Friday, May 02, 2014

Drunken Karoke and Other Epic Mistakes

These days, I try to be gentle with myself and my past bad decisions. Readers may, if they wish, choose to look at what I've done through their own perspectives. How much can be dropped at the feet of an out-of-control illness without the temptation to use it as a crutch? All the same, mania makes one’s judgment very poor. And I have a thousand anecdotes to prove it. Next to follow is an unfortunate study in questionable decision making.

All in all, I’ve been extremely lucky, I have to say. On two or three separate instances, I nearly screwed up badly enough to cause myself significant physical harm. In this case, I made the mistake of stepping directly into the middle of a volatile situation. If there is any silver lining here to speak of, it is that the situation showed me the nature of an abusive relationship. Observing the psychology and pathology of a woman being physically and psychologically abused taught me several powerful life lessons.

Leaving well enough alone should have been my preferred tactic. For my own sake, I’ll say that that I truly had no idea what I was getting myself into. I was lonely and seeking company. As had been the case in several instances before, I defied any shred of good judgment. I deliberately entered into a relationship with an alcoholic in the middle of active addiction.

What were my reasons? I did it because I could. For many men, that is motivation enough. She wanted me and I walked through that doorway. History is no doubt packed full of men who got involved with women because, as Quakers say, way opened for them--the opportunity presented itself. It was my belief that I could eventually win her over to my side, away from the controlling grip of a sociopath ex-boyfriend.

For a little while, my persuasiveness paid dividends. But when we were finally a couple, there was much for which I hadn’t wagered. I wasn’t expecting her to be quite so dependent on me. She could not be left alone, at any time, for any reason. Even if I only intended to be gone for a minute or two, she would insist to come along. Her neediness took many forms.

To an extent, I’ve always wanted to be needed. In healthy proportions, there’s nothing wrong with consistently relying on a partner. With her, I wasn’t sure how to separate her own neuroses and personality quirks from the lasting effects of the verbal and sometimes abuse of her previous partner. Where did personality begin and pathology end? What behaviors should I reinforce and which should I discourage? Though she never spoke about much of what she’d experienced, I knew that it had changed her dramatically.

She’d grown up with an equally irresponsible mother and hard-partying father who were friends more than parents. For years, upon trips home, her first errand was always the same. She religiously paid her mother’s outstanding bar tab at the exact same drinking establishment the woman frequented almost every night. It was how she showed love for her mother, though it was certainly an unusual, unorthodox way to display affection.

I discovered that her mother, in addition to drinking, was a regular user of crystal meth. She offered it to her oldest daughter, but not to me, because she knew I disapproved. Wired, my girlfriend stayed up all night, motor-mouthed and charged with energy. She cleaned the entire house by the time the sun rose the next morning.

After she woke, the next day, I lectured her about the dangers of the drug. Like always, I wasn’t entirely sure if she’d even heard me. Everything I said seemed to go in one ear and out the other. I often took a parental role with her, quite inadvertently. Structure and stability was what she needed and had never before received. If I hold anyone at fault for the way she turned out, it's her parents.

Though I can no longer drink alcohol because of the bipolar meds, there was a time where I drank regularly. Her favorite thing to do was to head to a karaoke bar, imbibe heavily the whole night, and sing off-key when it was her turn to go on stage. I drank to keep up with her, then stupidly covered her hefty tab along with my own.

We would stumble out, shortly before closing, far too intoxicated to drive home. Even knowing the risks we were about to take, one of us always got behind the wheel and pulled away from the parking lot.

Once, one memorable night, she made the mistake of turning the wrong way down a one-way street. We were pulled over almost immediately by a vigilant cop. Though very drunk, she managed to fake him out by claiming she was from out of town and unfamiliar with the city. When it was to her advantage, she flawlessly played the part of a clueless, airheaded woman.

How tall were the drinks you drank? He demonstrated the size of container with thumb and forefinger.

She lied.

Oh, not that tall. I didn’t have that much to drink, I promise, sir.

Male officers bought her act, hook, line, and sinker. I have always wondered whether or not a female police officer would have been that easily duped. Being the stereotypical stupid woman when needed was a strategy that had always worked for her.

In all fairness, in each of these situations, her blood alcohol content was well over the legal limit. She should have been given a Breathalyzer test, then arrested immediately for Driving While Intoxicated. We really had no business being on the road, though when I drove, I was at least usually coherent enough to keep the car between the yellow lines. The last time I drove with her, as she sat next to me in the front passenger seat, I had to rely on pure instinct to guide me home. My conscious mind, along with most of my reasoning ability, was too overpowered by the alcohol.

I was barely focused enough to not steer off the road completely. We took back roads late at night, believing that they called less attention to our impaired state. The decision at least minimized the number of cars we might have crashed into by accident. It was the same road I’d often taken when driving under the influence of marijuana, about the same time in my life.

After school, back when I was seventeen, I’d gotten high for the first time. Every day after school let out, I drove immediately to the same girl's house, departing the instant the final bell rang to bring a formal end to classes. Its qualities were never more prominent than they were that day. Time itself seemed to be broken down into four different, alternating dimensions. Each had its own tempo and sense of thematic pacing. I was mostly afraid I wouldn't be able to get back to my parent's house.

That was the past. A few months before, she’d attracted a male admirer at the bar. He was a total creep, but she was too polite to tell him to get lost. I know he saw the two of us holding hands and exchanging kisses. Most men would have backed off immediately. He wasn’t interested in pursuing a relationship with her, but he did want to push me out of the way to get what he wanted.

Most men would have gotten the subtle hints she dropped in profusion and kept their distance. The evening over, both of us stinking drunk, it was now time to retire to a warm, comfortable bed. He asked for a ride home and I was simply too wasted to register my complaints. We dropped him off, at his request, along a dark side street. With his departure, she exited the driver’s side door, which was her signal that she wanted me to drive. All the while, he had been occupying the back seat directly behind me.

Little did we know that he was waiting for his chance. Stepping out of the door into the night, he suddenly ran up to to her, arms extended outward. He groped her breasts as she screamed in protest, pushing his body away from her forcibly and immediately with a desperate shove. Before the shock had time to wear off, he’d taken off, immediately fleeing down the road. The rest of the ride home we did not speak to each other, still processing what had just happened.

I knew I should have said something much earlier. I didn’t give voice to my strong reservations and my intuition. Even with my periodic misconceptions, I have always been able to rely on my gut instinct. She rarely set appropriate boundaries around herself, particularly with men. Aware of that, I didn’t want to be hurtful with my remarks. Her life was her life. The other side of it, however, was that I knew she didn’t always make especially wise decisions on an important issue--her basic safety.

She’d been raped at age sixteen under similar circumstances. An older man she’d trusted convinced her to come home alone with him. She’d believed that his intentions were harmless. Though she was hardly at fault, she nevertheless blamed herself for not being more cautious. Vocal about being a rape survivor, I still observed unhealthy patterns of behavior and decision making, along with the possibility for significant re-victimization. Her previous ex-boyfriend was evidence enough.

I’ve never been much for Valentine’s Day, but it held an importance for her. She wrote me an affectionate letter one morning and left it on my bedside table. I read it the next day while sipping coffee. We’d had plans to go out that evening, but I curiously did not receive any further correspondence from her.

I became concerned and called. She was at a big box office supply store, but the strained and nervous tone of her voice clued me in that something was very wrong.

She’d gone back to him. Months of calmly explaining why he was no good for her had fallen by the wayside. Had I been wasting time? Was it worth trying to win her back, now that she had compromised my trust? Aware of what she’d told me about him, I knew that I was dealing with a power play. He used emotional blackmail to get her to return to his side.

His jealousy showed no bounds. Earlier, while they were still seeing each other, he’d evidently convinced her to take some potentially incriminating pictures. These were of a pornographic nature. From what little I knew of how the two had interacted when together, I doubt that this photo shoot had been her idea. I suspect the impromptu session was a demand he probably forced her to do. At minimum, it was something that she'd gone along with very reluctantly.

He was emotionally manipulative and coercive, frequently screaming at her and reducing her to tears to get what he wanted. She always jumped to his tune, even when life with him meant that she lived in a state of perpetual agitation and fear. As is true with many co-dependent relationships, she seemed to derive a kind of strange masochistic pleasure in being controlled, under his thumb. I hadn’t wagered for the peculiar appeal of a sadist.

His anger and perversity had been on display a few weeks prior. He’d actually gone to the trouble of designing an elaborate website, using her first and last name in its website address. There he posted the nude pictures taken earlier and prominently displayed her cell number on the front page. She received numerous offensive text messages, phone calls, and e-mail messages until the website was finally taken down, under threat of legal action. It took a long time to shut it down completely.

Through his own obsessive jealousy, he found his way to what I thought was an obscure journaling website where I daily recorded my private thoughts online. In an entry, I’d expressed exasperation at her foolish behavior, anticipating that only a handful of other people would read it. He used my words as his ace in the hole, intending to cast aspersions upon my character and my devotion to her.

She never returned to me, though by then I had no more energy in reserve. Being with her had been difficult. I’d done it for lots of reasons. I felt sympathy for her. But there was an ultra competitive part of me who desired the ego boost of successfully winning a girlfriend away from another man. For a while, I’d succeeded, but at a great cost to myself.

The last time I talked to her, she swore she’d stopped drinking. Being shown, in dramatic fashion, how she appeared to everyone else, in part by reading my journal entry, had momentarily scared her away from the bottle. Now back home, she told me intended to change her ways. I was immediately suspicious, but wished her well in spite of my mixed feelings. By then, the appeal for me was gone and has never returned. We’ve never spoken since.

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