Everything was fuzzy until I woke up in the ambulance en route to our local hospital still dressed in clerical attire. The attendant hovered over me taking my blood pressure, my pulse, saying little, his boyish face a mask of concern. As my mind cleared, the horror of what I had done engulfed me. I wanted to die.
“Please Mary, let me die.” But it was not to be. Mary had other plans for me and I had to live to face the consequences.
Why did they strap me in so that I couldn’t raise my arms? My head felt as if it was lead attached to the pillow. Were there any windows? I felt as if I was being catapulted through space, my world closing in on me. The attendant’s eyes, almost luminous, were a perfect combination of love and concern, two commodities I desperately craved because I knew deep down that I had committed an unspeakable act. Thank God the siren was not blaring, Sunday morning traffic was at a minimum.
“What happened here?”
“I don’t know, I don’t know.” But I did know and so did he. Members of the congregation told him they thought it possible that I had a slight stroke, but since I reeked of alcohol and slurred my words as I prayed, he knew. I was drunk.
“I dunno. I think I tripped during the processional. Did the service go on?”
“Oh I suspect it did, a little tumble won’t stop God’s word.” He really was good at his job, I wanted the ambulance to turn around and just go home with him, there was something so comforting about his smile. It had been such a long time since I received any comfort from a male.
“Oh Mary, this isn’t happening, please tell me this is all a nightmare and I will wake up soon.”
For as long as I can remember I have prayed to Mary Magdelene. I love her because she was a rebel, a tattooed feminist on a Harley who liked to be a part of the action. Whenever anything of note happened, you could count on good old Mary lurking about. She was there at the crucification, although she never got an invitation to that all important last supper. (Must have been a guy thing.) A groupie, maybe a stalker, she loved her Jesus with a fierce adoration. I think this is why I so identify with Mary, I never learned how to tame my loves either, and loving too deeply can be torturous. I used to love my husband, Thomas, like that, with a ferocity that sometimes frightened me but that love has subsided. No one can keep that intensity up, not even Mary Magdelene, who had some relief when Jesus died.
Thomas never loved me as much as I loved him, his ferocity always focused on his work. A contractor, he started his own Construction Company and as it grew and became successful, it took over his life. High stakes bidding for jobs, gravel pits, large equipment auctions, this is what turned him on. Never fall in love with an engineer, their analytical minds have no idea how to process their emotions so they stuff them. Bald and pudgy, he was not particularly handsome, but his overwhelming ambition and enormous ego made him attractive to women, and when he wanted to, he could be the best listener I know. He stopped listening to me a long time ago. I always had a sense that he was cheating on me although I am sure he managed to keep the mean streak that surfaced after we married hidden from his female admirers.
While Thomas turned outward I turned inward, a mixed blessing. Through sheer tenacity, I finished my graduate work at The Harvard Divinity School and became a rector at St Paul's Episcopal Church. It was an amazing accomplishment for me but I paid a terrible price because somewhere along the way I got lost in a wine bottle. The sheer hypocrisy of our life almost killed me: beautiful people living in large home in the suburbs, he a successful contractor, she a rector in the local church doing “good works,” with a direct line to Jesus. Tortured with guilt, my drinking increased until I became a shell of my former self, missing appointments, hiding bottles. The more I drank, the more Thomas badgered me about my drinking.
One Saturday morning in September Thomas was eating a bagel, frowning over something he was reading in The Wall Street Journal. Did he always look this angry? I never saw him smile any more, it was as if there was never enough: enough money, enough attention, enough highways to nowhere. Our marriage was on one of those highways.
“I am going to clean out the basement, It hasn’t been cleaned in years, time to get rid of a lot of that stuff.”
Sometime in the late afternoon I returned home to find Thomas’ jeep missing, he had gone out. Exhausted after working a rummage sale all day, desperately wanting a drink, knowing I couldn’t, I switched on the light in the kitchen and was greeted by a counter cleared of the usual accumulation of stuff: unpaid bills, knapsacks, various and sundry objects, clutter. In it’s place was a lone unopened bottle of wine. As soon as I saw it, I knew. Waves of shame swept over me. It was a bottle I had hidden in the basement during one of my drunken rampages.
A combination of rage and shame flew over me. It was a cruel thing to do and Thomas knew it. If I was suicidal would he have left a loaded revolver on the counter? Today I think of that lone bottle of wine sitting on an otherwise empty counter as the beginning of the end for me, although the final chapter is far from over. Without a moment’s hesitation, I grabbed the bottle and locked myself in our guest room.
An orderly wheeled me into a sunny white room and helped me into bed. As much as I wanted to go home, it was decided that I stay for the night to monitor my blood pressure, etc. A partially open curtain concealing the other bed in the room revealed a mass of dark hair spread out on the pillow. I couldn’t see her face, a tattooed arm hung limply by the side of the bed.
“Hi.” Her voice was low, almost in a whisper.
“Shit,” I thought to myself. Small talk was the last thing I wanted.
“How are you?”
How am I? Now there was a loaded question.
“Not so good.”
“Feel like talking?”
“Sometimes talking helps.”
“Right, confession is good for the soul and all that crap.”
“No, no confession. It’s just that whatever you may be thinking, it’s just not all that terrible.”
“Oh, it’s pretty terrible. Well, I mean other than destroying my marriage and probably losing my job, everything is just peachy.”
“Sometimes we have to loose everything in order to find something.” She changed positions, her hair fanning out like a dark halo.
“And what may that something be?”
“Well, that’s up to you. Whatever it is that you are looking for.”
Thomas barreled through the door, a typical Thomas grand entrance. Subtleness is not a word I would use to describe him.
“You have been cleared, you don’t have to stay. I am taking you home.”
I gathered my few things together and slipped into the unnecessary wheelchair. As he wheeled me towards the door I said goodbye to my roommate.
“I’m so sorry but I don’t think I know your name. This is my husband, Thomas.”
“Hello Thomas, my name is Mary.”