Trigger warning: alcohol abuse, death/loss, depression
They stumbled through the front door. Aria grunted under Camden’s weight again. She had his arm around her shoulders to pull him through the parking lot and to their door. Her neck and shoulders would be in pain the next morning, but this was the best way of getting him from point A to point B.
Thank God they lived in a first-floor apartment.
When they were close enough to the couch, she let him fall. He missed, sliding off the edge of the couch and onto the floor.
“Ow,” he complained.
She ignored him and focused on dropping the keys into the ceramic bowl they had by the door. They clattered loudly in the silence of the room; the sound jarring in comparison.
Aria took a moment to center herself. To calm the anger and frustration that burned within her, yet again. Or could it be considered “again” if it never went away in the first place? If Camden did this to himself and to her every night for months now?
His mother is dying, she reminded herself. This will pass. He’s dealing with grief the only way he knows how.
God, if the only way he knew how to deal with grief was to get so drunk he couldn’t see straight, what did that say about him?
What did it say about her that she let him?
She looked over at him and sighed. Resigned to his fate on the floor, Camden had shuffled himself to be sitting up. He leaned against the couch with his knees pulled up in front of him.
“Come on,” Aria said. “I’ll help you to bed.”
“I don’t want your help,” he snarled.
It was a true miracle that she didn’t react. She’d been working on that in therapy, to learn how to respond instead of react. This became more important after he’d called her useless and annoying a month ago. Aria reacted by leaving him on the floor and slamming the door behind her.
Right now, she needed to take a minute to breathe before responding. She turned her face to the ceiling and closed her eyes, taking in a deep breath and blowing it out. She imagined the air filling her lungs was clean, fresh, and light. As she blew out, Aria imagined blowing out all the fire in her gut—all the resentment.
He’s like this sometimes, Aria reminded herself. It wasn’t him talking. It was the alcohol. The six shots of whiskey, two beers, and one shot of tequila were the mean ones, not him. Camden was a kind and gentle man when he was sober; when he was himself. Tonight wasn’t that bad in comparison to other nights. At least he wasn’t calling her a bitch and yelling at her to leave him again like he did every night last week.
Theoretically, if she didn’t let him go to these parties, they wouldn’t have a problem. He wouldn’t be around the alcohol, and she wouldn’t have to deal with the drunk monster he always became. But all it took was one night for her to discover it wasn’t that easy. One night that she begged him not to go out, that she convinced him to stay in with her, that he asked to go to bed early. When she woke up an hour later, Camden’s side of the bed was empty.
She spent that night pacing around their apartment. Aria called his friends in an effort to track him down until she heard something slam into their front door. She looked through the peephole, and there he was, barely conscious, fumbling with the keys.
The next morning, she found his car parked across two spaces with a new dent on the right side of the front bumper. He’d driven himself home drunk. From that night on, she decided if she couldn’t keep him from drinking, she’d at least make sure he was safe while doing it.
“So, you’re going to stay there all night?” she asked him.
“No. I can do it.” Camden reached his hands out beside him and tried to push up from the floor. He got high enough to slip onto the edge of the couch, but lost his balance before he could get fully upright. “Shit.”
“Camden, come on. Quit being stubborn. Let me help, please.”
He glared up at her, his too-long brown hair falling in his eyes. “Because you’re judging me.”
“No, I’m not.”
“Yes, you are. I can feel it. All you ever do is judge me these days.”
“Well, if you didn’t get drunk all the time,” she muttered under her breath.
Camden narrowed his eyes at her. “What did you say?”
“No. Say it, Aria.”
She sighed and said, “Well, if you didn’t get drunk all the time.” A part of her regretted it the second she said it. A larger part, though, felt good to let out the anger she’d been holding onto.
For a long moment, he stared at her. This was an indication that he was about to get vicious. Aria took the prolonged silence as an opportunity to brace herself for whatever insult he’d hurl her way this time.
The thought felt foreign. This whole situation felt foreign. She looked at him—at the meanness carved into his features, at the alcoholic flush in his cheeks—and nearly didn’t recognize him. How did we get here? She thought. How did we go from falling madly in love over a chemistry textbook to… this?
“Well, I’m sorry my mother slowly dying is inconvenient for you,” he spat.
Death. It didn’t just kill the person; it killed a little part of every person who loved the dead.
“That’s not what I meant,” Aria said. “And you know that.” She crossed the room to kneel beside him, resting a hand on his knee as she looked up at him. “Camden, I am so sorry about your mom. I know… I can imagine how painful this is for you.” Her therapist had been coaching her in ways to speak to Camden in this place. She’d learned the importance of I know versus I can imagine. She didn’t know his pain, but watching him every night, she could imagine it. “But…”
“But what? What caveat are you going to put on my grief?”
The question stunned her for a moment. Sometimes she forgot Camden was one semester away from a Master’s degree in Literature. The years he’d spent studying the written word always snuck up on her in conversation.
“But,” she continued, “I don’t see how drinking yourself into oblivion every night is helping.”
“Then you can’t imagine my pain at all.”
Instead of responding, she took a few steps toward him and held out her hand. He eyed it for a moment before grabbing it, allowing her to help him off the couch.
They walked together into the bedroom. Aria stood firm for him while he grabbed onto her shoulder, using her for balance as he took off his clothes. Stripped to his underwear, Camden walked along the edge of the bed to get to his side, then fell into the blankets.
After changing out of her dress and into a set of pajamas, Aria slid into bed beside him. He lay on his side, facing away from her. She took the risk of pressing her body against his, wrapping an arm around his waist. Sometimes, he welcomed the comfort, but other times he pushed her away. When he didn’t rock backward to push her off, she settled in further.
Despite how mean he could be when he was drunk, she still loved him. More than she ever thought it was possible to love someone. Sometimes she couldn’t breathe; she was so consumed with it. Her love for him felt too big. But, once she realized she loved him two years ago, she knew there was no going back. She’d love him for the rest of her life.
He loved her, too. Regardless of what this grief was doing to him, Aria knew he loved her. Camden was the one who realized what they had first, and he spent weeks doting on her—wooing her. Showing her a fierce kind of love that she had only ever dreamed about.
That was why this was so difficult. The insults, the drinking, the pain. Aria knew how much it hurt him to watch his mom suffer, but damn it, he had no idea how much it hurt her to watch him suffer.
Tears stung her eyes. She squeezed them shut, trying to keep herself from crying, but it was no use. The more she thought about Camden—about how much she loved him, and how much he was hurting—the anger she felt before dissipated. In its place rushed a tidal wave of sorrow.
“I can’t keep doing this,” Aria whispered, voice breaking.
His body stiffened before he rolled over, facing her. “Are you crying?”
“I can’t keep doing this, Camden. I can’t keep watching you torture yourself and pass it off as grief.”
“You’re right. I can’t imagine your pain. But you can’t imagine mine either.”
He shook his head, face pressed against the pillow. “That’s not fair.”
“Do you even see me at all anymore?” she asked. She lifted a hand up to touch the side of Camden’s face, brushing her thumb across his cheek. “Do you see what you’re doing to me?”
She didn’t know what she wanted him to say back. That he saw her? He was sorry? He didn’t realize she was in pain too? The possibilities ran through her mind in the silence. The longer the silence stretched, the more worried she became. What would he say? Was he still too drunk to be kind?
After a long moment, Camden reached a hand up to her face. He tucked her hair behind her ear, and in the dark, she could hear the quivering in his breath. Camden never cried, not until his mom’s diagnosis.
“I can’t see a way out of this,” Camden said, voice soft in the quietness of the night. “I know… I know this isn’t healthy. But it’s the only thing that makes me feel better right now. My mom was… She still is one of the most important people in my life. I can’t imagine my life without her in it. So drinking helps me forget.”
Every muscle in Aria’s body ached to cuddle closer to him. To give him comfort, and hug him, and tell him everything would be okay. But it wouldn’t, and no amount of alcohol would fix that.
“The drinking is also pushing people away. It’s pushing your friends away, and it’s pushing me away. I can’t keep living like this.”
“I know. I’m sorry.” He broke down then, crying harder than she’d ever seen. “I’m so sorry.”
Aria didn’t want to make him cry. She wasn’t trying to break him. But damn it, she had been waiting to hear him say those words for months now. To see that he wasn’t the only one hurting. That he wasn’t alone.
“It’s okay,” she told him. She moved closer, pressing her body against his and wrapping her arms around him. She held him while he cried, smoothing his hair and kissing his temple. “It’s okay. I’m here. We’ll get through this together.”
Featured image by Public Domain Pictures, courtesy of Pixabay