It was a million dollar experience...
I wouldn't give a nickel for.*
A recovering alcoholic (RA) friend of mine told me earlier this summer, “Alcohol may be Sailor Boy’s drug, but he is your drug.” Ouch! If that’s not co-dependency, I don’t know what is. When I would call this RA friend as opposed to calling “my drug” on road trips, he would remark that I hadn’t hit bottom if I still craved talking to Sailor Boy. “You haven’t been hurt enough,” he would say. He has been tough on me ever since I broke it off with Sailor Boy, ever since I learned he battled alcoholism, ever since I continue to need Sailor Boy. And while he apologizes for being an asshole (his word), he does not mince words, does not hold back, does not take my shit, does not pity me or coddle me. He walks the walk and talks the talk, but he doesn’t preach. When I told him once that I hadn’t talked to SB since June 28 or Skyped since his birthday (TWO weeks), I asked if he was proud of me. He said, “Hell no,” and I felt liked the little girl who’d been admonished for trying hard but not hard enough. Or the Olympic sand volleyballer for not winning with a higher score. Hadn’t I done my best? Wasn’t I trying my hardest?” Wasn’t I succeeding in making baby steps? NO, NO, and NO. I was hurt. He said, “That’s like my not drinking for 3 weeks and then having a beer over the weekend. Would you be proud of me?” Ouch! It hurt, but I got the point. All or nothing. Black or white. Band-aid completely ripped off and quickly. When I would express my burning desire to talk to Sailor Boy (esp while on the road), my friend would say, ‘You haven’t hurt enough.” (The classic “You haven’t hit the bottom.”)
So for this reason, I did not tell my friend that I went to see Sailor Boy over the weekend. I didn’t lie to him (even though I knew of my travel plans the last time we talked as I zoomed down the highway), but I also was not honest with him. I felt he would end the conversation with, “Then I can’t help you” or “This conversation is over if you’re not getting the message.” And while he agrees that I’ve had to do this “my way,” he is very quick to tell me it’s the wrong way. When I told him I took off the necklace Sailor Boy gave me, he’d ask, “And have you thrown it away?” And when I’d say, “I took Sailor Boy out of speed dial,” he’d say “And have you deleted his number altogether?” Damn, he keeps asking the hard questions. And I would always fear he would stop being my friend and “go to” guy if I didn’t play this AA game with the right rules. In our last conversation, he even admitted that giving up a toxic co-dependent relationship is probably harder than giving up alcohol, drugs, or cigarettes. The co-dependent relationship, when not toxic, feels so good and those are the memories that surface when you’re missing the “drug.”
But I think my friend resigned himself in knowing I had to do this “my way,” which, in his experience, is the wrong way. He knows of what he speaks. I have had several friends tell me that I needed to cut off all contact completely in order to let the wounds start to heal, but that’s not the way I operate. So maybe for all the wrong reasons, I flew out to see SB. To say good-bye to my “drug,” to be embraced by “my drug” one last time. Little could I imagine that in saying “good-bye,” I also let go. I hope my RA friend is proud of me now. I will always be forever grateful for his brutal honesty and his willingness to take my calls and IMs when I have needed him most. He's my Roc!
I kept thinking he would reimburse me when I would show up for our weekends together. I paid for all but 1 trip (and he makes considerably more than I do), but I guess that’s at the heart of co-dependency and neediness, huh? With each trip loving friends would say, “And I sure hope he’s paying for your tickets,” knowing my lifestyle, and I would lie or fudge, “Of course he is” or “We’re taking turns.” But my sister, when she found out the truth, said, “I will support you in any decision you make, but I will never again take you to the airport to see SB if you’ve paid for the ticket.” Not as tough as my RA friend who told me I should break all ties, but I got the message. I never had the guts last year to say, “If you want me on your boat by your side bad enough, you will buy me a ticket.” But the ticket came with some caveats. And I quote: Are you keeping hope alive? I’m confused over your expectations. I am mentally too worn out to do a deep confrontation weekend of any kind. So I don’t want to go there. Can we get together as ‘friends in transition?’ Is there going to be tons of weeping? (The last one was my favorite.) So I responded that I had no plans to confront him. I had no hope in our getting back together or having a future together. My expectations included having a nice relaxed vacation, sailing, seeing sunsets and sunrises on the Chesapeake. And did “friends in transition” mean separate sleeping quarters? Finally, I added, “And I can’t guarantee there won’t be any weeping any more than you can guarantee that you won’t drink and be verbally abusive.” (Hey I got points for that last one.) He said we would not need to sleep in separate quarters because he was not afraid me (whatever the hell that meant) and that he would try not to drink too much and be mean.
Plans were made. Excitement, fear, anxiety, sunscreen, looking for sailing paraphernalia from last year (hat, bikini, sarong). In the meantime I drove back to Columbia to met my landlady, had an on-line lunch date (disaster), helped my friends in their office, help my daughter move to her first apartment, interviewed for a job with the university and get offered the job. Bought a couch/love seat combo and a mattress, turned 51, went to see Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 with my daughters, set up cable/internet, got my utilities switched over to my name, and secured moving details. Not bad for a woman who does not know what the fuck she is doing, has changed meds for depression, has bouts of anxiety/panic attacks, wonders why she couldn’t have stayed in a boring, loveless marriage for another 27 years, and feels like a failure most days. Oh, and is trying to shake off this co-dependency “drug” problem while grieving through a broken heart she has never experienced before in her life.
Where to begin without boring you? My plane was 3 hrs late in leaving because of bad weather in Maryland, but he picked me up in his little red sportscar, greeted me with a big hug and kiss. Twice on the drive home, he said, “Kiss me.” Boy, where is this going? We got to his new house, and he showed me around. It was just as dusty and cluttered as his old house I visited in March. Some things never change. And no, he had not bought a mattress. We would be sleeping on an airbed (Do not confuse this with an Sleep Number bed). We’re talking Coleman camping airbed that he sleeps on. An airbed with a leak. We cuddled, we kissed, we did not sleep in separate quarters per his e-mail, but he made it obvious that we would sleep. I envisioned a lot of events this weekend as “last times.” I wept as we held each other. And that’s all. Ok, I thought. First night jitters.
The next day we walked around Annapolis before heading to a friend’s in Baltimore. As we walked through a set of souvenir shops in this quaint town, he said, “Oh, I didn’t get you a birthday present. Look around. What would you like?” And I thought, “I’d like a man who knows what I want for my birthday,” but I didn’t say it. I sure as hell didn’t want a chip and dip tray in the shape of a lobster. I was not about to pick out something from a stupid souvenir shop. We get to the friends’ house, and they greet us with rum and cokes. The men went out for more beer and wine and champagne and ice. Another couple arrived and we make dinner. Admiral Nelson also attends the party. And because Sailor Boy never brought any food, I am intent on bussing dishes, filling the dishwasher, cleaning the kitchen. I watch as the 5 of them get very drunk. Champagne comes out and I have a half a glass. (There was enough for each of us to have a bottle). Say what?
We sleep on another airbed, but this one doesn’t have leaks. Just cuddling. Breakfast and beer the next morning and we’re off on a boat ride to meet up with more friends. Sailor Boy barely talks to me, but I am ok with this because I am enjoying the ride. There are a lot of people on the water, friends in this particular group. Sunscreen applied. Hats tied on. Sailor Boy gets in the water to greet others and ignores me. I see several people I had met last summer and meet some for the first time, but Sailor Boy never introduces me. It is obvious I am on my own. That’s ok. This is my vacation. We end up on someone else’s boat where someone I know from last summer greets me with a hug and a kiss and, when looking across from me, says, “Whoa, what is going on? I am getting this incredibly strong sad vibe from you.” I said, “I’ll tell you later.” On the ride home, Sailor Boy stays on this boat while I tread the water back to the other boat. Several others are following us back to the house.
More booze, more food. I continue to bus plates and clean dishes in my attempt to contribute. I am so glad I will not spend a lifetime with this cheap man who does not contribute. He figures since he is a single man, his friends will feed him, and they do. But he is a mooch in every sense of the word, and it’s embarrassing. I had a mojito, half a mojito because the mint keeps getting stuck in my teeth. One sweet woman sits next to me and drunkenly asks me if I’m going to bring my kids out here to get on his boat. I said no. She kept badgering me in her drunken state, and I keep trying to brush it off with, “No, I don’t think so.” She keeps at it till I finally say, “It’s complicated.” She won’t let up, and I finally have to say that Sailor Boy and I have broken up and this is our good-bye weekend, and I assure her my kids will never be out to go sailing.” I start to cry and she holds me and tries to assure me it’s not necessarily over, and I assure her it is so over. Soon Sailor Boy sits next to me and says, “I just got a lecture from Melissa.” And I assure him I had nothing to do with that and never asked her to say a word. He is not angry but asks how it came about, and I told him that she simply asked when my kids were coming out and I told her they weren’t. I had no idea then what she said to him. I later found out that she got in his face and said she adored me and I was wonderful and what was he thinking. She gave him a real talking to.
The neighbor across the canal has a hot tub that we spy and yell over asking to use it. There is an incident where Sailor Boy takes it upon himself to go to the hot tub without permission while the rest of us are trying to schmooze with the owner before invading his hot tub. When he returns, SB is pissed that I didn’t follow him and he promptly goes to sleep (passes out?) on the couch in the middle of the party. I have never seen this much drinking (and I went to Mizzou in the 70s) especially among adults. Weren’t we too old for this shit? Eventually, a group of us end up in the hot tub for a while whereupon Sailor Boy informs me that he has no intention of making love to me the entire weekend. End of discussion. We return back to the house while the drunken host jumps into the canal to swim home and Sailor Boy has to run along the perimeter to help him out of the water so he doesn’t drown. I set up on the couch because it is obvious that I am not wanted in “that” way, and it is too painful to sleep with Sailor Boy one more night. From the living room, I overhear a horrible drunken incident between our hosts. It was horrifying, and while everyone else was drunk, too, they are trying to keep a horrible situation into becoming violent. I was sickened by what was happening and so glad it was not going to be part of my life. I drift off with the cat a few minutes here or there. I crawl into the airbed around 6 to talk to Sailor Boy. More tears. I realize I am going to be saying good bye to these friends that morning and it will be tough, and he is very kind about how we will handle this. I start sobbing and have a panic attack where I can’t breath and ask SB to go get me some water. I take my medication and sleep a little longer. Breakfast. Sailor Boy gets out his camera while we say good bye so he can take pictures of me with some of these sweet people I have met and will never see again. No tears.
On the drive home, we have a serious discussion about how mean he was to me in his drunken state and I get a lot out about his alcoholism. I get the chance to say “The first step is not in accepting you’re an alcoholic. The first step is admitting it’s a problem.” He gets it. He has heard this before somewhere, I suspect. He said he really needs to take this seriously and cut down. His sister has told him so. He knows his family history. We get to the grocery store to pick up supplies for our sailing trip that night, and I stop him in the produce section to say my final statement. “In the end of my mother’s life, she lived every hour for another cigarette. If given a choice between another cigarette or a visit from her daughters or granddaughters, she would have taken the cigarette. I love you. I will always love you, and I don’t want to see your life reduced to wanting another drink more than you want to be with your children and future grandchildren. You will die alone.” Whoa. He said, “Ouch.” But he meant it. He held me tight and thanked me for my brutal honesty. I think I struck a nerve.
Ok, this is longer than you have time to read, but I have to get it out. We drive to the boat. Unforgettable. The boat he named after me. I have been assured it would be bad luck to rename the boat so he is “stuck” with the name. He has already admitted he has started dating. Can’t wait till he has to explain the name to the next women in his life. The sunset is beautiful, as always. I click away. Tears roll down my cheek. This is my last time on the Chesapeake. His idea of “slowing down” consists of 4 beers and 2 rum and cokes. He does all the work. He makes me dinner, cleans up, and I do not lift a finger. I am a guest. No longer first mate in training. I have no choice but to sleep with him as the other bunks are cluttered with crap. I take 2 sleeping pills. I woke up around 6 desperate not to miss the sunrise. My last sunrise on the Chesapeake. I am in a sarong and freezing (?) as I snap away. The moon is still out and the sun rises in brilliant golds and purples. I am shivering and Sailor Boy brings me his robe. Tears pouring down my face, and I finally say, “I know what I want for my birthday. I want a collage of sunrise and sunset pictures you have taken. Framed.” I can’t stop weeping at the beauty, the finality. He agrees to my request (yah, I ain’t holding my breath). He makes breakfast. We eat in silence and I take something for the anxiety and slip back into bed. He motors back to the slip, and I am totally unaware that the boat has even moved. I hated that I had missed the sail back, but it wasn’t really a sail since there was no wind and he had motored back, but it was eerie to wake up to a dead still boat and no Sailor Boy. I get dressed and go running outside to look for Sailor Boy and find him just walking around. We drive back to the house and have a sandwich (and wine) and make plans for a movie and dinner. Even though I have already seen it, I decide that Mama Mia! is the perfect movie since it’s fun and includes water and sailing and no violence. We pass by a camera shop and I point out multiple-holed mats that would be perfect for my birthday present request. We go to dinner afterwards and head back to the house where we walk around his neighborhood (see photo to the right). We sit down to watch the Olympics.
As we sat there, tears start to roll down my face because I realize that the decision not to make love one last time was made for me. My opinion, my input was not even considered. I am angry. I am hurt. I resent this. These would be my last tears. Sailor Boy falls asleep, and I know we won’t be talking that night. At 10 he says he is crashing (is?) and needs to go to bed, and I said, “Well, I still want to talk, but we can wait till the morning.” He says he appreciates that and heads to bed, airbed with leak. I stay out in the living room. I have no intention of sleeping next to him. If he doesn't want my body, he can't have my warmth. I put a pillow over my shoulder for warmth. Around 3:30, he wakes up and stands in the livingroom. I look up and tell him I am awake, and he asks why I am sleeping out there, and I say, “I want you so badly and I can’t sleep next to you if you don’t want me.” He said, “Well, the least I can do is get you a blanket,” and before I know it, this horrible, rough, sandpaper excuse for a blanket gets dropped on my delicate shoulders. A horse would have balked at this blanket that must be a leftover from some Boy Scout marshmallow roast from 1904. I think I could file my fingernails with it. I shake it off and replace it with the pillow.
Around 4 I get up to pee and see the office and computer light on and walk in to see what he is doing. He said he had some work e-mails he was answering, and I mention that I thought he was too tired to talk (from the night before) so it’s odd to see him awake. He said he would only be a few minutes, and I go back to the couch. I roll over at 5, and the lights are still on. Now I would like his robe to warm up with and go back to the office where he is still on the computer. I say, “Funny, you couldn’t stay awake to talk, but you can stay awake to do work on the computer.” He said, “Fine, let’s go talk.” And we go to the leaky airbed. I gather up my courage to say, “I had all sorts of scenarios in my mind for this weekend. I imagined being on the boat. I imagined strolling through Annapolis. I was hankering for a Maryland crab cake. I wondered whether we would see your friends so I could say good bye. I imagined sunsets and sunrises. I hoped we could go for a walk. But never in my wildest imagination did I ever think we would not make love one last time. Never. And I resent that I was not included in on that decision.” He rankled and sat up and said, “I told you not to have any expectations.” I said, “It wasn’t an expectation. It was a hope, a desire, a vision.” He said, “There is no compromise in this decision. I didn’t think it required a discussion.” I said, “I understand that there is no compromise between 0 and 1, but I sure would have liked to have been included in on the discussion. I would have liked to have thought my opinion mattered.” He was clearly getting agitated and said, “I am not a fucking machine.” OK, excuse me? I almost busted out laughing. I wanted to say, “Hey, Buddy, when we were having sex, you were no fucking machine.” But something happened at that point. I felt myself whoosh up, sort of like on Ghost, lift off the bed. Let go. I had nothing to say. I had nothing left to say. He fell asleep and I watched him sleep till he startled awake at 6:30 and asked for another hour like he needed my permission. He woke at 7:30, and I was still watching him (and still not sleeping). He got out of “the passion pit,” as he called it, the gaping crevice in the middle caused when the airbed leaks, and I had to laugh at the thought that he called it that. Irony. He blows it back up while I’m still in the bed. A fun ride in bed (finally). And I fall asleep till 10:30.
Breakfast. Friendly chit chat about the Olympics. Packing. Checking time to leave. He puts the top down on the convertible and off we go. Hair in the wind. In the past I usually wept on the way to the airport because I knew we would be saying good bye and didn’t know when we would be seeing each other, panicking over the landscape, trying to learn street names, wondering where I would bank or work or walk, trying to memorize directions (which is laughable). Instead, I looked at the beauty in the Maryland landscape, the trees, the wildflowers, my hair in the wind. We got to the airport and I got my stuff on the curb. He walked over and put his arms around me. He said, “You are a wonderful woman and don’t ever forget that.” Pause. "You are the sweetest, most giving woman I have ever known." Pause. “I am so glad I e-mailed you last year.” Pause. “And you were and always will be unforgettable.” At each pause, I am sure he expected a response, and at each pause, I had nothing to say. Nothing left to say. At each pause, he kissed me. And at each pause, I had nothing left to say. I turned around and wheeled my suitcase into the airport and didn’t look back. In my silence, I had said good bye. In my silence, I had let go. In my silence, I am ready to move on.
* If you care to comment, I do not need to hear/read that Sailor Boy is a cheap, selfish SOB. I already know that. I loved this man more than any man I have ever loved before, and he has/had a lot of wonderful qualities, but he loved alcohol more. I don't need to be reminded of what I already know. Loving him was the highest high I have ever been on and losing him was the lowest low I have ever experienced. I have greatly appreciated you all for your love and support, but please don't be mean in your comments.