oh, Sweetie, don’t worry. It’s better that you got to sleep in! I am more concerned for your well-being than I am with who sends e-mails to Alice. Besides I wanted to e-mail her anyway and thank her for the gorgeous afghan she sent for Christmas. It was so thoughtful, and I am so dreadfully behind on my gratitude greetings.”
“Sure, okay. Well thanks. But, actually it doesn’t matter. They're still in San Antonio til Wednesday. So I didn't have work today--”
“No, no, no, no. They changed their travel plans last minute because Walt has an important meeting with the Gates Foundation! So exciting, that. Do you know that Alice might actually go to the Gates’ private estate for dinner? I think that’s just so exciting. She’s exactly the kind of mind that Bill and Melinda need to be spending more time with. The kinds of projects they could work on together! Oh, sweetie, I think this could lead to so many opportunities for you. Imagine! Rubbing shoulders with a Gates. Do they have a son? You should ask Alice. Anyway, the point is, she and Walt got back to Seattle last night.”
There is a long silence, and I figure she is remembering that Gerald died, because when she starts speaking again her voice is far more solemn.
“And I’ve invited them for dinner tonight.”
“That’ll be nice for you.”
“Well when Jimmy said you were coming tonight I thought it’d be nice to have your Aunt Alice there too.”
That’s the thing about Jimmy. He can’t be trusted to relay a message. You say “maybe” to “next week sometime” and he hears “count me in” for “tomorrow night”. Useless.
“And your step-brother Nathan is still in town. So we can all be together which I think is just what the doctor ordered, don’t you think? At a time like this it’s best to be surrounded by family. That’s what Alice said, and I completely agree. Nathan is bringing his new girlfriend Lana. So that will be a nice distraction, meeting her. Jimmy says she’s beautiful, and she works with orphans, which really is God’s work. I mean, how often do you meet a good woman who works with orphans and isn’t a nun? You just don’t, Mackenzie. Not in this day and age, you just don’t. Nathan is so lucky. So, I think that’ll be nice. And do you want to bring anyone? I haven’t heard about a boyfriend, so I assumed it would just be you, but I know sometimes you like to keep these types of things under wraps, though for the life of me I can’t figure out why. But I suppose that’s your choice. But is there? Someone you’d like to bring, I mean?”
“Nope. Just me.”
“Well you know what? That’s perfectly all right as well. That’s perfectly all right. Just you is more than enough for me. I’ve decided I’m going to make those spare ribs the way your--,” in an instant her voice goes all static and whispery “the way your father always liked to have them.”
“You all right, Mom?” She gives a big sigh, and sniffles a little bit.
“I just think that’s a nice gesture, don’t you think so? Alice said she thought it was a very sweet gesture. I just hope that Lana isn’t a vegetarian, because I don’t know what to do with a vegetarian. I can make a salad, but I’m afraid that the buck stops there, as they say. But I’ll go ahead and make a salad and we can just all keep our fingers crossed that she’s an omnivore like the rest of us.”
We get off the phone after she asks me a few times if I’m hanging in there, and I lie that I am going to be fine. To stop myself crying, I get in the shower.
Mel texts me from the car that she’s coming home a day early and that she heard from Neil about what happened.
I text back that I don’t really remember sleeping with him, but she was right about him being cute.
Mel texts back: Not about the sex. About your DAD. Don’t be insane please.
I decide to take myself on a walk. I sometimes think maybe I can be one of those people who goes on long thoughtful walks, and comes back buoyed and inspired by the beauty of the world. Usually what happens instead is that I get angry about how many hills Seattle has, and decide to turn around. But even still I figure it’s better than moping around all day, eating mac and cheese leftovers.
It’s a surprisingly nice day for January. The sun is shining, which means everyone in Seattle is standing outside looking stupidly happy and unsure of what to do with themselves. Fifty degrees is practically a day at the beach for these people and they’re always saying things like “it was so warm today, I didn’t even wear my fleece to the co-op!” I know I grew up here, so technically, I am one of them, but I’ve never felt much like a true Seattleite. I like clothes, I like junk food, and I’m more of a cat person. Add to all this that I’ve never been a huge fan of bikes or hiking, and you’d have most people convinced that I’m a transplant from Manhattan. Gerald was the first one to tell me I’m a New Yorker at heart. He spent most of his early adulthood in Brooklyn, and talking to him for just a few seconds, it was obvious that even though he’d been born in the Midwest, he’d constructed his personality in the boroughs. When I was a kid we used to walk around Seattle together, making fun of the people here and coming up with stories about them, most of which included multiple trips to the farmers’ market and extensive visits to the herbalist. Walking through the city now, I start to really miss him for the first time in months, and I have to snap myself back to reality. “It wasn’t always good and fun, Kenz. You know that,” I whisper aloud to myself. A man out walking his Chow Chow gives me a strange look, and I smile widely at him, which probably only convinces him that I am indeed a crazy.
I’m lost in thought, walking past the third cafe that has opened their outdoor seating area on account of the “tremendously beautiful weather”, when I hear my name.
“Mack!? Hot damn, beautiful. Happy New Year!” I turn around to see none other than my former-friend-and-would-have-been-boyfriend-under-different-circumstances, Kevin. He hops over the rail of the Cup Of Joe patio and rushes toward me.
“Kev. Hi,” I manage before he’s hugging me.
“You’re only getting more gorgeous,” he half-whispers, half-smirks into my ear.
“Oh, well, you know. I’m doing what I can,” I pat him on the back a few times to signify that this hug should be over now.
Kevin is wearing khaki cargo shorts and an orange muscle tee because, apparently, he is fond of making mistakes. Nothing about him has changed, I think, sizing him up quickly. Still only a couple inches taller than me, he comes in at maybe 5’11”, though he’d swear on his life it’s an even six feet. Still lean, he is muscled in a way that suggests he plays sports, though I don’t think he ever has. He’s got one of those faces that makes you want to say yes: gorgeous smile, dark, James Dean features, his eyes this sparkling hazel color. It’s the kind of face you’re never sure you can trust because it’s too handsome to be the face of a hero. And, true to form, he is leering at me in a way that makes me angry at myself for taking a walk.
We stand there for a while staring awkwardly at each other, taking in the subtle changes that have crept in over the couple years since we were really friends. Then, after what feels like the longest silence in history, he punches me in the shoulder and laughs. It hurts more than I think he intended, but I laugh too, because what the fuck else can you do?
I met Kevin in college through a friend of a friend’s brother. We hit it off pretty well, I think because of his face. You really want to like him as a person, no matter how much of a dick he happens to be in reality. He’s a mistake most girls I was friends with made at least once while we were in school, and some a couple times after.
“So. What are you doing in Seattle?”
“Oh you know. The uzh,” I repress a shudder, remembering how much I hate that he abbreviates everything. “Seeing some bros. Seeing some honeys.”
“Sounds gross,” I snark, and he laughs and hugs me again.
“God, it’s good to see you. You really do look great.”
“So you said.”
“Were you in the 206 for New Year’s, Mack? How come we didn’t party?”
Now, to most people, it would seem that the obvious explanation for why Kevin and I are no longer friends is that he is intolerable. The unfortunate truth is that we are no longer friends because I fell in love with him our junior year, and he was less into that than I had hoped he would be. We did the uncomfortable “let’s just be friends” charade for most of senior year, but we never really recovered because Kevin has this annoying way of pretending that nothing ever happened, and, as it turns out, that makes it worse. At graduation we were on decent terms, but I’d resolved that it’d be fine if we never saw each other again. And that strategy had been spectacularly successful, until now.
“I didn’t do anything really, just stayed in with a few people,” I lie.
“Lame. I’ve never known Mack Daddy Adams to be so lame.”
“Well, you know. It’s actually working out pretty okay for me...”
“What are you doing tonight? Let’s grab a beer. My treat.” Kevin loves to say “my treat” because his dad is a stupidly wealthy bachelor who gives money to his stupid bachelor son like it’s nothing. In the years that he and I were friends I watched him say “my treat” to almost every girl who dared to so much as breathe near him. I would say it worked about 98% of the time, and the 2% of the time it didn’t work it was either because the girl was too drunk to need a “treat” or she was a happily married professor.
“Oh, you know, I can’t. I have a thing tonight, actually,” and I’m relieved that this is the truth. I take back everything mean I said about Jimmy. Jimmy is a saint.
“What thing? Sounds lame.”
“It’s a family thing. My mom’s making a big dinner and my brother’s in town so,” as soon as I say this I regret it. Thanksgiving of junior fall, Kevin came home with me and met my whole everyone. He and my step-brother got along so well you’d have thought they were separated at birth. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Nathan laugh so much before or since.
“Nate the Great’s in town?! Why didn’t you say that first? I can’t believe my fucking luck!” He pulls out his phone and excitedly sends a text. I can imagine Nathan reading it, and snickering to himself. I never wanted a brother.
“It’s just... Tonight’s really not a good time.” I know if I just tell him about Gerald he’ll back off, but every time I start to say it I feel like my throat is closing up. I can’t figure out if this is because I’m sad or because I really don’t want to talk to Kevin about it. Probably both.
“Come on, Mack Daddy. Give me one good reason why I can’t crash this dinner tonight.”
Because my dad’s dead.
Because you’re gross.
Because you broke my heart.
Because you’re wearing cargo shorts.
Because you said the word “uzh” instead of “usual”.
Because I hate you.
“I guess-- Well. Let me call my mom and see--”
Mom is, as I should have guessed, thrilled. She won’t stop going on about how “Kevin is such a nice, fun boy” and how she “always knew we would work things out.” I try to hint that I don’t particularly want him to come, but she is completely absorbed in how incredible the universe is to create beautiful opportunities like this and how having Kevin at dinner will really take the pressure off everyone in this time of grief.
Kevin says he’ll pick me up at 5:45 for dinner, and kisses me on the cheek before laughing like a giddy schoolboy, slapping me on the ass and hopping back over the railing, yelling, “Mack Daddy Adams! Can you fucking believe it, Seattle? I can’t fucking believe it.”
On my way back to the apartment I text Mel: Declaring state of emergency. Kevin spotted IN SEATTLE.
It is less than a minute before she texts back: Disgusting. Have contracted herpes upon hearing his name.