On Monday I am released from hospital again, and Hazel is too worried now to be angry. Sobriety hurts, and the lecture on substances is frustrating. They don’t understand. No one understands. They’re reluctant to send me home alone with Hazel, but she refuses to do anything else. She gives them the answers they want, she proves she is fed and clothed. They have no further reason, not yet. When we get home, Hazel scours the house in search of anything that could be a problem.
She doesn’t get everything.
Future visits to hospital will end in her being taken away, I know that now. I have to play cleverly. I find the balance. Enough to be serious, not enough that I can’t throw up a few times and sleep it off. She sits with me while I shake and vomit, she’s too sweet to leave me there alone. Days start to go by, blurring together – I don’t know what time or date it is anymore. I suppose that Hazel is not always home, but I am rarely sober enough to notice.
She is there when it matters. That is all that matters.
I start to lose weeks at a time. I can’t keep track of anything. This has the added bonus of letting me finally forget the anniversaries. I can barely remember my own name. Kate is a distant memory, something that this me doesn’t know or remember. Perhaps I’m happier, my only emotion is need. I need Hazel. My life revolves around getting her attention.
It’s a horrible, selfish existence. But it’s all I have.
She is all I have.
I can’t lose her to anything.
It’s amazing what you can get from the internet. Different combinations give different reactions, always something to keep Hazel on her toes. Some days are worse than others, some days I go easy. I know what I’m doing, and that’s the worst of it. I plan the doses, but when I take them is a matter of how I feel. How soon I need to escape deeper into the nothing. How soon I need Hazel to be there. It always depends.
Today is a mistake of sorts; the combination doesn’t work as well as I hope. But I’m still in the bathroom when Hazel comes home; vomiting is never a pleasant experience. She rubs my back and grabs a glass of water for me, but this she knows I’m capable of on my own. As she wanders out, I hear the phone being dialled and she retreats back into her room.
This is the soberest I’ve been in weeks.
The vomiting ceases, and curiosity kicks in. I want to know who she’s talking to. Slowly I sneak out of the bathroom, wiping my mouth and face on a towel. I’ll be fine for the next few minutes, but the next drink is already calling. Maybe if I pass out, Hazel will come by to tuck me in. I like that. It’s almost as if Kate or Mum were still around.
‘It didn’t work. I tried that.’ Behind the door, Hazel is upset. ‘He just sits there, he got angry at me.’ She’s talking about me.
She’s talking about me.
Paranoia strikes immediately. She’s talking to other people about me, that’s not good. Other people talk too much, they don’t understand. Other people do stupid things like call child services. I’m frozen by the door. Hazel falls quiet, the other person must be talking. I strain against the door as if I could hear the other side of the conversation, jumping as Hazel speaks again.
‘I can’t do that. He won’t survive, Aunty Rach.’
Anger flows suddenly through me like lava through my veins. I’m standing and wrenching the door open before I can even think, thundering across the room to tear the phone out of Hazel’s grip. I twist her hand accidentally as I do so, but I’m too busy hanging up on Rachel to notice.
‘Dad…’ she looks up and pleads with me. I won’t have any of that. I stand over her, livid and shaking. The paranoia has paid off. Hazel has betrayed me, she’s found someone else, I’m not enough for her and she’s gone elsewhere. Someone else is trying to mess with our family. I would have been upset no matter who, but Rachel Burdett? It makes it a thousand times worse.
That family took away my wife.
Now they want my daughter too.
It’s not happening.
‘Don’t you ‘Dad’ me.’ I shout, snapping the aerial off the phone in a fit. ‘You’re banned from the phone. Forever. I’m getting the damned thing cut off.’
‘I just wanted to talk to Aunty Rachel…’ she whimpers.
‘Let’s get one thing straight, Hazel.’ My voice is lower now, almost a growl. It’s dangerous, and it scares me a little to talk to my daughter this way. ‘In this world there is just you, and me. No aunts, no uncles, no nothing. And above all else, you do not have an Aunty Rachel.’
Hazel isn’t speaking anymore, just crying. I’m not done yet.
‘We don’t need them. Forget them.’ I demand. ‘Forget the lot of them!’
I storm out of the room and slam the door.
Time for another drink while I cut the phone lines.