By Michelle Frank
May 1999: We had been dating for a few weeks. The first time we went out separately with our own friends was also the first time I asked, “Where is he?” And so began, what would become a story of addiction.
Late that night, I got a call that answered my question- “Hey guess where I’ve been!” he said in a chipper, slurred voice. “In military jail. And, I wished you were there with me!”
He had quite the good time drinking that night; the first of many that his “good time” would leave me wondering where he was. Addiction took his presence from me (his girlfriend and wife-to-be), his children, and the family as a whole. The deeper he sank into addiction, the further away he fell.
a family’s story of addiction…
As the relationship progressed, so did the nights of late-night drinking, either with friends or by himself. I would wake around 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning wondering why the other side of the bed was cold and empty. I called, no answer. With a sigh I would go downstairs and look out the front window to see him sitting in the car in the driveway. In the beginning I would go out, knock on the window to wake him up, and plead for him to come inside. I was continually waved away. He would have the radio up loud and thumping and the seat leaned back, the smell of alcohol strong as I opened the car door. After several failed attempts at negotiating with him to come in, my strategy changed.
Nights that I would awake to sheets flat against the bed, I would listen for the beat of Pearl Jam coming from outside. If I didn’t hear it, I would peak outside to see if the car was there. Either way, I would roll over and go back to sleep. WHERE IS HE?
Several times during our relationship there were problems with jobs. Most often, I would have to wake him up in an attempt to get him there on time (with no luck). There would also be conflict with coworkers. Some mornings, his desk looked like a pharmacy.
Where had he been that whole time?
Three times throughout our marriage he either quit or was fired from work, and he failed mention it. Once he pretended to work for two weeks. He would get up, shower, get ready and leave the house. There was always a reason his paycheck wasn’t deposited: they changed banks, or he forgot the check at work. I was paying bills like we had two incomes. I called his place of employment one day only to be told he was no longer employed there and hadn’t been for some time. Where had he been that whole time? WHERE IS HE?
The answer didn’t surprise me. Later that week I missed work to sit at the food bank to get food for our family. He was in bed, sulking and sipping his guilt and shame away. I began to see the addiction breed depression. WHERE IS HE?
The kids were primarily my responsibility. Don’t get me wrong, he liked to do fun things with the littles, but doctor appointments and school meetings were rarely attended. As I drove our oldest daughter to her first meeting with the eating disorder specialist, my mind was spinning with questions about what was about to happen. He was at home, in bed. WHERE IS HE?
the drinking had him buried…..
In the five years we have been on this journey of anxiety and eating disorder, he has joined us at about five doctor and counseling appointments combined. It seemed as though the drinking had him buried, unable to process or help with those difficult times.
Much like doctor appointments, school meetings did not seem to be a priority. I sat in many conferences and IEP meetings alone making decisions regarding the education of our children. Upon hearing of my divorce, school staff asked surprisingly, “Oh you were married? We never saw him and assumed you were divorced.” WHERE IS HE?
I was not the only one asking where he was. A friend recently reminded me of an incident she witnessed with one of my kids at my master’s degree graduation party. Our middle child was standing near us and asked, “Where’s daddy? Is he coming?” I knew, in fact, that he was not coming, as he had left me a note stating as such when he left for work that morning. I paused and matter of factly replied “No, he’s not coming to this party. Maybe next time.” My daughter, almost 4-years-old at the time, yelled, “Yay!” as she ran away to join the other kids. My friend said she stood in surprise and recalls this being the moment she noticed that the kids recognized he wouldn’t be there, and they were ok, almost pleased, with his absence.
….they looked into the audience to see if he was there
Although I did not remember that instance, there were countless other times in the years when they were small that the kids were left asking, “WHERE IS HE?” For example, the time we drove to Tulsa the day after Christmas in 2010. He had just told me he didn’t want to be married for the first time. They also asked, “WHERE IS HE?” time after time as they looked into the audience before a school performance to see if he was there and where he was sitting.
Now, after the divorce, the children have grown, and they have been left to wonder where he is on visitation days and other special days. “Will he come or even text to see if we want to go?” “Will he be 30 minutes late? -An hour late?” “Will he change his mind because it’s raining too hard?” “Will he call on our birthdays?” “Will he bring a present for Christmas?” “Where is he living or working?” “Will he come to the school musical?” The inconsistency has been a catalyst for anxiety, uncertainty, and a lack of trust. WHERE IS HE?
Along with being physically absent for the kids and for me, he lacked a presence for our family unit. It began as a general feeling of being there but not being there in the home. Upon arriving home, he went straight to the kitchen to make a stiff drink, bypassing kids that were searching for a hug, kiss on the top of the head, or a “How was your day?” On his days off he was typically busy drinking while playing video games or spending hours getting the lawn perfectly manicured. These things led to the ultimate demise of the marriage and my decision to leave.
How did he get to decide to have no responsibility….
The divorce was long and drawn out. When it finally ended a year and a half later, we agreed upon the 50/50 custody and visitation we had been doing throughout the process. The transition was difficult when they came back to me, but the kids never shared the experience at dad’s house. Four months after finalizing the divorce he hit a wall. He wasn’t well physically or emotionally and needed help. The kids came with me full time, and he went into a program. Court dates, homelessness, and lots of tears and counseling later I became increasingly bitter. I was the one left to pick up the pieces: of the house he abandoned, of the children who were confused and angry about where dad went and why, of a life I had dreamt of but had seen shattered into a million pieces. WHERE WAS HE? How did he get to decide to have no responsibility monetarily, physically and emotionally? His story of addiction had made that decision for him.
There have been times I have had to call and ask his mom, “Do you know where he is?” The real question is “Do you know if he is alive?” I’ve wondered several times, after not hearing from him for a week or two, if he had met some level of peace through an overdose or suicide. I called around only to get a text from an unknown number saying, “I’m fine.” What I heard was- it’s a matter of time. Now through the pain of growth I face a possible future reality that I will be answering that question for a final time. I never dreamed I would have a plan in place if the time comes that I have to have the discussion with the children that he is dead, that the illness of addiction has led him to a 6 foot grave.
The children and I have become accustomed to his unreliability and lack of consistency perpetuated by addiction. We seldom ask where he is anymore. Silently we know. When we do, it no longer strikes us with fear as it once did, as we are processing the absence of a father, co-parent, and one-time friend. Addiction took him from us and left us to ask endlessly, “WHERE IS HE?” Addiction stole his ability to be present for his life partner, his children, his family, and himself. Addiction has created a shell of a man who I think asks himself, “WHERE AM I?”