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THE ROAD LESS TRAVELLED
After eight years of being married to an abusive alcoholic, Melanie is relieved when her husband, Jeff finally gets sober but after a few months of sobriety he gets drunk again and things go from bad to much, much worse. When he takes his own life Melanie is thrown into the deep end and must sink or swim. Thankfully she has lifesavers and one of those who comes to her aid is her next door neighbour, Sigrid, along with Sigrid’s sister, Elke. She is drawn closer to Elke as the relationship between Sigrid and Louise deepens but will Melanie and Elke go down the same path or is this just plain friendship?
It’s been over eighteen years since Jeff took his own life and so much water has passed under the bridge. Brave little James, who raced across the street to alert our neighbour is now twenty six and has just started detective school after six years in uniform, he’s merely following the example of his second mum, Elke is also a detective. Alison is currently doing digital art for a games company and Beckie is a self published writer with her first book due out in time for Christmas. Despite the fact that alcoholism is a hereditary illness, it has not manifested itself in any of my children. An older A.A member once told me it tends to zig zag around and even skip an entire generation so I’m quietly confident my children will not have to fight this illness.
Another thing that changed of course is my choice of partner. Elke and I got together not long after Jeff’s suicide but before I get to that I must write about the events that led up to it. Louise left quite a bit out but that’s because there were things that really only became obvious later.
The day he took his own life is forever etched in my brain but there are other days before that as well. Jeff’s ardour for A.A had cooled somewhat in the last two months of his life, now that peace had returned to the home front. I was no longer a ‘nagging bitch’ and indeed he’d apologised for his years of verbal abuse. I use that term somewhat loosely, he acknowledged he’d been an arsehole but all that was ‘water under the bridge.’ I thought it a rather lame apology but these things take time and perhaps I had to do more work on me.
However reality had started to creep in. Jeff’s marriage might have suffered but his business was virtually dead. He’d been forced to let his boys go and go to work for another builder, Hans, the owner of H & E Building. Hans was old enough to be Jeff’s father and his boys have carried on the business now that their father has retired, but Hans was everything that Jeff wasn’t. He had just moved into the commercial sector.
It was a big change to go from sole proprietor to employee. Jeff resented it and as they say in A.A, resentment is a killer. No longer could he just down tools when he felt like it, now he had to keep working until one of Hans’ sons told him to stop. Of course none of them knew of Jeff’s resentment, like all his inner turmoil he kept it hidden. No one was more surprised than Hans when Jeff finally topped himself. I had some warning that the resentment was building because he’d refer to Hans as ‘that bloody Kraut bastard.’ Jeff wasn’t what I’d call racist, he had jokes he’d tell that were racist but when push came to shove he accepted other cultures readily. When I quite calmly suggested he work for another builder he muttered something about Hans was paying more.
What do you say to that? You say nothing, you merely nod and come out with an A.A saying, Easy Does It, Live or Let Live, or my favourite, Surrender to Win. He would wince when I came up with A.A sayings and move onto other subjects.
Suffice it to say, the resentment built up inside him until finally he picked up a drink, just to calm his nerves and wound up totally paralytic drunk. I came home from Elke’s house with the kids and found him nursing a beer one Sunday morning, his hair of the dog that’d bitten him the night before. When I flared up and told him I was through with his shit he hit me.
Most alcoholics have their ‘invisible red lines’ and you have to be an alcoholic to understand that tautology. Basically it comes down to personal ultimatums. If I get done for drink driving I’ll quit, if I lose my marriage, my job, etcetera, I’ll quit. The end result of course is that when they reach one of these ultimatums they merely extend the line further out and keep drinking. I had my red line but it was bright red and plainly visible, and unlike his shifting lines in the sand this one was set in concrete and was clearly signposted. When he’d first stopped drinking and the brain stopped rattling I told him the only reason I’d stayed was because he’d never hit me or cheated on me.
“But if you raise your hands to me, drunk or sober, or cheat on me I’ll end this marriage in a heartbeat.”
I’d chosen my moment well, he was lucid and quietly reflective but now he was full of anger, guilt and booze. He thought I was joking when I picked up the phone but then I spoke to a policeman and told him my husband had illegal bahis just assaulted me. After giving my details, I called Elke, who was on duty at Ringwood and told her as well. I knew cops were wary of domestic abuse calls. By the time I got off the phone to her, Jeff was packing his clothes and heading for the door. His final words sent a chill down my spine.
“You’re lucky they took my guns, because I’d put a bullet in you.”
Elke was around that night and by then the police had already taken a statement and checked all his hiding places for any weapons that might have been hidden. Her advice was to take out a restraining order against him and I agreed that it was on the cards but I wanted to see what would happen in the next week. A restraining order would only be necessary if I thought my life was in danger and I still didn’t know how much of his statement was just the drink talking.
That week was hellish for me. I jumped at every car that went past at night, I took the kids out of school for a week and took them to dad and mum’s place. I wanted them as far away from the house as possible but Jeff stayed away, I did get a phone call from him on Thursday night and he hadn’t been drinking. He apologised for his actions and told me he didn’t mean it when he said he’d shoot me, and could we talk? I kind of agreed and set a date for Saturday night.
“I’ll be home around six but if I’m not there just wait and we’ll talk.”
“I love you,” he replied.
It should have made me happy, I used to have to squeeze that phrase out of him but at that point I was walking on eggshells. Sigrid had stayed over earlier in the week for a few nights but wasn’t with me when he called, I went to an Alanon meeting on the Friday night and then stayed over at Elke’s place. I did get a call from Sigrid that night saying that Jeff had pulled into the driveway but when he saw my car wasn’t there he drove away.
On the Saturday, Sigrid and Louise went on their mystery flight, and I went to work in the morning and then over to Templestowe to get the kids. We talked that afternoon and I explained that while daddy and mummy loved them very much, we were having problems so daddy might not be living with us for a while. When Alison asked how long I simply shrugged.
“I don’t know, sweetie.”
That afternoon was tiring but my family was around me and supportive as well. I did intend to be home by six but when the kids wanted to watch the end of Jurassic Park I gave in and we didn’t get home until eight thirty.
Now here’s where it gets hazy because there are two conflicting opinions as to what he intended that night. What we do know for sure is that he bought booze from the bottle shop at the Ferntree Gully hotel and drove to Olinda. Stan, our neighbour from a couple of houses up saw him pull in about six or so and park in the driveway, he came out to piss on my flowers, what he called watering the garden and then went back into the garage. It was the last time he was seen alive.
I got home at eight thirty and was just getting out of the car when I heard the sound of a car engine from inside the garage. Telling the kids to stay in the car, I opened the garage. What I saw had me frozen to the spot in shock and confusion.
Jeff’s ute was in the garage but it was still running and then I saw the tube going from the exhaust pipe to the passenger window, the car was filled with smoke. It was only after a few seconds I realised what he’d done and picking up a tyre iron on the bench, I smashed the window and hauled him outside. He was a dead weight and not breathing. James got out of the car while I was trying to revive his father and I screamed at him to get the neighbour. He stood stock still, just staring at his father in the light flooding out from the garage.
“Get Stan now,” I screamed at him.
He jumped and darted off down the driveway and by then the girls were out of the car, they didn’t know what was going on but they knew something terrible had happened because I was crying and slapping his chest. They started crying and I tried to give him mouth to mouth but first aid wasn’t a skill I’d learned, it was only when Stan came over that he was able to make a better attempt at resuscitation but it was all in vain. The paramedics arrived shortly afterwards but they couldn’t revive him either.
“He’s been gone too long,” one of them told me, “even if we did manage to get his heart started the part of his brain that tells him to wake up is dead. He’d be a vegetable on life support for the rest of his life.”
Stan brought his girlfriend over and they got the kids inside while I called Louise because Sigrid still hadn’t come home yet. I told them what had happened and they promised to come back right away. My next call was to Elke, she’d just finished her shift and jumped back in her car and drove up the mountain to be there, Agnetha was also on her way and I do remember calling mum. I felt as if everything was happening in slow motion and I was just standing outside myself watching illegal bahis siteleri from a distance. When one of the cops called me back outside to the garage and held up a sawn of shotgun in a plastic bag I gave him a blank look.
“Where was that?”
“On the front seat,” he replied, “it’s fully loaded and we also found a box of shells.”
“I never knew he had it, I thought the guns were all gone. The police searched the house this week again, after he threatened to shoot me.”
Louise and Sigrid never found out about that for months afterwards because no one knew what to make of the find and for good reason. When faced with a choice of ways to kill yourself, a gun is the easiest and most painless, death through carbon monoxide poisoning takes longer and he would have felt nauseous. Did he go through the motions when he arrived home, hoping I’d arrive in the nick of time to save him? That is one possibility but the gun throws a spanner into the works. Was he intending on killing me and the kids? There’d been a rash of murder suicides in Melbourne about then, all committed by estranged husbands. It took a public outcry and recommendations from the police before the laws were changed to temporarily remove guns from households where a marriage had broken down.
Ultimately the gun was traced to Thommo, who had reported it stolen during the last gun amnesty but then hid it. Because semi-automatics were forbidden on his particular licence, he too lost his guns and wound up in court on firearms charges and for giving a false report to police. His story was equally confusing. Jeff said he wanted to put down a mate’s dog but when Thommo offered to loan him a bolt action .22 he said he needed the shotgun.
In the immediate aftermath of Jeff’s suicide and the funeral I was on auto pilot. It’s the only way to keep functioning. Agnetha explained that to me that following week, the brain shuts down certain parts and enables you to perform basic tasks for a certain period of time. Thus the numbness is just the release of serotonin and it was Agnetha who initially provided the biggest support. Elke was there but spent her time seeing to the kids and generally keeping tabs on things while I tried to organise a funeral with a mother in law who detested me.
Jeff was an only child. He never knew his father but his mother had a house in Surrey Hills and had quite a bit of money. In all the years we were married, I rarely had a decent conversation with Edith, in her opinion all women were gold diggers or tramps. The only woman he could trust was her, Jeff had rebelled when he married me but she conceded that at least I had my own money. However when I kicked him out of the house, I became the enemy and she made it clear that I was to blame for his death. It made for some frosty moments at the funeral home and in the end I gave in and let her have her way.
As funerals go, it was sadder than most because of the circumstances of his passing. His mother was Catholic so it was a Catholic funeral, predictably enough. The kids wanted to know why the man in the dress was waving a smoking object around the coffin. I had to restrain a smirk when I told them it was their custom. Jeff’s mother barely said two words to me at the funeral although she did greet her grandchildren with some attempt at politeness.
However, there was a surprise for me that day, my ex girlfriend, Mandy put in an appearance at the church. I hadn’t seen her in years but she’d read something in the paper about the suicide and put two and two together. The death notice told her where the funeral was being held and when she turned up I felt a slight twinge of guilt. I should have told her.
“Don’t worry about it,” she reassured me, “we haven’t seen each other in years.”
Edith was standing near the car at the time and I pulled Mandy to one side.
“That’s the mother,” I murmured.
“Shouldn’t you be with her?”
“Probably not a good look,” I replied.
We didn’t talk for long but we exchanged contact details and promised to keep in touch, she had been with her partner for three years at that point.
Now that I’ve written it all out it’s time to shut the computer down and go prepare dinner. The girls have decided to come for the weekend. We’re planning on having a barbecue tomorrow if the weather holds out so this will have to wait until later. Elke is doing the washing so it’s my turn to cook the dinner.
It’s Sunday night and Alison and Beckie are back in their old rooms, they go back to Ringwood on Monday night or perhaps Tuesday, they still haven’t made up their minds yet. Both girls live in Elke’s old house, which leads me to the second part of this tale. How did I wind up with Elke? I mean I had been involved with Mandy when I was much younger but apart from the occasional gay twinge as I call it, I was still attracted to men. Elke was bisexual and also liked men and therein lies a tale and a half.
On Saturday night we were both entertained by the girls use of Tinder. We never canlı bahis siteleri had that back in 1998! The Internet was slowly catching on and I had it at home but in the bad old days we had to wait for the modem to connect and then the phone line was engaged until you logged off. These days we live in this interconnected world where we’re always online whether we like it or not, most of the time I don’t like it!
There are two things that stand out for me when I think back to the months after Jeff’s funeral. The first is my calmness, what Alanon members called my serenity, although I certainly had a lot going on beneath the surface! But overall I was calm because I was on compassionate leave and thus had more time at home and with the kids. I had two families around for support, my own family and Elke’s family. The Fønsmarks came through in sterling fashion with offers to babysit or invitations to come for dinner or coffee. Elke commandeered the sofa bed in the living room and I gave her space in my wardrobe for her clothes. She even had her spare uniform there.
The second thing that stands out was my desire for change and I’m not talking about a fresh coat of paint or landscaping the garden. The changes I was looking at were far deeper and very personal. For years I had been a virtual hostage, the classic people pleaser and even though Alanon had given me coping skills I’d been putting out the fires since Jeff first got to A.A. Walking on eggshells was one way of putting it, you never knew when a casual word might set him off. I needed to take stock of my changed situation. I was now a widow with three kids under ten and a career in banking but my marriage had made me wary of losing control.
Thus I avoided emotional entanglements with the opposite sex. The men were circling, I knew that well enough and there were some tradesmen who came to do work at the house who dropped hints that they were on the market. The man who became my unofficial guardian was Jeff’s old sponsor, Bob. F. He had distinguished himself by attending the funeral and helping out around the house, I also noticed that the men seemed to step back once they knew Bob was on the scene. There was never anything between Bob and I at first, he was a good twelve years older than me and although he was single, to his credit he never tried to take advantage of me. There were times he certainly could have done so because there were moments I needed comfort but Bob kept himself at a distance from me physically.
Nevertheless, such constant contact led to a deeper involvement so that when I did surface and go back to work, I was faced with two choices. Bob or Elke. For someone like me it should have been an obvious choice. Bob had a good five years continual sobriety under his belt, he’d been married twice before and lost both marriages to the drink but at least he understood the basics of a healthy marriage.
Sigrid led to my second option, Elke. I had an up close and personal view of the blooming romance between Sigrid and Louise. I’d always thought Louise was straight, I was the bisexual one but seeing those two together really opened up my world and caused me to rethink my sexuality. I knew Elke swung both ways but would it be risking it all to go further with her? Or should I just opt for Bob? To be honest I didn’t have to choose either because none of them were putting pressure on me for anything more than simple friendship.
The children were another issue as any single mother will testify. You instinctively protect them against potential partners who might disrupt the family unit. The kids liked Bob, and James really took to him but they also relied on Elke, it was Elke who read to them at night when I was too tired or needed to attend to housework. It was Elke who babysat whenever I was at Alanon, she very rapidly became my de facto housemate, and when I suggested she get out and about she merely shrugged and said she was happy with her lot.
“For now, when it’s time to move on I will.”
The kids’ reaction to seeing Sigrid and Louise kissing was enlightening. They saw it as normal but wanted to know if they kissed men too, when I said no they seemed to accept that. It just goes to show that children are far more adaptable than we adults think, it stands to reason I guess, their brains are still forging new connections at the most basic level. Mum was more concerned about it than I, she thought they were too young to see such displays of affection.
“They’ll grow up gay.”
She’s certainly eaten her words there! My children are all straight but these days they accept that love is fluid, it finds a natural depression and fills it. Elke’s presence was reassuring, I found myself relying on her more and more but eventually I had to make a move and when Bob asked me out for dinner I said yes.
He asked me the night he took me to my first A.A meeting out at Belgrave. He introduced me to the secretary as an observer and she relayed that to the chairperson for the night, as is their custom. I met some of the people who’d reached out to Jeff when he was going to meetings and made several friends that night. I found at that meeting that the fellowship is all encompassing. I felt the love reverberating through the room and afterwards as we sat in his car he asked me out.
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