In our Dealbreakers series, exes report on the habit, belief, or boxer brief that ended the affair.
I had been living on a tiny island for too long. I had moved as a temporary escape from my big-city hometown, gotten stuck, stayed for two years, and fallen into an abusive relationship with a local sociopath who had money, power, and a big truck. He was the kind of guy who could keep friends and neighbors under his thumb because he had the power to transport them from their isolated rural road to the only store in town that sold cigarettes.
When we broke up, I was ejected into in a social scene littered with his drinking buddies. I learned the hard way that most folks considered his personality fault to be more awkward than abusive. It was time to go. I decided to hole up in my house, eat beer and Chinese rice crackers for dinner, and wait out the month I had left on the island.
Then Jason washed up. He was under 40 and didn't dress like a teenage skate punk lost in 1993. He was nice to me. He didn't gossip. I made out with him.
The fact that Jason was drunk all the time didn't bother me in the slightest—I wanted little more than to escape into a tall can of pilsner, too. Plus, drunk seemed to work for him: He had a slow charm that reminded me of the boys I had crushes on at 18. His constant intoxication led me to believe he wasn’t all that sharp, but he was the type of fun I was happy to tag along with for the short term. So long as we didn’t converse, our chemistry was remarkable.
When it came time for me to head home—where my friends were sane, led interesting lives, and maintained their oral hygiene—I was surprised to find I felt more than just lust for my supposed fling. Jason found work on a tree-planting tour that summer, traveling between rural towns that took him less than a day outside my city, and he would would call me randomly from planting sites: "Hey, I'm thinking of busing into town tonight—what do you think?" I always waited for him with nervous excitement, my orgasms having rendered my rational brain useless.
Sometimes he showed up. Sometimes he didn't. He'd make plans with me, then I'd hear from him a few days later, confused: “We made plans?” Sometimes he'd apologize: "Things got crazy." I had no idea what “crazy” meant, but I reasoned that I wasn't in it for the long haul, so it didn’t really matter what specific kind of crazy he was.
The trouble with dating men who are not “boyfriend material” is that if you date them long enough, they eventually become your boyfriend.
One night, Jason and I went over to his friends’ place. I didn't know them, and Jason didn't make much of an effort to make me feel comfortable. So I sat alone, drinking wine in the hope that things would turn "fun" that way. They didn't. Late in the evening, he slipped out the door without a word. I waited and waited, then gave up and called a cab. The girlfriend of one of his buddies walked me outside to wait. I cried, thinking maybe he was cheating on me. “He’s up to his old tricks again,” she responded. I had no idea that meant.
Eventually, Jason stuck around long enough for us to grow domestic. We played Sam Cook songs together on the guitar and ate spaghetti. I began to believe that old cliché, that with a little love and stability he’d shape up. But when Jason and I moved in together, his behavior became harder to rationalize. Soon, he was forced to admit to me that he “had a problem” with crack.
I sobbed when he told me, but somehow it didn’t sink in. I thought I was far from naïve about drugs—my friends and I had logged years as party girls, and had snorted, inhaled, and ingested a wide array of substances. Still, I had always thought of crack as something “other people” did. I came from a working-class family but had gone to school with mostly middle-class kids who modeled a version of drug abuse in which we partied all weekend but kept it together. When we eventually tired of the awkward 10 a.m. walks of shame and the crippling depression that followed, we moved on and built lives. I didn’t understand why Jason couldn’t just stop when Monday rolled around.
And he tried, over and over again, to stop. After a binge, he’d commit to sobriety, attend one AA meeting, make another appointment at the Daytox clinic. But then he’d start making deals with himself, and with me. Only two beers on weeknights. Only six on weekends. Only cocaine, no crack.
Then suddenly, he would take off all night and show up at 7 a.m., anxious and sweating. Some days, he’d wake up on a Saturday morning, say he had to run some errands, and turn up 24 hours later. Other times, he would never come home from work. I soon came to realize that, often, he wasn’t actually “at work” at all. Meanwhile, I was logging hours at a nondescript university admin job while completing a master's degree. My own route to work took me through the poorest and most notoriously drug-addled part of town. I always stared out the windows of the bus, my eyes tracing the grey alleys for any figure that could be him.
I loved him, but I began to feel trapped in a life that wasn’t mine. Truthfully, I was embarrassed. None of my friend’s boyfriends were crackheads. After letting it go for three years—choosing to believe him when he said he wanted to get better, that he wanted to go to rehab, that he would stop lying to me and to everyone he knew—I gave him an ultimatum. Get clean or end it. “I don’t want to get sober,” he finally admitted.
I sleep well now. I don’t send texts that say: “Hey, just let me know you’re alive, please.” I don’t stay up listening for keys in the lock or wonder how long I should wait before filing a missing person’s report or lie when his parents call. But I still look for him in those alleys on my way to work, my own bad habit.