Until my brain comes back

by Brianne Benness

W begins to read me a letter that he wrote the night before. About how angry and worried and scared he was. How he was shaking as he wrote it, monitoring the vitals of my unconscious body. I’d blacked out and W had taken me home and put me to bed. He’s done it before and he will certainly have to do it again.

After my mother was diagnosed with cancer, I started to get blackout drunk two or three nights each week. I went to the gym every day, I watched a lot of Disney children’s cartoons that you could rent for free, I got an A in Differential Equations, and I drank excessively every Friday, Saturday, and many Tuesdays and Wednesdays. I wasn’t doing it on purpose. There was never a moment when I thought “my mother might be dying, and it hurts, so I will obliterate this feeling.” There were people drinking around me, and there were parties to go to, and I kind of wonder now if maybe my mind just didn’t want to be a part of it all, so it checked out early most nights. I was reckless but not too reckless. I usually woke up next to T, with reports that we’d drunkenly driven to the gas station for late night snacks. T knew about my mom. We didn’t talk about it a lot, and I don’t imagine he spent a lot of time thinking about my alcohol consumption, but it’s not a secret that my blacked out brain was keeping.

When she went into remission, I noticed how much I’d been drinking. I toned it down. I had a new schedule and new ambition. I started dating a new boy, an intellectual. I applied to be a student advisor in one of the dorms and I got it. I applied for a NASA undergraduate research position and I got it. I spent a semester being the kind of person that I remembered being in high school, a person who got things.

After my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, I decided to be proactive. The doctors gave him five to seven years, which felt like a pretty long time at 19. I made an appointment to see a therapist in town. I told her about how much I’d been drinking when my mother was sick, how my father was sick now, how I didn’t want to do that again. She trusted my analysis, mostly. I’m not sure that she was very smart. With five to seven years, and a therapist, and a grad school trajectory, I was feeling pretty ok after the intellectual — who turned out to be a sociopath — and I broke up. When W and I were getting to know each other, we talked a lot about change and grief and loss and how it shapes us. We had a lot of perspectivew.

Five to seven years ends up being three years. Grad school ends up being a place where my support network wanes. I’m not drinking two or three nights a week, but my brain starts doing that thing where it checks out again. When W’s around, it’s mostly just embarrassing, but when he’s not around it becomes unsafe. I call him from a street corner in Chicago at five in the morning. My phone is dead so I’ve borrowed a phone from a stranger. I don’t know where Sofia is, I have nowhere to go. I call him again two nights later, I’m walking in the wrong direction trying to get back to another friend’s apartment.

On Hallowe’en I drink most of the premixed drinks that we’ve brought for both of. We go home early, I find a stranger’s cell phone on the side of the road. I pass out. He writes me a letter.

He doesn’t often tell me that he’s angry or worried or scared. He just tries to make sure that I get home, that I get to sleep. That my brain comes back.

I spend most of my nights waiting for him to come home. When we move to Toronto, before I start working, I spend just about every day waiting for him to come home. Without W to anchor me, to tell me to eat and to sleep, I am lost. I am part of this couch, this book, this tv show.

He goes out of town and I go to a friend’s for dinner. I get a last-minute invite to another friend’s birthday party, so I go to that too. It’s a Wednesday night. I get a ride halfway home, and I’m a little disoriented drunk, but I figure out where I am eventually. At home in bed, I start crying because I know that if W had been in town, I would never have gone. I would have stayed at home, waiting for him.

When he gets back, I tell W that I need him to stop treating me with kid gloves, that I need to be allowed to hit my own rock bottom, that I need to find a way to save myself. He listens, although he’ll tell me later that he didn’t really know what kid gloves were, that he could hardly hear me, that he was in shock.

He is my best friend and my favourite person and my family, and I can’t go on like this with him any more. I am, inexplicably, his best friend and his favourite person and his family, and he thought we were building a life together.

We have this idea that love should be enough. That if you love a broken person enough or if you love someone who loves you enough, then that will be the thing. It will be the catalyst that allows you to pull it all together. It should be what pulls your forward.

I tell W that things aren’t quite right. He tells me that life is not a romantic comedy, life is not Sex and the City. I don’t know how to make him understand that I already know that.