I’ll never forget that night. The routine of it all started to become an old habit I was desperate to kick, but didn’t have the courage to quit. I gave him another ultimatum, and maybe he knew I was bluffing, but his answer still stung like a shot through the heart.
If you drink tonight, I’m leaving.
“OK,” he told me. “Let me grab your stuff.”
I didn’t see it then, but it’s clear as day now. The relationship I put on a pedestal was barely off the ground. And he may have loved me as deeply as he knew how, but that just wasn’t enough.
To the outside world, we looked perfect—a young couple so enamored with each other, constantly flashing our Colgate smiles in every photo taken of us together. But like many couples, we had our problems.
We met in the late summer roughly eight years ago, and the house parties were frequent. The alcohol never stopped flowing, but I didn’t pay it any mind. We’re in college, this is what college kids do, I thought.
Except for me. I was never much of a party animal or a drinker. So I always thought I was just being naïve about what I was experiencing with him.
He, on the other hand, was the MVP. He never declined a drink, and it didn’t take him long before he was sloppily walking around his own house party slurring about who-knows-what while slinging an arm over someone’s shoulders and using their body as support to stand up.
He’s just having fun. This is what people our age do. Right?
Except once summer was over, the parties didn’t stop. And I began noticing that he could never deny a drink when it was offered to him.
I was worried, but again, I thought I was the exception to the rule, the only girl who doesn’t get wasted every possible chance she gets. His friends weren’t worried, so maybe I was overreacting. I turned a blind eye and masked my frustration and red flags with excuses.
Plus, I loved him. And for the first time in my life, I knew the man in my life loved me back. I didn’t have the best track record with guys, but this one seemed legit. He was romantic, sweet, funny, charming and goofy. He was the type of guy who would leave me love notes on my car while I was at work. He was the type of guy who would try to hide his laughter when I’d cry over some stupid commercial and kiss my tears away. He was the type of guy who would cook me a delicious dinner after a long day of school and internships and work. He never shied away from making me the center of his Universe.
I just didn’t know that I’d have to share that spot with the bottle.
The blackouts were a common occurrence. I’d wake up the next morning to him looking over at me and asking, “Babe, what happened?” What happened was I was up all night making sure you didn’t act like a damn fool and cleaned up after all of your drunk friends. That’s what happened.
At one point it just became too much, and I stopped bluffing.
I spent two years watching over my boyfriend like I was his mother, constantly crying and fighting over his need to drink and not being able to understand the importance of it all.
I tried everything. I stopped drinking for a year and a half so he wouldn’t feel obligated to throw one back like everyone else. See, babe, you’re not alone. I’ll be sober with you. But that didn’t work. Nothing worked. Because what I refused to acknowledge during that whole time was the simple fact that you can’t help someone who doesn’t care to help themselves.
So, one day i decided I was done and I left. I walked away from what I knew was a downward spiral, and I still felt guilty for it because I thought I abandoned someone I care about.
Then one night before heading out to a party in an effort to distract my emotions, I get a call from him. I watched his name flash on my screen for a few rings before deciding to answer.
“I crashed my car!” he yelled. I asked what happened, but he couldn’t explain. Shock? Maybe. Drunk? Yes. Despite denying that he was driving under the influence, I heard it in his voice. I knew that tone. I hated that tone.
He drove drunk and lost control of the steering wheel on the on-ramp of the 210 eastbound freeway, flipping his car 50 feet and landed in the carpool lane facing the opposite way of traffic. Of course, I didn’t know all of this at the time.
Anticipating a fender bender (yet still frantic), I got in my car to go find him on the freeway. I kept trying to call him to figure out what was going on, but at one point, a California Highway Patrol officer told me to stop calling because it was an investigation and turned off his phone.
Once I was near the area of the accident, I kept looking on the shoulder to see if I could find him and a cop pulled over. What I saw instead was a sea of flashing red lights–multiple fire engines, police cars, and ambulances shutting the entire highway down on the opposite side of the freeway. It felt like a bad dream.
How will I get to him?
I’ll tell you this—you start coming up with some crazy solutions when there are obstacles stopping you from reaching someone you love. I contemplated getting on the next on-ramp and reversing all the way down the freeway to where the scene of the accident was. But, I didn’t. I needed to be rational.
I couldn’t get to him, that was the harsh truth I had to accept, and I’d never felt so helpless in my life. By the time traffic moved to the point of the accident, he was long gone, along with his completely totaled car.
I was able to find out which hospital he was taken to, so I called his brother to let him know what happened since I was the only call my ex made. No one knew what was going on. His family, who was angry with me for breaking his heart, showed up and found me crying in the waiting room.
The hospital wouldn’t let me see him while he was handcuffed to the hospital bed. Even his own mother was only given about a minute with him, and she told me she’d let him know I was there. I needed him to know I was there.
I spent that night in his bed, waking up every hour thinking he was going to come in and lie down next to me, and then I remembered–He’s not coming Bruna. He’s in jail.
The next morning I called the holding cell every hour until they could tell me what time he was going to be released, and went with his mother to pick him up. I was amazed that he was able to get away from that accident with nothing but scratches on his arms.
I was so angry. I was so sad. I was so grateful he was still alive. “I know you knew this would happen to me,” he told me. My heart sank because it was true. “Doesn’t mean I wanted it to,” I replied.
As mad as I was, I couldn’t leave him alone now. So I stayed by his side, trying to get his life back on track. I drove him to school, work, his counseling meetings and even went to AA with him to prove that he didn’t have to fight this addiction alone.
But again, it wasn’t enough. Nothing was enough.
Even after everything that happened—nearly killing others and himself because he was being reckless—he still didn’t think he had a problem. “I’m only going to these things because the court is making me,” he would tell me, and I couldn’t even muster up the words to respond, because I knew he wasn’t trying to hear me.
On the anniversary of his accident, I called it quits and never looked back. Ruthless? Maybe. I didn’t plan for it to happen that way, but it did, because I devoted another year of my life to try and help the man I loved, and he proved that I just couldn’t.
It hurt to say goodbye. It hurt because he was someone I cared for so deeply, he was someone who talked about building a life together, he was a good man with vices that became bigger than him, and instead of sticking it out, I broke his heart. But now, years later, what hurts the most is realizing how little value I placed on myself.
The woman I am today would have left for good the night he made it so painfully clear that the bottle was more important to him than I was, but I was so broken then, I couldn’t see it.
I just wanted him to love me, and I believe a part of him really did, but the truth is there was never enough room in his heart for me, because whether he was willing to accept it or not, the liquor filled him up more than I ever could.