She met him in a bar. Perhaps that should have been a hint.
She noted alcohol and expressed concern early on. How much did he drink? He worked alone at home writing, quite successfully, and usually went out to eat. That was his social circle. He knew every restaurateur in town.
She had different circles, overlapping. The medical circle, the patient circle, the church, music, children and sailboats. It interested her that after 8 years in a small town, she knew virtually no one in the circle he knew and vice versa.
He could polish off a bottle of wine alone easily and not act drunk. That was not a plus in her eyes. Tolerance. But he did 20 mile hikes for fun, running into an occasional bear and cougar. He had a very sensible emergency kit including a GPS and emergency satellite beacon, since he hiked alone. He didn't trust doctors at all, though was happy to date one.
She wondered about his blood pressure. And the state of his liver.
He cut back on the alcohol, was drinking less, though daily.
Her son was all for it. "You don't watch me nearly as closely when you're dating someone, mom!" he said. "Opportunistic brat!" she said.
Her daughter had to be asked. "He smiles but it's not real." she said.
She knew what her daughter meant. His smile didn't reach his eyes for most people. It did for her, but not for her daughter. A social smile, guarded.
She ran into him in town. They had a date at 8 that night. "I'm going to walk to a party first. Call you when I get back," he said. Her brain spiraled a question mark, but she was going back to work. The question tickle sank away.
He called a little after 8. "Don' think I should come over. Don' wan your kids see me like this," he said. "You're drunk," she said. She was angry. "I'm going to come over there for a few minutes."
She left the kids and went over. He was on the porch, reeking of alcohol. It radiated from his skin. "You are bombed." she said. He snorted. She went home.
"Why are you mad?" he said the next day. She hoped his head hurt, but no, no hangover. More negative evidence. "You knew you were going to get bombed." she said. "What?" he said. "You knew it," she said. "You walked to the party so that you wouldn't be driving drunk." "Um," he said, "Well what if I did? Sometimes I'm going to drink like that and it's not very often." "Well," she said, "Why the fuck did you have a date set up with me if you were going to get bombed? You know I hate it." Long silence. "I wanted to have my cake and eat it too?"
"I ain't cake!" she said and hung up.
They made up. He said that occasionally he got plastered, but not very often and he would make sure it wasn't with her around. She was lightly wary. They were both very good at hiding feelings.
He took her to a family wedding. He said that his New Jersey family would be thrilled to have him bring home a doctor. She felt like a duck brought in by a dog, held gently in it's mouth, to the master. The wedding was 3000 miles away. She met his parents and his sister and brother. A cousin was getting married.
He proceeded to get bombed at the wedding. He didn't eat much because he was vegetarian and the vegetarian offering was awful.
She decided to go. He said he'd go too, slurring. She wanted to dance and danced once with his father. Then they got on the bus back to the hotel. In the hotel he ordered a pizza, vegetarian. He tried brushing it off with an amorous approach. She would have none of it.
In the morning he said, "You're upset." She said, "I do not want to be around you when you are drunk. I don't like it." His family was going to Disneyworld but he scorned it. After she went home she kicked herself. Why hadn't she gone to the concierge and gotten a different room that night and bloody well gone to Disneyworld?
But she had already slipped into the familiar. The distant place where she was hidden very deep inside. Numb on her skin and the numbness extending deep to the self that was hidden inside like a tiny warm star. She could walk around, listen to him, smile, eat, be friendly to his family.
He put her on the plane the next day. He was staying to see old friends, for another ten days. He called each day, but she was in the familiar. It was how she'd survived childhood. It was well developed and strong, a barrier that let nothing through except her children. She stayed there licking her wounds. When he came back, she wept, but she was done.
She was in the familiar. It was another year before she ventured out.