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Betty Ford Center Poems photo

CHILEAN SEA BASS

One of my husband’s suitemates at Betty Ford was a chef and the other had been a drug runner down in Key West and I was always confusing the two

They were both older and they both made gourmet lunches – usually seafood – for my husband who would send me pictures of the meals on my iPod while I was eating rye toast and cans of mixed nuts

One of them kept giving him restaurant recommendations for Naples, kept telling him who had the best Chilean sea bass which was supposed to be, according to my husband’s suitemate, the best fish you could order

That was the one who took younger women from the center out to dinner every night

“Do they have sex?” I asked

“I don’t know,” my husband said “he’s rich; that’s why they go”

My husband was still claiming at this time no one was having sex at the Betty Ford Center

two weeks later two young female addicts were kicked out for having sex on the same day

but that was in two weeks

Of course my husband claimed not to be one of the men they had sex w in the tv room of the Betty Ford Center in Naples

“She was really stupid,” my husband said of the young opiate addict who was caught fucking her boyfriend during visiting hours in the tv room bathroom. “If she hadn’t barricaded the door to the tv room she wouldn’t have gotten caught”

I thought I detected a little something like  forlornness in his voice when he told me this

It was around this time – the time the two new young female addicts entered the center – I decided I needed a new dress

My husband had made a reservation at the restaurant his suitemate said had the best Chilean sea bass in Naples for Sunday night

(we’d already tried the second best restaurant in Naples for Chilean sea bass the week before)

(neither of us had ever had Chilean sea bass before coming to Naples)

I’d seen an outdoor shopping area over by the Barnes & Noble when I’d gone to get the new Ottessa novel

There was a Gucci and a Tiffany’s and a Louise Vuitton and a Kendra Scott

All the shops together were called the Waterside Shops even tho I didn’t see any water on any of the sides

There was a Lilly Pulitzer shop and because my daughter had gone thru a brief Lilly Pulitzer phase when a freshman in college, I didn’t feel as intimidated by the store as I did by most of the others

I didn’t even know what Kendra Scott was, for instance; if it was fashion or jewelry

There was a very old woman and a very young woman both working in the Lilly Pulitzer shop

The dresses seemed to be marketed to college-aged women and to seventy year old women equally

I walked around the various rooms pulling dresses; I had five different outfits of varying degrees of neon pink and green and blue colors to try on

I tried on a pair of wedges too

It had occurred to me I wasn’t the sort of woman to wear Lilly Pulitzer

It had also occurred to me I was staying at an Airbnb in Naples, Florida to be close to my husband while he resided at the Betty Ford Center and I was a different person in Naples, Florida with a husband in rehab than I was back in Ann Arbor, Michigan where I was a writer

I chose a two piece skirt and top combo that showed my midriff in neon pink and blue and green

I worried I looked like a Barbie doll

I worried I didn’t look like a Barbie doll

I worried I looked like Christie Brinkley

I didn’t think Christie Brinkley was so bad to look like

I wanted to look good for my husband who was spending hours every day in 12 step meetings and classes and an outside smoking area w young female addicts til 11 at night

More importantly, I wanted to feel good abt how I looked while eating Chilean sea bass in the top rated restaurant in Naples, Florida w my husband even if my husband was wearing shorts and a t shirt same as always

In the Lilly Pulitzer dressing room mirror I thought I looked good

But out in the public, walking down the street,  sitting at the table next to my husband in his navy blue Guess t-shirt, I just felt like a dick

I ordered oysters and I felt like an even bigger dick because apparently my husband had wanted the calamari

The Chilean sea bass came and my husband’s Betty Ford suitemate was right: it was phenomenal

But I still couldn’t help feeling like a dick

 

I felt like a dick all through dinner

And walking to get ice cream later

And walking over the crab bridge to our hotel after that:

Dick, dick, dick

 

“you look beautiful, baby,” my husband said but I sensed some forlornness in his voice

 

Two nights later we ate at our favorite restaurant in Tin City which was called Pincher’s and whose sign featured a cartoon crab w claws raised above his head

We’d eaten there twice before

Every time we ate there my husband got the grouper sandwich and we played Hangman on the big butcher block paper they lined the table with

I was wearing sweat shorts and a tank top

My husband was wearing sweat shorts and a t-shirt

Three nights before was the night I stalked my husband in the outside smoking area at the Betty Ford Center which was stupid because there was too much traffic on US-41 to hear anything anyway

When it was my turn to play Hangman I made dashes like this: -- ----- ------

Which meant No Rehab Skanks

And when it was his turn to play my husband made dashes like this: -- --- ----- ----

Which meant No Bar Douch Bags because there was a bar in the hotel where I was staying and my husband didn’t know how to spell douchebag

 

The third night we ate at Pincher’s, which was also our last night eating at Pincher’s, what turned out to be our last night together in Naples, we sat on the same side of the table and shared conch fritters and crab claws and garlic bread

We made Hangmans that all had to do w our Vegas elopement or our matching tattoos or the future we both said we wanted but would probably never have

We had lemonade and iced tea

And it was probably our happiest night in Naples

Even tho my husband had left and/or been kicked out of the Betty Ford Center

Even tho he had broken our agreement and I was going to have to go live by myself in Ohio now

 

An hour earlier we’d been fishing off the dock outside my hotel and a bunch of dolphins had swum up and done somersaults in the water just a few feet from the dock

I’d never been so close to wild dolphins

I’d said to my husband, “I’m not moving until I can’t see another dolphin!”

And my husband had laughed the way he laughs when he’s not trying to be a tough guy,

The way I imagine him laughing as a young boy,

before the beer and weed and girls

before the coke and Adderall and opioids

 

and I didn’t feel like a dick anymore

and my husband wasn’t acting like a dick anymore (like he had when he’d gotten kicked out)

 

I had asked him an hour or so earlier what he liked best abt our relationship

Or maybe I had asked what he would miss most

Either way he had said, “I don’t know, the goofiness? The silliness?”

 

Now that I’m back in Michigan, on my way to Ohio, that’s what I miss most too.

 

Anyway, I don’t eat Chilean sea bass anymore.

Anyway, I don’t wear Lilly Pulitzer anymore either.

 

 

LAST NIGHT

I drove back down to the Betty Ford center at 930

Parked a couple blocks away

Left my shoes in the car

And walked barefoot in the alleyways around the center

 

I was listening for my husband’s voice

In the outside smoking area

Where the younger addicts congregate til 11

Flirt and form rehab coupledoms

 

“that’s so and so’s girlfriend,” my husband said when we drove by the smoking area

A few days ago

“they’re one of the couples in here”

 

Immediately I imagined my husband down there all of the nights of the last month

Someone’s rehab boyfriend

 

I felt crazy every time we parted now

Especially on the nights he wanted to go back early

Before he had to (at ten)

 

Last night he wanted to go back at 8

We stopped to buy him melatonin at Walgreen’s on the way

They had tapered him down to 2 mg Suboxone from 32

He wasn’t feeling well

Still, I imagined him telling me goodnight then going down to the smoking area

To flirt and hold hands w the new young addicts who came in this week

 

One was sitting outside the center on her phone when I dropped him off

She looked abt my daughter’s age, long dark blonde hair, skinny

It seemed almost impossible my husband wouldn’t flirt w her

When I turned the corner after our fight I looked back and he was still standing there in front of the center talking to her

 

He was angry w me for causing a fight when he felt so shitty

I was depressed and anxious after he called to tell me goodnight at 8:45

What was I going to do w all these hours before bed without a drink to distract me

 

There was a guard in a chair on his phone on the second floor balcony

And I thought he might have seen me

I dipped back behind a wall, stood up straight like in the movies

 

I wondered if the Betty Ford Center cameras had seen me

If someone would tell my husband

I imagined him yelling at me

Telling me how fucked up I am (again)

As if I didn’t know

 

The stupid thing was there was too much traffic on the main drag to hear anything

I couldn’t hear any of the young addict’s voices

I had thought it would be so easy to hear my husband,

His loud booming voice

Teasing some young alcoholic or junkie

I thought maybe I would see them walking hand in hand up the stairs

To one of their rooms (“they don’t do bed checks til 2 am, I learned that”)

But the guard prevented me from standing anywhere I could see longer than a second

 

There was nothing to do but walk barefoot back to the car

Drive home and smoke a half dozen cigarettes

On the outside patio of my Airbnb

Get eaten by gnats, sleep two hours on the couch, wait to see if my husband texted me in the morning, check on the young iguana in the bush

 

This morning my abdomen is cramped and there is blood when I wipe

I am eating mint chocolate chip ice cream my husband bought at Publix in bed and trying to feel less crazy

I feel like Brenda Frazier, the “Poor Little Rich Girl”,

Former Depression era debutante who took to her bed in mid age

Drank, ate boxes of chocolates, chain smoked cigarettes, died in her early sixties

 

My husband texted me same as every morning

6:45 am

Only this time I called him right away

Instead of texting back at 8 or 9

He must have been so surprised when he saw me calling

I worried he would be angry or resentful

Instead he said he was going back up to 4 mg for the weekend

 

Now I could sleep

Knowing I would see him at 3 same as always

He wasn’t going down to zero

He wasn’t spending the weekend “lying in bed in the center” unable to get a pass to leave

Unable to see his wife

 

Which in my menopausal hormonal state meant hanging with his rehab gf in the outdoor smoking area

 

Everything was going to be ok

Maybe we would go to the beach again

Like yesterday

 

Swim out to the sandbar

Boil crab legs on the stovetop

 

Hold each other on the couch watching the rest of The Irishman

Finish reading to each other from The Old Man and the Sea at the dining room table.

 

 

4th of July

On the 4th of July my husband got kicked out of the Betty Ford Center

And we had a food fight in the Dairy Queen parking lot – a blizzard and hot fudge -

While watching for fireworks

While everyone else was down at the pier.

 

It was after 9 pm and they’d already turned off the grill so we couldn’t get hamburgers

We had to drive up US-41 a mile to the McDonald’s

We had to hurry to make it back to the hotel before the fireworks traffic started up again from the beach.

 

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