It’s not difficult to understand how she did it – liver and lungs. They can only take so much abuse, then they quit. I knew for years she was trying to kill herself.
Each Sunday for weeks I circled the block three, four, five times – until one afternoon, she walked onto the porch. I had not seen her in six years – bountiful hair, t-shirt, jean shorts, full-bodied, long-legged. A glass of scotch in her right hand and a cigarette cradled with incredible dexterity between the index and middle fingers of the same hand. The smokey aura of a late summer afternoon near the river enveloped her.
Unbeknownst to me, behind her front door was minimal food, no washer or dryer; and her, a working mother with multiple jobs, bouts of sleepwalking, and a behavioral pattern akin to ADHD. Five children: two teenage girls whose angry looks drifted into disorientation, and two very young boys lost and wavering. There was also a dead child – funeral costs unpaid, who lay without a gravestone. Abandoned by a husband when he trotted off with someone younger and more naïve; and left the mother of his children with neither child support nor stability. A woman adrift in addiction; frightened and unmoored in a world that requires electricity bills to be paid and children to be attended.
One evening deep into a stupor, her thoughts garbled and saturated with anger and regret, she told me she had borne children to receive praise from her father and husband, “I was having children just to be thanked. To be complimented.” She had endured her husband’s abuse by hiding deep inside the safety of her adopted persona – Wanda. When she morphed into Wanda, she was not the usual happy to angry, or aloof to affectionate drunk, but a different person – mentally and physically. Bitter, slurred thinking. Paranoid speech.
Her drinking replicated her father’s suicide quest – “When my mother died, daddy spent the next twenty years drinking himself to death.” Her self-diagnosed sleepwalking wasn’t sleepwalking, but recurring blackouts.
I’ve gotta get out of here. Then I paused. Unsure if her behavior was a one-off, or, possibly by this point, a two-or-three-off.
On many nights, however, she entered the bedroom – freshly-bathed, a towel wrapped around her, legs smooth and exposed – and glided toward the walk-in closet, popped her head around the door jamb, smiled, and said, “They’re asleep”.
I would watch her unwrap, pull over, pull off, pull on, then reappear. Bare legs, high heels, a tattered off-the-shoulder V-neck shirt slightly cut at the breast (She would gasp when, in a fit of passion, I ripped it off). She walked slowly toward me on the edge of the bed, reached for a pillow, placed it on the floor, and knelt. I intertwined my hands behind her head and leaned back.
Dinner the next evening was forgettable. By seven o’clock, grasping a bottle of scotch secreted from one of her three hiding places – the kitchen or in one of the two bathrooms – she was slurring again. The evening droned on, until I heard her say, “They’re asleep.”
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