As soon as I hear Bear whining at the door I know something is up. I walk over to see what’s going on outside. I look out of the peephole and see a blonde head pacing back and forth on the porch.
“What are you doing out here?” I ask once I open the door.
“Getting my steps in?”
“I see…” I hold Bear’s collar so he can’t charge and jump on her.
“I would have called but I don’t have your number anymore,” she says. “I don’t have to come inside, but I was hoping we could talk. I can meet you somewhere or we can sit outside or…”
“My number hasn’t changed.” Unless she forgot it. “Come in, I can get their leashes and we can take them for a walk.”
I know there is a lot to say, probably on both sides of this. The smart thing would be to tell her to fuck off. I’ve moved on, I’m happy, I don’t need to hear anything she has to say. Immediately I jump to agreeing with what she wants. What the fuck is my problem? I’m a fucking glutton for punishment, is what I am.
I grab Bear’s leash, handing it to Sookie so she can clip it on while I get Björn’s harness in place. The beach isn’t too far. It was actually why we picked this house in the first place.
“So… what’s up?” I ask once Sookie and I are on the path to the beach. Bear is happier than a pig in mud to be walking with his mama. It breaks my heart because I know this is probably going to be the last time he sees her.
“That’s a very loaded question. How deep into it do you want to get?”
“I have time,” I shrug. Sylvie isn’t planning to come over so I have all night.
“I’ve tried to figure out what to say and how to explain everything to you. Then I realized I don’t want it to sound rehearsed and phony. I think the best thing I can do is tell you that I am an open book and you can ask me whatever you want,” she says. “I’m sure you have questions. I know I would.”
“How long have you been sober?” I ask first.
“Two years, three months, one week, two days,” she answers.
“Congratulations. What was the catalyst for you to clean up?”
“I accidentally overdosed. I mixed vodka and the wrong kind of pills,” she tells me. “I passed out in some hotel room and woke up in a hospital. From what I’ve been told, I was dumped out of a car in a hospital parking lot.”
“Were you trying to kill yourself?” I ask nervously.
“No, at least not intentionally. I was being reckless and taking whatever people were offering me.”
“I’m glad someone took you to a hospital,” I sigh. I don’t know what to ask her. There’s a million things I want to say to her and a million questions, but I’m kinda at a loss for words. I’m still a little angry and hurt over all of it. I shouldn’t be…
“It’s better than letting me asphyxiate on my own vomit.”
“Yeah… so why did you come here?” I don’t know what she wants from me, if anything. It seems like she’s trying to make me crazy by dredging up a bunch of old memories.
“I’m starting to wonder myself,” she says quietly, but I can just make it out. “If this is a mistake, I can go. I don’t want to fuck up what you have going by being here.”
“No, Sookie, you can’t show up, bring up all these fucking memories and then run again. That’s not fair to me or to my dog,” I say, stopping on the path to look at her. I deserve a real answer instead of skirting around it and telling me she shouldn’t have come.
“Who said anything about running?”
“If you show up and then disappear just as fast, it’s just as good a running.”
“Eric, I offered to go if this is too much for you. That’s not me running. I’m trying to be considerate. Just because I want to straighten things out between us doesn’t mean you do. I don’t know what your life is like now. You don’t know what my life is like now. We’re strangers to each other. Hell, there’s a lot you didn’t know about me when we were together. A lot I never told you because I didn’t want you to look at me differently and you would have if I told you. I didn’t even want to admit those things to myself. No way could I tell you.” I see her eyes start to well up. “And now I don’t want it to sound like excuses or like I’m looking for pity. But I’m not running. That’s not how I operate anymore, even when it kills me to stay.”
“I assume whatever you hid from me is why you drink,” I say.
“Why I drank,” she corrects. “Yes.”
“You know, I was fucked up for a long time over you disappearing. I know you made your choice, but I was still worried about you. I stayed up nights worried you got yourself killed, you know that?” I start walking again.
“I’m sorry for that. I made a lot of bad choices before I hit rock bottom,” she says. Sookie’s too short to fall in stride with my usual steps, but she does her best to keep up.
“Your choices affected more than just you,” I remind her.
“I know that. At that point I didn’t care. Addiction gives no fucks, Eric.”
“Clearly,” I mutter. I take a deep breath, letting it out slowly. “So are you here to make amends?” I slow down some so she can keep up.
Instead, Sookie stops walking.
“I don’t know if that’s even possible. It’s not like I drunkenly knocked over a vase or made an ass of myself at your Fourth of July cookout,” she says. “I want to apologize for what I put you through and tell you that my bad choices are my own. You are not and never were responsible for me. It was never up to you to fix me. There was nothing you could have said that would have saved me, Eric. I had to walk a very dark path before I could see the light.”
“It took me a long time to figure out it wasn’t my fault. The day I realized you had to fix you was the day I gave you an option to get help and stay, or get out,” I confess. “I was willing to walk the sobriety path with you, Sookie. I wanted to be the one to help you come out of that dark place. I know now that never would have worked.”
“You did you know? You did help me,” she says, which takes me by surprise.
“How?” I finally turn to face her.
“You could have said nothing. You could have turned a blind eye and enabled my behavior. Maybe you didn’t get to be the knight in shining armor you were hoping for, but you did force me to make a choice. Did I have some really bad days after that? Yes. I don’t think you realize that staying with you would have been just as selfish as leaving. Things got really ugly for a while but they got better. If you hadn’t done what you did, yeah, we could still be together. We could be miserably together. Maybe we’d have a baby with fetal alcohol syndrome. Maybe you would have sued me for custody of that baby and left me anyway. We don’t know how it would have turned out if you didn’t give me that choice. I’m not sorry you did that and you shouldn’t be either,” she says.
I close my eyes at the idea of having a baby with her. I’m not so sure how I would have handled it if she had a child and I would have had to sue her for custody.
“It was bad enough having to sooth Bear,” I say quietly.
“I’m sorry for that, too.”
I don’t tell her that he cried at the door for an hour after she left. It doesn’t fix anything to make her feel bad. Hell, I should be over it, and her.
“So… what else have you been doing with yourself? Are you working?” I need to keep my mind on healthy things when it comes to Sookie.
“I am. I took online college courses. Now I have my own graphic design business. I work from home,” she tells me.
“That’s really good. Congratulations,” I say sincerely. “The daycare is doing great. Björn has a way of calming new dogs down when they arrive.”
“That’s cool. I’m happy things are going well for you.”
This is probably when I should bring up Sylvie. I don’t. I’m not hiding her, I just don’t think it means anything. I don’t plan on seeing Sookie again after today anyway.
“I really didn’t come here intended to fuck up your life. I don’t expect us to be friends after this either.”
I nod and admit, “That’s good. I’ve been doing my own kind of healing and this is fucking me up a little.”
“Or is it closure?”
“Could be,” I agree with a shrug. “I haven’t decided yet.”
“There’s no rush on that. It closes a chapter though, doesn’t it? At least you know how it all turned out. I’m alive. I’m better. Doing the best I can.”
“That is good to know. I can move on,” I say. I technically have moved on. Well, I thought I’d moved on until she showed up in front of my house.
“Yes, you can,” she agrees.
“I have a girlfriend,” I finally blurt out.
Sookie smiles and says, “Good for you. I hope she’s not a hot mess.”
“She’s not. She really has her shit together,” I say. “She’s been good for me, I think.”
“I’m happy for you,” Sookie says sincerely. “You deserve it.”
“Thanks. She wants to move in with me. I’m not sure I’m ready for it.” It might have something to do with the last live-in girlfriend fucking me up so bad.
“I’m not great at advice, but all I can tell you from personal experience is that if you’re not ready, it won’t work.”
“I think I’ve figured that much out. She’s a good woman. I don’t know fully what’s holding me back from taking the plunge.” It would be easy to move out of the house I once shared with Sookie. I will not take that step, though.
“Maybe this conversation will clear it up,” she suggests. “See? Closure.” Sookie gives me a little nudge with her elbow.
“Maybe,” I shrug. “I love her. She’s a great woman. I actually think you’d like her.” Just.. seeing Sookie again brings back all kinds of feelings I’d locked away.
“It’s probably better if I don’t meet her.”
“I agree. She knows about you and knows you were here the other night.”
“I would hope so. You have a horrible poker face when you’re rattled.”
“You think you rattled me?” I smile down at Sookie.
“I know I did.”
“Pfft, you did not,” I lie. She knows. I’m a shitty liar.
“You straight up told me you’ve been doing your own kind of healing and this is fucking you up,” she recounts. “You clearly haven’t changed at all. Still full of shit.”
“Only when I need to be,” I chuckle. “It’s a deflection mechanism.”
“That is a made up term,” she laughs. “There is no such thing as a deflection mechanism.”
“I said what I said,” I laugh with her. It’s good to hear her laughing again. It used to be my favorite sound.
“Either way, I think I’m going to be alright. There was a minor shakeup. I don’t think we’ll be seeing each other again after this. I can get back to my normal life.”
“Absolutely. You should have no trouble getting back to normal life.”
Sookie and I go silent as we continue to walk down the beach. It really is nice knowing she’s doing better than the last time I saw her. She looks healthy, and I’m glad her life is coming together.
After this walk she can say goodbye to Bear and go on with her life without us. I’ll tell Sylvie she came back to talk and how the talk went, and then we can get on with our lives. As much as I love my house, I may even look into selling it. That sounds like the right thing to do when moving on with a good woman. The kind of woman I can have 2.5 kids and a white picket fence with.
I hate to think it, but I’m not so sure it’s going to be that easy. I think with the closure I’m getting with Sookie and a few more visits to my therapist, I might be able to work things out.
With Sookie things had always been so… hectic. That’s the easiest way to describe it. For years I sat back quietly while I watched her drink herself into a stupor every night, sometimes during the day. At first it was fun. I would drink with her and party night after night. I started growing, though. It got old fairly fast. When I slowed down I started making excuses for her when she would get so drunk I had to carry her out of get togethers. Eventually it was just too much. I had to make a choice.
It’s nice to learn she’s happy about that choice. It’s nice to hear she’s got a good job and is rebuilding her life. It is good closure, for sure. I have to look at this as a good thing. I need to let go of any anger or resentment for the way things turned out between us. I once thought Sookie was my soulmate mate. When I look at her walking next to me, I… I don’t think I feel it anymore. That’s a sobering thought, no pun intended. I think the jolt of seeing her again is what fucked me up. I’ll be okay.
My appointment to meet dogs for adoption goes really well. There are two in particular that I felt a pull to. If I had the space, I would happily take them both. I’m currently living in a 1,100 square foot loft in downtown Portland. I don’t have a private backyard, but there are walking paths nearby. Plus I’m not that far from the beach even in Portland. I still spend as much time by the water as I can. The great thing about working out of my house is that I work when I want to. As long as I meet my deadlines it doesn’t matter if I work at three in the morning or three in the afternoon. I work around my therapy appointments, AA meetings, and whatever else I have going on.
I also want to start volunteering somewhere. I’m not sure where yet, but it feels like the right thing to do. After all of the people who have helped me, giving back seems right. Plus, maybe there’s a chance at intervention before someone goes down the road I went down. If sharing my story reaches someone and stops them from having to crash and burn the way I did, then it’s worth it. I’ve also learned that sharing my story takes away any residual power I feel like Bartlett has, even though he’s been dead for the last fifteen years. Rat bastard.
On my first birthday I took a trip down to Louisiana specifically to spit on his grave and tell him I hope he’s rotting in hell. Then I went over to Gran’s grave and gave her a detailed account of everything that happened to me because I needed to say it to her. It wasn’t the same as looking her in the eye, but it was the only option I had. Being able to unburden myself like that felt good.
But I digress. I had two great dogs to choose from. One was a German Shepherd/Australian Shepherd mix puppy that was just four months old. The other was a two and a half year old Boxer mix girl that was a little shy but very sweet once she took a chance on getting close to me. In no time she was flopped in my lap, enjoying belly rubs and giving me the eyes. The puppy would be great because I knew from experience how fun it could be to raise a puppy. On the other hand, puppies were a lot of work. Did I want to go through puppy piss everywhere? Then there was the teething and having to teach basic commands. German Shepherds were incredibly bright, as were Aussies. A dog like that was going to require tons of mental stimulation to keep it from destroying my house. There was potential for high prey drive and those crazy herding instincts. I wanted to have kids but I couldn’t wait another fifteen years for that.
It seems I’ve made a decision.
Three days after I meet the pups, I call the shelter to tell them that I’ve decided on the Boxer mix that is currently named Indica. I won’t be keeping that name, unique as it is. Of course they’re thrilled to hear that I’ve decided. Having an apartment is not an issue. I’ll be home and the dog is going to pretty much be my constant companion. I can see to it that she gets plenty of exercise and she’s not left alone all the time. I feel ready for this commitment.
They tell me she’ll be ready for pick up next week after one last vet check. This gives me time to find a name for her. Of course I can’t help but think of Bear. I miss that little fluff butt. He inspires me to do a Google search for names that mean ‘bear’. There are actually a lot more than I would have thought. Björn is on that list. I smile at that. The name Artis jumps out at me. I pull up a picture of the dog I’ve chosen from the website of the shelter where she currently resides. She looks more like an Artis than she does an Indica.
Part of me says it’s slightly inappropriate to include my new dog in this bear theme, but then the bear theme was my idea in the first place. It’s not really fair to hold it against me, right? Eric didn’t have to name Björn that. I’m positive that wasn’t an accident either. He could make the excuse that he’s Swedish and blah, blah, blah, but I’m positive that’s not why he chose that particular name for Björn. He could have picked Sven or Lars. Björn was strategic.
I need to cool it. Eric’s not even going to know that I have a new dog and he’s certainly not going to know I gave her a Scottish name that means ‘bear’. There’s nothing to worry about. It’s all good.