Forty-Two Minutes

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Chapter Four

RICHARD

Shes's gone.

The house is dark. Quiet. Blackout quiet. It's late. I stand in the kitchen and stare down at the letters on the table. The relief I feel is intense. I had hoped Lexy would find them, and that she would let herself leave. I fiercely pray she made it to Nashville, and she's finally safe.

When the birthday card had arrived for her, I knew the time had come for her to know about her family. I couldn't keep lying to her. I still don't know how Victoria managed to keep the letters from her for this long. She'd promised years ago she'd tell her the truth, but as time went on, and the drinking grew worse, I knew she was never going to say anything. She was too fragile and unstable to handle it. If I hadn't moved them to a place I knew she'd look, I don't know if Lexy ever would have discovered them.

I had waited until she was eighteen, until the choice would no longer be up to us, and she would finally be out of our reach. Where we would no longer have a say. She had a right to know where she came from, and I couldn't live with the guilt of keeping the truth from her any longer.

Even though I'm dreading what I will find, I make myself go down the hall to Victoria's room. The door is closed, locked. I try to turn the knob, but it doesn't give. Turning my ear, I stand outside and listen, but of course, hear nothing. I knock, but there's no answer. There never is. I'm being punished for betraying her and giving Lexy the letters. I already know she's passed out.

I feel as if I am living with a fatal gunshot under my clothes. I know it's bad, that I'm close to bleeding out, but I'm too afraid to look at how much damage has been done, so I ignore the gaping hole in my chest and force myself to push through the pain and stagger forward with an open, seeping wound that is slowly killing me.

It's strange what you get used to, how easily you adapt to the panic, what you learn to endure. Fight or flight kicks in. Pain becomes somehow normal. It's cruel how much tragedy a person is expected to take.

Seeing empty vodka bottles all over the house is just a typical day. Your wife laying passed out in the toilet is just another Tuesday night. You become numb to trauma, desensitized. The reality is too much so you shut down. You tell yourself it's not as bad as you think it is. That you can handle it. That you're fine.

It's ironic when I hear people say that something like this could never happen to them. Or that they would never let it happen. That they somehow could outsmart the addiction, and they are above the rest of us foolish mortals who were stupid enough to give in to the temptation in the first place. What a joke. Their ignorant arrogance makes me want to laugh in their faces, or punch them.

Don't think for one second that it couldn't happen to you, me, any one of us, at any time. You have no idea what you would do until you're in the vicious, sinking pit of it, and you do the only thing you can to survive.

It's almost as if the rest of the world is crazy and your world becomes the one that is real. How isn't everyone else also living in this kind of chaos?

I know I could call Lexy or get on a red eye flight to Nashville, find my daughter, try to convince her to come back home. I could tell her everything would be different, desperately apologize, beg her to forgive me. But what would be the point? It wouldn't do any good. What would she be coming back to? Cleaning up Victoria's vomit, desperately waiting to see if her mother would make it through the night, dragging her from the bathroom floor into her bed? Staying up all night to make sure Victoria was still breathing?

Nothing has changed. Her mother is still an alcoholic. And she would still expect Lexy to be the one protecting her.

I can't do it anymore. She's our child. We are supposed to be the ones taking care of her. I can't ask her to be responsible for us anymore. I can't ask her to come back into our hell. She's too young to have to be this brave.

I haven't known what else to do to protect the people I'm responsible for. I've just survived this madness thinking one day my wife would choose to get sober and we could somehow find our way back to each other.

All I've known how to do is cope. I've gone to work, paid the bills, kept food on our table, our electricity and water running. Those were the only things I could control. But, what they've most needed from me, I’ve had no idea how to give them. And, have failed at every turn.

Somewhere along the way, we somehow made a sick pact that the addiction could have us. It feels as if she's the one who really gets to live, and I'm the one who is the ghost. She's the one who decides what happens to all of us, when we get to move and breathe and exist again.

And when we don't.

I've tried for years to get Victoria to reconcile with her sister, but that only made her drinking worse. She would quickly shatter at the slightest mention of her family, scream and cry hysterically, slam doors. It just became easier to not bring it up.

And trying to convince Victoria to get help and go into treatment, would cause a frenzy and meltdown that were so destructive and violent, I feared I was going to lose her completely. She would threaten to kill herself, and I was afraid she would go through with it.

The final tipping point came around the time of Lexy's birthday. The binges had been getting worse, more extreme, violent. The closer Lexy got to eighteen, the more hysterical and frantic Victoria became.

Lexy had just graduated, had applied for the community college nearby and would start in the fall. She'd somehow managed to keep her grades up even in the middle of trying make sure her mother stayed alive.

But, there was only so long we could keep her here. She was growing up, and was now legally an adult, even though I feel as if she's unfortunately had to be one her entire life. Victoria was panicking that Lexy would leave her and was punishing her because it was the only way she knew to try and control her.

Over the last few months Victoria had become more reckless and dangerous in her drinking, pushing the edge with a toxic combination of pills, as if she had a death wish. I lived with the constant fear that one more time would be her last time. She was completely losing her grip on reality, and it terrified me.

My worst nightmare is that Victoria would go through with hurting herself, and somehow take Lexy with her. Or, worse, that my own daughter would have to watch it happen. I had to rescue her before Victoria took them both out.

Life outside my front door is coming together as it should. I go through the motions of taking a shower, doing the dishes, driving to work. It's a surreal existence and one that I'm so used to, that the magnitude of the damage doesn't even register. I won my case. We gained a new client, a lucrative one. I look like I have it together, and know what I am doing.

I live in the constant irony of what I do, and the humiliating reality of what I don't know how to do. My life has been spiraling out of control for years, and the only person that had held us together is now gone.

I should have intervened for my family years ago. Gotten a court order, forced Victoria into rehab. AA, support group, counseling. I'm a lawyer, for crying out loud.

But, it's different when it's your own family. And I know better than anyone how flawed the system is, and that it isn't always on your side. What if they had taken our daughter away from us? Victoria never would have survived that, and I couldn't put Lexy through the trauma.

I've felt trapped between my love and fear of losing both of them. I convinced myself we were the lesser of two evils. Right and wrong isn't as concrete when it's your own flesh and blood. I was too afraid of the fallout, and justified that having an alcoholic for a mother was better than her not having a mother at all. But, the sick reality is that she hasn’t had one either way.

It's only a matter of time now, I realize, before one of us falls apart. I'm not sure who will be first. My only solace is that my daughter is far away. She's finally safe. I had given her the parachute and she had jumped. I wasn't sure if she would. She's desperately loyal to Victoria. Some would call it classic textbook codependency. The victim trying to save the person claiming to be one.

All I know for sure is I had to get her out. I wanted her to have a chance. It's the only time since she was a little girl I've done the right thing for her.

I feel like a zombie as I walk back into the kitchen. Empty, cold, nothing. I've been dead inside for years. I carefully put the rubber band around the letters, binding them all back together. Neat and tidy little time bombs. I have no idea if they have saved our lives or just blown them up completely.
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