A year ago my ex-husband and I went to Minneapolis to celebrate my grandma’s 90th birthday. Not only that, but my brother was flying in from England as a gift for her. The last time I saw Matt was in 2013 at our wedding and before that was 2009 at our other brother’s wedding. This was a big deal for our family.
The majority of the weekend was fine. The drive up, I drove most of the way so he could work from the car. We spent some time secluded in our hotel room, enjoying time away from the early wake-up of the animals. The day of the celebration was supposed to be about family. The cousins were together (first cousins and second cousins) and there was drinking, laughter, pictures being taken and wondering if this would be one of the last big celebrations at 6604 Dakota Trail.
As the afternoon came to an end and the evening started, the cousins debated going out but in the end we decided we just wanted to be together. We all gathered at one house, sitting around a bonfire and just shooting the shit. I thought it was going to be an epic night of laughter, story-telling and memories being made. It was epic, but not in the way I thought. As I continued to watch Charlie go in and out of the house refilling glass after glass of wine, I lost count. At that point, I knew I would be in charge of driving and I would have to read his mood once again to see whether I needed to stay silent.
The night ended and as we walked to the car, he asked for the keys. I knew I couldn’t “accuse” him of being drunk so instead I played it off. “It’s fine, I don’t mind driving.” Slurring his words, he asked again for the keys. “It’s fine, I’d rather drive. I know you had quite a bit to drink, so I can drive.” That was all it took to set him off. It’s amazing how much your brain can shut off from remembering exactly what happened, but I remember the fear I felt that night.
As I drove away, I remember him giving me so much shit for not trusting him to drive. I remember him telling me through his slurred words, “I’ve driven worse off than this before.” I tried to put my foot down sternly enough so he would drop it but not so sternly that it would anger him more while I was behind the wheel. I was relying on him to follow the GPS to navigate us back to the hotel and as his confusion set in, I tried to clarify the directions. That’s all it took…the GPS was turned off and I was left on my own to figure out how to get back.
As I pulled into the hotel parking lot, I was hoping to just end the night silently to allow him to sleep it off. As we got out of the car, the yelling began. I don’t remember what was said as he stood there yelling at me, but the line that came up every single time he was angry got thrown at me again, “I don’t know why we’re even together.” This time I spoke up, “I don’t know either.” As we walked to the front door of the hotel, he continued to yell. Normally I would have just gone along with it but not this time. The voice inside finally said, “You don’t have to walk in with him. You have a key. If he locks you out, you have family you can go to but you do not need to walk in being embarrassed like that.” I stood back, shaking, allowing him to go in without me.
I called my cousin’s wife. That was the first time I broke the silence to a family member about what it was like behind closed doors. I talked to her until I calmed down and told her I would text her once I was in the room to give the “all clear”. I walked in to the hotel room and was thankful to not be greeted by him. He was in the bathroom dealing with all he chose to drink that night. I was thankful to not still be arguing but I knew I had a long night ahead of me, listening to the all night vomiting. I tried to sleep, but every once in awhile I was either woken up by throwing up, moaning, or other sounds I couldn’t quite place. “I don’t even want to know what’s happening in there.”
The next morning, I woke up early so I could go say goodbye to family. He chose to stay in bed. I walked into the bathroom to get ready and saw all the reminders of the night before. A clogged sink, towels on the floor and the bar from a towel rack which had been unscrewed to try and unclog the sink. I walked out and told him it needed to be cleaned up by the time I got back.
The drive back from Minneapolis to Chicago was the longest, quietest drive of my life. He was supposed to drive since I drove the way there, but was obviously in no shape to drive. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t slept either, I had to take on the responsibility of his drinking one more time. I don’t know why I expected an apology since I had never gotten one before. Somehow I expected him to realize the burden he had placed on me. I had to make excuses for why he wasn’t saying goodbye to my family. I hoped my cousins didn’t notice how much of their wine he had. When we got home, I had to pretend everything was okay once again. As we returned to Chicago and I knew an apology was never coming, I knew I had to make a decision. I didn’t start fully breaking the silence for another month, but in that moment I knew it was over. I didn’t know how or when it would happen, but I knew I was done.
I was done being silent and it was time to find my voice.