I backed out of the driveway and drove resolutely forward, hands a death-grip on the steering wheel, towards Route 12 South. I refused to look in the rear-view mirror and chanted to myself, both aloud and in my head, “Just get home. Just get home. Just get home.” When I got home I could break down. When I got home I could cry. When I got home…
It was the start of Easter break during my first year of teaching. I had planned for this day over the course of a few weeks, maybe more, if you considered that I had been thinking of it on my own well before I talked it over with my parents and friends. I won’t lie and tell you I was totally sure I was doing the right thing, but it felt like I had to do it at the time. Depression, which for me is a breathless morass, a suffocating quicksand, had been starting to make its large and fearsome presence known in my life again and I just couldn’t afford to go out on disability and lose any chance I had to make tenure.
That day, Good Friday, was the day that I left my husband.
I’d had to plan out my departure for more than one reason – my family lived three hours away, I had had to find another apartment so that I could keep working, and I was worried that my husband might hurt himself or wreck the house we’d been rebuilding for some time then.
Although there were people who knew Vinny and had seen his fits of temper which tended to involve yelling and could also include throwing things (travel mugs, clipboards, etc.) who thought that perhaps I should be afraid of him, I knew very well that Vinny would never, ever hurt me or anyone he loved. However, I had also seen Vinny, over the last eight or nine months get frustrated, get drunk, and put his fist through a window, a door, and a wall he’d just sheet rocked earlier that week.
Vinny had decided, in August, to run, once again (his third attempt) for City Council. We talked about it and he told me that he was going to run as a Democrat this time because he had been invited to do so by the city attorney and others. I told him that I was totally behind him, but only if he actually ran under a party. The last time he’d run it had been as an Independent and when he’d lost, it was heart-breaking for him, and for all of us who loved him and had supported and campaigned for him. Vinny agreed, but, as things are wont to go awry in Utica, the paperwork was left to the last minute, a signature was missing, the signatory couldn’t be found, and voila – Vinny was once again running as an Independent.
Vinny’s boss, who had once also been my boss, told Vinny to come back to work. We all told him to just wait the two years until the next series of elections. But Vinny wouldn’t listen to anyone. He knew better.
Because he worked for a Community Action agency, he could not run for a political office while working. He had to take a leave of absence. He was sure he’d be elected this time and then Ray, his boss, would welcome him back with open arms. Ray, who was a megalomaniac and narcissist, only ever did anything because it served him. For both of our sakes, I hoped Vinny won and could get his job back.
So, for months, Vinny did some work on the house, but mostly focused on his campaign. We had fundraisers, painted huge wooden signs, ordered posters, wrote press releases. Vinny went out in the community, going door to door to get the signatures he’d need to be placed on the ballot as an Independent. He did that and then continued to visit people – attending community meetings, going to senior housing projects, hitting the streets and going door to door again – to talk to people, get his name out there, and solicit support.
I have to admit that we were pretty sure he’d done it. He had a great show of support this time and had gotten some good reviews in the media. But, in the end, being off of a party line was a killer and he lost by maybe a hundred votes. Vinny was shattered. We were all devastated and worried about how he’d pull himself together. The night of the election, Ray stopped by our house with a former friend of Vinny’s to “give his sympathies.” The sentiment was expressed in a very “I told you so” manner and I had to grit my teeth to keep my mouth shut. I was still hoping that Vinny could go back to work.
But, that was not to be. Ray was a merciless man. Vinny had disobeyed his order, so Vinny could not return to work. Of course, Ray didn’t tell him the truth straight off. He told Vin to call him around the New Year. I knew he was stringing my husband along, but Vinny had his rose-colored glasses firmly in place and would not do anything other than work on the house in the meantime (though he didn’t do much of that, either).
So, Vinny and his father, Ben, worked on the house. We found that if Ben didn’t come, Vinny didn’t get out of bed. In turn, Vinny would get frustrated with me because I was tired after work and wanted to pass out after grading English papers for hours – he’d been alone and bored all day and wanted to chat, to be entertained. I felt like I was just keeping my head above water as a new teacher and wasn’t very attentive to his needs, in all honesty. I was co-teaching, too, and the Special Education teacher who had been hired at the same time I had was pregnant. There were some complications with our relationship, too, but that was secondary to what was happening at home.
When Ray dropped the bomb and let Vinny know that he could not come back to his old job, Vinny hit a real low. So, we talked about looking for other jobs. It was the beginning of 2002, we were all still reeling over 9/11 and Vinny had once served in the Marines after high school while his father and older brother were currently serving in the Army National Guard. Vinny felt sure he could enlist in the National Guard as Ben Sr. and Ben Jr. had, and was passionate about wanting to go and fight for his country. However, getting into the National Guard when you’re out of shape and overweight is not an easy thing. Vinny was told he would have to lose at least 20 pounds. We had three dogs – a lab and two beagle/springer spaniel mixes – they would have all loved to go running or even just walking with Vinny. But, he wouldn’t do that. He also wouldn’t change the way he ate or all of the beer or wine he was drinking. I found that I was drinking more and more, too…
I asked him to look at other job options – nothing came to mind. It was around this time, I think, that Ray told me that my husband had never actually finished college. I had always been told that he had gotten an Associates at Mohawk Valley Community College and then a Bachelors in Environmental Science from Bennington College in Vermont. Vinny certainly loved the environment and knew a ton about it. I asked Vinny about Ray’s claim and he admitted that he had failed some classes the second semester of his senior year because he had been partying too much with his friends. Instead of taking classes over the summer or the next year, though, Vinny just left and went home. I was upset. I really hated Ray as a person and to have him be the bearer of this truth about my husband just got under my skin.
So, that morning, Good Friday, I got up early, showered and readied, fed the dogs and threw some belongings into a duffle bag that I tossed into my car so as to be ready to leave as soon as possible. I hugged my dogs close to me – in honesty, I was struggling most with leaving them. We had never tried to have children, though we’d never done anything to prevent them. Yet, I had never gotten pregnant. These dogs, especially George and Audrey whom we had adopted from the SPCA as puppies were like our babies.
When Vinny’s dad arrived with two steaming cups of Dunkin Donuts coffee, he came upstairs to the bedroom to wake Vinny. I waited until Vinny was up and, with coat on and purse on my shoulder, I told him, “Vinny, I’m leaving.”
Although his father did not understand at first, Vinny actually did. There were tears in his eyes and it was so hard for me, so hard to keep my resolve in that moment. When Ben realized what was going on, he started to speak harshly to me, telling me to just leave, then, but Vinny asked for a moment alone.
I sat on the edge of the bed looking at this man I loved – sleepy eyed with smudged glasses, disheveled black hair, white turtleneck shirt twisted up with the flannel sheets and down comforter – and if I’d allowed myself to waver, I would not have left. I would have allowed myself to be swallowed up in my tears and crawled right back into bed. But, I told Vinny that this was something I had to do. Even now I have no idea how I had the strength to do it. I think, honestly, it was predominantly because I was growing so depressed and anxious that I was terrified I’d lose it – lose my job, stop functioning, and if I was dependent upon Vinny, we’d both be completely screwed.
I tried to explain my depression. I guess I gave him hope that it wasn’t permanent – we could try counseling together, my apartment was on a month-to-month lease, I would be working on seeing if different medication helped me… In my mind, this was it. But, I was desperate to leave, to get him to let me leave, to flee before Ben returned upstairs to our bedroom.
I kissed Vinny on the forehead, hugged him so tight and I ran. I was down the back stairs and out the door, in my car before I knew it. I had the car on, in reverse, and though I was careful not to speed or break any traffic regulations, I felt my heart racing and in my soul I was running for my life.
“Just get home…”