I didn't know her very well at all. I knew that she was quiet, that she seemed to be a nice person and that she wanted to go for a walk. That was about it. So I met her up on the street one beautiful autumn morning 4 years ago and off we went to Knoop Park. When we got to the overlook in the park she decided she wanted to sit for awhile. She sat on the retaining wall with her head on her knees looking out over the city below. Being something of an acrophobe, I sat behind her on a bench.
She started to talk.
" I threw my husband out of the house about a month ago. Looking back, it was long overdue. But I really wanted to keep it all together for the kids. I kept hoping that he would stick with AA, that the business would take off. I was committed to stick it out. For better for worse. I really believed in that. The drinking was one thing. But I found out he was using crack...."
She paused for a moment as if to collect her thoughts.
" There is a universe of problems that come with any marriage that I could sort of anticipate. Stuff that happens to everybody. Money troubles, other women, parenting issues. That sort of thing. Or even more mundane things like a need for more time with my girlfriends, questioning feelings for one another, stuff like that. But doing crack was outside the universe of problems I was prepared to deal with."
She looked at me.
"Honestly, what kind of a man wakes up one morning and says 'Ya know? I'm gonna try me some crack. I'm gonna try some crystal meth.' And of course, if he's buying drugs, he's taking his family's money and giving it to criminals. That was the last straw. He had to go. The children came first. They couldn't be in a house with a man who knows drug dealers."
She turned away again. She put her hands together and held them out over the cliff.
"What kind of man would take his family and his business and throw them away?"
And with that, she threw her hands out, palms outstretched, toward the skyline of Little Rock.
"You tell me. What kind of a man would do such a terrible thing?"
I did not know. I just looked at the ground and shook my head. What could I say?
Her ex went back into AA after he had totaled his truck one Sunday morning. This was after an apparent altercation at an all night bar which resulted in somebody busting out the rear window. I say an apparent altercation because he was still too blitzed the following morning to provide much of an alternate theory for why his windshield was AWOL.
Alcohol abuse is not unknown in my line of work. And so I know some guys that have been going to meetings for years. And I am here to say that I have seen it save lives. The best of the saved always,always, take personal responsibility for their failings. Others may regain sobriety, but they don't ever fully discard the narcissism that allowed them to justify their alcoholic lifestyle back when they were drinking. The latter species are referred to in the lingo as "dry drunks." And they are a complete pain in the ass.
Her ex and his enabler Mother tried to make the divorce all about my friend not being "supportive" and about how her insisting on enforcing her rights was impeding his "recovery." His Mom even insinuated that it was my friend's "lack of support" that put him in his fix. Like it was her idea that he spend quality time on the crack pipe!
By now it was too late for them. It was too late for my friend to be swayed by the encoded language of recovery alone with no acceptance of responsibility. And so, contrary to her rather shy disposition, she found somewhere inside herself a still small voice that said, "No more."
We tend to equate courage with heroism. "The Boy Stood On the Burning Deck" kinda stuff. Rather, sometimes courage is nothing more than the determination to stand up for yourself. To say, "As God is my witness, I will not take this anymore. I will not be pushed around." And it takes a great deal of courage to make yourself do the hard thing in order to avoid a worse result. J told me that she went back to work the Monday after her husband's funeral because she knew she would never get out of bed if she didn't push herself to get back to work.
Now THAT'S courage.
Or it was once put to me this way, " The only thing I really cared about was protecting my kids. I knew I wasn't going down with the ship and taking the kids with me. So I just put one foot in front of the other for a long time because I had to. There was no other choice."
She made some decisions that I would not have made just to expedite the process of getting shed of her husband. But at the time they made sense to her. And most importantly, she got him locked up on the big ticket items: child support, insurance, visitation, tuition for Catholic school, and mandatory drug testing. And naturally, as night followeth the day, he was soon behind on the child support and in violation of other terms of the decree. Which got him hauled before the judge again.
I kind of lost track of her about the time of the contempt of court business. About all I remember is that her ex lawyered up with some guy he had met in an AA meeting who nobody in my circle of lawyers had ever heard of before. He interposed some bellicose defenses in a response to the Motion for the Contempt Citation. However, nothing much came of it when push came to shove. I haven't heard much from her since that time. I guess she's doing ok. I think I would have heard through the grapevine if she were not.
No, courage is not always heroic. It is putting one foot in front of another. It is refusing to stay in your bed. It is making damn sure that you don't go down with the ship. No matter how uncertain the future may be. No matter if it would be easier to ignore that still small voice inside telling you to press on.
This is not to say that it will be easy or that you will prevail. But at least you will have earned the right to look yourself in the mirror everyday the Lord sends and to say to the person looking back at you, " I did my best. At least I got the goddamn bat off my shoulder and I took my cuts. I went down swingin.' "
For God's sake and for the sake of your self-esteem you got to at least make 'em pitch to you. Life is very long once you realize that you cannot live with yourself.