Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Part XII: Examining the Spiral and Thanksgiving

I did not know then, nor do I know now, with any level of certainty when my husband began coping with drugs. I do not know with any degree of certainty what drugs he was taking, although I have my suspicions. The pot seems obvious and the signs and symptoms should have been clear had I cared to watch for them but at the time I did not want to see any of the clues or manifestations, even as I was shaking my head at my mother-in-law for being so oblivious about her younger son's drug use.

The sudden personality shift, the seemingly out of nowhere rage, the company he was keeping (primarily his older brother, an admitted heroin addict) and the physical changes. I was emotionally vulnerable going into my marriage so I never thought to look externally when changes took place - instead I heaped them onto myself. As an oldest child I am predisposed to accepting responsibility for things not entirely within my control. My sister gets frustrated when I feel responsible for whether others enjoy themselves at a party I planned or on a trip I have planned, even if the frustration is due to weather or some other external force majeure. I think being told as a child that you are responsible for your younger siblings instills a certain amount of inner accountability which is generally a positive trait. However, without anything to counter my shouldering this entire burden in my marriage, I assumed and was told and accepted, 100% of the blame for everything that appeared to be wrong in my marriage. Everything was now my fault.

Our money problems? Not a result of his changing the plan and quitting one of his jobs or many of the jobs that followed - that was my fault for not working. It was also my fault because I refused to take out a student loan.

When rock climbing with my friends, me climbing stronger and better than him? Somehow my fault - I was trying to make him look bad in front of my friends or I had purposely made him climb later when the sun was setting making it difficult for him to see.

Dinner not tasting quite right - being overcooked, undercooked or just plain not to his liking? My fault.

Our clunky old car? My fault - because my parents gave us the old Mazda instead of letting me keep the newer Pontiac.

Him tearing off part of the back bumper on the car backing out of our carport spot? My fault - you know, because I parked too close to the pole.

Can't find the keys, a book, the remote? My fault, my fault, my fault.

Him being late or sleeping in? My fault.

Me challenging the opinion or alleged facts thrown at me by one of his friends such as "I can outrun a buffalo"? My fault for making him look bad and making his friend feel stupid (not for his friend being dumb enough to think he can outrun a buffalo that can run approximately 35 mph).

And perhaps the most damaging to me, our problems in the bedroom? My fault.

I carried this burden of accepting the blame because I thought it would make things better. By absorbing the indictments I thought I could will them away and make him happier and more content. I assumed that by putting all of my effort into the marriage I could fix it, even if I had to sacrifice everything else around me.

What I didn't know then was that the violent, self-destructive behavior he so abruptly displayed is a common symptom of the use of speed, or at least of coming off the drug. A drug he once told me was his preferred stimulant in high school. Another symptom is feelings of increased confidence, talkativeness, cheerfulness and feeling more alert and energetic. There were times when Mitch was nonstop. He had big plans and big dreams and ambition seemed to pour out of him. We talked about our future and everything was great. Shortly after we were married he developed back acne - something I once heard was a side effect of speed, although a few google searches failed to confirm this one. I also later learned that speed can increase the libido but withdrawal can lead to impotence. I do not know what drugs Mitch was using and it may not be fair to guess but there is little else to explain his abrupt change in behavior.

As far as I could tell, having nothing to compare it to, our sex life in the first month or so of marriage was that of a normal newlywed couple but for the increasingly frequent fights. After all, one of the things that brought us together so quickly was physical attraction. That was something I never anticipated being a problem. But by November this was already waning. Then spiking. Then gone completely. I became terribly confused by this erratic behavior. One day he could barely keep his hands off me and was absolutely insatiable and the next . . . nothing. He wouldn't even look at me, let alone touch me. He stopped reaching for me, stopped holding my hand, stopped caressing me and stopped kissing me. I questioned myself, not him. Was I not attractive enough? Was I doing something wrong? Was there something wrong with me for wanting to have sex with my husband more than he wanted to have sex with me? After all, don't all the stereotypes indicate it is the woman always begging off with headaches?

I had no one to turn to. I did not really have any married friends and I had already discovered the awkwardness of talking to my friends about any potential marital troubles and talking to my parents about my sex life was absolutely out of the question, which left me with no one. I was living in a conservative culture where sex is rarely discussed outside explaining how it is prohibited before marriage. But what happens afterwards I wondered. Is this it? What about those jokes about putting the marble or bean in a jar every time you did it the first year of marriage and taking one out every time you did it after your first year and never running out of beans or marbles? Our additions were less and less frequent, surely the drop-off didn't happen so dramatically and so early. But there was little else by which I could gauge the ordinary.

Despite Mitch's confession of no longer believing in the church, he still accompanied me to church on Sundays and I would look around the congregation comprised almost entirely of other young, newlywed student couples and wonder what their lives were like at home. I was unaware of what normal was so I convinced myself that what we had was normal. Yes, many newlyweds appeared unable to keep their hands off each other, even in church, but there seemed to be plenty who kept their distance from one another. I decided that sporadic flare-ups of extreme passion followed by days and weeks without much more than the inadvertent bumps and grazes of two people living in a small space was normal. I swallowed that horse pill of responsibility with everything else and assumed no one else would notice. After all, I didn't know what was happening with anyone else's sex lives, so how could they know about mine?

I was wrong. There are external signs of troubled marital affection just as there were signs of the drugs.

**************************************************************

We spent Thanksgiving with my family and oh, how I was looking forward to seeing them again. I was tired of sampling one bland casserole after the next at my in-law's house and counted the days to the annual bountiful spread with all my favorites that would be waiting at my grandparents' home. My family had always alternated Thanksgiving dinner between St. George with my mother's family and Idaho or my parent's house with my dad's family but I always preferred St. George - the weather was warm, everything was homemade and there was always a large crowd. Spending our first Thanksgiving in St. George allowed Mitch and I to stay in our own apartment and just make the 45 minute drive down and back the same day. Given the limited sleeping space at my grandparent's home, I eagerly volunteered our new little apartment to host my younger siblings who drove down Wednesday night and slept in the living room.

Mitch and I still did not have a bed but I believe by this time we had graduated from the hide-a-bed in the living room to an air mattress in the bedroom. My parents arrived Thursday morning with our bed -exhausted and frustrated by the tremendous journey they had endured to transport our bed to us. They started out early Thursday morning in their van, towing their camping trailer to add additional beds to my grandparents overcrowded house. The old queen size box spring and mattress did not easily fit inside either the van or the trailer so my dad tied them to the roof of the van and hit the road. My dad spent many of his younger years as a truck driver and has significant experience with hauling things and tying things down securely. But his experience was no match for yet another warning sign of my struggling union that seemed to say - it's of no use, don't give them a bed, they don't need it.

Interstate 15 is a direct route from Salt Lake through Cedar City and into St. George. Just south of Salt Lake, where the capital city now blurs into Utah County is what is locally referred to as The Point of the Mountain. Every Utah driver knows the unpredictable nature of the weather at the Point. I do not exaggerate when I say that going up one side, the weather might be clear and sunny, only to be caught in a dust bowl of swirling wind or a blizzard at the top and landing on the other side in a white out or more sunny sky. The constant winds at Point of the Mountain make it a popular hang-gliding destination. That Thanksgiving morning, when my parents were less than 15 minutes into their four plus hour drive, a sudden gust of wind caught the lip of the mattress piled on top of the van at just the right angle ripping it off the roof and down the highway pulling the box spring and baggage rack out of the roof but not off the top of the van. My dad and the highway patrolman who assisted my parents in recapturing the mattresses shook their heads in disbelief and agreed they had never seen anything like it and estimated the combined wind at the Point of the Mountain combined with the 60 mph or so speed at which my dad was driving must have created a gust of 90 plus miles per hour to have pulled the baggage rack off in that manner.

Exemplifying my parents' persistence and determination to support me no matter the obstacle, they tied the box spring back onto the roof, tying it directly to the vehicle's frame, they then squeezed the now road burned mattress into the trailer and continued on their original course. Looking back, it would have been far more simple for them if they had just left the mattress or even turned around and dropped it back off at home and told me - us - to make do with what we had. Instead, they continued the familiar drive slowly and cautiously so they could bring us a bed.

The weather was so beautiful that year, we ate Thanksgiving dinner on long tables set up under the carport. I basked in the warmth of being surrounded by those who instinctively loved and accepted me. Not yet realizing how starved I was for attention, I relished every conversation. Well, almost every conversation.

That initial violent outburst I shoved into a dark, locked cupboard in a dusty corner of my head was not even a week behind me. In fact, it was recent enough I still carried a fairly ugly bruise on my arm to Thanksgiving dinner betraying my wishes to will the incident away. It was not unusual for me to have bruises - it still isn't. I bruise fairly easily and often end up with bruises of unknown origins. I was also still making sporadic attempts to rock climb and hike which were two frequent causes for battle wounds I proudly displayed as badges of my fortitude. So when my father innocently and playfully attempted to tease my husband about "hitting his wife" after seeing the bruise, the blood drained from my face and as my dad explains, he will never forget the horrified look on my face, betraying all attempts to cover up the abusive secret.

My parents and extended family noticed other warning signs as well - primarily the sudden lack of physical affection between newlyweds. Before we were married, I am sure my parents worried about how touchy we always were, if Mitch was in the room I was at his side, holding his hand, sitting on his lap or he was playing with my hair or trying to not so discreetly kiss me. Now, just two months into marriage he was withdrawn and aloof, refusing to interact with me or my family. While I was gulping down the love and attention, talking louder and more animated to disguise his gruffness, he withdrew deeper and deeper into himself until he was barely there at all.

Mitch did not allow us to linger with my family for long as he insisted we spend time with his family on the holiday as well. He must have feared what I might confide in my parents or other relatives if he agreed to leave me behind. That or my siblings were so uncomfortable spending one night at our apartment, they refused to repeat the experience and I feared I wouldn't have a ride home. But ultimately spending time with his family meant that I dropped him off at a church to play basketball with his brothers while I returned home to sit alone in our apartment missing my family foregoing his proposed alternative of spending time with the women in his family (who were always segregated into a secluded domestic role). I felt slighted when I was excluded from the basketball game. Our second date was spent playing basketball together in a church gym. Throughout our dating months we frequently played basketball together and I was generally the only girl in the game. We also watched a lot of basketball together and that was one of our shared interests. But he no longer wanted me there. I suppose he didn't want me to repeat the fluke incident of when I beat him in a game of around the world. Or perhaps, he wasn't really playing basketball - not the entire evening anyway. He came home late. Very late. And not with the brother I expected, instead of one of his basketball playing brothers, he was dropped off by his heroin addict brother S. I have no definite knowledge of where he was that evening or what he was doing but without the naive blinders of love and hope and youth, I suspect he was not playing basketball.

7 comments:

Tiffany said...

Oh my. The bed. The bruise. The basketball. Truly, you are doing a masterful job telling this story. I'm all teary-eyed in my cereal.

Anonymous said...

So sad. So well written. I will forgive the delay seeing as you had much more important things to attend to over the weekend. Your niece is beautiful.

michele said...

even though this happened a long time ago, reading this makes me want to kick his butt.

critts said...

Your story makes me so sad and yet I'm so addicted to reading it. You're doing a wonderful job writing it.

marialuigi said...

I'm absolutely riveted. You inspire! You have a true gift...such intellegent, emotionlly true writing.

(No, you don't know me...however, I've been reading your blog for some time. I found you through Tiffany who I found through Natalie at 100% Cottam who is a personal friend of a real, live flesh and blood friend of mine...I'm a nerd...I know.)

Thank you for allowing me to peek in.

Beck said...

Good grief, this is harrowing. You're a wonderful, wonderful writer.

katie said...

I agree with Michele. We could have kicked his butt good!

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