I can’t tell if the boat is rocking or the spins have started. I’ve been sitting on the floor propped up against my bunk for the last hour or so. Memories of the past have hit me harder than I expected, and I pray I’ve drunk enough booze to drown this suffocating sadness. I knew this would happen: without fail, it occurs every time I take to the bottle. Deep inside though, I know this is what I wanted to happen.
Being drunk is the only way I can think of her without sinking into depression. Sure, it hurts like hell. And I always regret the drinking—not just the way my body feels the next day, but also the way I let the sadness take over so aggressively. The drinking helps though. I become sad, but it’s dulled by the booze—and the hangover offsets the lingering depression. More importantly, the sickness allows me to forget the memories for a while. It’s not a healthy system, but it’s the only way I know how to cope.
Though, this night is different. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m alone at sea, or because of the strange flickering light—or simply because I don’t have enough booze to get the job done correctly—but I can’t shake the memories this time. Her face, her eyes, they keep coming to me. Even as the room spins out of control and my insides churn, I can’t think of anything else but her.
Why, oh why, did I let her down? I told myself I’d go clean for her: no booze, no drugs, no womanizing. I promised I’d give it all up for her—but I slipped up. It only happened that one time, but that’s all it took. Just one mistake.
It was a cold December night in Michigan. It had just snowed nearly a foot during the day and the roads were all but shut down. The snow plows would work feverishly to clear the streets by morning, but we lived too far out for them to get to us until much later than normal. Natalia had just gone to sleep when the power went out.
It was still fairly early, and I didn’t feel like going to bed yet. With the power out I couldn’t do anything for entertainment, and I remember feeling extremely restless. I’m not sure what sparked the idea, but at some point, I found myself staring at the liquor cabinet. It didn’t take long before I was able to talk myself into having a drink; I was always very good at coming up with reasons as to why I deserved to have just “one” drink. I was a fool.
I can still feel the shame that came over me as I slowly took that first sip. I had promised my wife I was done—I said I wouldn’t go back to the bottle ever again—for Natalia’s sake. But I was, am, weak. Even as I was drinking the alcohol, cognac as it were, I knew I could stop right there—and everything would still be fine. It would have been just a moment of weakness and I could say I overcame it. But I didn’t. No, I drank that glass of cognac. Then I drank a second—and a third—and a fourth—and before I knew it, my world was crashing down around me.
I was sitting in my recliner, absolutely hammered, when I got a phone call; it was my wife. Her car couldn’t drive in the snow and she needed me to pick her up from work in my Jeep Wrangler. I hadn’t realized she even left the house. I checked the time on my phone and realized it was noon. I had passed out the night before.
She told me they were letting her leave the diner early because it started snowing heavily again and they hadn’t had a customer in over an hour. She didn’t sound mad, so I figured she must not have noticed the shape I was in when she left. At that time, I would often fall asleep watching TV, so it wasn’t out of the ordinary for me to be sleeping in my chair when she left for work in the morning.
I remember getting out of the chair and realizing I had pissed myself during the night. Worse, I was still too drunk to clean up properly, let alone drive a vehicle. But, I did my “best” to sober up enough to get her: I sprayed the chair with carpet cleaner, took a cold shower, got dressed, and left the house 35 minutes after my wife called me.
There were no cars on the road, and the thick snow gave me enough traction to drive steadily to the diner. I couldn’t see straight and was all over the road, but since there wasn’t anyone else out, I felt confident in getting where I needed to be. As it were, I did slide into the guardrail multiple times—and that wasn’t due to anything other than my own drunkenness.
My memory gets a little hazy around this part. I don’t remember picking up my wife, just us driving back towards our house. I shouldn’t have been behind the wheel at that point; but my wife must not have known I was drunk until it was too late. Natalia was very scared, and I could see tears in her eyes. I tried to comfort her, but my words only seemed to infuriate my wife.
There was a lot of smoke, and I remember a thick, warm liquid running down my face. The tree we hit had split at the base and it was leaning dramatically to the left. I couldn’t see well as my eyes were covered by blood, but I was able to make out my wife’s face next to me; it was twisted and lifeless. A chunk of metal guardrail had smashed into her head and left her with a large gash, and her mouth was agape grotesquely; she had died on impact.
A deep panic suddenly set in. Not because my wife, but because of the soft whimper that came from the back seat. I don’t even remember bringing Natalia with me. But there she was, barely breathing, with a sliver of glass sticking out from her tiny chest. I tried reaching out for her, but my arm was badly broken and I was pinned in place by the gnarled steering wheel. All I could do was look at her—and watch as her life slowly slipped away.
Smoke started pouring in from the engine, and my lungs began to burn badly. I stared into Natalia’s brown eyes, hoping somehow this was all a bad dream. She looked back at me, her face sullen—and—it was like she knew—knew that I had broken my promise, and this was all my fault. But even as the life faded from those soft brown eyes, and my angel was drifting away from this world, I could tell she was looking deep within me—seeing something I couldn’t see in myself: something good, something worthwhile. Her eyes told me I was forgiven. But I knew if I’d lived, I’d never forgive myself.
I fell in love Natalia the first time I laid eyes on her. It was just after birth when the nurse handed her to me, and all I could do was cry softly as I looked at her tiny, beautiful face. I knew from that moment on she would be my whole world—the reason I would finally face my demons. Everything I did from that moment on was for that little girl.
That’s all that kept going through my head during Natalia’s last moments in this world. The only thing I could tell her before she was gone was that everything would be okay. That was the last thing I said to her—and I knew it was a lie. My love, my life, she was gone—because of me. She was only two-years-old.