Earlier tonight, I ring Ben at the rehab centre in South London. Rosie is getting ready for bed and I assume Ben might want to say goodnight to her.
He usually does. He’s been ringing us twice or three times a day since we arrived. He rings and hangs up – a cue for me to ring him back since he doesn’t have a phone card to make outgoing calls. Today, he hasn’t rung because I’ve been at work.
So, I ring and ask for him, as usual. Then the lady who answers the phone says she can’t find him. “He may have gone out with one of the peers to a meeting,” she says. That would be an AA meeting.
A couple of things about this exchange alarm me.
- That she can’t find him.
- That she doesn’t actually know where he is.
How, I wonder, does all this work? He’s been in rehab for two weeks. I know he’s not locked in, but they are pretty strict there. I presume that they have some kind of system in place to keep track of clients. So, how is it possible that staff don’t know where he is?
About an hour later, I watch a bus go by in the darkness. Passengers appear suspended in strips of yellow light. A dragonfly whirs in my stomach, forces its way up my throat. Any minute, Ben will stumble off the bus and onto my doorstep. Any minute, he will be back in this flat, on the futon, in my head.
He’s already in my head.
Three buses have stopped outside our home. Each time, I revert to the same reflexive twitch of the blinds, the same wild-eyed search for his familiar figure sloping down the drive.
But he doesn’t come.
I hope he is still at the rehab centre. I hope he is safely in bed, reading, or doing mundane chores. I hope he is talking and not drinking somewhere.
My fear isn’t entirely irrational. Last night, we had a long talk on the phone. He told me that he would be permitted out on his own for short visits after a month, and said he would visit at the weekends. “I don’t like the sound of that,” I blurted, before I could temper my words. Later, I told him the thought of him coming back here so soon filled me with dread. I said it would be too hard. He offered to meet at the centre instead.
Eventually, I suggested he speak to his key worker about the possibility that he may not be able to come back here at all after he comes out. I was trying to break it to him gently, but he asked me whether I had any other thoughts “bubbling up”, so I came out and said it. I told him I thought we should separate and that I felt I needed him to be clean for at least a year before I could consider us getting back together again.
He didn’t disagree. In fact, he sounded perfectly rational. He said he understood that I was probably fed up, but that he thought we might try counselling. He said it was obviously “disappointing”. I said I hoped for so many things, but that so many of those hopes were unrealistic. “We have to be realistic,” he sighed.
So, I am lying when I say I rang Ben so he could say goodnight to Rosie. Really, I rang to find out how he was, because I never intended to tell him these things over the phone, at this vulnerable point in his treatment.
Now, each bus that drones by is filled with portent. Each creak and shuffle downstairs hatches one dragonfly after another in my belly, until they swarm up into my lungs, blocking out the air, blinding me from sleep.
Just now, I flicked the button on the deadbolt to the front door. With that engaged, it is impossible for anyone to unlock the door from the outside.
Now I know for sure he won’t come. Not inside, anyway.
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