When did it start?”
The question gently flows out of my mouth, mimicking the rain falling just outside the window behind his back. I watch as it kisses and caresses the window, before slowly being sucked in by the soil. It would be completely silent if not for the staccato laughter of children in the next room. I lift my eyes from the window to his face, watch as he bows his head in shame.
“Under the same roof as our children, Marcus. How could you?”
Somehow the words seem to bounce off the wall before he hears them and flinches. He apologizes again, becoming smaller under my watch and I feel myself getting disgusted. We descend into another of those silences that have gripped us tonight, allowing the comfort-torment really-of the rain falling and the kids playing, to surround us.
The shadows have moved since I last looked, getting larger and meaner. I almost feel suffocated, trapped. I wish I was holding a cigarette, or a glass of wine, imagining the wisps of smoke in the air between us. His head is still down, darting from one shape of the carpet to another. There is sweat on his brow, and a prominent vein shows. It is taking a lot from him, this sharing with me. Or sitting with me here. And I wonder who between him and me should be feeling like that. Since I settled on this arm-chair, I feel drained.
There is something about marriage, how one day everything feels okay. The children, the husband, the finances, and so life feels good. Then the next day the rose- coloured glasses are off and no, everything is not okay. You’re not so unlike those wives whose husbands cheat and even though the whole town knows, they don’t. You’re not so unlike those wives who divorce three weeks into their marriage because they realise they didn’t know their husbands as well as they thought they did. And I am one of them, the only difference being that I knew my husband. After seventeen years of marriage and two kids, there is no way I don’t know my husband.
“It was for pain medication Marie. I didn’t mean to!” he whispers emphatically, the third time he has repeated it was for pain medication.
But what pain? The hiking incident where he tore his knee? Thee hose pipe incident that broke his ankle? The kitchen incident where he burnt his hand? Or the many other incidents I termed to be the fault of his clumsiness. Which one really, among all those ‘accidents’ in the last one year does he mean.
“Will it make a difference?”
“I don’t know, but when?”
“The hike, Marie. The doctor prescribed Oxycodone. It numbed the pain, made me feel good. I didn’t know I was getting addicted. I just wanted that feeling. So I kept going back, making up reasons to get more.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“ I’m telling you now.”
“It’s not something you easily confess Marie. It’s not something you easily trust yourself to say. After the high is a low of shame and guilt and disgust that envelops you and all I imagined was how much I would see that look on you. The look you have been wearing all evening.”
I don’t say anything. I feel frozen to my seat. Either the cold or the admissions coming out of him. Another lengthy period of silence settles. It’s dark, this room we are in. I call for Fatima to come and light the fireplace. No, leave the lights off. I enjoy not having to see his face anymore, the withdrawals that started showing at the beginning of the evening, and the shame on his face. But as the firewood crackles and sparks, raising the shadows higher, I see he is not completely obscured by the darkness. One side of his face shows, the one facing the fire. And one of mine too. Two halves of us together. Or is it a metaphor for the dark and light parts of us? I badly need a cigarette, I realize this as I continue tapping my finger on my knee.
“You’re an addict too, you know?”
I think I heard him wrong so I ask him to repeat.
“I said you’re an addict too. You smoke cigarette after cigarette, drink one glass of wine after the other and don’t realise when you get sloshed.”
I want to accuse him of something, gaslighting perhaps? How dare he turn the spotlight on me. We were talking about him. I’m not addicted!
“Even if I was, it’s different.”
“Different why, because I’m addicted to opioids?”
“You’re a heroin addict for fuck’s sake Marcus. Nothing equals to that.”
“If I was a fentanyl addict it would be worse than heroin Marie.”
“You’re heading down that path too if you’re not careful. Soon enough heroin won’t be enough.”
“Soon enough you won’t have a lung or a liver Marie!”
The silence that quickly follows a bellowed thought that has been idling behind lips, unsaid, finally said. Everything seems to stop. The rain, the fire, the children’s laughter. Everything but the ringing in my ears, the thirst for a cigarette, the pain quickly overtaking my heart and pumping to all my organs. Drained. I am finally drained of words.
“I’m not an addict,” I hear myself whisper, and it’s like I myself don’t believe it.
“I’m an addict,” he does not whisper them, and I wish he would. The kids will hear. But it is long approaching midnight, and Fatima has probably put the kids to bed.
“Why heroin,” my voice does not seem to want to rise beyond this whisper.
“I couldn’t keep pretending anymore. They stopped prescribing oxycodone and I had to find something. All I could find in the black market was heroin.”
“Why tell me? If you knew I would be ashamed of you and would judge you, why tell me?”
“Because I’m sick and tired Marie. I hate being addicted, I hate knowing if I don’t stop we will lose this house and what is in it. And I will probably lose you and the kids.”
“I wish you hadn’t told me.”
Beyond these words is a wife saying she put her husband on a pedestal, keeping to her vows of worshipping him better than she worshipped God, and he had failed her. Now she doesn’t know how to view him.
He was going to a rehabilitation centre two hundred kilometres away. Visitors were not allowed and he had signed up for the six month rehabilitation duration. He would come home right after. He does not forget to add that he will miss her and the kids. She sees him off, standing on the patio where the wind managed to blow wet leaves and muddled rain water. Cigarette smoke pollutes that beautiful scent the rain manages to leave on wet soil…ah yes, petrichor. She fabricates a lie to the kids, daddy went on a business trip. He will come back.
Photo credit : man lighting girl’s cigarette (Jean Patchett), New York|the art institute of Chicago
By Irving Penn, 1949.