A Guide to Living with It
When he asks you to move in with him, say no. Then say yes.
Visit his favorite taverns. Visit the restaurant where he bartends. Find him at the liquor store in the afternoon.
See your friends. Go to your family’s birthday parties. When they ask about him, tell them he stayed home with a headache. He gets migraines. He needs to sit in the dark today.
Fly to Seattle for a road trip with your oldest friend. Walk among petrified cacti in Arizona. Drive through the disheveled planes of Texas where dryness has cracked the earth and made it buckle. Say, “I love him, but I think he has a drinking problem.” In the time it takes to cross Texas, resolve to ask this question, which isn’t a question.
When you get home, ask him. When he prods you to say what you mean, say, “Every day is too often.” The next day watch him pour a glass of water. Watch him add a lime. He moves through the apartment, but it’s too small. There is no place he can hide from you, nor you from him. Watch him sit in front of the television, refusing to turn his head or part his lips. Watch him switch it off, pull back the covers of the bed, and tuck himself in. He rolls over, facing away from you. He does this even though the sun is still in the sky.
In 10 years, this is the only day he does not take a drink.
Notice he does not speak to you on this day.
Never count his drinks, but take out the recycling bins every Sunday night and count: seven one-liter bottles of vodka.
Wonder whether he’s eaten dinner. Has he only sucked limes today?
Sleep later than he does and never hear him throw up in the bathroom. This way, when he tells you he throws up first thing every single morning, you will be genuinely surprised.
When it gets bad, drive him to the urgent care clinic and wait as many hours as it takes. See his face when they tell him he needs to see a doctor and immediately stop smoking and drinking.
Begin the grief process before you think you really need to.
Call a realtor and visit apartments.
Find one with tons of light and four rooms, a kitchen separate from the dining and living rooms. A snug little bedroom. The curtains come with it, and they are not yet yellow. Picture how they billow gently on warm afternoons. Picture yourself curled up, reading. Decide this apartment is perfect for you.
Say to him, “Many couples choose to live apart.”
Count the three days and three nights he does not speak to you, though you still share the bed.
Listen to the Elvis Costello song he leaves for you to find on your computer: “This House Is Empty Now.” Allow yourself to cry. As if you could stop yourself.
Sign a lease without telling anyone in your life. Call a moving company.
Share the bed for 30 more days. Pack while he is at work so that he doesn’t have to watch.
After you have moved, understand when your mother can’t stop asking how he’s doing. Understand when your grandmother asks who is going to take care of him now.
Buy a plant. Water it every Saturday.
Ask friends to recommend a good therapist. Find one and continue your grieving process in the therapist’s office. Also between visits. During work. During the waking hours and also while sleeping. Wear a bite guard to protect yourself.
Call him even after you’ve broken up. Call him even when he demands: “What do you want from me? You already took everything.” Agree to pay his cell phone bill until Valentine’s Day. Listen even when he’s mean to you.
Allow yourself to be quiet in your new place where you are always alone. Sometimes, also, fill the space with sound.
Drive by his house and the liquor store. See him walking. He has cut his hair and lost forty pounds. He looks like a monk. He looks like a patient who has wandered off. He looks like a person who begs for money.
Visit when he lets you. Sometimes late at night when you both need to hold a body you recognize. Wonder how you stood the smoke smell of his skin and breath and bedding. Yet these are familiar as a lullaby.
Visit sometimes just for conversation. Sit in side chairs facing the TV. When he says, “I was a terrible boyfriend,” say nothing.
When he says, “I’m trying to cut back on my own,” encourage him.
When he says, “I may lose my job, because I can’t do a four-hour shift without drinking,” remember it is not your job to make things okay anymore.
Write down the number of a rehab place where you know someone who can get him admitted. Carry the number in your wallet.
When he finally says, “I think I’m ready for that number,” give him the slip of paper. Watch him put it in his wallet.
When you ask if he’s called, and he says, “Not just yet, I have bigger problems right now,” say nothing.
Think of him on the tenth anniversary of the day you met. Look down at your phone and see the text from an old friend you haven’t heard from in two years. It says, he’s in the hospital. It says, his skin’s all yellow. It says, I thought you should know.
Let the emotions become lodged in your throat. Surprise isn’t one of them. You have been expecting this.
Go see him now. It may be the last time you do.