"No... no it was in '63 I'm sure of it," he said.
I didn't have the heart to argue with him further. It was in '65 when we got married and I became Mrs. Harold Barksdale. Not in '63.
There were a lot of things Harold was forgetting or misremembering lately. Sometimes a date, sometimes a name, but always with the certainty that I was wrong and he was right. The doctors said this would happen as his condition progressed. I guess I thought it would take longer, but part of me is relieved.
The disease seems to have sped up it's timetables lately. Soon he'll need 24/7 care and I'll have to hire someone or put him in a home. He never wanted to go to a home. I know that. I tell myself that he's not really Harold anymore. There are brief glimpses of the man I married 57 years ago, but they fade so quickly now and the look of sedated bewilderment soon returns. I feel a little better about putting him in a home if he won't really know the difference. What an awful thought. I'm a terrible person for even considering it. I have only a finite number of years left on this planet and I don't want to spend them taking care of a 96 year old baby. I'll have to feed him, change him, do all the things you would do if you were caring for an infant. The cycle of life's conclusion is much like it's beginning for many people, but after raising five kids I'm done with all of that. I'm not going to change Harold's diapers, I just won't do it.
The kids have made half-hearted offers to help out, but most live far away and their offers are just empty gestures meant to appease their guilt more than anything. I can't blame them for their reluctance. Harold was a difficult man. The drinking didn't always make things worse. There were good times and happy memories together as a family, but his alcoholism eventually infected all parts of our home life. Harold wasn't an alcoholic like you see in tv and movies. He didn't shout, or get violent or inappropriate. He'd just check out. He'd sit down in front of the tv and drink beer after beer until he'd pass out. He wasn't very abusive or even absent. He was there, always right there in the living room sitting on the sofa recliner watching tv. You could talk with him, but you wouldn't ever get much out of him.
I didn't know what to do. No one tells you how to handle a partner who would rather be inebriated than spend quality time with his family. There are no instructions, no road map to help you navigate the terrain. Instead you have to machete your way by hand through the jungle and hope the path you've cut for your children gets them safely through. I told myself for many years that I had. The kids were alright, I thought. They all had jobs or careers and were in healthy relationships. At least it seemed that way from the outside. But as children growing up in an alcoholic family they learned to hide what went on at home. They learned to keep up appearances. I didn't know I was teaching that to them at the time. I didn't know what else to do. You don't share with people that your husband is a pathetic alcoholic and his emotional absence in his children's lives is causing all kinds of developmental problems. The shame doesn't let you.
Should I have left him? Where would I have gone with five children? I tell myself that I didn't have options, but I know it's a lie. There were people I could have turned to, people I could have confided in. But Harold was never abusive and so I never left. That's the thing about a 'nice' alcoholic.
He's sleeping now. He dozes off at about this time in the afternoon every day. It's one of the only times I have to myself. Sometimes I find myself hoping he won't wake up. It's terrible to think, but I can't help it. It would make my life so much easier. And it would save Harold from having to endure the last stages of his disease. He'd be free of the confusion and pain. I like to imagine my life without him sometimes, the freedom I would have. I hate myself for having such thoughts. If Harold had been a better man then I wouldn't be having them. But he wasn't, so I am. I hate Harold for that.
I usually take some time to read when Harold naps in the afternoons, but today I feel like going for a walk. It's a pleasant day out and the sun feels nice as it hits my skin. I walk to the park down the street. There are children playing on the swing set, their parents chat on the benches nearby. I stop to watch them for a few moments and I can't help but wonder what their families are like. What they're really like. Do they hide the truth like we did? Maybe they're happy and healthy and know nothing of pretending. The first line of Anna Karenina has always stuck with me: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Perhaps they have their own brand of unhappiness. The parents have noticed me staring now. I smile and wave at them and they do the same. No one thinks too much of an old lady like me.
I continue on my walk and circle the park, taking in the fresh air. I make my way back to the house slowly, I'm in no rush. As I put the key into the door I feel a sense of dread. I am familiar with this feeling by now and so it doesn't bother me terribly. Though it is still there, gnawing in the background. I find Harold exactly where I left him, snoring in his armchair. Exactly where he spent our marriage, in that armchair. I sigh.