Taking part in the Ann Dee Ellis 8-Minute Memoir Writing Challenge. This is Day Twelve.
In my head, their names were Harold and Maude. They were yellow swallowtail butterflies living in the poplar trees lining my back fence. Perhaps there were more of them, but it seemed I would only see the pair, flittering and floating through the eddies and currents while the leaves started to yellow and fall. I would smile when I saw them out my kitchen widow. Even now, years later, when I see a yellow butterfly, I think of them.
Leaning against the large air-conditioning fan outside my back door, I clutched the phone to my chest. In desperation, I had called my friend to see if she could help me with my kids. For weeks I had been planning to fly to Houston for a quilt show- one of the biggest quilt shows in the country, into which, through a series of small miracles, I had been accepted as a new vendor. My eggs were all in that basket; every hope I had for the future meant I had to get to Houston. But that morning, after three years of struggle, half a dozen stints in rehab, and two hospitalizations, my husband had relapsed. Again. There was no way I could leave the kids with him. Last time he’d relapsed, it had been three days from first-use to over-dose. From the outside, I was watching butterflies in my backyard. Inside, the 641 days of carefully propped-up walls and stories were crashing in brittle, irreparable shards.
What am I going to do?
I was still watching the butterflies, fighting tears, lost in my own painful head when I heard, “You can leave now.” It was clear, but nonexistent. A roar of silence. It so startled me, I looked around, wondering who was in my yard. There was nothing but empty grass, the trees, and a yawning quiet stillness.
I held very still, muscles tense, my head swimming. Suspended.
Harold and Maude swooped down, the birds chirped, the breeze ruffled the poplar leaves, and the sky was a beautiful early October blue overhead. I exhaled.
I no longer wondered what I was going to do.
It just so happened my brother and sister-in-law were visiting for the first time that week. It just so happened they had brought their large family car, and it just so happened there were three seats with enough room for my kids and their bags. Together we packed everything up. Putting on a brave face, I told my kids they were getting a surprise visit to grandma and grandpa, and within the space of a few hours, I was standing in my driveway, waving with a teary smile as I watched my brother’s car get smaller and smaller as he drove south with my hearts buckled in his backseat. I will love him forever for that day.
I remember standing in the driveway for a long time, staring after the car long after it vanished. I don’t know for how long, but the pale pavement was warm on my bare feet. Time was weird that whole day, stretched and compressed, silent and roaring in my ears. The sky was blue. The leaves were starting to change. My children were safe.
There are gaps in my memories, but little things will bring up lost imagines, things I thought were gone. The scent of Elder flowers. A yellow butterfly. A birdcage with a singing parakeet. Poplar leaves against azure sky.
I walked back into the empty house.
Sitting down at my desk, I wrote an email to my parents, telling them everything I had spent three years trying to hide. I told them about the narcotics, the relapses, the hospitalizations, the things I had skimmed up against, but never directly addressed. I had not meant to obfuscate, but I had hoped fervently to repair my marriage, and I didn’t want my family to think badly of my husband, had he been able to recover. My opening up that vein and letting the blood flow was a concrete answer to what was next.
To this day I don’t know what happened in that backyard. The only thing of which I am certain is that I moved from years of instability and unrelenting fear into a space of irrevocable action in a bare moment. There were no more questions. There was no more waiting. There were no more excuses. There were simply facts, and the required action to deal with those facts.
The next day, I filed for divorce.
The surrounding events and my attempt to write while living it can be found in the 2009 October Dandelion archives. This is the first time I have tried to tell this part of story.