In February of 2017 my then boyfriend asked me to marry him. We were walking in the off-leash dog park near our house and he thrust his grandmother’s engagement ring at me, and said simply “will you?”.
He told me later that he had hoped to ask in Niagara Falls.
I had put an end to that plan when we’d gotten into a huge argument when he suggested going away for my birthday. It was just after Christmas, I was looking at a mountain of credit card debt, the mortgage and other bills looming, and obsessively looking over our bank records, I knew his contributions were almost non-existent.
He had told me he wanted to take me away for the weekend and I melted down. I shamed him for even considering spending money.
We had been together for 8 years at that point. Truthfully, most of it not great. There was very little trust on either side and neither one of us seemed capable of supporting the other in any idea. We bickered constantly and had almost no intimacy by any stretch or definition of the word. Our relationship was full of lies and shame and we were both in deep denial of his illness.
He had graduated to drinking in secret. He slept at irregular hours and it was not unusual for his behaviour to deteriorate; he said inappropriate things, stumbled around, and slurred his words. I had forced him to go to the doctor, insisting that if he was not abusing substances there must be something deeply wrong. The doctor said that his sleep patterns could be the catalyst for the strange behaviour and suggested more discipline in his daily routine.
He, of course, did not follow any of the doctors suggestions and responded to my nagging by insisting the doctor was a quack and he was fine. He told me that I was a fool, a nag, and that I should mind my own business. He was right on most of those points, the doctor did not identify the problem… and by that time, I wasn’t able to focus on myself at all, I had become obsessed with how to turn him into the person I thought he could be.
I initially said “yes” to his proposal. I had been waiting for it, couldn’t believe we’d been together so long without that commitment. I said “yes” because I thought that was the clear next step towards the kids I thought I wanted with him, the “ever after” I imagined where he was alert, available, and we were no longer adversaries.
On the walk back from the park, all kinds of thoughts came flooding in: the lies, the financial hardship, the person I had become over the time we had been together… When we got back to the house I rescinded my acceptance of his proposal, telling him that I couldn’t think of marrying him as things were between us.
He told me he would do anything to keep the ring on my finger.
I suggested we work on things, and hoped that he would ask again.
Over the next month, he moved the heirloom ring around the house – I’m not sure if that was to punish me, or because it was painful for him to see the symbol of my rejection; probably both. His behaviour became more erratic and I spent an increasing amount of time worrying about where he was, what he was doing, and imagining all the things that would happen to him. In my paranoia, I became worried that he would dispose of the ring, and worried about the impact that would have on his mother.
Then, one Sunday in March, he drank himself into a stupor and passed out on the couch. In a strangely empowered moment, I got his keys, and decided to search his car for the ring.
I found chaos. His car was full of garbage – fast food containers, clothing, cigarette packages, other unidentifiable mess. And then I opened the trunk and found it full of empty vodka bottles.
I remember staring at the contents of the trunk, of the first irrevocable proof of his addiction, and wondering if I could just close the trunk and imagine that I could forget what I had seen. I remember standing there, trying to think of any other explanation for why they were there…
And then I realized I was sick too. I called his brother and begged him to come and get him. I packed a bag for him, and waited. A few hours later, they coaxed him, half passed out, into the car and took him away.
I’ve only seen him once since then, in a bank parking lot about a month after I forced him out of our house. Already skinny, he’d lost more weight, his skin was grey and he looked more ill than I remembered. I wondered if he’d always looked that way and I hadn’t allowed myself to see it.
I spent the first year working through my belief that there was something missing from me which should have inspired him to get better. It took me that much time to realize that while there were things that I could have done better for both of us in light of his addiction, there was nothing I could have done to make him stop before he was ready.
It took me that long to accept that we were not meant to save each other.