I was 25 when I began dating the handsome, outgoing and energetic man I’ll call Finnegan. He worked in my office, which is generally not the smartest choice for a relationship. He was also the second man I’d dated at my office. A really bad choice and probably not one that looked intelligent to my co-workers, but in my defense, I was working a lot. Where else was I supposed to meet people? There were no dating apps back then. No cell phones.
Finnegan’s energy awed me. He was game for anything, including coming home with me to meet my family when we’d only been dating three months.
My mother loved him, mainly because he was Irish Catholic and he was from Maryland. He assured her his goal was to get more experience at the TV station where we worked so that he could come back home and take over his father’s chain of radio stations. Mom loved the idea that, if I married Finnegan, I might not only get married in the Catholic church, but she’d also have Catholic grandchildren and I might end up living just five hours north of Raleigh.
As far as mom was concerned, Finnegan was the one. It didn’t seem to bother her that when Finnegan played flag football with my family at Umstead Park, he played to win, crashing into my ten and fourteen year-old sisters like they were 300 pound defensive linemen and relishing in his touchdown as if it were a Super Bowl tie-breaker. “He has spunk,” mom said, and I agreed.
He talked incessantly through the picnic lunch. “Isn’t he interesting?” mom said, and I agreed. But my brother felt that Finnegan rambled and his thoughts were disjointed. “I think he’s on drugs,” he said and I laughed, rolling my eyes. “You’re just jealous,” I told my single brother.
When Finnegan fell asleep on the couch at 3pm and slept through dinner, Mom chalked it up to jet lag, and I agreed.
But there was a pattern of crazy, funny, wild, dynamic highs and then the crash and burn. I figured when you celebrated life with zest and cared so deeply, you needed your rest. I found him endearing. Passionate.
When I was forced to move from my Hollywood apartment following repeated gun violence in my neighborhood and I wasn’t having immediate luck in my search for a new place to live, Finnegan suggested I move into his new condo. It was a bold gesture, just five months into our relationship. Ignoring the whispers in my head, I agreed. We bought new furniture together. Art for the walls. He was one of the rare men I’d met whose energy levels matched my own. College friends joked that they’d hate to see me on speed. I already moved fast enough. With Finnegan, I had a partner on the dance floor until last call. Even on nights I didn’t feel like going out, Finnegan did. Friends would often come over and we’d stay up late drinking, laughing and talking about everything into the wee hours. I’d be exhausted at work the next day, but Finnegan was as energetic as ever.
We got a Siamese kitten and named him Tar Heel. We both loved our little blue-eyed kitty and treated him like our child. I imagined one day we might have a blue-eyed baby of our own.
When I returned from a business trip and my perfume bottles were scattered on the counter, the gold trimmed mirrored tray they sat on gone, I asked Finnegan. “Yeah, I don’t know what happened there. Somehow it broke.” And I agreed. Those things do happen.
And when I was vacuuming one day and moved the recliner in the office and found at least a dozen empty magnum bottles of Seagram’s Seven, Absolute and Bacardi piled in the corner, I questioned him and he said something about not wanting them to clutter the counter before he could get to the recycling bin. But we’d hardly finished whole bottles together. We hadn’t had any big parties. “Don’t worry about it,” he said, and I agreed.
Then while I was writing at the computer one night when he wasn’t home, I discovered a streak of white powder under the keyboard. I’d never done coke, but instinctively I put some on my finger and tasted it. My tongue instantly went numb. So did my brain.
Seriously, the signs had been there all along. The things I agreed were no problem were problems. I confronted him. He went crazy. His beautiful blue eyes were blood shot and batty. He smashed his fist through a wall. He kicked our kitten out of his path as he stumbled to the office, slamming the door. Who knows what he found there to calm him, liquor behind a chair, coke under a keyboard?
I stayed with a friend that night. Another friend, a former defensive lineman for Notre Dame, refused to let me return to the apartment alone, so I went back the next day armed with muscle. Finnegan was passed out on the sofa as we packed up my things around him, only one shoe on, mouth agape.
I slept on a girlfriend’s couch until I found a new place. But it didn’t allow pets. Finnegan assured me Tar Heel was fine. He insisted he was going to clean up his act, and having someone to care for helped him. I agreed.
Friends tried to get him into rehab. For a short while he seemed to be doing better. But I realized I’d never known him when he wasn’t on something and I didn’t know what the signs were that he was clean.
I dodged Finnegan at work for a month or so. He was so good at his job, he could generally hide his habits, but his dark hair accented his pallor and I couldn’t look. I couldn’t listen to excuses for the red eyes or the alcohol I sometimes smelled on his breath. He invited me to visit Tar Heel. I went once and the apartment was a mess. Pizza boxes, liquor bottles and the pungent scent of unchanged cat litter. I plotted how I might find Tar Heel a new home.
But a few weeks later, Finnegan caught the apartment on fire. He awoke in the nick of time, but Tar Heel was found in a corner, dead from smoke inhalation. Finnegan lost his job soon thereafter.
And I lost track of Finnegan. I heard he’d gone home to Maryland. I imagined his family was getting him the help he needed. But a couple years later I learned he was dead. Crystal Meth had become his new drug of choice. “You’re lucky you got out of that relationship,” a friend declared, and, heartbroken, I agreed.