The Bad Choices Flow Chart

My cousin is not handling the sudden death of her husband very well. I should have known. My initial feelings of pity for her, yet quiet relief that the man who controlled her, alienated her from her friends and family, and psychologically abused her, didn’t last too long.

I had always secretly hoped she could free herself from his clutches and go back to being the woman I used to know. That woman wasn’t perfect, and she had a few screws loose, but she could take care of herself. She was a good hustler, once upon a time, and I envied that. My little cousin was the stereotype of the girl who rose from ruin—kicked out of her house at age seventeen, she scraped by on waitressing wages until she taught herself a trade. Then she took it to the next level by doing what Sheryl Sandberg says more women should do in their fields—she applied for a job that was beyond her skill level, and she won it with her confidence, and she figured it out from there. And the rest could have been happy history, except for a glitch that I didn’t clearly recognize as one until it leveled her—alcohol.

Now, before jumping to the conclusion that I think alcohol is a problem in itself, and not a symptom of a deeper issue, I will add a caveat that alcohol was her way of managing whatever it was we couldn’t see. Maybe all of us on the outside couldn’t hear the voices in her head, but we could certainly see with our own eyes what her self-medicating did for her, the flowchart of bad choices. It’s easy to blame the alcohol for that, and for sake of brevity, I will do it.

But back to my original point: my initial reaction to her beloved’s death, a sense of relief that his absence might provide her with an opportunity, faded quickly into fear and helplessness. I haven’t hung out with her in nine years. I haven’t seen her in three or four. I have been absent in her life, at first involuntarily, then it just became the norm, and I made myself stop caring. Right now, I have no power over her reaction to losing the love of her life; and even if I did, I’d be walking on eggshells in my effort to help her regroup. She’s on her own once again, but can she hustle her way back from whence she strayed? I don’t know. All I can do is send weak texts, letting her know I’m around if she needs me. She won’t. I must simply have faith that her mom will help her out of this, go and visit her, keep her from using of those many, many firearms she’s got stashed around her apartment. Damn. Guns, grief, alcohol, and loneliness. Can there be a stronger concoction for disaster?

I want to get in the car and go to her. She’s only a couple of hours away. But my husband and my father fear for my own safety.

“Don’t get sucked into drinking,” said my dad.

“The two of you drinking in a house full of guns… that’s just what we need,” said my husband.

They both have legitimate worries, but I have legitimate worries, too. One of my aunts likes to say that when you love someone, you love them regardless of their behavior, or whether or not they love you. You just love. And that’s true. I know she wouldn’t listen to me—she never did—but maybe she’d just let me sit next to her on the couch. Maybe I wouldn’t be tempted into a few whiskey toasts or some other last hurrah that won’t end well.   But probably I would.

I’m gonna let my brain override my heart on this one and stay the fuck home.

 

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