Living Alone

by Terry Hennessy

Rosima, 1984, by David Seidner

I used to have a husband and three children. They are all gone now. First he left, and I didn't know what to do. No one in my family had ever gotten a divorce. A neighbor suggested I have a glass of wine to calm down in the evening. I was three thousand miles away from my natural family, and the unthinkable had happened. My husband had found someone else. The children were 8 months, 18 months, and 8 years old.

I rented a small house, put the two babies in childcare, and got a full-time job. I went to all of my son's Little League games and tried to watch him as I chased the two toddlers.

The glass of wine turned into two or three. I was introduced to Bloody Mary's on Sunday mornings. I was angry, lonely and full of fear. Each day was a struggle.

I began to date to find a replacement for the father who didn't come to visit. Some of the guys were nice, but weren't interested in my children. I explained we were a package deal and the men soon departed. I was more fearful of getting trapped into another bad marriage than the comfort of another man. I began drinking scotch at night.

We moved several times to less expensive houses. The car broke down. The babysitter quit. Child support payments were few and far between. The bills kept piling up on the kitchen table. One Sunday afternoon I was ironing when the doorbell rang. My ex, his girlfriend and another couple had made a surprise visit. His new Jaguar sat at the curb in sharp contrast to our rusted Buick with its torn vinyl top that sat in our driveway.

The children were delighted to see him. Always the gracious hostess, I served drinks while I seethed inside. I was grateful for the excuse to have an afternoon drink to calm me because I wanted to kill him.

Seven years passed and my oldest son, now 15, went to live with his dad. He was sick of listening to me complain. I had stomach problems. I had lost weight. I smoked two packs of cigarettes a day. I was a jumble of nerves. The scotch bottle was always half-empty.

Everyone had advice for me. They wanted me to take my ex to court, but no one offered to give the attorney the advance he required. Once I went to court as my own attorney, and trembled as I read a statement to the judge. I did get a check for the next few months, but then the checks stopped. As a last resort we moved into low-income housing. Each night my glass of scotch got a little larger.

Two years later, my ex-husband took the two younger children, who were now 9 and 10. They moved into a beautiful house in another city with their new stepmother. They belonged to the country club and played tennis. My daughter went to ballet classes and my sons learned to play golf. Their stepmother didn't have to work, so she sewed Halloween costumes for them.

I moved into a studio apartment. It had a long narrow room with some kitchen appliances at the end. Two windows were covered with dirty shades. There was a box spring and mattress in the corner, and an old black & white TV on the floor. A cardboard box served as a table. I went to the thrift store and bought one plate, one knife, one fork, and one 12 oz tumbler glass. Two small bath towels graced the bathroom.

My ex put all my earthly belongings into storage. He told me the children would come back to live with me when I stopped drinking, but he didn't tell me how. I went to work each day pretending my life was normal. I avoided friends because I didn't want to tell them why my children weren't with me.

I felt very sick, but I never missed work. Only alcoholics missed work. How could a nice girl like me be an alcoholic? I'd never been arrested. I didn't even get traffic tickets. I didn't drink during the day. If you had my problems, you'd drink after work too.

Living alone, I had no one to cook for so I didn't bother to eat dinner. I ate some crackers with my glass of scotch. I watched the snowy television set, not hearing a word. The sun peeked through the drawn shade signaling it was time to go to work again. I dragged myself down the street to the bus stop wondering what had happened to me.

Weeks went by and I didn't see the children because I couldn't afford to visit. I got sicker...emotionally, spiritually and physically. My co-workers drove me to the hospital when I arrived at work hallucinating. The emergency room doctors put me in the intensive care unit. I had an IV in each arm. My family was notified I would probably die within the next 24 hours because I had alcohol-induced hepatitis. I didn't care and looked forward to the rest.

Medical science brought me back to life physically, but my soul was empty. My oldest son came to visit and looked at me with total disgust. He asked a simple question, "Why are you doing this to yourself?" I had no answer. How could I explain to him that I would sacrifice my life for him, but I couldn't stop drinking? I didn't know how.

A week later I returned to my apartment, now brightened by some furniture donated by co-workers. I felt ashamed by their love and concern, and wondered whether the prayers they had said would make a difference. I hadn't said a prayer in a very long time.

Slowly I began to recover. The windows got curtains, and the dirty shades were removed. I bought a few more dishes. I didn't touch the bottle of scotch in the closet. Fear of death had replaced my fear of living without alcohol. My children called and promised to visit. I bought a picture at a flea market that said "I Love You Very” and hung it on the wall beside my bed.

Ninety days without a drink, and the small apartment no longer looks dismal. Sun pours through the window across the new carpet, a small Christmas tree stands in the corner, and the children are coming. They arrive with sleeping bags and pillows, a jumble of nerves and laughter. The little room welcomes them, and they look upon their visit as a new adventure. My heart swells with hope and I realize those prayers have been answered.

The Author works as an Executive Assistant. Elected to Tiburon Town Council in 1995, Mayor in 1997. Celebrates 21 years of sobriety. Mother of three, grandmother of five. Currently working on memoir.

This article and others in Real Life are sponsored by Julia
Wilkinson, author of Moxie's "Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire" and the book "My Life at AOL" which is available at or

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