[A continuation of a writing exercise begun last week. This entry is from Merry’s journal]
Bernie’s drinking again. He’s not even trying to hide it anymore. He goes up to his study after dinner with a can of beer and gets on his computer. He comes down one or two times in the evening, to get more beer.
I went to his office door last night, after the children were in bed, and Bernie had just come down for his fourth beer (he often drinks more on Saturday nights). I tapped on the frame, and asked if I could come in.
“I keep the door open so you and the kids know you can always come in,” Bernie said. “So you’re asking permission tells me you have something you think is important to say.”
“I do,” I told him. “I’m worried about you.”
He pointed to the beer can on the desk, next to his keyboard. “I know, I need to cut down.”
“It’s more than just the drinking,” I replied. “It’s your mood, in general. You’re so short-tempered with me, and the kids. Most evenings we have to walk on eggshells around you, afraid the slightest little provocation will set you off.”
Bernie nodded. “I’m sorry. Work’s been really difficult lately.”
“I know, Bernie. I used to work in IT myself.”
“At least you had the sense to change careers.” I could hear the self-pity in his voice, and knew he was headed to a dark place in his mind again, and might not come out of it for several days. I didn’t want him to go there, so I told him again that he should go back to graduate school, and finish his doctorate. He said he didn’t want to go into teaching, but I told him that wasn’t the issue.
“I don’t want you to get your doctorate so you can become a professor of literature,” I told him. “I don’t care if getting a PhD does nothing for your career. This isn’t about getting a better job, Bernie, it’s about you accomplishing a goal you’d set for yourself from the time before we were married. You’ve never forgiven yourself for not completing your graduate studies — so why not get rid of that guilt, instead of hiding from it.”
Bernie looked at me a long moment. Then he shook his head. “Merry — the day we decided to have children, was the day I decided to put aside my selfish ambitions. My family’s the most important thing in my life.”
I walked over to him, and laid a hand on his shoulder. “I don’t think going back into graduate school will change your priorities. You’re too good a man for that.”
He grabbed my hand, and held it up to his lips. After a gentle kiss, he released his grip on my hand. “A couple nights ago, I read my journal from those two years in graduate school. You know what I saw?” I shook my head. “Loneliness and fear. Those were probably the worst years of my life, and I don’t know if I can face going back.”
“But you wouldn’t be going back, not in the same way” I replied. “Me, the children, our church — you’ll have support that wasn’t available to you.”
When he got up from his chair, I knew Bernie was done talking. “It’s late, and I’m tired,” he told me. “I don’t want to miss church again tomorrow. We can talk more, after dinner tomorrow. Does that work for you?”
I pulled him up to me, and kissed him. I didn’t want to tell him about my own misgivings about his returning to graduate school — I don’t know if he’ll find what he’s looking for. All I know, is that he needs to find some reason to stop spending so much time up in his office.