Pressed against the passenger seat, I grappled with my safety belt, held hostage in a truck racing ninety miles an hour down the blackest road I’d ever seen. For two hours from Austin to Houston, a raging drunk screamed in my ear how this was all my fault.
Wallace had obviously lied to me about not drinking earlier that night. We were only at the festival to catch a friend’s band, and planned to leave after saying hello. After I caught him with a beer, he insisted his 300-pound body would absorb it, if he waited an hour before driving. He never told me that even one drop of alcohol went straight to his head, his liver destroyed from years of heavy abuse he never mentioned. Years of rage and guilt now poured out, filling the cab.
“I’m the best man you’ll ever know! I love you, Little Bettie -- I’ve done everything I can for you. And you just used me. Think you’re too good for me -- but I’ll show you I’m a damn good! The best writer, the best producer – the best husband you need! You just don’t know it, and I’m right here! Right next to you!”
I knew I was there for a reason. Every instinct in my body felt absolute fear I could die on the road. But my mind was locked on the spiritual purpose keeping us alive. Wallace didn’t trust me enough to tell me the truth, but trusted me to forgive the truth, no matter how it came out. I absorbed the stress of the moment, and let my friend vent. He needed me to walk with him through this painful glimpse of a much longer journey. For the first time he opened up and let me share his reality. And understand the raw destruction he ran from, dousing his demons in alcohol he chose to drink alone. Until this one night he lit those demons on fire, and finally trusted me to feel the pain he felt every day. And not run away.
I refused to leave him alone. If I was there for a purpose, I would stay to the end. When we got back to his house in Houston, Wallace collapsed on the couch, groaning in agony. I grabbed his hand, afraid to leave his side. Afraid to close my eyes, for fear I’d fall asleep and awake to find him choking on his own vomit. If he hid his drinking problem from me, what else would he lie about? Telling me he was okay, when he wasn’t? All I knew was to bring him water. I begged him to tell me honestly: Do I need to call for help? To rush him to the hospital? My simple ignorance that allowed him to drag me into his drama also prevented me from knowing how to get him out alive.
“I’m okay, Little Bettie. The water’s plenty enough. I only had one beer. I’ll be fine.”
How was I supposed to believe him?
“Thank you for staying here with me,” he mumbled in pain. He tried to describe it to me, as if his whole body had been filled with shards of glass stabbing him from the inside. I wanted to cry, but I hid my tears from him. The way he hid his suffering from me. I didn’t want him to worry about me, but just make it through the night.
He did. And over time, more truth came out, one incident at a time.
On New Years’ Eve, when Wallace guilt-tripped me into visiting him at a guest house, he had raided his friends’ liquor cabinet and lied to us all. I was so caught up in the same old arguments between us, I never knew he used that to cover up even worse. All I remembered from that night was Jimmy, our poet friend, drove me all the way up to Northwest Houston. To stop Wallace and me from arguing over the phone all night. And finish the argument in person.
“Elizabeth is not going to be your wife! She’s not in love with you. That’s not why she’s here! She loves you, because she’s your friend. And I’m your friend, and I love you both!”
Jimmy was annoyed, having to play referee and chauffeur for two ingrates ready to strangle each other.
“I brought her here to make you happy. So be happy, you stubborn bastard! Shut up and enjoy your New Year together!”
Somehow Jimmy made more sense to Wallace, saying it in his own words, than whatever I tried that wasn’t working.
I only knew I would never have interrupted my quiet New Years’ alone, if Wallace hadn’t called, blaming me for why he was lonely. Somehow I knew, somebody had to be praying to Jesus, or I never would have sacrificed my peace and quiet to waste time arguing with Wallace, again, about why I was never attracted to him. He didn’t understand love between a man and a woman, unless it was sexual. I couldn’t explain spiritual love to him, because he wasn’t Christian and didn’t talk about God’s love the same way.
We had even gone to a church workshop by a marriage counselor, to figure out how to communicate without fighting worse than couples going through a breakup. As one of my students noted, after hearing me on the phone, yelling at Wallace: “Whoever that is you’re talking to, you two need to get divorced!” Ironically, we were never trying to separate, but fighting to be better friends.
The person I credit most for saving our relationship, and my friend’s life, is my spiritual counselor and prayer minister, Olivia. While she always gave the glory to Jesus, if it weren’t for her, Wallace wouldn’t be alive today. Since he isn’t Christian, without her help, he would never have received the healing prayer that is one of Olivia’s spiritual gifts. I tried to explain forgiveness to Wallace before, but it never worked. He couldn’t forgive and let go the same way Christians do, who give up all their troubles to Jesus on the cross, and let God forgive what they can’t manage on their own. I asked him: Can you envision handing all your stress and worries up to the Universe, the Heavens above, and asking God’s help to give you just one thought, one step at a time you can focus on to solve those problems? Will that meditation work?
Buddhist meditations and positive affirmations help the mind to let go, with problems within our will and choice to change. But for collective cycles of issues built up over generations, it can take a proportional amount of prayers, beyond any single individual, to forgive and break through those deeply engrained patterns. And that’s where I turned to my friend Olivia to help Wallace make that breakthrough, when the mind isn’t strong enough to overcome emotional burdens blocking the way.
The day my friend Wallace called me, after moving away from Texas to escape the bad memories, nothing I said could help him through the next stage in his life. Instead, I assured him that if he called Olivia, whatever they prayed for would open up the right path to stay on track. I already knew the prayers for healing would be answered, though the manifestation was unpredictable as always. I shouldn’t have been surprised to hear from Wallace that his diabetes symptoms had disappeared. His doctors wanted to draw blood and run tests to find out what in his system enabled his condition to change, given his troubled history. They were baffled, but my friend Olivia just laughed and praised God.
The second time he called Olivia, Wallace had finally recognized lifelong issues with guilt from his childhood he had blamed on his parents. I knew at that point he was ready for the deeper prayers to remove the root cause of lifelong addiction and abuse. After he prayed with her that time, I remember he told me: “Your friend Olivia is a very wise woman.” I didn’t need to hear the details. I just knew Wallace was going to be fine. I would never have to worry about him again, lying to cover up anything more. I knew all his wounds would be healed, and there would be nothing left to hide.
I wasn’t prepared for the backlash that followed, despite warnings from others who had navigated similar paths. With close friends recovering from alcohol abuse, you can expect to be blamed and cut out of their lives. At some point when they break free, they discard the boosters that become useless after their rocket launches into space. I hated to know Wallace would forever blame me for our failures, while I saw our lost battles as part of the road to success.
Someday, we might be able to be friends again. Not afraid of bringing up old problems, but fighting over silly things like normal friends do. Until then, I’m thankful to have that chance at all, even if it never happens. If I served my purpose for being in his life, I am grateful Wallace is even alive. Not hiding alone, drinking and destroying himself from the inside out. But far away from his troubled past, enjoying healthier friendships and a happier life. With a much stronger woman by his side, who sees him and loves him the way he deserves to be loved.