B was passed out in a ditch full of fire ants some place in Austin, Texas while I was in an ICU in Akron, Ohio. When I woke up I wouldn’t ask why my wrist had four inches of staples or why my brain felt rearranged. I wouldn’t greet my mom or my ex boyfriend Pete who stood over me, worried. A swarm of people who loved me camped out in the waiting room and all I had to say, my eyebrows in an angry V, was, “Where is he?”
Let me back up a week. B was the real alcoholic, the Jekyl and Hyde type. I came home one afternoon in March 2012 to find my pug Edith hiding in my closet, shaking, tail uncurled. I put her in my arms and stomped my way through the house to find B in his studio drinking and staring at a canvas.
“Why was Edith in the closet?” I masked my anger in order to get a straight answer. Paint fumes attacked my nose.
He took a gulp from his forty. “She’s mad because I rubbed her nose in shit.” He put the drink down and grabbed a can of spray paint. I kept kissing Edith’s perfect little smooshed nose. “I let her outside but she still shit on the floor.” I wanted to punch him. The only time I had ever witnessed Edith having an accident was at the vet or the groomers, both out of fear.
“Listen. I love you, but touch one of my dogs ever again and I will curb stomp you,” I said. Edith had stopped shaking and stuck her chin in the air as she rolled her eyes at him. We made our way downstairs to find my other pug, Telemachus, sitting by his food bowl, awaiting his dinner. I put Edith down, measured out their food, and watched as they ate their entire bowls in ten seconds. B had to go.
I made him sleep on the couch that night while I slept in bed, on my back, with a pug tucked in each arm. Upon awakening I decided to rid myself of the dog abuser. I called off but jumped in the shower as if I were getting ready for work. When I got out and dried off, B was in my bed, our bed, really, both dogs sound asleep beside him. The sun had yet to make its appearance and love, confusion, and pug motherhood smacked me right in the face. I took a couple of Ambien and crawled in the sheets with all three of my snoring darlings.
B woke me with kisses that I graciously accepted. In those sober moments his skin was my favorite blanket. Later that day, when he walked to the store to steal beer, I told him that he had to go, that I didn’t think my dogs were safe.
He was wasted by the time we got to the bus station. The previous hours plagued with arguing and crying, I was exhausted as we walked to the counter to buy his ticket to go back home to Kansas City. I handed the clerk my debit card. Words failed me. I longed for this drunk man before he even left. B said, “Austin, one way.” I didn’t think he would actually go through with it, but an hour later he kissed me goodbye, took one step up into the bus, turned around and flipped me off. I watched the shadow of him find a seat, but he never looked up. This was our first separation.
A week later I ended up in the ICU, having no memory of how I got there. I was told that I had passed out at the bottom of my basement steps, breaking my wrist and slamming my head on the cement. I remembered being up for days on Adderall. I remembered my friend Danielle coming over to console me about B. Apparently she had stayed over that night because she drank a bit too much wine, but she had gone to sleep at midnight. At 3am she heard Telemachus and Edith running up and down the steps, my chubby heroes. I was conscious and weeping in a pile of blood, my right wrist so broken that the bone was close to being exposed. Danielle would later tell me that I kept using my broken wrist to point to my head, saying, “I think I got hurt.”
Sub-dermal hematoma was the language used concerning my head. My mangled wrist rebuilt with 13 pieces of metal, I was a bit of a mess. All together, I was in the hospital for six nights. The doctor attempted to send me home with Percocet, but I walked out with a prescription for Fentanyl patches. My mom forced me to stay with her for a while. I remember the sweat on my cell phone, fingers white knuckled around it, waiting for B to call me. I couldn’t get doped up enough to stop worrying about his safety and whereabouts. I remember my mom saying, “Jen, I don’t think you are supposed to cut up those patches up and eat them.” I ignored her.
The time frame is hazy, but B eventually called from a hospital in Austin. I listened as he told me what happened, chewed on my Fentanyl. He had been flying signs on the side of the road to get money. He remembered having pockets full of cash and sprinting to the liquor store, the weather nice and the city not quite as cool as he had expected. He drank and drank and drank. There may have been some drugs. Then, he woke up in the hospital and was told that he was found in a ditch with hundreds of fire ants crawling on him. All his money was gone and if that weren’t bad enough, he had also had a heart attack as he withdrew from alcohol in the hospital. It all seemed too dramatic to believe so I hung up on him, my feelings hurt that he did all the talking about his condition when I had just nearly died.
It was only after a doctor called and spoke with me about the fire ant/heart attack story that I came to understand that B was not lying. Clearly it was our separation that caused such near death experiences. It was not the alcohol or drugs. So a few days later when B said, “Jennifer, please let me come home. I can not live without you. I want to take care of you. I’m done drinking,” I hopped online and bought him a Greyhound ticket to Akron for the next day.
When I woke up that morning, I went with my family to a flea market to prove to my mother that I was indeed strong enough to return home. My hair matted in blood, I felt the need to have my eyebrows threaded to look good for my B. For some odd reason, I also felt compelled to have a henna tattoo of his graffiti name, Stoik (yes, with a k) on my arm. My family had no idea what it meant. I was carrying the best secret, a modern day Romeo and Juliet. Though my head throbbed, my soul was singing. Later that day I drove to the bus station to pick up my future, heavy baggage and all.
When I jumped into his arms he kissed me, hard, like in the movies. We could not stay away from each other despite our addictions. There were many years to come, more drugs to do, kids to be born. The story was just beginning. It was all supposed to happen, I know this. He kissed my broken right wrist and then showed me his left wrist. It too was broken. I showed him his name on my left arm and he smiled, took off his jacket. His t-shirt had printed on it To Write Love On Her Arms.