I’d had a slightly unsettled feeling for the majority of the afternoon, though I couldn’t explain exactly why.
It could have been my relatively new job at a high-profile tech company; I wanted to prove myself to new bosses, and it wasn’t happening as quickly as I’d outlined clearly in my list of quarterly ambitions. It also could have been the macaroni and cheese from the food truck, or the fact that I was four months pregnant and still experiencing sporadic nausea.
I kicked off my stilettos at the front door just as the red-haired head of my two-year-old daughter whipped past the baby gate.
“Mom!” she yelled gleefully. ”Mommy!”
“Hi!” I clutched my purse and bag of dinner ingredients and headed toward the kitchen.
“Hey, I’m in here,” my husband’s voice floated from the living room couch. “My stomach hurts. I’m just lying down.”
I followed our toddler to the sofa and regarded my husband with concern. It wasn’t like him to be lying down anytime other than at bedtime, especially when he was on parenting watch, especially at 6 p.m. on a week night. In fact, I’d never seen him on our couch before.
My eyes settled on my daughter, who was toddling a small plastic doll up the side of the fireplace. Then they landed on my husband.
“You OK?” I asked.
I started to reach out to feel his forehead, and he turned his head on the pillow to face me. As his eyes met mine, my stomach plummeted in an inexplicable freefall.
Something was wrong -- very wrong -- with his face. It was his eyes. There was something missing. His pupils were the size of pin heads. There were red flush marks on his normally glowing skin.
“My stomach hurts,” he said. ”I feel a bit dizzy.”
Dizzy, I thought.
Then, instead of thinking about the stomach bug that had been going around or whether he had eaten something bad, with an immediate rush, I remembered one of our first dates.
It was years ago, when he’d told me he’d been a drug addict at one point in his life: cocaine, ketamine, whatever he could get his hands on. It happened after a very low point in his life: a series of heartbreak and weakness culminating in disaster and and then subsiding.
Then it was over, he said, because he’d found hope again, and faith in himself, largely because of me, because of the potential of us. I thought about our wedding day, almost exactly three years ago, our baby, the day just a few months ago when I brought out the pee stick, pointed out the two lines and told him, oh my God, I’m pregnant again. And melted into him.
“Your eyes,” was what I managed to say. ”Your eyes are really funny.”
“I’ve been staring at my computer all day,” he said. ”I think I’m burnt out. I’m not hungry, you guys can go ahead and eat.”
We both watched as our daughter moved her doll up the fireplace, into the planter. Dirt in her fingers now, contentment etched in her face. I ate yogurt for dinner and canned pineapple. My gut was having a really bad day.
I didn’t Google that night, because chances were I was being paranoid. Pregnancy brings on raging hormones and paranoia and a lot of fear along with the veiny breasts and distended belly buttons, right? My husband was a successful professional and an athlete and a kickass father who had conquered his demons long ago. We were the power couple with the gorgeous kid and the one-in-a-million love. We had a house by the beach and shared ambitions and six-figure incomes and weird eyes were just that: weird goddamned eyes.
But a week later, when the flushed cheeks and the pinpoints and the strange, unexplainable countenance appeared again on a rainy Saturday morning, my stomach insisted I investigate. I Googled: “What causes pinpoint pupils?”
Three things, it turns out: stroke, drug use and head injury.
“Let’s get you to a doctor,” I said to my husband at a friend’s birthday party, when he emerged from an extended stay in the bathroom with eyes that terrified me.
“I know you say it’s your computer screen, but you’ve been so tired and not yourself and your eyes are not normal right now. It’s been weeks now. We need to find out what’s going on.”
“All right, all right,” he retorted, visibly agitated. Our friends thronged around us, our toddler rolled a giant ball down the hall.
”This suspicion is driving a wedge between us," he said. "You need to get it together and stop suggesting that I’m doing something illicit here.”
My eyes filled with tears.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “I think maybe it’s hormones and -- I just...we have so much to lose. We have everything to lose.”
He sniffed and looked away, and I felt the weight of our baby in my loins, the weight of the responsibility of our little girl and the fact that we’d been given another chance, that this might be it. I was overwhelmed with the fragility of all we had.
It was two nights later when finally I found the courage to risk everything, to ask straight up, to hear the answer I already knew.
“You’re taking something. What are you taking?”
And finally the hackles flattened, and he looked ashamed and contrite, and he told me: He’d been buying opiates for the last several weeks. He’d been buying them in back alleys. He thought he could do it just to relax, just once or twice. It had been such a long time and he wasn’t an addict anymore. But, he said, it was evident it was becoming a problem again.
“Opiates,” I said, but I’d been Googling and researching and quizzing my sister who’d had numerous friends succumb to street drugs. “Opiates you buy on the street. The kind that’s cut with heroin?”
My husband didn’t answer.
“Oh my God.”
I looked in the direction of the crib of our sleeping child, put my hand on my belly, now six months ripe with the growth of the life we’d brought to fruition.
It was a question I knew wouldn’t produce a satisfactory answer.
“I don’t know.”
That night we stared for a long time into the dark together, and I cried myself to sleep on the couch.
The things that scared me most in life revolved around the possibility of my child getting ill, of dying too young myself.
I’d met my husband in my mid-30s after a series of crappy relationships, after he’d been married and divorced and sent to rehab for cocaine. We’d seen each other as a second shot at happiness, and I had believed for the last five years that if there was one thing I could count on in life, it was him. My husband is successful, kind, and almost absurdly handsome. I’m known for my tenacity and easy laugh, an ability to sway people. We both have advanced degrees and prestigious careers. We’d heard others call us “the golden couple” on more than one occasion.
Heroin in our house, in front of our child, while I was growing a baby inside me was worse than any of the fears I’d conjured for myself over the years. The pain, the embarrassment, and the excruciating powerlessness crushed me with its weight.
My husband said he wanted to stop. He’d stop drinking alcohol, because that seemed to be a trigger.
He’d go to Narc Anon, he’d find some other hobbies, he’d delve deeper into our family life.
He promised, and then the next weekend his eyeballs would be tiny. I’d find cash in his gym bag, strange wrapped papers in the pockets of his laptop bag. I would ask him questions, tearfully, and he would answer that he wasn’t using, and I’d know he was lying, and the trembling would start. My belly grew bigger and my fear widened and grew, and I struggled to stuff it out of sight of our little girl, our friends who knew nothing, my family who loved us so hard.
It’s been almost exactly a month since my husband last used.
He is going to counseling and has amped up other healthier hobbies. He has said he is sorry and I know he is trying, wrestling with every fiber in his soul. And that makes it even scarier: Even though he has a beautiful family and so much to lose, heroin still beckons with its false promises and seductive one-more-times.
I know that addiction is a messy, lifelong and devious disease, and my relentless Googling habit has only equipped me with the knowledge that this battle is not over. It might never be over.
I am hoping that he’ll remain sober from here on in, but I’m no longer naive. While I support him and while he works with a counselor to crush his demons, I’m preparing alternative options in case he allows heroin to take him from us.
I’m preparing myself for a situation that I hope will never happens: if heroin enters our house again, he will have to leave. I’m pleading with the Universe to not allow that to happen, please. All I can do is hope. In the end, it’s the only thing I can control.