He was in his usual spot. I had dropped the bag of groceries on the kitchen table and went into the living room. I don’t know why I expected something else. Hope? I sighed. “You’re home early.”
He popped the top on another beer. Three empties littered the side table next to his recliner. “I was let go.”
My heart sank. Things were already tight. I walked around to stand between him and the history channel documentary on the black plague, arms crossed against my chest. “What happened?”
“Told me things were tough and they had to let someone go.” He took a sip and belched. “It happens.”
I nodded. It happened a lot to him. “You were drinking on the job.”
“I had a couple of beers at lunch. No big deal.”
I closed my eyes. I knew better. “And the whiskey shots at break?”
“A pick-me-up is all.”
I could feel the tears beginning to form so I went back to the kitchen to put the groceries away. A fast inventory of the fridge and cupboards made my stomach churn. There wasn’t much on hand. I’d been planning a big shopping expedition this weekend. Now that wouldn’t happen. I made tea and sat down at the table with a legal pad.
He came in, tossed his empties in the recycling bin and got four more beers from the fridge. For some reason, there was always money for beer. He didn’t even look at me before he went back to the living room. I started the list, mortgage, car payment, electricity, water, those were the most important. Then TV, phone, and internet, a combined payment that was lower than doing them separately. The phone and internet were important, that’s how he’d look for work. Groceries, ’cause we had to eat, but I knew how to pinch that particular penny. I knew to the last cent how much each of those bills cost; I was the one that paid the bills every month. The only bill with any give was the grocery bill. I drank the last of my tea, gone cold. My pay wouldn’t cover the bottom line.
He’d been so sweet back in college. Not scary aggressive like the rest of the boys. He played me soft love songs on the quad in the shade of a giant, ancient oak on his guitar. He read my tarot cards, each of us on opposite sides of his dorm room bed, the cards spread out in front of us. Sure, other guys vied for my attention. But I always came back to him. We married right out of college.
I didn’t notice the drinking at first. We all drank in college. After, it was get-togethers with people from work—kegs, now that we all had jobs and money to spare. Those friends dropped out after the babies started coming. Soon, it was just the two of us, uncomfortable with our friends since we didn’t have children. My heart constricted as I sat at the table, turning my tea mug around and around in front of me.
His drinking became a nightly thing. I didn’t realize there was a problem until he came home, fired, five years ago. One of his co-workers told me why when I saw him and his wife in the grocery one day. Drinking on the job. They were so sorry, they said. I nodded, the blush making my face hot. We had a three-hour screaming match when I got home. He promised he’d change. It worked, for awhile.
Now, this was the fifth job in as many years. I turned the kettle on for another cup of tea. Should I go in and confront him? Would it make any more difference than it had the last four times? I put a fresh tea bag in my cup and poured the boiling water over it and sat back down. The pad in front of me sat accusing, the bottom-line figure taunting me. Could I get a second job? My current job was nine-to-five and not very stressful. Maybe I could do something from home.
I was so tired of this fight. I went into the living room and pulled a footstool in front of him. “Do you want to change?”
He blinked at me; already a six-pack into the night’s drinking.
“Do you care at all?”
He muted the TV. “I tried.”
“Not hard enough.” He looked tired. No, beaten. My words made his face fall even more. “I can’t pay all of the bills on my salary. You have to get another job.”
“No one will hire me. Word is out.”
Rage washed through me. “Then DO something! Go into rehab! Quit cold turkey. I cannot do this anymore.”
He sat forward in the recliner and took my hand. “I can’t help it.”
I could feel something inside of me snap. He was pathetic. A loser. Why was I struggling with this man? I stood up. “You can move into the spare room.”
He blinked at me again. “What?”
“I’ve had enough. You can move into the spare room. I can’t afford to leave. I’m still responsible for the house and the bills. You get yourself together or get the hell out.”
I stood up and went into the kitchen. My hand shook as I picked up my tea mug. Did I just do that?
He shuffled into the kitchen, shoulders slumped. He handed me a small box of my favorite chocolate truffles. “Happy anniversary.”
I automatically took them, staring at him. An icy wave washed over me. Was he for real? I took the two steps to the trash can and dropped the box in. I took my tea, went to my bedroom, and locked the door. There was no going back.