The first couple of weeks home with my girls felt like coming home on leave. I played with them all day and spent evenings enjoying time with my wife. I was drinking every day, but never before five o’clock. That was my rule, to spend at least some part of the morning looking for a civilian job, and to stay sober until after working hours. I thought my system was working well, but after a few weeks with no work, I started slipping. Four o’clock, then three o’clock, then noon.
All the drunken intensity I used to bring to my Army tasks, I started focusing on my family. I remember yelling at my three-year-old for wetting her pants. She was just a little kid, but I didn’t see it that way. I chewed her out like a sergeant would chew out a private for screwing up some basic task. My wife got in my face about it, and I yelled at her, too.
That night, we made up, but things only got worse when I finally got a job in a retail store. I was prepared for hard work, and it was easier than anything I’d ever done in the Army, but I wasn’t ready for the kind of abuse I got from customers on a daily basis. Getting reamed by a Staff Sergeant was one thing, but having some guy throw a fit because we didn’t have tee shirts in his size? What did he know?
I started dealing with the stress the same way my dad had done. I got wasted every night and stopped finding joy in my daughters’ company. Instead, I started getting annoyed by every normal, little kid mess, and as they grew older we grew further apart.
The Last Straw
This went on for three years. Looking back, I can’t believe I managed to hold a job for that long, but I’ve made a long list of my flaws and I can honestly say my work ethic has never been a problem. Instead, I just let everything else slip. My wife and I started fighting over the smallest things. She would slap me, and I would hit her back, but I told myself everything was okay because we always made up afterward. It got to the point where the only time we had sex was after a big, blow-up fight.
Finally, things came to a head the morning of my oldest daughter’s first communion. I’d taken the day off work so I could be there, but my wife and I got in a fight the night before and I drank so much I blacked out and passed out in the living room. The morning of my daughter’s big day, I was so hungover I told my wife I was going to stay home. She told me if I didn’t come with, our marriage would be over.
I lost it. I punched her square in the eye. She grabbed our girls and left. I spent the whole day at home, drinking and thinking of ways to make up. That evening, a couple of cops showed up at the door instead of my wife. They told me I was under arrest for domestic assault, and just like that, I was on my way to jail. They held me at the local station overnight and transferred me to Riker’s Island the next day pending arraignment.
Only later did I learn that I’d shattered my wife’s orbital bone when I punched her. She’d gotten dizzy at the first communion ceremony and had to go to the hospital. Some of her cousins went with her and talked her into pressing charges. I can’t blame her. It was one-hundred-percent my fault. But at the time, I was full of anger, blaming everyone else for making a big issue out of things instead of taking a good, long look in the mirror.