What I Could Not Un-know

5 min
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I opened our medicine cabinet to check Mark’s diabetic supplies, his test strips and insulin needles, because he would always let them run out, and based on his recent behavior, I had a feeling that he had. When I opened his needle box, there were no needles. There was one spoon and one empty Ziploc, and everything that had been going on in our life together suddenly made sense. Mark was doing heroin; my fiancé was doing heroin. I placed the box down gently. I knew something now that I could not un-know.

I tried calling him, no answer, and then I texted him, "call me now.” I knew where he was and what he was doing, now that I knew what I knew. I wondered how long it would take him to realize that his phone was ringing. I imagined him lying down somewhere, the needle still in his hand, passed out, even though I had never seen him that way. I wondered what that state of being felt like. The longer he did not respond, the longer my list of answers became. This is where his paychecks have been going, this is what he is doing when he leaves for work early and gets home late, this is why it takes him two hours to get cigarettes, this is why he hasn’t been taking his insulin...

My phone finally rang, I knew who it was, and I did not want to pick up. “Hello,” I said, angry.
“What’s wrong?” He was high, and now I knew that. He had been keeping a secret from me. He had been keeping a whole other life from me.
“Do not lie to me, because I just found your spoon in the medicine cabinet... Are you straight up doing heroin?”
He didn’t say anything. I knew he was thinking about lying. I wondered how much of what I thought I knew about him was real. “I am.”
“You need to come home right now.”

When Mark got home, he told me that he was so glad I knew, because now he could stop. He was “so sorry,” but now he could be the man that I needed and deserved... He continued to weave a good story for us. Mark explained that he would have to get some pills to help him with the withdrawal, he would be very sick, and then it would all be over. That’s when we would begin to live the life we were supposed to be living, and he would love me more than he already did, because I had made him stop, and I had still loved him “for better or worse.” Because we were a family, and that’s what a husband and a wife do for one another. I wondered how much of my relationship was just a good story. I agreed to help him. I told him, though, that if I found out he did heroin one more time, then he would come home, and his key wouldn’t work.

I held a secret so catastrophic that I could barely hold the weight of it. If it became known that Mark was doing heroin in our house, I could lose Ben. I began to imagine all of what could go wrong if Mark didn’t stop. I wanted him to hold me, but it didn’t help. I was too angry with him for making heroin part of the story.

The next morning, Mark told me that he had to use before work, because his guy hadn’t gotten him his pills yet; he wanted to be honest with me. I waited for him in the kitchen, holding my secret, while he went to our bathroom and shut the door. I stood there, wondering for how long he had been going into our bathroom to "use." I said “use” to myself, long and grim: yoooou-sssse. I yelled that I had to get going, and he yelled that he was almost done. My stomach flipped at how happy he sounded. I didn’t want to know that heroin made my fiancé happy; I thought I did that. He came and gave me a hug, a hug that I loved, and I hated loving it. He was so warm, and I felt so safe, that I tried to hug the heroin right out of him.

Mark got his pills that day; I was so thankful that he wanted to stop. I thought, “He had better not be fucking with me. I can’t believe he has been shooting heroin in our house... Is that what they say, ‘shooting’ heroin?” Ben was coming that day, and Mark knew that he couldn’t “use” in the house anymore. I wondered why he didn’t already know that. The weight of the secret was so real. I was the one living a whole other life. I had my idea of our story, and then I had what I knew, that this week, my fiancé was going to have heroin withdrawal.

Sunday came, and Sunday was our family day; we rested, we went for walks, and we ate a big dinner in the afternoon. It had been five days since I had opened the box, and Mark woke up sour. I asked him to come to the matinee with Ben and I; we loved a good Sunday matinee. I begged Mark to come to the movie with us, but he said he would stay home and take a shower, and I made a wish that it was true. The last thing I said to him was, “I wish we could just be normal... that’s what I want. I just want to be normal.”

When we came home, he wasn’t there, and I knew. I knew what I could not un-know. He did not pick up his phone, and I had to take Ben to a family dinner; I had to be normal for us both.

After dinner, Mark called, and I rejected it. He called again, and I rejected it. On our way home, I listened to my voicemail. It was Mark, and he was screaming, his speech heavily slurred, “Alison, Alison, please, please pick up the phone... Something’s not right... These people... Alison, please pick up...” He was crying, desperate. But he didn’t pick up when I tried calling. I finally got home, and his car wasn’t there.

I put Ben to sleep, our normal routine. I tried calling Mark again, and when he didn’t pick up, I called my best friend. Based on the message I kept listening to, I had no idea what was happening to Mark. I screamed into the phone, crying, “Mark is doing heroin, and I can’t lose Ben! I didn’t know, and I can’t lose Ben!” I could not lose Ben.

At 2AM, I received a call from Mark’s number, but I wasn’t sure if it would be him when I picked up the phone. When I picked up, he yelled at me for not picking up the phone earlier, when he had been calling. He told me that he had been arrested, that they took him to the hospital, that they were booking him, and that I would have to come get him in the morning. There was no “I love you,” and all I said was, “Okay.”

In the morning, I took Ben to school after a good breakfast with him. His dad would get him for the next two days, and I knew that’s how long I had to remove Mark from our home. Ben’s dad liked scrolling the local mugshots every morning. When I got back home from school drop-off, I called a Locksmith, and then I called the sheriff’s office (because that’s what it’s called, not “jail," I learned) to make sure Mark was still there. The locks were changed in thirty minutes, and I knew there would be no going back. I thought of Mark holding me, so warm. I thought of Ben lying on my stomach; I could smell his hair.

Mark called me at 3PM, yelling that his phone was going to die, that he was walking home, and that I needed to come and pick him up. I got in my car, thinking about how I would tell him that he couldn’t stay that night, or any other night. He wasn’t anywhere along the road where he said he would be, and I drove up and down looking for him. I called him, and he picked up and then hung up. I knew what I could not un-know. The Mark I thought I knew, with his warm hugs, was gone. I knew that I had might the right decision, changing the locks that morning, because I had lost Mark, but I could not lose Ben.

Shortly after our engagement, I wrote in a journal that I loved Mark, but that I loved me more. And that I loved Ben immeasurably. Ben was always my true story.

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