There’s a knock on the door and Adrianne comes in. It’s early evening in late summer, so the sky is a deep blue, the sun still bright. She’s wearing a white, low-cut blouse and jeans. Her eyes are a dazzling hazel and her hair a soft chestnut that rolls in light waves to her shoulders. My heart beats faster whenever she’s close and she’s the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.
I give her cheek a gentle kiss. She smiles and I feel my cheeks redden.
I’d wanted to wait until after dinner, but I can’t imagine sitting through a meal with the weight of what I have to tell her on my chest.
We need to talk.
Her gentle hazel eyes sadden. Okay.
We sit on the couch, turned to face each other.
I spoke with my therapist today and he said I need to be honest with you about my past.
She folds her arms across her belly. Haven’t I heard most of it already?
No. I haven’t shared everything.
You’re scaring me.
I’m sorry, but you need to know these things about me.
I start with Margaret. I tell Adrianne that when Margaret and I met it was a wonderful relationship where we meant so much to each other that it’s hard to put into words. Then one night, at a party, I slept with another girl. Then I did it again, and again.
Margaret found out and broke up with me, but I begged her to come back and she did.
I’d sleep with another girl and the cycle would repeat until she finally had enough and left me. I did the same with my next girlfriend and every subsequent girlfriend. It was an endless series of lies, egotistical and self-centered behavior mixed with escalating reliance on and addiction to alcohol.
I hated hurting these people and the guilt of it deepened my self-hatred. But I didn’t stop. There are excuses—they were drinking affairs, mistakes, I felt guilty, never again—but the truth is I was a liar and a cheater. I was selfish, egocentric, mean, and hurtful. I liked the excitement of the whole deal, the danger and risk of it, even as I knew how destructive the affairs were.
I was also insecure, afraid, and damaged. I did to these girls and women what Mom did to me. I tore them down.
By the time I married my first wife, alcohol was in charge. I didn’t love her, but I didn’t care enough about her or myself to be honest. I’d lied and cheated, so what was one more lie? Dad called me Unconscious and he was right.
My first child and then my second child came, but becoming a father didn’t dent the shell I’d built. All I wanted was to drink and with that I wouldn’t say no to any woman. This is why Mary was the perfect affair. She was a drunk, I was a drunk.
I describe to Adrianne walking past my kids at age four and two to leave the house and then waving goodbye to them as I pulled out of the driveway to get drunk and sleep with Mary. I was close to my kids, I loved them as any parent would, but I tore them down. The sadness in their eyes is the most painful memory I have, because love wasn’t enough to get me to stop.
I should have remembered what it was like when Mom dragged us to Florida and we saw bellhops carry her limp, inebriated body into the hotel. I should have known that what I was doing hurt. I’ve been through it. I’ve felt that fear, that loss and, in the simple, clear-eyed way of a child, wondered, Why doesn’t Mom love me enough to stop? Am I unlovable? Am I not worth the act of love it takes to not drink?
During the divorce my wife accused me of sexually abusing the kids, which meant I couldn’t see them. I was a horrible dad, but I didn’t do that. It was a common tactic used by divorce attorneys in the early 1990s—she had sharks, like Mom had against Dad—and I was a test case. I passed a lie detector test and when subsequent information came to light it became clear the accusation was a lie. But it’s part of my story and I can’t erase it, nor do I want to hide from it.
After the divorce, Mary and I maintained a terror of a relationship. She was abusive and had affairs. I had affairs and turned my life over to drinking and making a mess of life, mine and others. Nine months before getting sober I went to a party and hooked up with the hostess, who was twenty. I was forty, and she’d gotten engaged that same day.
As I sank further into alcohol, I became an embarrassment and disappointment to my friends and family. After pushing a friend down, I was all but thrown from his party. I was uninvited to parties, not asked to be in weddings, to be a godfather, or to receive many of the other marks of love and friendship others take for granted.
Like my mom’s relationships, mine faded, as people decided they didn’t want the tragic drunk I’d become in their home, at their party, with their kids, in their lives.
Now I tell Adrianne, I know there’s a higher power in my life because I’ve opened my eyes and ears to it and I have changed. I have my friends back and I’ll spend the rest of my life begging for my kids’ forgiveness.
And then there’s Carolyn. I knew I should have said no to her. We broke up many times and I knew I didn’t love her. Everyone in my life said I shouldn’t marry her, but I asked her anyway.
Even in sobriety, I still needed to learn the hard lesson of listening and keeping my eyes open. I needed to learn all over again, like a second sobriety, to not let ego and self-centeredness run my life. Down that path is all the behaviors I want excised from my life. It’s the source of the pain I’ve caused so many other people and the source of my self-hatred.
I’ve spent my life hating myself. After hearing all of this, I imagine you don’t like me very much either, but I want you to know everything I’ve described is the person I was, not who I am.
Who I am now is the guy who will do anything to help anyone find sobriety. I’m the guy who has enough sense to realize what he’s doing when he meets the woman of his dreams, and I’m reaching out for help so I can be the man of your dreams. I’m the guy who will try anything to improve himself, whether it’s meditation, dancing, sweat lodges, needlepoint, learning guitar or a new language, but most importantly, being honest about who I was so I understand who I am now and who I want to be.
I’m also the guy who’s drawn to you in a way I’ve never felt before.
I’ve seen you become so strong, no longer a victim to your circumstances. You’re beautiful and kind and everything I could ever hope for in a woman. When I’m with you, you influence me in ways that are hard to describe, but I’m my best self and I feel at home, at peace, blessedly calm. There are no doubts, no nagging thoughts, no indecision, no fear or insecurity.
I love you and how I feel with you.
I love you enough to be this honest, this vulnerable. I love you enough to say all this knowing that you may walk out of here and never have anything to do with me again. I’m lovesick for you and you’re sitting right next to me.
I’m not perfect, but I’ll spend my life doing my best to honor you, to make you proud that I’m your man. I hope you feel the same, or at least see a way forward for us.
I look at her, but she turns from me. Her lips are parted and her arms remain crossed. She’s silent. Marigold evening sunlight suffuses through the apartment.
With each moment I lose hope. My mind runs through the words she’ll say to leave me and how it’ll feel to hear them.
I tilt my head down toward hers. I think I’ve screwed it all up. I’m sorry.
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