I remember the darkness and the pain climbing over me in a slow wave. There was blood, but that wasn't unusual. I'd fallen and bled many times in the previous year before this night in May 1996. There had been nosebleeds, cuts, bruises, times when I'd passed out, fallen and split my forehead, lip, cheek or other vulnerable body parts. On one occasion my mother had propped me up in the shower trying to sober me up. Of course, I'd fallen and cracked my head on the tile floor. I almost drowned in the shower. Then there was the prolific nosebleed in Palm Springs and the many, many incidents at home. Blood had become an acceptable part of my arrangement with alcohol.
After a period of time—I had no idea how long—the world that was my kitchen spun back into view, and it dawned on me that I must have blacked out. I gulped down a painful breath, and the urge to vomit almost overwhelmed me. After a few unfocused moments, I saw red liquid on the cream-colored kitchen floor. Somewhere in the recesses of my brain, I realized that I needed help. I had to get out.
I stood up and staggered out a sliding glass door and into my driveway. It was dark, and I had no idea if I'd been unconscious for 10 minutes or five hours. All I knew was that it was sometime between 8:30 p.m. and 5:30 a.m., and I was bleeding.
My neighborhood is very quiet. Situated in an upper-middle-class area of Orlando between Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Club and the posh Isleworth development where Tiger Woods, Mark O'Meara and Ken Griffey Jr. reside, it has very little late-night activity and even less crime. I had provided most of the high drama in the neighborhood for the better part of a year, and this was certainly no exception. Half conscious and with only a vague recollection of where I was, I staggered through my yard and headed toward my neighbor's home, tripping over a sprinkler head and landing face first in some freshly laid sod.
Jane, my neighbor and friend for years, had grown accustomed to my bizarre behavior—I had walked into doors and fallen on every conceivable hard surface—so it wasn't a shock to her when I showed up on her doorstep, mud-caked, bloodied, drunk and disoriented.
Something was horribly wrong with my jaw, but I knew that if the police came, they would figure out how much I'd had to drink. I'd have to go back to the hospital for more detoxification, which meant more IVs, more suicide straps, more lectures on the evils of alcohol...blah, blah, blah. I just wanted to have my jaw examined and make sure nothing was broken so I could go home and drink some more. Jane called my husband, Bobby Cole, and he drove me to the emergency room at Sand Lake Hospital.
I don't remember if we spoke in the car on the way to the hospital, but by that time my conversations with Bobby had become rote. Bobby would ask some superficial questions about what happened, how I felt and how much I'd had to drink, and I would snip some curt responses, if I chose to answer at all. Our marriage had degenerated to the point where the smallest conversations usually escalated into big-time fights, so rather than engage him in any sort of confrontations about our problems, I decided to retreat to my wineglass. Bobby would often say, "It's like you're here, but you're a million miles away." That's exactly the way I liked it. My world included my kids and me, and no one else was invited.
As always when I visited Sand Lake Hospital, the first order of business was a blood-alcohol test. This time my blood-alcohol level was .42, dangerously high for a woman who never weighed more than 110 pounds. I told the emergency room personnel the same lie I'd told Jane: that I'd had a little too much to drink and fallen into a door. "I'm a small person, and I've had a little too much to drink. No, I don't have a problem with alcohol. How dare you think such a thing!"
My records were on file at Sand Lake, so they knew better. The nurses and doctors discovered that I had a dislocated jaw and treated me while keeping their eye-rolling to a minimum. A little pain medication and a little advice later, and I was on my way back home.
That's when the drinking got really serious. It had been a good hour and a half since my last drink; I'd tripped over a sprinkler; my jaw was dislocated; and my husband and mother were reacting poorly. They were both running around the house trying to gain control of the situation, and when that didn't work, they began yelling at me and at each other. It was an ugly scene. Not only that, the kids were home, which meant they needed attention and some sort of explanation why Mom had been in the hospital—again. It was all just too much.