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Coming August 16, 2007

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Rachel had vanished from my life almost five years before, while she was pregnant with Josh. Their life without me involved a series of unsuccessful jobs, and living conditions which worsened from apartments to furnished rooms to crack hotels as her savings dwindled. More often than not, the Rachel that Josh saw was drunk or passed out. For him, there were nights alone in soiled diapers, while Rachel was out drinking or unconscious at his side, oblivious to his cries. Once, after she brought the boy back to Austin, I found him screwing the cap onto her wine bottle and putting it back into the fridge. Once I yelled, “NO!” as he reached for the flame on the stove. He shrieked and covered his head, anticipating a blow.

Rachel had returned to me, drunk, when Josh was three and a half, with the idea of dumping him on my doorstep and going off on her own to drink herself to death in peace. But then she told me her deepest, darkest secret, the worst thing she ever did. When she found out that I loved her anyway, she decided to stay. She remained with me for the following eight months. On the couch.

Josh understood that she’d dumped him and he didn’t take it well. When she came back, he resolved never to let her go.

Meanwhile, I got promoted to lieutenant, which let me delegate authority, stay off the street, and come home at five, a situation unprecedented in my lifetime on the Austin Police Department. I’d never wanted to be a cop, never wanted to be on Homicide. Now they’d put me in charge. But I knew my work made Rachel nervous. I cut a deal with her: if there’s danger, a bad situation, a standoff, I send someone else. I have a family now.

I even offered to retire. At 18 years of service, I could leave with a chunk of my pension, but that would mean a financial setback. Rachel wasn’t bringing anything in and I sensed she didn’t want us to lose the income. I told her if she said the word I’d hand in my badge, but she had to say the word.

She resolved to keep a lid on her drinking, this resolution meeting with periodic and partial success. “I’m not like I was,” she said once. “I haven’t touched cocaine this whole time.” She meant since she started drinking again. She might have been telling the truth. On the other hand, she had a tendency to wake up and not remember what she’d done the night before. Or, for all I knew, who she’d done it with.

Rachel might stick to wine in the house, only two glasses in an evening, but I could tell it hurt. She was way past the point where a glass or two of Chardonnay would take the edge off. One Friday she greeted me at home with the announcement that she was “going off.”

“What do you mean?”

“I need a few days to myself.” She had her coat on already. I didn’t see an overnight bag.

She added, “I need money.” I stared, until she said, “Now.”

The once turned-up corners of Rachel’s big blue eyes had sagged under the weight of childbirth and drinking. In spite of the puffiness, the muscles in her face grew taut, like she couldn’t quite breathe. She needed air fast.

I gave her two hundred I kept in my sock drawer. She drove off in the used Subaru wagon I’d bought her.

I spent that weekend distracting Josh as best I could, promising him she’d come home soon, she was only going away on a break.


Good question, kid. And why did I give her the two hundred? Because she would have gone anyway. If I let her go, if I gave her expense money, she would come back. I hoped.

She was gone until Monday afternoon. When she made her way through the front door, I let Josh hug her once. Then I suggested he let Mommy take care of herself. She spent two hours in the bathroom and a day in bed. I never asked where she’d been.

This became her pattern every month or so. She’d be gone for days at a stretch. Eventually I learned to see the warning signs: agitation, short temper. The sudden personality changes that made Josh, and now me, increasingly nervous. After a while she’d come back ‘sick,’ lay in bed, apologize at length and remind us why we loved her. She’d tell Josh stories and sing to him. She’d take us out to the park, or to the movies. She’d clean the house, make elaborate dinners, and aerobicize like a fiend “to sweat out the toxins.” This last item improved her mood, briefly. I couldn’t deny that it had a positive effect on her appearance. What had been sagging was now rising and growing firm again, including her cheeks. Her high, wideset cheekbones took shape. Her lips looked full again, instead of just chapped and withered. She brushed out her long, brown hair. She stood taller, slouched less. She began to look the way she did before, like a movie star, if a weary one. I felt bad for appreciating the change.

What Josh couldn’t see was the other Rachel, the one who I met twelve years before, when she was twenty-five and tall and graceful, with long smooth legs and full round breasts and thick hair combed back from her tanned face. Beautiful like a model. Strong, dynamic. She worked as a real estate broker, making money in a depressed market. Stepping out of her independence and her feminism for five minutes now and again to serve dinner to her husband, Joey, and his partner, me, because she thought playing house was funny. Flirting with me in plain view of her husband in the months before his death, forbidden love with Oedipal undertones. He was my mentor, after all, my father figure, so what did that make her? My heart did the samba whenever she looked at me. I thought she was playing games. Then I found out she wasn’t.

After the smoke cleared from Joey’s death, I realized I had a chance with her. It was passion that brought us together. She touched my hand and I felt it in my toes. We had a good time together, a historical moment, but a brief one.

It was my fault that she started drinking again. She’d kept a lid on it for ten years by then. She had a good pattern going, working hard, exercising and staying busy. And I screwed that up, with the crazy life I brought her into, the dangers and the threats that I couldn’t keep away from our home.

What if you were in love. And the person that you loved was beautiful and brilliant. She had a fire in her heart, a passion for living, you could feel it when you were near her. Then what if she was in a car accident and it screwed up her body, and her outlook. It even seemed to put out her fire. You wouldn’t just leave her by the side of the road, would you? Especially if, when the car accident happened, you were the one driving.

I was pretty sure she loved me. She’d put up with a lot from me in the past. I’d tough it out for her.


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