Originally Posted 22nd April, 2013
Life is imperfect. Take me, for example: I am hugely imperfect, hard to live with, and I know it. I'm a high maintenance woman, and my partner Rob does more than his fair share of the maintenance. In spite of that, we are somehow imperfect equals in this imperfect relationship. Amongst our challenges, we are both in treatment for depression. It surprises people to learn that its possible to be happy and in love while being depressed. Actually, its possible to be just about anything while simultaneously depressed.
Since we fell in love over the internet, suddenly and without warning in January 2008, we've never gone more than a few hours without at least speaking with each other or sending a text. We are all of the cliches and more.
And Rob is a recovering alcoholic.
Last Thursday, we cancelled our plans to attend a live broadcast at the ABC studio in Brisbane so that Rob could attend a special work event. Rob manages a high-end retail store in Brisbane's Fortitude Valley, and last Thursday night was a special 'Up Late' fashion promotion in the James Street shopping area. Rob's store was involved, and the boss came up from Sydney for the event.
After the shop closed, somewhere around 10pm, Rob and his boss had a couple of quiet drinks. By 11pm, I was concerned; I'd expected him home. I rang him, hating the naggy-wifeyness of the call, yet unable to talk myself out of it. He was slurring his words. Rob doesn't do that. A drink or two, very very occasionally, to celebrate special moments was the extent of our relationship with booze. I was furious, nervous and somewhat sensitive after a strange day at work. Rob was drinking the way he hadn't in years. I hung up on him; I wanted to stamp my feet and shout like a toddler who wasn't getting her own way.
I rang back fifteen minutes later, because I wanted Rob out of the situation and away from temptation. There was no answer. I rang again and again. I sent texts, iMessages, emails, tweets. The phone would ring eight or nine times, then divert to voicemail. Rob wasn't answering.
As midnight passed, I went to bed. Sleep was impossible. Hours escaped, though I tried hold onto them til Rob came home.
Rob didn't come home.
My partner, love of my life, hadn't come home. I couldn't contact him. I didn't know where he was, how he was, why he was... if he was... I told a couple of friends. It was already too much to bear alone. I had become one of those women who can say "he didn't come home one night", but I couldn't finish the sentence.
Eventually, horrifically, the sun came up. There was no Rob, not in bed beside me, not on the phone. I decided to contact Bob. I should've done it much earlier, but much earlier, I didn't know that Rob wasn't coming home. Between ringing Rob's number, I tried several times during the darkest hours to phone the Lifeline counselling service for advice. Each time I was placed in a queue on hold. I called the non-urgent PoliceLink number for advice, and that call went to an overflow queue as well.
Mercifully, Bob knew what to do. He knows stuff like that. By 7am, I was ringing the Brisbane Watch House, and the Emergency Departments at the major hospitals. No-one had seen Rob, which is a quite a feat considering that he was wearing his favourite dress shirt, made of hi-viz green cotton. Bob called in the services of another friend: Iain drove around the Valley and across the Story Bridge, looking for Rob. Bob walked around the area near Rob's shop. There was, quite simply, no trace of him.
It was hard to breathe, hard to think, harder still to sound calmish. Mum was stunned, panicked, and on her way. Bob was coming too. I wished I had spent the night cleaning the house instead of uselessly fretting. It was nine hours since I'd last spoken to Rob; I couldn't recall the last time we'd gone that long without speaking, if ever.
I rang PoliceLink again. This time someone answered. Too many American police shows had left me with the perception that a person had to be missing for a specific minimum period of time before they could be officially reported as missing. That's entirely wrong: each case is assessed on its merits, and while the process is repetitive, it's also compassionate and supportive...or perhaps that's the special skill of the police officers I met. The officers came, took pages of information, and left again. They rang back three times to check details. Finally, something was being done.
Please God, I ignored my atheism and continued. Don't let me be one of those crumpled, fear-stained women on tellie, begging for her life back.
We checked the joint bank account again. Bingo! Rob had withdrawn cash at the Treasury Casino. But Rob doesn't gamble. Hates poker machines, bored by the horsies, not interested in blackjack. So it must be poker and booze. The casino is open 24 hours a day: he must be drinking. Don't ask me why I hate booze. You know why.
The police sent their officers at Treasury Casino to have a look. We had the time-stamps from the withdrawals; the officers identified Rob on the Casino's CCTV. He looked happy enough, relaxed, not bothering anyone, or drawing anyone's attention or causing trouble. Had he been there, the police would have done a quick "welfare check", but Rob had left the Casino by 7:30am. The trail was cold. Mum made chamomile tea and toast.
On the upside, the CCTV footage indicated that he didn't look like he was going to self-harm. The police officers suggested that we didn't formalise the Missing Persons Report, because my fears seemed to be unfounded and he'd probably make his way home soon. We were advised to wait, so we waited. I lost track of time. I'd been awake for 30 hours. We waited. Rob had gone out boozing and gambling instead of coming home. We waited. We waited.
Eventually, I thought to call Rob's psychiatrist, a renowned specialist in veterans' psychiatry and addiction medicine. I asked him if he could recall anything that could have set off Rob's drinking this time, when for four years, he'd been in control. His answer? "Proximity". As simple and as complicated as that.
And there it was. Rob wasn't out there alone, trying to numb some hitherto unrecognised pain. He wasn't drinking because he was pissed off with me. He was drinking because he's an alcoholic and there was booze around. "One is too many and a hundred isn't enough."
This week, Rob would have celebrated four years since the last time he got drunk. I'm not much of a drinker, so our approach to alcohol was to enjoy one or two glasses together on special occasions. We had thought that even Rob's problem with booze was imperfect; that unlike "real" alcoholics, he could still enjoy a glass or two without putting himself in danger. Wrong.
It was late afternoon - I don't know when - when I decided to formalise Rob's status as a missing person. We'd watched the ends of two of Rob's favourite movies on Foxtel: The Hunt for Red October, and Jumping Jack Flash. Time passed. I'd left behind any pretext of 'holding it together'. Rob was missing and I couldn't just wait.
For the third time that day, a police car parked outside our house. I'd been listening to the sound of passing cars since midnight. Taxis squeak. Police cars don't.
The police officers - a new shift this time - refused to be seated, towering over us with feet planted in the carpet, requesting that the television be turned off... It would have been intimidating, but the events of the day had made me impervious. I answered the questions again. They left, ready to classify my Rob as missing. Missing.
No-one bothered to turn the television back on. The day was nearly done, and my second night without Rob was beginning. I'd been awake for 36 hours.
Bang on 6pm, my iPad plinked.
I am ok, I'm coming home, I love you.
I won't explain where he'd been for those nineteen hours, other than to say that Rob is thoroughly ashamed of himself. Humiliated. He is, again, a recovering alcoholic, and this is Day 3.
My thanks to Andy Hallam and Richard Meredith at Carina Police Station, to Bob and Michael and Iain and Mischa, to Kel and Donna and Jane, to POC and Aileen, to Bruce, and to the best Mum in the world.