Some people never learn
By which, I mean me.
When my husband was dying, few knew about it. OK, I am partially to blame for this. After the first few people made it clear that his alcoholism was my fault, for being a bad wife, I wasn’t inclined to go public with the fact that he would die from it, and soon.
There is a man I will call Balder, who knew my husband was dying without my telling him. He, of course, came from a family with alcoholism in it. The only thing I remember Balder asking me about this is, “Do you have health insurance?”
There is no end to the depth of my gratitude to Balder for helping me at this time. He didn’t counsel me, or cook for me, or watch my child.
He invited me to concerts, operas, and hikes.
Now, Balder is 25 years younger than I am, and rakishly handsome. He knew the risks: Everyone would think he was dating this weird older woman. Or worse, I’d develop a crush on him for being so kind.
I don’t know—and will never ask—what in the world he got out of helping me. But there it was: I’d know that in a few days we’d be at a concert together, and knowing that would keep me going until that date, and then the next. It gave me the strength to keep caring for my child, to keep going to work, to keep going.
Balder was marvelously kind to my young daughter, and the three of us would be in the glorious sunshine of the Adirondacks. And yes, people noticed, and mentioned to each of us what a nice couple we were—that is, if these were people who didn’t know I was married. The people who did know were puzzled, and, I imagine, scandalized. Balder weathered that with grace.
I would go from social event to social event: I just have to get to Saturday, I just have to get to Tuesday. People would watch my daughter so that I could go to these things, and the people who cared for her never raised eyebrows about my going someplace with a young man while my husband was in the hospital.
I was so grateful that I swore to myself that I would be as kind to Balder if he ever needed it, and I wanted to make it up to him.
THAT, of course, was selfish idiocy, because the only way to make it up to him was to have something terrible happen to him.
But here’s where I didn’t learn:
A woman of my acquaintance has a husband who is an alcoholic. It is well-known, because he is in the paper every once in while for a DWI.
I knew she was lonely and sad, and thought I’d write her a letter saying if she needs anything she could call me and I would never judge.
I asked another friend if this was a good idea. She said no. She said, “When I lived with an alcoholic, all I wanted was to be somewhere where nobody was drunk. I didn’t want counseling. I wanted a friend.”
Even living through it, I didn’t see what was most needed. I feel deeply ashamed that I needed to be told this.
After I stopped berating myself, I invited this unfortunate woman to a play. So she can get her mind off it. So she can be with friendly people, who are not drinking.
I hope she will come.