Kathleen Pooler is a writer and a retired Family Nurse Practitioner who is working on a memoir about how the power of hope through her faith in God has helped her to transform, heal and transcend life’s obstacles and disappointments: divorce, single parenting, loving and letting go of an alcoholic son, cancer and heart failure to live a life of joy and contentment. She believes that hope matters and that we are all strengthened and enlightened when we share our stories. One of her stories, The Stone on the Shore, is published in the anthology: The Woman I’ve Become: 37 Women Share Their Journeys From Toxic Relationships to Self-Empowerment, by Pat LaPointe.
“A journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step.” - Lao Tzu.
Sometimes the biggest decision starts with a tiny inner voice telling you things need to change. I was married for five years with two babies when I finally made the decision to listen to that voice, acknowledging all those years of confusion, denial, disappointment, begging, and blaming myself for my marriage not being what I wanted and needed it to be—not being like the marriage my parents had.
It was New Year’s Eve, 1977. I had slowly come to the painful realization that the tall, handsome, charming, witty man I’d fallen in love with, dreamed of living happily ever after with and hitched my hopes on was an alcoholic. I hadn’t really confronted the reality other than reacting to the late nights when he would stumble up the stairs, turn the blinding ceiling light on and begin yammering on in slurred tones about things that didn’t matter to me at two o’clock in the morning. Or I would sit at home on the weekends crying and feeling sorry for myself and my children that we were alone again. I played the victim role.
As my children at ages three years and eighteen months began questioning where their Daddy was, I began visualizing how they would feel uncomfortable as older children bringing their friends home. I began questioning myself while still hanging on to the hope that Jim would see the light and stop drinking.
Jim had sober periods when I hoped he would stop drinking and be able to be the husband and father we needed him to be. During that holiday season, we got together with his sisters and their children, traveled to Corning to see my family after Christmas Day and enjoyed quiet times at home with the children. Jim was a good man when he wasn’t drinking. The holidays went by peacefully as we watched the kids tear into their presents on Christmas morning. I made matching green velveteen Mother-Daughter jumpers for Leigh Ann and me and overalls for Brian for Christmas dinner with his family. On Christmas Eve, we invited the Silkeys and the Barrys over for hot spiced wine and hors d’oeuvres. Jim had bought me a beautiful two-piece periwinkle linen pant suit with a matching striped shirt and scarf and a birthstone ring and I felt beautiful in it. I felt like he cared again. The man I fell in love with was back. I threw my arms around him and we were close again, as a husband and wife should be.
On New Year’s Eve, we went to a house party where the liquor flowed freely. Since we’d had such a wonderful Christmas together, I hoped Jim’s sober behavior would continue. We had a pact before going that Jim would limit his drinking, especially since a snowstorm was predicted. But as I sat on the couch and watched him accept drink after drink, I knew our agreement was rapidly becoming null and void. Jim nodded at my request for the car keys as we left, but as soon as we hit the cold, snowy night he grabbed them back.
“I’m fine” he slurred, as he staggered to the car through the piles of new snow.
“Jim, we agreed that I would drive.” I tried to remain calm, but flashes of terror from being in the car the first time I saw him drunk before we were married gripped me. My gut tightened as I braced myself for the upcoming battle of wills. The heavy snow coated everything, including us, as Jim fiddled with the lock while brushing off the snow. Shivering, I kept trying to grab the keys back from him.
He pushed me back and jiggled the car door open. My determination was no match for his strength and he began driving through the unplowed streets. At least the snow kept him from speeding and there was little traffic. As we approached our street, he decided he wanted to go to Galuppi’s, the bar in our old neighborhood about three miles away. The snow was coming down in thick blankets, covering the road and giving the tires an uncertain grip. The car fishtailed a few times and the wipers barely kept up.
“I want to go home, Jim.” I said thinking of our babies and wishing we’d never gone out in the first place.
“No, I just want to stop off at Galuppi’s,” he said with a gruff, resolved tone.
When he turned down the street toward the bar, I saw our babysitter’s parents, the Ryans, returning from a party. “Jim, if you don’t drive the car home right now, I’m going to roll down the window and scream for help.” Surprising myself with my own resolve, I grabbed the steering wheel. At that moment, I was moved more by anger than by fear.
“Drive me to Galuppi’s and you go home,” he said.
I dropped him off and drove home thinking all the way about how selfish he was being for putting me in such hazardous conditions; about how this was not my idea of a good time, or even close to how I wanted to live. The phone rang every fifteen minute with apologies and frantic requests from him to pick him up. I hung up on him. After a while, I ignored the calls. By the time he was dropped off by a friend at 7:00 AM, I had made a decision. Sitting straight up in bed, arms folded, I made a commitment to myself and my children. It would be the last New Years’ Eve like that in my lifetime.
And it was. That moment of resolve when I decided to take charge of my choices represented the change within that I needed to move forward. I moved out ten months later and was on my way to living life on my own terms.
As an author of a memoir - Out of Sync - a story about the impact of expatriation on relationships, I believe the dynamics of change affect characters in storytelling as much as they do individuals in real life. If you’d like to share a story about what change means to you (or to one of your story characters), contact me to make a guest contribution to this insightful story series.