For months I'd planned a winter vacation. This was more than half a year before we met, so my original thinking had been a solo road trip through New Mexico in the snow, visiting and lingering at a handful of spectacular sites I'd seen but not fully explored two years before. It was all about my camera. I wanted whole days, to capture the change of light from morning to afternoon to sunset, and to satisfy myself that I'd discovered all the treasures there that could be found.
It was not a long list of locations. Silver City, Gila Cliffs, the Three Rivers petroglyph site, the VLA, Chaco Canyon, Mesa Verde. I had two weeks off work, plenty for driving, and for lingering.
When she came to live with me, we had to do some heavy brainstorming. Should she come? Should she stay behind? Should I cancel?
I wasn't yet fully versant with all the behaviors involved in her addiction, but, she'd assaulted me enough times and trashed the house enough times for me to clearly understand that all the options were bad. If she came, would she disrupt the experience with violence or theft or hung-over immobility? If she stayed behind, would she steal and sell my guitars, or burn down the house, or invite her alchohol-and-heroin using exes over to party? If I canceled, would I be miserable with disappointment, or angry at her for being the blame?
Together we decided she should come. There was less chance for unattended disaster. She promised to do everything in her power to stay sober, and to be good company.
She really tried as hard as she could.
I could feel her jitters the first days sober, her rising discomfort and the anxiety it caused her. She became manic, not constantly but frequently enough to alarm us both. She was mentally extremely unfocused, which is not a surprise since her brain was shouting at her that her neurons required watering. Still she soldiered on, kept up a happy-if-forced patter, wore a strained smile. I'm truly grateful for how valiantly she struggled.
We spent a day in San Diego. Visited her old apartment there while she told me stories of drinking, thrifting, and stripping at the sailor clubs on Rosecrans outside MCRD. Visited my childhood apartment. There was an alarming moment there when she twisted her ankle on a curb, collapsing into astonishingly passionate tears of pain and fright. Her reaction scared me to death: I thought she'd broken her leg. It was mostly fright and it passed before long, but the experience stayed with me. It was my first clear indication of how much more attuned she was to the signals her body generated, whether pain or anxiety or pleasure. In time I'd watch her swallow ibuprofen by the fistful for the most trivial discomfort.
She made it all the way to Silver City before relapsing. It was Christmas Eve, we were window shopping when I realized she was gone. She'd disappeared around a corner fleet as ten cats and while I blinked I missed it. What to do now?
I searched the bars. She seemed to be always a step ahead. Dudes with prison ink told me she'd bolted out the back door when she saw me enter, and, while I wondered if they were lying to keep her there, I can't see where she could have hid outside the loo. So I went from bar to bar and when I'd exhausted the five or six blocks of old downtown I walked back to our B&B profoundly unsure what to do next.
She was there, staggeringly drunk off the shots the dudes had stood her, trying with her teeth to tear the cork from a bottle of store-bought wine.
The circumstance was extremely alarming to me because our B&B was also an art gallery, where I was petrified that if her usual domestic behavior erupted she'd do thousands of dollars of damage to the exhibits on the walls. So I bundled her and the wine and our bags into the car, left a note on the bed asking the nice folks to charge my credit card for the night, and checked-in to an institutionally green motel off Highway 180 which I somehow expected would be more used to violent drunks.
Bless her heart, she drank peacefully in the room with the TV up loud, passed-out on the bed, and snored till morning. She was trying as hard as she could to be good. She'd been unable to fight the panic in her brain telling her that she'd die without alcohol. But she stayed calm in the room and that was that.
I was astonished by that. My belief had been that her violence was beyond conscious control, indeed that "she" was simply not present after a certain blood alcohol level. Here it turned out she had more presence than I'd understood. It took me a long time to process that.
There was no possibility of continuing the next day. She slept till afternoon and was too sick to walk before dinner. Besides, it was Christmas, Gila Cliffs were closed. Nothing for it but to find a holiday meal somewhere. A hotel nearby had a dining room with turkey, potatoes, pudding. We enjoyed that, then back at the motel she enjoyed the two bottles of wine she'd hidden in her bags.
So that next day was a virtual repeat, minus the two stashed bottles. She was too sick to leave the room, we watched TV all day and I had fast-food cheeseburgers delivered by taxi. It wasn't a complete nightmare. She was friendly, there was no violence, and that night without wine she was tense but alert. I though was increasingly uneasy. With days lost, what parts of my site list would we have to give up?
The 27th was a magical snowy day at Gila Cliffs. Nobody there but us and the ranger, who gave us a far more detailed tour than most. We climbed the cliffside trail in snow flurries, took photos of the frozen stream with icicles on the footbridge. We climbed ladders and searched for petroglyphs, photographing as much as we wanted. The gorge was gorgeous under its thin layer of new-fallen white. Doc Campbell's Trading Post was open, where we bought turquoise crucifixes and postcards for her niece. A perfect day, until she ran out of cigarettes.
She was unwilling to smoke anything but cloves, and, to our surprise, it turned out the state of New Mexico had banned them. None to be had. What's an addict and her boyfriend to do? Could she substitute normal cigarettes for the next ten days? No possible way.
So instead of spending the entire 28th at the spectacular Three Rivers site, we drove to El Paso for cartons of cloves to last us the rest of the trip. That's right, I drove her to Texas for cigarettes.
It was hard to know what else to do. She couldn't withdraw from both alcohol and cigarettes together, that's just too much to ask. While I was intimidated and unprepared to live with ten days of continual snitty sniping over missing her cloves. So I sucked it up and drove, giving up morning in Three Rivers, probably the thing I'd most looked forward to for the entire trip.
In its way it was fun, an unplanned adventure to solve a crisis. But it was a disaster, too. She slept until late morning, it took till afternoon to find the cigar shop in El Paso, it's a two hour drive from El Paso to Three Rivers, under the best of circumstances we'd arrive there with only a couple of hours of daylight but she insisted on stopping to photograph an abandoned train roadside which she then refused to leave. I had to plead with her to please let the train go, because the petroglyphs would be the most amazing thing we'd see on that trip. She looked at me with true venom, 'cos now it's a contest of wills which she's not gonna lose. We arrived at Three Rivers at sunset, with my heart broken. My pics are spectacular but rushed, it was extremely stressful, she was delighted with the site, and she cared not even a little for my disappointment. It meant absolutely nothing to her.
The pattern repeated at Chaco Canyon. I wanted the entire day there but she slept until almost noon, then we had to get sandwiches, then we had an argument, so that for the second time we arrived at a spectacular photographic location with only a couple of hours of light left. I ran through it all frantically, my pics are gorgeous, but it was another crushing disappointment. She took a photo of me sitting on some rocks, head bowed, deep in meditation. Months later her friend asked, "What's he thinking, there?" I was debating cutting the trip short. There seemed no purpose driving to Mesa Verde if we wouldn't reach the site until 5pm. So I pulled the plug.
My disappointment was bottomless. This was an experience I'd anticipated for months. My feelings were very hurt. I felt that from Silver City forward she'd stopped caring about the quality of my experience. It became all about feeding her various monkeys: for alcohol, for expensive speciality nicotine, for food, for sleep. Where the photographs I'd longed for did not merit the list.
At a rest stop outside Needles it all blew up. She had her filthy bare feet on the dashboard, was smoking inside the car, rockin' out to GnR, and I looked at her feet and her cloves and her Red Bulls and told her, with real sincerity, from the depth of my most bitter disappointment, "You are the most selfish person I have ever seen up close."
That hurt her. It stung, because I wasn't kidding, and I wasn't exaggerating. I think that might have been the first time she fully grasped how painful the experience had been for me. Just how badly my feelings were hurt, and how dejected I was.
She changed, for a while. She was more quiet, more solicitous. She tried to make up for it by cooking unbelievable gourmet meals, by offering to spend days however I'd like. But the disease took her over more and more completely. She advanced from wine to vodka, returned to brawling, crashed her car, went to jail. We were never good again. She gave up trying to be sober, while I gave up hope. Our relationship became more of a truce than a friendship. For a while she lived in a condo I rented for her but she was incapable of looking after herself. I'd find her passed out on the floor day after day amid empties and vomit and condoms. I made her come back to the house where I could take care of her. But we were never a "we" again.