One month ago, I got married to a wonderful man. The day was more and bigger and better than we planned for—cold and snappy, but bright and beautiful. So much sweetness and love poured in on us, like the heavy beams of sun that shone in our hair and on our faces through the windows when we were exchanging vows. Everything felt so bright and close that I couldn’t look my husband in the eye throughout much of the ceremony—tears wobbled at the edge of my eyes, and I stared at a freckle on his cheek, focusing all of my jittery love into that one spot while promising to love every other spot of him, now and forever. I felt like the sun was in the room, each pair of eyes beaming with rays of light—it was both beautiful and slightly unbearable.
Last week we learned my younger brother is addicted to heroin. My parents staggered into our apartment as my husband was cooking dinner and I was sitting down to start my grad school homework. It was exactly one month after our wedding day. They left, and I sat in cold stunned silence, assaulted by the strange observations I remembered over the summer that suddenly made sense. The requests to borrow money, accompanied by bizarrely complex reasons and overblown gratitude. The disappearances. The times I would talk to him and his voice sounded far away, and his eyes were half-lidded and I assumed he was either really tired or high off weed. His reoccurring flu that seemed to come back every week or two (he got really sick right before the wedding and I was naïve enough to hope nobody else would catch). Coming back from our honeymoon and finding wedding cards already opened, with no real explanation. The way he sobbed at the wedding (everyone laughed and mused about what a sensitive soul he has).
Last weekend we put him on a train to a month-long rehab program in the woods. I will never forget the look on my mom’s face as she cleaned his car, finding straws, old bandaids, shoelaces, spoons, statements from check-advancing places, neckties. All of us are all still blinking slowly, simultaneously blindsided that this could happen and amazed that we didn’t see it sooner.
My husband and I have been together for six years, but I’ve never faced anything like this. I’m learning how to process my emotions with a partner, which is something new for me. The first night we heard the news, I walked into the kitchen, ducked behind the refrigerator and started to cry. My husband held me and told me to stop hiding—“that’s the whole reason we got married!” I keep trying to remind myself of this, but it’s hard. I don’t like crying in front of anyone—it’s like I need to shield my eyes from these huge, otherworldly creatures, both heavenly and monstrous alike. I’m grieving the same death over and over—all of its past, present, and future manifestations. My husband understands this, but not on the same visceral level as I do.
As much as I’m grieving for my family of origin and for my past and my parents and for my old dreams about future family life, I have to take solace in the fact that we make a solid family, just us together with our baby cat. He makes me stronger, and he has already adopted my family as his own, taking care of logistical details that none of us can face right now. He’s patient and kind and calm.
I’m having trouble looking at our wedding photos because right now they feel like a lie, with all of us obliviously grinning our heads off and my ashen-faced brother smiling through the pain. But all the same, I packed some up for him to take to rehab because they’re some of our only family pictures. I hope that he can feel support and love from them, even if I can’t look at them without crying right now. I hope one day this will all be a sad memory and he’ll be an uncle and a husband and a friend. Even if that hope doesn’t come true, I know I have the choice and the power to create a happy, vibrant home of my own.