From Last Week: I argue with God about my wife and why he took her beautiful mind away from her.

I met my wife Joyce when I was in my early thirties. We’ve been married for over fifty years, and I don’t think we’ve ever spent more than a few days apart. We have children and grandchildren, a comfortable home, and we lead what most people would consider to be a life of privilege.

Joyce was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a couple of months ago. I first started noticing that something was off because she was becoming uncharacteristically short-tempered with me. She started forgetting where her things were, like her car keys, and she started misplacing things altogether. I remember once she had put the laundry detergent in the fridge. I spent hours trying to find it.

It wasn’t long after Joyce was formally diagnosed that the kids and I decided to move her to an assisted living facility. I am very torn about that decision, and there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t consider bringing her back home. But I can’t take care of both of us.

I visit her several times a week, and I think the people there treat her well. They take excellent care of her, but it’s not a good place for me to visit. I become very depressed. It’s not unusual to be greeted by a screaming or crying patient, for example.

There’s a gentleman in his sixties there who has to have his food cut into tiny bits and fed to him by an occupational therapist because he can’t even do that himself anymore. I feel like I’ve abandoned her in hell, and I fear that in a moment of lucidity, she will recognize this.

When I went to see her last, one of her aides asked her whether she recognized me. She said, “Yes, that’s the garbage man. He’s come to help me take care of the garbage.” Of course, I was not offended. But I was hurt. If I go to see her in the morning, she’s usually present, but in the afternoons, she starts sundowning—her symptoms get worse as the day wears on.

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From Last Week: I feel like I never had a childhood; I had so many people depending on me

I was ten years old when we moved to the States. My mom and dad came with me, and we left my brother and sister with my aunt back in Bolivia. The plan was that we would try to bring them here once we got things in order. Eight years passed in a heartbeat. We left my siblings behind when they were seven and eight, respectively.

The next time my mother saw them, they were teenagers. My aunt passed away from cancer and my mom had to go back to Bolivia. She’s there now, taking care of my siblings and my aunt’s children, too. I haven’t seen her in three years. This has torn our family apart, and the only solace I feel is in knowing that it’s for a greater good.

I played soccer in high school and I was very good. I had opportunities to play overseas, but I couldn’t because I’m not a citizen. We came here with a visa that we overstayed, so we’ve been illegal with no road to citizenship. There aren’t very many job opportunities for people like me, so my dad told me that I had to work construction with him. I started when I was 18, right after I graduated high school.

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From Last Week: "I couldn't risk being thrown out on the street. I needed to take care of my family."

It was a Wednesday just like any other. I walked down the gray-carpeted floors of the office building, sneaking my head into offices and happily greeting the other employees. I liked most of them, but begrudgingly. I couldn’t help but feel inferior to them in my guard’s uniform. I had such high aspirations during high school, but I’d never quite made it to college. My parents couldn’t afford it, and higher education had never been expected of me — so I got by with odd jobs until I met my wife.

She was working as a checkout girl at the local grocery store. I spent months hiding furtively behind the baking aisle and sneaking looks at her. For a long time, I didn’t have the guts to ask her out. I spent way too much money buying nonperishables I didn’t need in order to see her.

Our first child came shortly after we got married, and the second on his heels. That’s when I got my security job for this large office building, in a place where the worst crime was leaving unwashed dishes in the sink.

I love my wife and kids and couldn’t escape the guilt I felt about not being able to provide for them. I spent the majority of my working life daydreaming about how to move up the corporate ladder, and kissing the asses of the privileged young punks who looked right past me. I resented them for their luck in life — for their cushy jobs and offices, and for their kids who had probably never heard the word “no.”

For the rest of the story, head on over to Quartz; I promise you it's worth it. 

Teaser: I was going to let it go on until it killed me

I was going to let it go on until it killed me. From the time I woke up to the moment I went to sleep, it’s all I thought about. Every single thing I did was for one purpose alone: getting a fix.

I started getting high and drinking with my mom’s third husband. He would ply me with booze and weed because it made me more submissive — easier to control when he molested me. I knew that what he was doing was wrong, but he threatened to hurt my younger sister whenever I resisted. So, in my mind, I was sacrificing myself for her sake. I’ll never forget the moment, years later, when she told me that she used to be jealous of all the time that “daddy” spent with me. She had no idea.

My real father was drunk when he died. He must have been in his early 20s, and I was barely three. My grandparents had substance abuse issues, too. My mom was clean, though. But addiction definitely ran in the family. They say that it’s a disease — like cancer. Well, this was a cancer that was growing inside me ever since I was born. I feel like I don’t remember a life in which alcohol and drugs weren’t everywhere.

To read the rest of this Confessional, please head on over to Quartz. I promise you, it’s worth it.

Thoughts from Readers like You!

This past week, I received many responses from Craigslist Confessional readers to my original introduction to CC up on Quartz. I wanted to share one of them with you, because it's hearing your thoughts and how CC has affected you that keeps me going day after day. 

Dear Helena,

I recently read your Quartz article about how you listened to the stories of Craigslist strangers and I wanted to thank you for what you're doing and for writing about your experience. Having grown up in NYC, I feel it is especially difficult for people here to find honest relationships with each other, simply because so many people carry their own agendas. To find someone we can trust with our stories and with ourselves is truly a treasure, and you have offered this to so many people. 

I also would like to thank you for telling the story of your relationship with your parents and as a first generation immigrant. My parents and I also came to the States as immigrants. Granted, my mother held a reputable job at the time and we were well cared for, but when the company changed management, we were thrown into financial hardship. Everything you said about filial responsibility resonated with me, and I do feel the need to give back to my parents when I have the means, but it is a gesture of gratitude I truly look forward to.

You wrote that you had always wanted to have a job where you helped people and that you had gotten side-tracked. Reading this reminded me of my own desire for the very same. I dislike my current job, but it allows me the freedom and the finances to pursue my own interests. Recently I am being reminded of where my heart is and I am planning the ways in which I can pursue my desires. Reading your words have helped encourage me further.

I cannot describe how happy I was to read your article. In part because I have long wanted to do the same -- lend my ear to strangers and their stories, and also because I am in a volatile time in my life where every word of encouragement pushes me forward immensely. Thank you for your courage, your efforts, and your words.

Best,

HF

Teaser: Luke, The Affair

She seemed different—subtly so, but different nonetheless. She came home one night smelling unlike herself. She acted casual about it all, but it was written all over her face. I don’t know the guy, but I have a totally morbid obsession with him.

She thinks that I found out because of a text that she forgot to erase, but I’d actually been following her for quite some time. I cut down on hours at my job, and I watched them when she got out of work. Part of me wanted to explode from within the confines of my truck and confront them, but another lesser part of me also liked seeing her happy again. 

The story of my abortion

The moon was a pale eggshell yellow, and it seemed to bubble in the distance, fading in and out of clarity. I took a deep breath of the cool summer air and watched the fireflies in the night sky. When I was a kid, I was positively obsessed with fireflies. I’d spend hours upon hours with a mason jar in hand, chasing them down. Once I’d managed to catch a few, I would sit in my father’s wicker chair and stare at them — their little bulbous behinds lighting up every so often as if in protest against their captor.

I sat in that same wicker chair and rested my hand on my belly. The dishes clattered in the distance and I felt a compulsion to yell in and ask if Mom needed help with cleaning up, but I wanted to be alone and so I stayed on the porch. We’d spent the day at the creek, taking photos, fishing, and enjoying the weather together. As always, my mother had brought the camera.

“Do something silly!” Mom had demanded, holding the Polaroid camera up to her eyes.

And in that moment, all I had thought to do was twirl my hair with one hand and stick my thumb in my mouth. As I looked at the Polaroid, I thought that I looked like a child myself — way younger than 18. 

Way younger than someone’s mom should look.

I kept my hand on my belly. There were two hearts in my body now, but I didn’t feel any different. I thought about how weird that thought was — that right at this very moment — I had two hearts.

I got high the next morning and walked to the clinic by myself. Everything in the waiting room was a sickly pink, and I looked around at the panicked faces, waiting for someone to call my name.

They took me into the doctor’s office first, and asked me a flurry of questions. I didn’t know the answers to half of them. I thought that the doctor sounded hostile and judgmental at times — but then reconsidered and thought that maybe I was just being sensitive. They covered the side effects and what to expect, and before I knew it I was being led into a new room.

Everything smelled different here, like a mix of Clorox bleach, rubbing alcohol, and a very faint hint of iron. It was the kind of smell that I’d always associated with hospitals, fear, and blood. And everything was white. As the doctor helped to guide my legs into the stirrups, I wondered if there would be a lot of blood, and for the first time I felt truly alone and paralyzed by fear.

The nurse stood by my side and flashed down a confident smile, placing her hand by the edge of the bed.

“Okay, are you ready?” I heard the doctor ask.

I nodded. And then, realizing he couldn’t see me, I mumbled a quick “yes.”

The first time I noticed the machine nearby was when it whirred into life — purring silently and reassuringly, as if telling me “I’m good at my job; don’t worry.” I looked at the two little jars connected to it, and braced as I felt a slight pinch. I grabbed the nurse’s hand and looked up at her.

“You’re okay…you’re okay…” the nurse whispered, giving my hand a quick squeeze.

I kept my eyes fixed on the jars and then suddenly — without warning — a bright crimson splashed against the pristine glass. I stared at the bright color, transfixed, until the nurse followed my stare, realizing for the first time that the machine had slid into view.

The worst had already happened

Trigger Warning: This article contains discussions of sexual assault. 

The bed sloshed up and down, our bodies creating a wave-like movement that made me slightly seasick. What bothered me at the moment — curiously — was not the situation or my stomach, but that the bed wasn’t filled up with water all the way. As my left temple violently grinded against the decking of the bed, I mentally concluded that the bed was probably 40% empty. Maybe it was deliberate; maybe he liked it that way.

I had met him at a bar. He always hung around like bad news and none of my friends knew him, but he was tall and handsome and extremely blonde. He was a “Robert Redford in his heyday type” as my friend Gina had so aptly put it. He came up to me that night, bought me drinks, and made me feel beautiful. So when he suggested that we go back to his place, I didn’t even think twice about it.

As soon as we got into his room, though, his demeanor changed. He became rougher and more dismissive of me, like he knew that I was his now and there was no need to court or play coy or pretend. I’d felt sad, but then he offered to put on some music and I stupidly thought, for a split second, that what I knew would happen, wouldn’t.

I watched him as he moved across the room with precision, grabbing the subwoofer and placing it at the foot of the bed. Then, he took two of the speakers and put them on either side of the headboard. He fiddled with the dials a little while, and finally pressed play. Something trippy started seeping out of the speakers — I’d never heard it before — and he adjusted the volume to 26 — close to max, but not loud enough that the neighbors would complain.

As I watched him set up his stereo, I had a feeling of foreboding at the pit of my stomach. We were completely alone and I knew that no matter what I tried at this point, he would still have his way. His organized — almost rhythmic — routine fed into my fears, and I sat at the edge of the bed, transfixed and unable to move.

When he was done, he pushed me down and away from him and I toppled over, stiff and almost lifeless. He switched off the music and made his way to the bathroom, turning on the shower. I lay on my side and looked at the alarm clock that was partially hidden behind one of the speakers. It was 2:57AM.

I pushed myself off of the waterbed, holding on to the corner of one of the bedside tables for balance. My whole body hurt. As I made my way down the stairs of his apartment, I started convulsing uncontrollably and threw up the entire contents of my stomach. And then do you know what I did? I cleaned it up. Because even after what had just happened, all I could think of was how awful it would be for him to walk down the stairs tomorrow — unscathed, unhurt, looking forward to his brand new day — and see my vomit there.

The fresh air sobered me up slightly and I walked slowly through the deserted streets to my own apartment. I thought about it a million times: the way he treated me at the bar, and then the way he treated me at the apartment. He had been two entirely different people, and I hadn’t seen it. That made me question my judgment, and it made me question everyone in my life — what if they all had the capacity to hurt me like this? And what if I didn’t know it? How could I have allowed this to happen?

At that moment, I passed a drunk and rowdy group of men leaving the bar and I felt instinctively afraid for my safety. But then I thought…what for? The worst had already happened.

I stole to feed my family

It was a Wednesday just like any other. I walked down the gray-carpeted floors of the office building, sneaking my head into offices and exclaiming happy greetings to the employees. I liked most of them, but begrudgingly. I couldn’t help but feel inferior to them in my guard’s uniform. I had such high aspirations during high school, but I’d never quite made it to college. My parents couldn’t afford it, and higher education had never been expected of me—so I swam by those years with odd jobs until I met my wife.

She was working as a checkout girl at the local grocery store. I spent months hiding furtively behind the baking isle and sneaking looks at her, but I never had the guts to ask her out. So I spent way too much money buying nonperishables I didn’t need in order to see her.

Our first child came shortly after we got married, and the second on his heels. That’s when I got my security job for this large office building, walking the bureaucratic beat in a place where the worst crime was leaving unwashed dishes in the sink.

I love my wife and kids, but I couldn’t escape the guilt I felt about not being able to provide for them. I spent the majority of my working life daydreaming about how to move up the corporate ladder, and kissing the asses of the privileged young punks who looked right past me. I resented them for their luck in life—for their cushy jobs and offices, and for their kids who had probably never heard the word “no.”

I’d been due for a promotion that I never got and for a raise that never materialized for two years now. My wife got her old job back, and we hired someone to watch our newborn. But the bills kept piling up, and between the two of us, we were still behind on rent by a few months. The landlord finally served us an eviction notice.

As I approached the empty office ahead, my heartbeat sped up and I felt irrationally afraid. It was almost five, and people would slowly start trickling out of the office. I had decided that I would do it then.

I mentally chided myself for being so nervous—I was the only one around here in charge of security. There were no cameras that I knew about. After close to five years, people knew and trusted me. I was well liked. Plus, this needed to be done. I couldn’t risk being thrown out on the street. I needed to take care of my family.

At 5:45 exactly, after I’d completed my last round and made sure that everyone was gone, I used my key card to swipe into the office. I looked at the stacks of old office machinery that lined the back wall, and thought to myself that there was no way anyone would notice one crummy broken printer was missing. So I grabbed it, put it in a recyclable grocery bag, and went home.

I always got home before my wife, so I used that hour of solitude to create a new eBay account. I didn’t want her worrying, so I was not planning on saying anything. I uploaded a few photos of the printer along with its specs and put it on auction.

I checked my account nervously throughout the night, and by the morning of the next day I was $60 richer. We got groceries with that money, and my wife never asked me where it came from. At work, I tried to gauge if anyone was looking at me differently or suspiciously, but everyone seemed blissfully unaware of what I’d done. I promised myself to never do it again, thanking my lucky stars for not having gotten caught.

But the money went quickly, and before I knew it, I found myself in a tight spot again. This time, I took an old laptop and made an extra $300. My transgressions always coincided with my financial obligations—I never got greedy; I never took more than I needed. But every time my son needed to see the dentist, or the rent came due, or the credit card company hassled me for payment, it occurred to me that I had a dangerous but surefire way to get everyone off of our backs.

When they finally caught on to me, they estimated that I’d stolen a few thousand dollars from the office. I never tried to deny it, but I asked—begged—for leniency. They all knew that I had a wife and kids that depended on me financially. But I ended up serving time and having to repay what I’d taken. I think I did more harm than good, but I still hope that their stepdad treats my kids well, and that he gives them the love I couldn’t afford. 

Thoughts on Suicide

It’s the smell of burnt hair that stays with you. You forget their faces and you forget that they were once flesh and blood and family, but you never forget the way that burnt hair smells. I was sitting in my light blue pickup truck that night and picturing the day I’d gotten the call that my Uncle had committed suicide.

We’d worked together at the factory for two decades until my Uncle retired; then, one day, the Sheriff’s office called me and told me that I needed to come in and ID the body. So I showed up at the scene expecting some spark of recognition that would confirm that it was Dennis. But Dennis had sat in the back of his car with two jugs of kerosene and had set himself on fire. There was nothing left of him to ID except pieces of his car, license plate, and dental records.

As I swiped the long cords of rope through my fingers like a rosary, I thought about what I was about to do. I thought about my wife or kids being called to the scene to identify me. I thought about the person who would discover me hanging from some tree, and about how maybe that would fuck them up, too. I thought about it, but I had made up my mind.

Earlier that day, I spent a few hours poring over my financial records. What the market crash hadn’t taken, I had spent on booze and weed and women with questionable morals. The only thing left was my life insurance policy, which fortunately for my family was pretty hefty. I’d gone through and read the fine print a million times: if I committed suicide, my family would still get the money as long as the policy was taken out more than three years ago. So I looked at the date of the policy again, and again, and again, and again.

My object permanence had vanished, and as soon as I’d confirm that I’d taken it out in August of 2005, I’d panic and go back to check. I even thought about asking a lawyer to look the suicide clause over, but was afraid of setting off a red flag. I just kept thinking that it would be a shame to kill myself and then have my family not get any money just on a technicality. Then my life would really have been pointless.

I played with the rope some more and looked around the empty parking lot. There was a patch of woods in the back of the lot, and I planned on finding a sturdy tree. I’d packed on some weight in the last few years from drinking. I thought about the insurance policy again and had to exercise some restraint to not go back to the office and check the dates one last time. Then, I reached into the back seat and grabbed my stool, pulled on the car handle, and ambled towards the woods.

That moment of decision will always stand out to me as one of the clearest, most crystalized memories. I felt no fear at all; on the contrary, I walked with a sense of hope. It was the first time I had thought of the future without feeling doomed. But I also knew myself well enough to know that I was a fickle man in life — a man filled with doubts and weaknesses, and that I needed to do this quickly, before I had a chance to change my mind.

I wanted to be somewhere in the middle of the woods — not so close to the lot that people would see me immediately, but also not so far back that it would take a while to discover my body. I didn’t want to stink the place up, and I didn’t want animals to find me first. I walked for about a minute, and then took out my phone and activated the flashlight feature.

I felt oddly calm and resolute, and there was a certain matter-of-factness with which I studied the trees. It didn’t take me long to find the perfect branch and tie the knot I’d looked up on a YouTube tutorial. I’d spent about an hour practicing the knot in the office because I read on an online forum that hanging yourself was a tricky business. If done incorrectly, it could result in some serious pain. And I didn’t want to feel pain, anymore.

I stood cautiously on the stool and put the rope around my own neck. Then I fiddled on my phone to deactivate the flashlight that had been illuminating my way. I didn’t want people to see it through the woods and interrupt me before I was done.

As I held the phone, the screen lit up and my daughter’s name flashed across, pulsating in the darkness.

A heartbreaking voyage into parenthood

“Okay, this is going to feel cold,” the tech warned, spreading the gel over my pregnant belly with the ultrasound probe.

“I’m used to worse,” I said, smiling. After years of IVF, three miscarriages, and a few false alarms, we had finally gotten pregnant. I nearly fainted from excitement when the tests came back positive, one after the other. Four hours, eight cups of water, and six tests later, I resigned myself to temporary happiness: maybe, this time, we would be parents.

I’d been preparing myself for this moment for years. We started trying soon after we got married. Our friends were getting pregnant seemingly effortlessly, and I watched — caught inside my barren body — as they brought these beautiful, shiny lives into the world. I held their children and felt a gnawing pain in my gut, where life had never survived. I smelled the tops of their heads and cried tears of happiness and sadness all at once.

It took us the better part of a decade to get pregnant. Between fights, financial issues, and disappointments, we often lost heart. We turned on each other even though we knew that our love was the only thing sustaining us, keeping us from drowning.

At some point, we stopped telling people when we got pregnant. I couldn’t stand to hear the false consolations — the sad recitation of “well, maybe it just wasn’t meant to be” — and the way their eyes fell and almost always rested on my midsection. And then, without fail, they’d innocently intimate that next time it would be different.

My husband is a patient man, a loving man, a kind man; even so, I projected my own disappointment on him. I perceived in his casual remarks or lingering looks an unhappiness, a resentment for me that perhaps wasn’t there at all. And perhaps it was. I don’t know. We never talked about it. We were afraid of what would come if we lifted the dam.

I knew that I felt damaged and broken. I became obsessed with the inability to do something that was natural — that should have been easy. I felt angry constantly. I felt the heaviness of my womb, recognizing its otherness inside of myself. I imagined it choosing to thwart my happiness over and over again, and I cried. I cried a lot. 

To keep myself afloat during sleepless nights, I fantasized about the day my husband would come home, and I’d leave little hints around the house that we were pregnant. I watched his face in my mind’s eye as it dawned on him that he would finally be a father. My husband isn’t the crying type, but he always cried in my daydreams.

That day, I made my way to the dresser drawer where I’d hidden mementos of my almost lives. I reintroduced myself to every neatly-folded piece of clothing, and thought to myself: this one was for James, and this one I bought for Ava. With a heavy anguish in my chest, I framed my hands around my barely-there baby and whispered to it: “You have to make it. You have to be strong.”

Then, I picked out a onesie and put it in a pale lavender box. I snuck a positive pregnancy test into a Ziploc bag and arranged the twosome just so on our dining room table. I hovered over it for hours — fussing and rearranging listlessly until I heard the back door open.

He wandered in as he always did, taking large lazy steps and swinging his bag wildly in one arm. He gave me a hug and then dropped his bag on the table. I watched him carefully because I wanted to be able to remember this moment — what he was like before he knew he was a father, and then the second right after.

“How was your day, my love?” he asked, already eyeing the box.

“Oh, good!” I exclaimed, gleaming. I couldn’t help myself. “I got you a little present,” I said, pointing at the box.

“Oh yeah?” he asked in a playful singsong, approaching the table almost shyly.

“Well, open it…” I prodded impatiently. He tore through the wrapping greedily and fished the onesie out. Then, he stormed towards me and buried his head on my shoulder, his chest heaving against mine.

He sat next to me now as the probe hovered over our baby. The two of us looked at the screen, trying to make out little feet, hands, and the beautiful flutter of a tiny heart that was beating against all odds. We were in wonder of what was happening, but afraid to be fully happy.

When we spoke about the baby, we did so in whispers, terrified that anything stronger would burst the bubble that the three of us precariously existed in. We looked at each other and thought — “this is the one” — but we didn’t say it aloud, we didn’t breathe it into being, because we’d been wrong so many times before.

“Alright,” sighed the tech, peering into the screen. She paused, a tiny frown burrowing into the fine lines between her eyebrows.

“Hmmm,” she murmured again, swirling the probe over the same area a few times. I tried to read her face for an explanation and cold waves of fear trickled through my body, paralyzing my heart. I squeezed my husband’s hand and searched his eyes for safety. The tech left the room to call in the doctor. 

So we waited there, alone, and I cried more in those few minutes than I’d cried in one lifetime. Warren gently placed his hand on top of our child, to soothe us. I stared at the ring that symbolized our marriage and the way that it stood, out of place, against his tan skin. I wondered if this would break us, if the sadness would finally be too much for us to handle, and so we would wither quietly — without anger, without fight.

The doctor came into our room an eternity later. He had affixed a sympathetic smile on his already exhausted features. Warren squeezed my hand as we braced for his verdict.

“Mrs. Andrews,” he began. “Mrs. Andrews, at your age, it is not unusual to have complications in pregnancy.”

I didn’t hear much of the rest of it. It felt like someone had sucked all the air out of the room, and I just sat there, on the table, struggling to stay alive.

“But the baby will live?” I heard Warren’s disembodied voice ask.

“Yes,” I heard the doctor say, “and surgery can be helpful, but often dangerous…”

That night, I dreamt that I was a tree — a giant, thousand-year-old tree — with gnarly, deep roots that extended into the earth for miles and miles, surviving storms and tempests, drought and famine. I saw the seasons, good and bad, documented on my body — showing anyone who cared to see how much I’d survived. And I dreamt that our baby was a born a bunny — that it lived safely in the hollow of my womb, nourished by my body, and protected from the world.

Author’s note: Christine’s baby was diagnosed with spina bifida — a birth defect that affects the proper development of a baby’s spinal cord and can lead to severe complications. She and Warren chose to have their baby in spite of being advised by doctors to consider an abortion. She told me that she always thought of the defect as a “bunny tail” — it helped her see the situation in a more positive light. Christine’s baby had corrective surgery and is doing well. 

Max

My wife’s disease killed her—and it took away my best friend and my partner. In Al Anon, they teach us that alcoholism is primary, progressive, chronic, and fatal. But it took a while for me to really accept that…

I met Elaine at an intra-office baseball game on a weekend afternoon. She wasn’t a very good baseball player, and I teased her about that a lot. We quickly became inseparable. Elaine was a formidable woman with a sharp tongue and a quick wit. We dated for a few years, and then decided to get married.

I had reservations, but I loved her and so I ignored the problems. In retrospect, I knew then that she was an alcoholic. But I needed the good in her, so I took the bad with it, too, because I thought I could fix her.

We took long road trips together and made plans for the future. Before we went to bed each night, we discussed the places we would explore together and spent hours upon hours gathering postcards from cities unvisited. We planned to buy a house on the beach in North Carolina and eventually retire there.

I tried to make her happy at all costs, thinking that if I gave her everything she’d ever wanted, she wouldn’t need to drink anymore. I saw her need to drink as my personal failure as a husband. We paid for world-class rehab facilities—but every trip ended the same way, with an eventual relapse.

I remember all the times she would wake up in the middle of the night to drink in order to keep her body from going into withdrawal. I often stayed awake and watched her to make sure that she wouldn’t asphyxiate. I also became obsessed with making her eat. Her body had started rejecting solid food altogether in order to have more space in her stomach for alcohol. This is when it first hit me that she was suffering from a disease: I realized that her body considered withdrawal from alcohol a bigger threat than lack of food.

One time, I took her out for a big anniversary dinner at this fancy restaurant. I had put so much effort into making arrangements, hoping that we could recapture who we once were. We sat down and ordered these great dishes. And of course she ordered wine. When our food came, she immediately asked the waiter to wrap it up to go. She said she didn’t have an appetite. So we sat in silence, and I ate alone.

The drinking took a definite toll on our marriage. I felt like a zombie. I didn’t have any feelings other than pain. I was grieving for the loss of the life I thought we would have together. I would look at our stack of postcards and feel like our dreams and plans—which had once seemed so real and reachable—had become fantasies. I was an emotional slave to her and I couldn’t see where she ended and I began. When she was happy, I was happy. When she felt sad, I felt sad. We talked about divorce, but I wasn’t ready to give up on her.

I started going to Al Anon meetings at first because I wanted to hear stories from family members who had succeeded in getting their loved ones clean. I know now that I went for the wrong reason. I was supposed to go for me, but I went for her. When I told her I was going that first night, she asked if she could go with me. She was drunk, but I said she could. When we got there and it was my turn to introduce myself, all I could say was ‘Hi, I’m Max,’ and then I broke down crying. She got up and walked out. The next day, she checked herself into a 90-day rehab facility. Shortly after arriving home, she relapsed again.

This time, I took it upon myself to detox her. I found something online that suggested starting out the addict at their original dose—which for Elaine was four or five bottles of red wine a day—and then slowly easing them down to none. So, the first day I gave her twenty five-ounce glasses at specific times. I would wake her up in the middle of the night and give her the glass of wine like she was taking medication. The next day, I gave her 19, and the next 18, until she eventually got down to nothing. She lasted one week.

Because of her repeated relapses, Elaine’s family had started distancing themselves from us. I did my best to keep her addiction a secret from friends and family, and I was suffering from the alienation of not having someone to share my burden with. I would write letters to advice columns asking for help—but I never sent them.

Elaine became increasingly isolated. She often refused to talk to me at all. She spent all day crying and drinking, and completely lost her zest for life. She had given up. She started writing me these accusatory Post-It notes and putting them everywhere. I found them in my closet, in my gym bag, inside my shoes…everywhere.

One night, I had been getting ready for bed when I heard a crash from the living room. Elaine had fallen and hurt her shoulder. We went to the emergency room, where the doctors informed me that both her blood oxygen and blood pressure were very low. After rehydrating her by early the next morning, the doctors decided to discharge her.

When we got home, she ate and wanted to rest. I went to an Al Anon meeting, and got back a couple of hours later. She had been on the phone with her friends and family. We sat down on our porch and we talked about things—about life and her illness. She seemed like her old self. I was very emotional because she was so lucid and present. She told me she was too tired to walk, so I put her in a rolling chair and rolled her to the bedroom. Then she asked me to help her into bed. I started turning down the bed, and when I turned around she was breathing erratically and she had passed out. I gave her mouth-to-mouth and called the ambulance. When I got to the hospital, the doctors told me it didn’t look good. They put her on life support, and she passed away the next morning.

It hit me that she was gone on the day of her funeral. I was standing in front of the closet, trying to pick out a black jacket. I’m not a formal wear guy, you know. I prefer jeans and a button-down. As I slid my hand in the sleeve to put the jacket on, I felt the faint crumple of some paper, and then I saw a Post-It zigzag to the floor from the corner of my eye.

Lily

By the time I was seven I was twelve —  I grew up so fast. My mom and dad divorced when I was three but for some reason they kept having babies, so I have two younger sisters. My mom was young when she had us and she wasn’t in any shape to take care of kids, so I was basically an older sister and a mother to my siblings.

Mom had a way of making me feel that I mattered — that what I was doing was important and that nobody else could do it. She was beautiful, too, which didn’t help. I was totally in love with her — the way she arranged her hair around her perfect face like a crown of laurels, the way she dabbed a bit of her rose oil perfume behind her ears, and the way her eyes looked at me like I was the only one in the room. I thought that it was a privilege to be left alone to take care of my sisters when she went out.

I met Luke when I was 18 and we started dating almost immediately. He was everything my dad hadn’t been: responsible, sweet, caring, and a family man. His family was so tight knit and I was immediately welcomed with open arms. It felt good to feel that someone had your back. In my family, I was always the safety net. Here, I was the one being taken care of, and I felt like I was a kid again.

I don’t think we ever considered not keeping the baby. I was 20 and hadn’t gone to college so I think the next natural step for both of us was to have kids. I worked up until the very day that I had Grace. She was beautiful and we didn’t think it was possible to love a human being as much as we loved her until Annie came along.

Things were hard financially from the very beginning. Luke and I both have steady jobs, but between the girls’ school, rent, and miscellaneous expenses, we were struggling to make ends meet. We were working so much that I barely saw Luke at all for months at a time, and I think he felt alienated — you know, living with three girls can be tough.

It’s safe to say that there was no time for romance. We loved each other deeply and were fiercely loyal to each other, but I think there came a day when we both forgot what we were being loyal to. We couldn’t see the forest for the trees, so to speak. We both respected the status quo but only because we couldn’t break the momentum — no alternatives presented themselves.

Until I met Bruce at work. It had been so long since someone flirted with me that I didn’t know it was happening. I blushed stupidly when he came in to get flowers but I always figured it was for his wife or girlfriend until one day, I found the flowers on my car’s windshield. He had written me a note asking me out on a date.

I felt rejuvenated. I had a hunger for life and something to look forward to every day. Life suddenly didn’t feel so difficult, and the everyday drudgery seemed bearable. The bills piled up and instead of drowning underneath the pressure, I suddenly started thinking that it would all work out. I felt beautiful and seen and important for the first time since before the girls were born. So that’s what it took — a little romance — for me to cave.

I also saw my body differently. For as long as I’d been a woman, I’d felt like a mom and a wife. My body served a purpose: it nourished my children, it worked, and it rested only when absolutely necessary. I felt worn out. Bruce looked at it differently. He lusted after it, he appreciated its scars, and he saw the parts of me that I thought were invisible. 

I’m not sure if I fell in love with him, with the way that he made me feel, or with the escape that he provided from my life. All I know is that I wasn’t myself. I was spending the little time that Luke and I had together feeling guilty and thinking that I was the scum of the earth. I think I was also probably acting differently; I felt that I had a new lease on life and that finally I was doing something that was for me, and not for my kids, my siblings, my mother, or my husband.

Bruce and I had been seeing each other for a month and we were planning on getting away for a weekend. I was being very careful with my phone because I just had a feeling that something was going to happen. I had been deleting all of my conversations but I guess I must have let my guard down.

I knew when I saw Luke’s face that I was about to lose everything. I never in a million years would have expected him to forgive me. He was so hurt that I momentarily considered killing myself just so that I wouldn’t have to face what I had done to him.

I don’t think that I deserve his forgiveness. I think we both stayed because of the girls, but I know he’s not over it. Every time I try to talk to him about it, he shuts down. I expect the pain now and I am not resentful about the way that he treats me because I think I deserve to be hated after what I did. 

But I don’t know what’s next. I don’t know how long I can keep being punished before he forgives me — before I forgive myself. I know that he’s not happy and that I’m not happy. I know that the kids notice that something is happening and they’re angry with us. I don’t know if we’re hurting them more by staying together or by separating, but I don’t think that the choice is mine anymore. I just don’t know.

Frank

I met my wife Joyce when I was in my early thirties. We’ve been married for over fifty years, and I don’t think we’ve ever spent more than a few days apart in those fifty years. We have children and grandchildren, a comfortable home, and we lead what most people would consider to be a life of privilege.

Joyce was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a couple of months ago. I first started noticing that something was off because she was becoming uncharacteristically short tempered with me. She started forgetting where her things were, like her car keys, and she started misplacing things altogether. I remember once she had put the laundry detergent in the fridge. I spent hours trying to find it.

It wasn’t long after Joyce was formally diagnosed that the kids and I decided to move her to an assisted living facility. I am very torn about that decision, and there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t consider bringing her back home. But I can’t take care of both of us.

I visit her several times a week, and I think the people there treat her well. They take excellent care of her, but it’s not a good place for me to visit. I become very depressed. It’s not unusual to be greeted by a screaming or crying patient, for example. There’s a gentleman in his sixties there who has to have his food cut into tiny bits and fed to him by an occupational therapist because he can’t even do that himself anymore. I feel like I’ve abandoned her in hell, and I fear that in a moment of lucidity, she will recognize this.

When I went to see her last, one of her aides asked her whether she recognized me. She said—“yes, that's the garbage man. He's come to help me take care of the garbage.” Of course, I was not offended. But I was hurt. If I go to see her in the morning, she’s usually present; but in the afternoons, she starts sundowning—her symptoms get worse as the day wears on.

I am a very religious man, and I became a rabbi at the age of 17. I have always had faith in the hand of God, but I find myself arguing with him more and more. I argue with God about my wife, and why he took her beautiful mind away from her. Her illness has shaken my belief. But at the same time, I have to believe in Him. I have no choice--even though I cannot reconcile her illness with my faith.

Just about the worst thing you can experience at my age, when you’re getting ready to write the last chapter of your life, is a crisis of faith. I love my wife, but I haven’t always been a good husband to her. I’ve had affairs, and I think she either suspected or confirmed that throughout our marriage. Joyce wanted a romantic love—a love that you see in the movies—and I couldn’t give her that. I gave her the only love that made sense to me, a practical love. I provided for her, I was a good father, and for the most part, I was a good husband. I always took her with me when I traveled, we always went out to dinner, and she had free reign over spending.

I can’t help but think that I contributed to her disease, though. I know I didn’t, and my children tell me that I didn’t. But sometimes, what you think and what you feel are two very different things. When Joyce gets agitated, she sometimes becomes violent and kicks me or hits me. In those moments, I believe she knows me, she sees all the wrong that I’ve done, and she’s doling out punishment.

A few weeks ago, Joyce had an appointment with her neurologist. We went into the room together, and the doctor performed a few tests on her. I told her that Joyce has lost a lot of weight, and that I’m concerned about her—concerned that perhaps she doesn’t have long to live. The doctor continued with her assessment.

"Do you know who this is?" she asked, pointing to me.

"That's Frank," answered Joyce. "He's supposed to be my husband." 

"Joyce," the doctor continued, "do you know the names of your children?" Joyce shook her head no. 

"Do you know what month it is?"

"It's February." It was December. 

"Do you know where you are?" the doctor persisted. 

"I'm in Vienna," she said, visibly flustered by the barrage of questions. 

"What is this?" asked her doctor, pulling a pen from her pocket and showing it to Joyce. 

"That's a pen."

"And this?" she asked, pointing to one of the buttons in her white coat. 

"I can't think of the word right now," Joyce said, looking down at the floor.

And so it is. Sometimes my wife doesn’t know who I am. Sometimes, she is convinced that our children are dead, and I have to wait for her to stop crying. And sometimes she looks at me with the love we had many years ago—when we sat together in a park bench in Vienna, she knew my name, and loved me in spite of myself. 

Taylor: This Is When I Knew It Was Over

I looked across the table at my wife and smiled faintly. This was the first time she'd seemed happy in months, and I felt relieved. Our kids were with their grandmother for the weekend, and I relaxed into my chair as our friends went around the table, refreshing our elegant drinks of wine. I hoped to reconcile when we got home. We hadn't been intimate in quite some time, and it was taking a toll on what little stability remained in our relationship.

She was beautiful, my wife--had been even before the plastic surgery.

There was no end to her vanity, though, to her need to be needed and wanted, to her obsession with being the center of every situation.

And even now as we all sat around, she gently nudged a piece of raven hair away from her eyes, and leaned her bosom on the table. It was something she did often--wield her sexuality gauchely to steer attention back to her--and it exhausted me. I found her increasingly insubstantial, and the feeling that she wasn't enough anymore scared me.

"We had a good time, right?" I asked, as we got ready for bed later that night. She wasn't likely to agree.

"Yeah...." she answered reluctantly. "But that doesn't mean anything."

And I knew in that instant that a storm was to follow. She would blame me for our lack of intimacy, I would tell her she was superficial and cold, she would tell me that I was half a man, and I would tell her she's a bad mother.

After we'd unloaded our resentments, she abruptly went into the bathroom to change. I hadn't regretted what I'd said, and my anger was still bubbling when I heard the clatter of plastic on the sink. Wondering what she was up to, I tiptoed across the hardwood floors and turned the corner, peeking into the bathroom.

There, in her pearly nightgown, stood my wife. Our bathroom cabinet was ajar, and the sink was filled with our toiletries and pill bottles. She dug into it, shoving things aside and reveling in her destruction as I stood at the entrance and watched our things glide across the pristine floor.

Finally, she picked up a bottle and emptied its contents into her hand. Then, she poured herself a glass of water and calmly turned to look at me.

She did this often. She knew my weaknesses, and calculatedly played me when she sensed that she had lost a little of her power over me. And in spite of everything, I always succumbed. I'd walk her off the edge and agree to see our therapist first thing Monday morning. We'd settle into bed and put our problems aside momentarily--knowing of their return--but happily pretending, at least for the night, that there was nothing better waiting for us post-divorce.

But this time seemed different. I walked towards her and unclenched her fist, causing the pills to come cascading down on the floor. I knew then--when I felt nothing-- that it was over. I'd suffered the past few months in limbo, wavering between desperation to save my marriage and desperation to leave it. But in that moment, I could not help but fully hate her.

"I want a divorce," I said, handing her back the pill bottle as I turned to go to bed.

 

Originally featured on The Huffington Post

Kurt

In the past year, I had the good fortune of speaking to a gentleman who has undergone female-to-male gender reassignment surgery. We spent over an hour discussing not only the process, but also when he had first decided to start the transformation, and when he first knew--in his words--that his body didn't feel like his own. 

Kurt's story is inspirational and heartbreaking in equal parts. After his transformation was complete, he found it difficult to trust someone with his heart and his story. His journey to love and self acceptance was not an easy one. 

Without further ado, here's a snippet of Kurt's story:

You know what it feels like? When I was a kid, I used to imagine that god had some sort of assembly line up in heaven somewhere where he and the angels put together new people. There’d be arms and legs and toes and ears, and everything would go off without a hitch…for the most part. But every once in a while, there’d be a terrible earthquake, and all the parts on the assembly line would be tossed around and jumbled, and someone would end up with an extra part or the wrong parts altogether.