Stepping on bottle caps pains me more than it should.
It's not the edges that are so sharp as the memories.
It's only in retrospect that you are able to sum up a person you know well under a label-- schizophrenic, borderline, alcoholic, whatever. At the time, they seem too nuanced to fit, too idiosyncratic to have their motivations summed up in one word. The person you love is never supposed to be defined that simplistically.
It's funny how our cultural narrative of the alcoholic remains the scruffy slurring violent slob who can't hold down a job, choosing to drown his sorrows at the local watering hole.
I couldn't reconcile that image with the man snoring on the couch. He never came close to raising a hand to me. He had a good job.
He was a kind person-- drunkards aren't supposed to be kind.
A few years in, when taking an advanced seminar in addictions, I calculated his score on an alcohol abuse screening test in my mind. Despite his score far exceeding the cut off, I somehow blotted it out of my mind, because it just didn't feel as though it fit.
This may be why falling at love at 18 is so dangerous.
It's always the gradual flow that tricks you. It's like the tale of the frog and the pot of boiling water-- put a frog into a pot with water at a rolling boil, and it will frantically hop out. Put it in cold water, then turn on the burner, and the creeping heat will lull it into a willing participant in its slow boiling.
I was neck deep in simmering water without even realizing it.
Though beer was always a part of his identity more than I could quite understand, there weren't cans in the bathroom at the beginning. It was a rough day after work thing. It was a playing baseball thing. It was "just what my family does" thing.
My grandfather clued in first, before we even moved in together. Being a former alcoholic himself, he must have had some sort of radar, though I wrote it off as oversensitivity as a result of his past mistakes.
The beer cans piled up gradually, from a couple boxes by the trash can, to literal towers.
I joked when we first began dating that I couldn't tell when he'd been drinking, as he always had such a calm mannerism about him. However, I began to sense it in his footsteps, in his lopsided smile, his choice of words.
I accepted money as tight when he worked seasonally. But, years later, when he'd switched into a seemingly lucrative career, I couldn't figure out how we could never get a step ahead, how despite our end of the year tax returns declaring him to make three times the money I was as a student, I was the one with money in the bank. I was the one with all the bills in my name. His stories of the price of gas and debt began to wear thin.
Sometimes it takes a while to realize that the rest of your life is happening right now.
I knew things had changed when, as I would make my way to bed, I stopped trying to whisper in his ear to join me or shake his shoulder when he fell asleep on the couch.
I started to realize things were irretrievable when, as I would return from a late night at the lab or the clinic, I would lure his head to my lap. And though there was still tenderness in my fingertips as I stroked his head and shoulder, they were moved more strongly by the need to lull him to sleep, as I couldn't handle the sight of him teetering about the apartment anymore. Yet, as I would slip out from underneath his heavy sleeping body, he looked so much like the man I used to relish waking up to.
The last few months were a slap in the face that even I could no longer ignore. These months were the times of weepy phone calls once I soothed him to sleep. Of hot tears burning holes in the suds of a soapy sink. Of humiliation as he drunkenly patted my head before storming out in front of all his friends after a political disagreement. Of cleaning up vomit in a bed that was supposed to be my retreat, too. Of him swearing that he would slow things down, only for me to come home at 6pm on Sunday to another empty case on top of the tower, consumed by him alone.
My last phone calls, tearful but deliberate, were made that night, oblivious to his passed out ears.
Even now, nearly two years later, pieces are still emerging, pieces that form a picture so obvious, yet so blurry to me for so long. I don't speak much about it. I know that as soon as the words "drinking problem" slip over my tongue, an image is sealed in their mind. I don't want them to entwine me with this image of a victim. I don't know how to explain that it wasn't as black and white as it seems in hindsight, that I wasn't willing myself to stay until the last year, that I simply didn't realize.
But, each time I speak of it, I find the shades of grey dissipating.
I'm not recalling the laughter or the comfort.
Instead, I just feel the sting of the bottle cap against my bare heel.